BEST OF 2018: ABBREVIATED ACCOLADES
Once again, I'm late as fuck to post this and now this list is worse than ever! 2018 was very busy/shitty/etc for me so I didn't even have the time and means to play through as much as I usually do, which might be a good thing but BAD FOR ALL OF YOU. Thus, the top 10 has been abbreviated to a top 8. Hope you enjoy this because I SURE DIDN'T.
8) SOUL CALIBUR 6 (PS4/XB1/PC)
I always try to add at least one fighting game to my list, though it pretty much happens organically anyway since I'm a big fan of fighting games in general. I was certain DBFighterZ would run away with this, but Soul Calibur's return had a bigger impact on me purely due to how the balance worked out. Less homogeneous in the tactical department, Soul Calibur just feels like a more mechanically unique offering; Dragon Ball's roster is hype as shit but still has like 4 Gokus and 3 Vegetas on the roster, and the overall experience with characters is pretty much the same across the board. Soul Calibur's wacky fighter creation suite alone puts it over the top, as does its continuously fun metagame of pokes and slashes. It's not rocket science, but Soul Calibur hasn't been in my hands for a very long time and I genuinely love how special it is in a sea of other 3D fighters that have come and gone.
7) MONSTER HUNTER WORLD (PS4/XB1/PC)
All of my prior experiences with the Monster Hunter series have been caked with frustration at the mechanics and distaste for the jagged, often handheld-bound graphics. I'm no stickler for graphics, but when it's a game that squishes everything onto a 3DS or Vita and downgrades the resolution into nightmare territory, I'm going to complain. The same goes for the controls and gameplay, which had a variety of quirks I was not ready to engage with fully. For years I'd try the newest demos before deleting the them hastily. Eventually, I accepted that this game series just wasn't for me. Then, Capcom refined the formula and brought it screaming to life on the big screen it was clearly meant for, in Monster Hunter World. Boasting not just a beautiful high-def experience but the most accessible, user-friendly gameplay yet, I'm happy to say that the global phenomenon has finally dug its Rathian claws into me and refused to let go.
6) OCTOPATH TRAVELER (Switch)
A JRPG revival project from the Square-Enix developers who gave us Bravely Default, Octopath is a modern marvel: a callback to the classic sprite-based RPGs of the 90's yet grounded with quality-of-life improvements in regards to combat, locomotion, and visuals. I've appreciated the 8 divergent stories going on, and none of them involve some kind of worldeater or destructive engine capable of planetary destruction; these are simple tales of discovery, vengeance, rescue, and self-reliance. In this way, Octopath has become a kind of comfort food for me: relaxing in the pace it offers, and bounteous in the ways you can approach the game.
Aesthetically, Octopath is an aural and visually magnificent game, and one that is bolstered by a series of moments--whether they come from the main stories of each character, or the brilliant subtlety of using your unique character actions to discover more about the world you inhabit. For example, while Tressa's bartering ability allows you to buy items from NPCs for a fair price, one elderly woman in particular would not let me purchase an expensive and very rare Spear. Using Therion the thief would allow me to attempt to steal the Spear (at a meager 5% success rate, mind you.) Curious about this artifact, I finally used the Scrutinize ability from resident scholar Cyrus, only to be granted access to this woman's small but important backstory: the spear belonged to her late seafaring husband, and was all she had to remember him by. Later on, I came across another old woman, who I was surprised to see was eligible for the "Provoke" command--a function that lets you battle other NPCs. However, I was stunned even further when I learned her strength level was off the charts; she was quite possibly the strongest NPC I'd ever seen. Further inspection into her backstory suggested she was an "ex-assassin," which makes too much sense and is frankly very amusing.
It may not have been the FF7-sized story of interwoven character purposes that people wanted, but I really enjoyed the time spent with Octopath and it provides a fantastic template for future successes on the Switch for this dev team.
