The illustrious year of 2017 is upon us and a proper moment of reflection is in order; 2017 will be a bountiful year and hopefully deliver a slew of fantastic new titles ripe with limitless potential. All three major parties – being the Big N, Sony, and Microsoft – have their own particularly unique plans for the New Year, each filled to the brim with their own resounding highs and unfortunate lows. Nintendo has an innovative console/handheld hybrid on the horizon, Sony is assertively pushing their bevy of exclusive content throughout 2017 and beyond, and Microsoft suffered an insurmountable blow with the cancellation of Scalebound, which was my most anticipated Microsoft exclusive of 2017. Let us begin with the most pertinent publishing company of the three shall we?
New COG, old tricks.
Fun and familiar. Upon completing Gears of War 4’s 8-10 hour campaign, those two decisive words constantly reverberated in the back of my mind, evoking a rather ineffable sensation. Gears of War 4, in a lot of ways, is the best entry in the series, as it productively enhances existing elements of the established franchise and polishes them off to a crisp, pristine shine; however, its devotion to refine, instead of reinventing the formula can, at times, result in a rather stagnant experience that strikes serious chords of déjà vu. Its parallelism to the original trilogy is a double-edged sword. Gears of War 4 is an excellent, by the numbers, sequel that may have questionable relevance, but is a fun, engaging experience from start to finish. While it does very little to differentiate itself from its predecessors, and archaic design elements which were fostered in the original back in 2006 are still present a decade later, Gears of War 4 still manages to be a great experience that acts as a simple reminder that it can still hold its own in the modern realm of gaming. Its campaign may be brief and lack the nuanced punch that made the original an excellent class of innovation, but it’s an enjoyable piece of modern entertainment that is paired nicely with an excellent assortment of multiplayer components – Horde 3.0 is an excellent highpoint that lives up to the addictive nature of the series’ legacy. Certain balancing issues that have continuously plagued the Gears of War multiplayer scene are, for some reason, still present in this fourth instalment. Although it’s arguably the safest sequel in the history of gaming, Gears of War 4 is a worthy addition to an excellent series.
An absolute dream or nightmare?
Pretension is a fickle element that has slowly seeped its way into the contemporary gaming community, whether if it’s an added spice that caters to your flavour or an intolerable trend that’ll shortly meet its demise. With the rising popularity of the smaller, independent development, video games have reached a level of obscurity and experimentalism that was seldom found in the fostering years of gaming. During the indie development scene’s infancy, Copenhagen based developer Playdead arguably kick-started, at the very least contributed to, the popular indie movement with their atmospherically eerie experience, Limbo. To some, Limbo was an inaugural experience that was equally brilliant as it was obtuse; to others it was a hollow vessel with a high cadence for pretension and a shallow excuse for gameplay. I reside somewhere in between the high praise and the intolerable distain; it was an interesting gaming experience that ultimately forgot to be fun. Playdead’s second effort has been taken by storm, receiving unanimous praise from copious gaming outlets, with critics dishing out perfect scores left, right, and center. After my first brief playthrough, my emotions were rather conflicted as I couldn’t differentiate astonishment from confusion, enjoyment from disappointment. It’s been a little over a week since I concluded the three-hour experience, and after marinating my conflicted thoughts properly, I can safely say that Inside is an excellent game that will definitely not resonate with everyone. Some of you will absolutely adore this abstract gem, some of you will loathe it with a fiery passion, I cannot stress its polarizing nature enough! It’s definitely not the masterpiece that critics are claiming it to be, but it’s most certainly an experience that I immensely enjoyed. Just understand that you’ll be left with more questions than answers once the credits drop, and its rather obtuse ambiguity can be perceived as intriguing at best and pretentious at worst. Lastly, if you didn’t enjoy Limbo in any capacity, then chances are that Inside won’t have the required finesse to sweep your heart. Inside is a haunting experience, that simply dug its claws deep within me and ceased to ever let go.
