2016 was a pretty meh year for gaming in general. What was good? What was shite? Here’s my take:
5: Civilization 6.
Civ6 is a pretty good Civ game. I wouldn’t say it’s great, per se, but it’s definitely not bad and shakes up the formula enough to make it all feel different. It still feels like it’s missing something to me, but I’m not sure what it is or how to describe it. Mechanically it’s fairly sound and the AI have seen some much needed improvements (particularly in diplomacy, where random wars seem a lot less likely). Not entirely sold on the whole districts thing, but it’s a decent enough game I guess.
4: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Deus Ex remains one of my favourite series of all times, and Mankind Divided continues that legacy. While it’s slightly more focused and perhaps restrictive than Human Revolution (or Deus Ex itself, we’ll forget the second one ever existed), it’s still a remarkably good game with much tighter mechanics that feels better to play. The storyline is a little off and some things seem kind of rushed, but by and large it’s easy to overlook it. Good old conspiracy action.
3: XCOM 2
More XCOM? Yes please. XCOM 2 greatly expanded the strategic aspect of the game and hammered home the desperation of XCOM under alien oppression. Bringing together a rag-tag bunch of soldiers to fight against the dominant alien force was much more interesting and difficult than the first game. In my first few games I genuinely felt like I was struggling to keep pace with the aliens and got progressively more desperate as the campaign wore on. Fantastic game which does exactly what a sequel should do: keep the mechanics that work, and make them better.
2: Total War: Warhammer
The last Total War game I played and enjoyed was Medieval 2. Empire was crap, I couldn’t get into Shogun 2, and Rome 2 was okay I suppose but the UI felt wrong every step of the way. Warhammer though? Good god, I love this game. Pushing my army of undead towards the last holdout of stoic Dwarven soldiers brings back memories of what made Total War good. I really don’t have many criticisms, except that they’re obsessed with DLC and I kind of want Tomb Kings to make an appearance… but otherwise TW: Warhammer proves that Creative Assembly has what it takes to make great strategy games.
In the leadup to DOOM, everyone said it would be shit. “Lol the MP is boring just deathmatch” they said. “No review copies? Means it’s shit!” they cried. And what did we get? Classic DOOM gameplay wrapped in a 2016 engine with just enough story to give us guidance, yet not too much that it gets in the way. DOOM is a triumph for id Software – a reminder that they’re not the has-beens that so many accused them of after Rage. Whatever missteps they had during the long road to DOOM are irrelevant – DOOM is awesome, it plays better than most FPS games out there today, and it doesn’t forget what made DOOM great back in the early 90s. It’s fast, it’s violent, it’s dynamic, but it remembers to pace itself too. More than that, id Software are supporting it nicely, particularly with Snapmap updates. DOOM wins, easily.
And the crap ones…
Really, I had to wrack my brains for truly bad games this time around. Very few were really outright bad that I actually played. There have been lots of mediocre or fairly disappointing games, but bad? Eh, that’s kind of stretching it. Even then, this is more a list of disappointment rather than actual bad games.
3: TESV: Skyrim Special Edition
On consoles, Skyrim SE offered a fairly decent graphical upgrade, as well as the arrival of mods. On the PC, it pretty much did nothing except release with a load of bugs related to the engine being a total piece of shit whenever the framerate fluctuates. Graphical fidelity is marginally improved, having mods disables acheivements, sometimes it crashes, sometimes the framerate flips out and stutters wildly, sometimes the physics engine has a seizure… yeah, it’s basically Skyrim except with godrays. I got it for free, but otherwise I wouldn’t buy it unless you’re on a console.
2: No Man’s Sky
While I don’t have the vitriolic hate for NMS that many others do (I don’t buy into the whole “No Man’s Lie” nonsense, and I didn’t fall for any of the hype that the community constructed), I do think it’s worth mentioning for how it disappointed lots of people, and ended up being very shallow. NMS is a technical marvel in many ways and offers what very few games have ever offered before, but it’s remarkably limited in its current state. It needs a lot of work. To their credit, the developers are starting to move towards that work… although why they figured base building was useful is beyond me (guys, your fans aren’t always right). Still, there’s a bitter taste of “Is that it?” after a while.
1: The entire indie sector
2016 demonstrated that, for the most part, the indie sector is dedicated to manufacturing memes or pandering to a social demographic to sell its games. The sector that was supposed to save us, and birthed awesome titles like Stardew Valley or Kerbal Space Program, also gave us pretty sub par efforts like Wonky Physics Simulator #158 (Goat Sim, Cat Sim, I am Bread…). I’d also somewhat include games like Undertale as well – while not objectively bad games, they’ve spawned ridiculously toxic communities. Not to mention the multitudes of Kickstarter games that have just vanished into thin air – yes, Limit Theory, I’m looking at you! The glut of shit that is released onto Steam Early Access is even worse. The indie sector promised to save us from the AAA sector – they’d make the games nobody else would, you can trust them! And they’re largely failing – vanishing with the money put in by backers, kicking up sympathy from real or imagined internet threats translating into more money, and being a perpetual disappointment.