5) SUPER SMASH BROS. ULTIMATE (Switch)
Worthy of the "ultimate" title, the latest and biggest entry in Masahiro Sakurai's grand circus is absolute the best. Boasting the largest and most balanced roster ever, SSB Ultimate pulls out all the stops with new modes, customizations, battle options, 100 stages, 800+ pieces of music, and a ridiculously large adventure alongside a revamped and creative Classic battle. Words fail me in describing how huge and bountiful this entry really is, and I doubt there's much I can add to the already plentiful takes on this game--but it truly is a cut above so many other games in terms of quality and detail, not to mention the craftsmanship in the attention paid to nostalgia and gaming history referenced throughout. It is the biggest love letter to Nintendo and perhaps game characters in general, and for that Nintendo has much to be proud of.
P.S. any publications that refuse to consider SSBU for their year-end lists because it "came out too late," shoot yourselves into the sun.
4) INTO THE BREACH (PC, Switch)
Full disclosure: I greatly disliked FTL, and despite the positive reception it garnishes these days, I was very disappointed by how badly the RNG of the game tends to skew, and how little progress you seem to make in spite of your efforts. The next game from Subset Games, Into The Breach, assuaged all my fears with a game that is more dependent on skill, positioning, and playing a highly chaotic game of chess with mechs versus buglings. Utilizing a 3-unit team of big bots, you'll need to destroy the ensuing menace threatening to eradicate the last remaining cities of an apocalyptic earth while taking on bonus objectives for precious resources. Positioning is the name of the game here, as it's crucial to pull or push enemies along the map, preventing them from executing attacks which you have knowledge of in advance. The skirmishes are short, but the puzzle nature of each encounter leaves the game to many viable strategies and squads on each run. The persistent achievements gradually unlocked more mechs to playe with, and you can even mix and match squads between each team or just field a team of 3 identical punching mechs. Into The Breach quickly became one of my favorite games of the year due to how quick it works and how satisfying the experimentation with your mechs tends to be. It also helps enormously how the loadouts lend themselves to skill over an RNG feel, and every squad out of the gate is predisposed to a certain strategy--though those notions can be morphed with the right equipment and custom squad creation. If you love strategy games, then this one is a no-brainer and---wait for it!--is perfect for the Switch.
3) HITMAN 2 (PS4/XB1/PC)
Clawing free from a poorly-managed Square-Enix that would have seen them put on the same shelf as Deus Ex, the steadfast people at IO Interactive fought for their baby and decided to go independent, with WB Games handling the new publishing rights. Continuing Hitman was enough of a success to begin with, but the refinements added in Hitman 2 have improved what was already an incredibly fun and creative sandbox of assassination. Not only boasting six new original locations, Hitman 2 lets you import all the previous maps as well, letting you take full advantage of all the new toys and engine upgrades that IOI has put forth for this quasi-expansion. Although the pricepoint might be a bit steep for 6 maps, the ability to bring in legacy content as well as 2 full upcoming maps is well worth the ticket to ride this rollercoaster of explosive rubber ducks and stupid costumes. IOI is worth supporting if only for how wonderful Hitman is and how lucky they've been to escape a bad hand with their flagship IP intact. It's been a joy to revisit the old stages as well as pry apart the new ones, and the game runs and looks better than ever. I'm enthusiastic about the future of Hitman now that there are more possibilities for IOI, and so long as they make bank, bald will continue to be beautiful, bloody, and bombastic.
2) MARVEL'S SPIDER-MAN (PS4)
A long-kept secret that had been rumored for years, I chose to believe in the whispers that Sony was bankrolling the return of Spider-Man to consoles mainly because I badly wanted to websling through the city of Manhattan once more. The previous installments from Beenox only seemed to get worse with time, and for years I thought all hope for a worthy successor to Spider-Man 2 was lost. What Insomniac has done for Spider-Man in their incredible take on the mythos exceeds all of my expectations in terms of thrilling crimefighting, wonderful webspinning, and an excellent narrative that stands with the best that games in general have to offer. From the moment you take control midjump as Peter Parker to the emotional end of his journey, I was enthralled by the quality of the story in conjunction with how fun it is to BE Spider-Man. And that's what kept people hoping for a new Spidey game: it's fucking awesome being Spider-Man, from the uncanny agility and acrobatics to the gadgetry to the relaxing and engaging act of simply slinging around a metropolis, it's just plain fun and always will be. There's something to be said about how locomotion really plays a factor in so many games, and grappling hooks have always been a key point for me when discussing how much fun a game is. Spider-Man basically has the best grappling hook mechanic of all, and definitely has the most organic and smooth implementation of the idea. The worst part of Spider-Man is that we're going to have to wait ages for more of it, because it's one game I could play forever if given much more to consume.
