This Week in Games
The Best of 2016
by Dustin Bailey,
2016 is at an end. For some folks, that's going to be a major relief. A combination of factors far beyond the scope of a humble gaming column have made the terrible, no good, very bad year of two-thousand-sixteen into a tragic meme.
But luckily, this is a gaming column, and in terms of video games 2016 was a pretty damn good year. With huge, successful launches from major publishers and incredible indie debuts, there was a little something for everyone. Where there disappointments? Sure. I liked No Man's Sky more than most, but it didn't live up to its potential. Street Fighter V is a great fighting game wrapped up in a terrible release plan.
Then there are the great things. Final Fantasy XV and the Last Guardian finally came out, leaving Half-Life 3 as the last bastion of vaporware jokes. Overwatch escaped development hell to become a well-deserved global phenomenon. It was an especially terrific year if you happen to like shooting things, with games like Doom and Titanfall 2 offering shockingly excellent campaigns.
With all that in mind, you're about to see a Game of the Year thing made up of entirely arbitrary categories that are designed to highlight things I thought were cool this year. Please note: these selections are in no way intended to be definitive, nor even to represent the gaming tastes of ANN's editorial team as a whole. These are just some games I thought were cool.
And really, as communities become increasingly segmented and games start to appeal to more and more niche audiences, I think that's the best way to celebrate the year. Tastes are more diverse than ever, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on these games, as well as some of your favorites down in that ol' comment section.
With all that preamble out of the way, let's talk about some video games.
The Best of 2016
Licensed games are bad. At least, that's what conventional wisdom would tell you. Most are rushed out the door to coincide with the release of a new film or other piece of media, forcing a poor team of developers to rush out a mediocre product with impossible constraints.
Attack on Titan isn't mediocre. In fact, it's pretty darn good. It totally nails the show's action scenes, offering fast-moving jetpack-fueled combat against grotesque titans that feels fun and fluid. It doesn't have enough depth to keep you coming back through the post-game, but for the length of the story missions it's very cool, unlike much else, and a terrific adaptation for fans of the show.
GAME I MOST LOVED WHILE ALSO OCCASIONALLY HATING: FINAL FANTASY XV
I wrote a Final Fantasy XV review for this very website. It was quite positive, and I continue to feel very good about how FF15 ended up. But there are things about that game that bewilder and confound me to this very day. For example: How they killed one of the story's most important characters off-screen. Or how they made Kingsglaive and Brotherhood required viewing for any of that story to make sense. Or how a massive open-world road trip turned into a linear Uncharted-meets-JRPG adventure in the second half. Or chapter 13.
I can't talk too specifically about the bad parts of FF15 because they're so spoilerific. But they're so confounding they would have ruined basically any other game. It's only because I adore the remainder of 15 so much that I can even begin to look past the dizzying array of unraveled plot threads and unexplained characters that make up that game's story. Final Fantasy XV is very good, but boy. Boy.
GAME MOST NOT WORTH THE FUSS: DEAD OR ALIVE XTREME 3
2016 had its share of controversies in the gaming community. There was the misleading marketing of No Man's Sky. The bad launch of Street Fighter 5. Then there was Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, released in Asian countries but pointedly not in Western nations. According to one poorly worded statement from somebody in Koei Tecmo's social media team, that's due to “issues” in “regard to how to treat female in video game industry.” The internet erupted, liberal game critics were attacked for pushing agendas of censorship, and it was basically all a mess.
Here's the thing, though—there are better outlets for your outrage than Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. I've played it. Too much of it. It's a bad game, and there is only so much ample digital bosoms can do to distract from that. If you want to play it, you can, since the Asian version is an easy import with a full English translation. If you want to play a native Western release of an anime boobie game, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, Criminal Girls 2, Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni and Gal Gun: Double Piece all came out this year. Please, save your anger for more productive endeavors.
Like why isn't Tina in this damn game? Seriously Tecmo, what the hell?
GAME MOST SPECIFICALLY FOR ME AND NO ONE ELSE: AMERICAN TRUCK SIMULATOR
One of the most wonderful things about video games these days is how specific they are. Whatever your tastes, there's a game out there that will cater to them very particularly. My ultra-niche game is American Truck Simulator.
I'm from the midwest, and my Dad owned a little trucking company when I was growing up that he took a great deal of pride in. Other games featuring big trucks focus on the adventure of it, drawing from a long, distinctly American line of pop culture about big rigs. American Truck Simulator doesn't do that. It focuses on the mundane, nuts and bolts act of driving a truck. Pick up a load, drop it off. Turn on the country station to make the drive go by. Repeat.
But for me, there's magic in hearing the very precise roar of a late-90s Peterbilt shaking itself to life, with the crooning country tunes barely audible over the whine of air coming through the breathers. Looking back in the bunk and seeing a place where I've slept lovingly recreated in digital form. ATS probably isn't for you, but it's very much for me.