Out with the old, in with the new…
2015 is coming to an end, and while a moment of reflection on the year’s highlights and disappointments are in order, I shall first gaze upon the horizon of the not so distant future. 2015 was an excellent year for gaming which not only satisfyingly delivered a plethora of phenomenal sequels, but also introduced a wide variety of new, innovative IP’s that arguably hogged the spotlight. Maintaining an optimistically framed mindset, hopefully 2016 is able to replicate this exquisitely balanced equilibrium. With many impressive 2015 titles being pushed into the new year, an unfortunate sign that history will always repeat itself, 2016 admittedly shows intriguing promise and hopefully will be able to deliver a wide array of quality experiences while ultimately living up to the hype. Here are 10 games that have peaked my excitement for the New Year, with each and every one of them emitting an alluring nature that has unquestionably captivated my attention. Aside from these intriguing works of art, I also look forward to The Division, No Man’s Sky, Final Fantasy XV, Final Fantasy VII Remake, For Honor, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, Unravel, Star Fox Zero, Street Fighter V, Mafia III, Yooka Laylee, Cuphead, Mighty No 9, Overwatch, Ratchet & Clank, Recore, Daganronpa 3, and Gravity Rush 2. I am also well aware that some of the ten selected games have not been given a definitive release date, let alone a 2016 release window, however their inclusion indicates that there is some margin of a possibility for a 2016 release date. These ten captivating titles, which are ordered alphabetically, have undoubtedly peaked my interest and have rendered me extremely impatient for the imminent New Year which is just around the corner. Which of these games will land on my Top Games of 2016 list? Only time will tell, but for now, let us celebrate the imaginative possibilities of these ten promising titles.
A brave new world
150 hours. That is in no way shape or form an example of hyperbole, it’s the factual length of my first expedition into the exquisitely detailed and rancorous world of The Witcher. Now 150 hours of gameplay is no small feat and is extremely impressive to say the least, but every single hour would be meaningless if the moment to moment gameplay was incapable of warranting the gargantuan experience; in a similar manner to any open-world game, the vast world created is meaningless if the world itself is a lifeless shell. The genre needs to have core gameplay and objectives that are meaningful and rewarding in their own right, and a world that can breathe and be as amiable and vulnerable as the people who inhabit said world. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a remarkable experience that not only meets all these expectations, but surpasses them exponentially, in a manner very few open world games are able to achieve. The large expansive world of The Witcher 3 may be its greatest star yet as the world itself is dynamic, volatile, and exceptionally gorgeous. The world is quite literally your sandbox and you’re free to hunt, race, liberate, fight, gamble, craft, and explore to your heart’s content. Each task carries significant weight and never emits that monotonous aura which has plagued the sandbox genre for years. Meaningful gameplay, paired with an exceptional, engaging world is a delicious combo that is seldom crafted successfully, yet CD Projekt RED have nearly done this, creating one of the most optimal open world experiences to date. Unfortunately its extremely poor exposition, repetitive and shallow combat, and copious amount of graphical disruptions hold The Witcher 3 from being the perfect masterpiece it easily could’ve been. Despite its discrepancies, however, The Witcher 3 proves to be an engaging form of entertainment that severs the line between player freedom and exploration and merges them together into one solid foundation. The Witcher 3 is one of the most expansive games I’ve ever played; regardless of my current state of progression, there was always something engaging to do, a banal moment in time simply never existed. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best games I’ve played this year, no questions asked, and is the best choice if you wish to get the most bang for your buck.
A painting in motion
Ori and the Blind Forest is gorgeous inside and out and is the best game I’ve played since 2013’s The Last of Us. Portraying a vibrant colour pallet, some would say that Ori and the Blind Forest may be an unperturbed experience for younger audiences, but its innovative save system and unrelenting challenge would prove them otherwise. Ori and the Blind Forest is a successful homage to the traditional, Metroidvania-esque action platformer; encompassing brilliant level design, breathtaking escape sequences, a forgotten sense of challenge that’s never too punishing or unforgiving, a sublime orchestral composition, and a simple, yet endearing coming-of-age story that will undoubtedly pull on your heartstrings. Ori and the Blind Forest is a near masterpiece, easily joining the ranks of my favourite games of all time and is currently the best title on the Xbox One. Moon Studios have crafted such a tranquil, vivacious world that could rightfully fit into the established Disney Universe and Ori himself is an adorable mascot that mirrors the charm and innocence of Simba. Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautiful, endearing experience and does so much right that what little it does wrong is overlooked effortlessly.
2014, which was a decent year for gaming, is long gone. I’ll be uploading my top 10 games of 2014 shortly but I still have to complete a couple of games and contemplate their placement on my list. So, in the meantime, I decided to compose a list of my most anticipated games of 2015, a year that shows more promise than its predecessor. The list of 2015 releases is insurmountable, since many 2014 titles were delayed to the following year, and a lot of them have potential to be something amazing. I could have made a list of 20 or more games, but I decided to keep it short and simple; this means that there will be honorable mentions. Along with my 10 most anticipated games of 2015, I look forward to The Division, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Until Dawn, Evolve, No Man’s Sky, Halo 5 Guardians, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, and Yoshi’s Wooly World. But these next 10 games, ordered alphabetically, have got me extremely pumped for 2015, and I look forward to seeing how they are received both critically and commercially, and come next year, how many of them will land on my Top Games of 2015 list.