1) GOD OF WAR 2018 (PS4)
This is probably the first time in a long while that my Number One has been kind of an "obvious" title--the past two years were picks that were largely off-center from what mainstream choices were (DOOM/Yakuza 0). God Of War smashing expectations by way of shattering the brainless, outdated theatrics of the original series and molding it into something extraordinary is no easy feat, but Cory Barlog and Co. have reshaped Kratos into a quietly poignant warrior who longs for peace in a nightmarish Norseland. Boasting a grand storyline in a wondrous new landscape, God Of War delivers in every aesthetic category possible while granting you so much freedom with how to proceed. Not only a contender to Zelda in terms of discoveries to be made, GOW's combat system is one of the best I have ever experienced: frenetic and heavy, rife with fun movesets for each weapon and a variety of magicks to learn and upgrade. It's just plain fun and the challenge level is JUST right; not easy at all but not hardcore enough to make me want to die. It's simply a modern classic that not only promises a great time but confronts the ugly shadow of anger in a character that was previously a very one-note rageman. I can't think of a better way to redeem such a rock-dumb series than cast its reflection next to it, injecting a sophistication to not only the buttonmashing but also the personality of a previously vengeful agent. In a sea of games that more often than not tasks you with killing things or ripping them up, I found God Of War's fatigued, hawkish take on the past refreshing. We're still going to have a good time ripping monsters to pieces, but God Of War was one of the only games in recent memory that asked the difficult questions about the ruins left behind after a life of violence and revenge. That refinement and discipline bleeds through into how detailed and finely-spun this game is, and I suspect we'll be seeing it in many Best Of lists for years to come.
SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS: "THE SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS!"
None of us want to be Elfstar. We'd rather be DEBBIE. Similarly, every game wants their Debbie award but not all of them can achieve such lofty ambitions. Here are the miscellaneous awards for things like Best Hamburger Grafix or Biggest Healthbar.
Fuckup Of The Year: Fallout 76
I still have no idea how this surprised people. Bethesda's rickety engine plus MMO bullshit sounded like pure strained dogshit but in all honesty, this was worse than I ever imagined. A laughable series of mistakes and consumer fuckups later, Todd Howard's House of Ideas looks to be in big trouble. People used to give Fallout the excuse of "well, nobody else is making games like this," which is admittedly piss-poor--but with Cyberpunk 2077 and onetime Fallout darling Oblivion's The Outer Worlds primed to make an appearance soon, the jig might finally be up. It's adapt or die for the little open world company that could, and their tricks aren't fucking working anymore. I suspect that Bethesda is going to be quiet in 2019 as RAGE 2 and DOOM Eternal take the stage as the moneymakers for Zenimax. I'm not exactly optimistic about the future of Todd's studio and quite frankly, I'd rather see more from Shinji Mikami and Harvey Smith in the coming year.
Dogpark Award: Hitman 2
The original Dog Park recipient 2 years back, Hitman returns to reclaim its throne as the biggest asshole simulator of them all. Hitman 2 lets you put rakes down so joggers can smack into them like a cartoon character. You can throw endless explosive rubber ducks into a family barbecue. Do you want to derail an entire NASCAR race while dressed as a flamingo? Would you like to kill an island of Illuminati agents with a katana? Hitman has got you covered for all your stupid idiot dreams. Hitman 2 wins this award and it's honestly not even close.
Best Music: SSB Ultimate
It feels like cheating to award this to Smash Bros Ultimate over the sultry sounds of Octopath, but SSB Ultimate has 30 fucking Castlevania tracks to choose from and there's zero chance anything can compete with this.
