People always say ‘this year was a great year for gaming’, and while often true - it’s a sentiment I find difficult to share this year. Not because the games were necessarily worse, I just haven’t played many of them. I spent much of my time playing Final Fantasy VI, Star Wars Battlefront’s DLC, willing myself through Alien: Isolation, making beefs in Shadow of Mordor, and generally catching-up on last year’s games.
I never got around to Gears of War 4, Dishonoured 2, Dark Souls III, The Witness, Inside, Pokemon Sun/Moon, or Doom. Playing what you ‘should’ certainly has a time and place, but even more so for playing what you want.
Sometimes a game doesn’t need to do a lot. Sometimes you just need to chill out with a transformative cruise-story about sea-life and Sumerian mythology.
ABZU was relentlessly uneventful for its brief few hours, and refreshingly so. It’s a restful experience that doesn’t demand much of you at all. While I feel like there should have been a dossier, teaching you about each marine creature you come across, you’ll have every tranquil chance to ride hand-in-fin alongside pods of orcas. In ABZU, Journey meets the ocean, and it’s one of the better vegetative games of its kind.
This year saw a few games released in junction with cross-media campaigns to promote their sales and expand their stories, and while the films supporting them were either superfluous or incoherent - the games themselves were every part worth it.
In an age when remasters are now breeding faster than humans, it’s evermore relieving when a game is entirely recreated as an interpretation of the original with a current-gen facelift. Ratchet & Clank is probably the best remake I’ve played, in that it feels like a different game – because really, it is.
It’s a testament to Overwatch’s design that I could play it for only a weekend (yes, one of those free ones) and give it a place on my list.
I would like to explain to you why Overwatch is so good, but I can’t. I can say the level design is good, though I couldn’t tell you how. I can talk about character-balance and the niche of skill, but I can barely do that either. Not because I haven’t played the game as long as some people. Rather because I do not have the intimate knowledge of game design techniques to vouch for it with anything other than intuition and ambiguous phrases like "well-crafted."
Hopefully someday I can come back and explain thoroughly why so many people know Overwatch to be good, and properly acknowledge the meticulous work put into this game beyond vague descriptions.
I have to keep pinching myself when I play Final Fantasy Versus XIII. This game was announced when I was 16. I’m well on my way to 30 now. I’m used to it being scheduled for some unbeknownst time, far away in the distant future of ages away - not something I can tangibly take out of its case and start playing.
10 years of development usually doesn’t do favours for a game, so I’ve had time to accept Final Fantasy XV would have some rough edges. But what it’s done better than any other, is camaraderie. Each Final Fantasy has its own identity, its own “thing.” This one is the ultimate trash-talking, bon-fire bonding bro-story.
At risk of sounding edgy, it’s refreshingly non-diverse. It doesn’t care it’s four leads are all white, and it doesn’t care they’re all male, because games reflect culture, and culture reflects games.
I almost feel lazy making Uncharted my game of the year, but I also know I’m not amiss. Trying to outdo your last game is no small feat when every subsequent one is already meant to be the apex of Indiana Jones action. And Uncharted 4 does all these things to the zenith, but it’s the sombre swansong and goodbye to finalise nine years of heartfelt treasure hunting that commits it firmly to memory.
I don’t know many games that explore marital problems, yet a series known for its tokenism was brave enough to do so and human enough to do it with warmth.
The ending was elongated, and I never played more than one round of multiplayer - nevertheless Uncharted 4 was perfectly poignant for a story every bit excitable and every bit sincere - and I’ll miss that dumb klutz every bit for it.
Those were some of Ben's favourite games of 2016. What were yours? Sound off in the comments below!
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