BEST SHORT GAME: SUPERHOT
Games are investments, man. They're expensive, sure, but they're even more demanding of your time. Sometimes it's nice to play a game that you can see the entirety of in a single sitting, and 2016 was loaded with great, short games. None of them, though, were more spectacular than Superhot.
Time moves when you move. It's a beautifully simple concept, especially expressed across the stereotypical action scenes that make up the bulk of Superhot. Grab a gun out of the bartender's hand, shoot the invading bad guys, then toss the emptied weapon at the last man standing. Dodge bullets down a hallway and slice the incoming projectiles with a katana. I'm not sure I've ever played a game so effective at making you feel cool. Then there's the weird, wild meta-story that ties everything together.
And Treedude. Please don't forget about Treedude.
GAME I MOST WISH I HAD TIME TO PLAY: STARDEW VALLEY
The winner of another category powered by the existential dread of time's march is appropriately Stardew Valley, a game all about managing limited resources alongside an ever-marching clock. I've played about seven hours of it, which doesn't even scratch the surface of what the game offers. But I've already played enough to know it's the best Harvest Moon game ever made.
As someone with a deep, abiding love for both Harvest Moon 64 and Friends of Mineral Town, I don't say that lightly. Stardew Valley has far outdone anything that Story of Seasons has managed to accomplish in recent years, and it did so as a labor of love from a solo developer. It's indie gaming done in the most right way imaginable, and I desperately wish I could just clear out a month to discover its every secret.
BEST GAME OF 2016: OVERWATCH
I don't often play competitive games. I don't typically like online multiplayer. But I love Overwatch, and that combination of factors leads me to the seemingly inevitable conclusion that it's the best game of 2016.
Each character is fun to play from the second you hop in, with movement abilities that make simply getting around the map a joy. Team composition and strategy is an art with infinite permutations and variations. The characters are full of life and despite the lack of a story the world feels complete, interesting, and worth exploring.
But the best part about Overwatch is its relentless positivity. The end-of-match screen only indicates who did well, leaving you room for improvement without making you feel awful for a bad round. Whatever you're good at, there's a role for you. You can be an MVP without a single kill. It's an incredible piece of design from top to bottom, and while the Team Fortress 3 jokes aren't entirely off the mark, Overwatch exudes so much quality that it's easy to ignore a lack of originality.
Other games I played that were great: Dragon Quest: Builders, The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine, Hitman, Doom, Final Fantasy XV, Firewatch, Superhot, Inside, Uncharted 4, Ratchet & Clank, American Truck Simulator, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (PC), Dark Souls III
GRAVITY RUSH 2 HAS A DEMO AND A LITTLE BIT OF ANIME
I never played the first Gravity Rush, but having now enjoyed the Gravity Rush 2 demo I see that was a mistake. It's a delightful thing that looks gorgeous and feels altogether unique, and now I'm suddenly excited for the new game's January release. You probably should be too. The demo is available on PSN right now.
There's also a little bit of anime in the form of Gravity Rush: The Animation - Overture which, uh… Okay. I know somebody reading this article is a Gravity Rush fan. Statistically, that has to be the case. I want you to watch this animation, which apparently bridges the gap between games, and tell me if the plot here makes any sense at all. I know you have it in you. Get at me in the comments. I need to know.
ATLUS IS MAKING A GAME THAT DOESN'T HAVE SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI OR PERSONA IN THE TITLE
A combination of streams, Famitsu articles, and announcements have told us that Atlus is making a new game, and it's in no way related to the Shin Megami Tensei series. Right now it's called Project Re Fantasy. The game is set in a fantasy world—in contrast to the modern settings of SMT, and it's being created at a new Atlus studio run in part by Persona director Katsura Hashino.
There's not a whole lot beyond that, and I'd typically be hesitant to share something so light on details, but it's a slow news week. Atlus publishes a huge variety of games, but outside of SMT derivatives (and Etrian Odyssey) their in-house development has slowed significantly in recent years. Here's hoping it's worthwhile.
FROG FRACTIONS 2 HAS BEEN DISCOVERED
Frog Fractions 2 is out, and it's been discovered. For some of you, that'll be very exciting, and for others that statement will make little sense. To the latter group, I say you should play Frog Fractions. It's fun and very, very weird. Any attempt to describe it will either spoil the experience or oversell it to such a degree that it won't be fun anymore. Just play it.
And then mouse over this image if you want to play the sequel.
The story of Frog Fractions 2 begins with a Kickstarter and a multi-year ARG involving sigils spread across countless indie games, and it culminates in a series of Bee Movie references and a real-life escape game in Portland, Oregon. It's been an epic journey to make it this far, and I still have no idea what Frog Fractions 2 actually is—only where to find it. Have fun, folks.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
The video game industry is taking one more week off before returning to a regular release schedule, so take advantage of the quiet time to clear out your backlog for what looks to be a packed January. Resident Evil 7, Gravity Rush 2, Yakuza 0, and Tales of Berseria are all out soon, so get ready.
Until then, have a happy New Year, game fans! See you in 2017!
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