Best New Character: H'aanit, from Octopath Traveler
LET MY ARROW FLYEN TRUE
COMEN, IF THOU DAREST
As per the usual, here's what I picked in 2017 for what my 2018 list would be like:
Red Dead Redemption 2
God Of War
Monster Hunter World
Far Cry 5
I already messed up by making a Top 8 this year instead but I suppose if I was going to make a Top 10, Yakuza 6 (I did not finish it) and DBFighterZ (I liked it) would be on there. I did not get to play Red Dead 2 due to life happening and the game being too fucking big to play. Octopath and SSB Ultimate fulfilled Nintendo Game 1+2, thankfully. Far Cry 5 doesn't really make the cut and Wargroove has been postponed to 2019. All in all, this list turned out surprisingly well; even if Far Cry 5 doesn't get the spot Hitman 2 claimed, it still was one of the only things I wrote about last year so that's kind of a victory. I'm gonna go ahead and say I was 9/10 for ths list.
Now, here's my prediction for 2019:
Resident Evil 2
Devil May Cry 5
Mortal Kombat 11
The Outer Worlds
Fire Emblem: 3 Houses
RE2make is already getting rave reviews and is by all means the definitive version of one of my favorite games ever so this was an easy pick, as was Devil May Cry 5. MK11 is the easiest layup ever for me, a dumbfuck who puts every NRS game on my year-end lists. RAGE 2 and DOOM Eternal look like they're a better Borderlands and DOOM 2016 But More, respectively. Wargroove gets a pick because it got shifted over from 2018 and I still love the idea of it. The Outer Worlds appears to be Fallout But Good from Oblivion, and we could all use more of them. Judgment might snap me out of the Yakuza fatigue I've felt since Yakuza 0's sequels continue to spurt out like hot cakes. Sekiro is a no-brainer ninja Bloodborne, and Fire Emblem's new Switch entry looks like a cool new take on a great strategy series that I adore.
I could easily see something like Indivisible, Pikuniku, My Friend Pedro, or a future Nintendo title jumping on here, but for now I'm gonna play it safe with the stuff I know I'm gonna like that's set for a 2019 appearance.
Hopefully, in 2019, I'll be able to get review material and other shit on here faster (RE2, Wargroove, and DMCV most likely) or at least put up other retrospectives.
I HOPE THIS YEAR IS PRODUCTIVE FOR EVERYONE. LET'S BE GOOD IN 2019.
E3, despite what Big Gov't and morose games journalism wants you to believe, is still exciting and fun for the whole family--and it's back again! In just a few short weeks, all our favorite developers plus EA will be onstage (or on Skype or something, in Nintendo's case) to show off their latest salvo of delayed software and nervous promises. Last year was pretty quiet: we had a very low-key Sony conference after 2 straight years of blistering shocks and surprises, a Microsoft show dedicated to the XBOX1X, and the bookend of the Switch making its E3 debut. With the cycle of releases coming to a kind of crossroads, we're left with an uncertain summer-to-autumn lineup leading to what looks like a more relaxing pace than the apocalyptic motherlode of games we had in 2017. There's plenty of time to be surprised, even with a few leaks leaving the barge in advance--but I'm confident that 2018's conferences will surpass the whisper that was 2017.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS ARE AS FOLLOWS.
SONY: "THE FANTASTIC FOUR"
The Playstation conference, for all intents and purposes, has already been publicly primed to showcase Shadow of Tsushima, Spider-Man, Death Stranding, and Last of Us Part 2: Electric Boogaloo. We're at the end of the "cycle" for the PS4 in terms of God of War, Horizon, Yakuza, Nier, and Persona all finally touching land, so we should expect a new wave consisting of the 4 aforementioned titles alongside some surprises. We'll probably see more from Days Gone, the unfortunate zombie money sink that has been dragged along by its neck for years, even though it is getting pushed back to 2019. Sure, Sony could coast along and not say anything else, but there's little evidence to substantiate that; the last few years have been a series of knockouts and showstoppers for the PS4, so why stop stomping on the bloated face of the Xbox now? Sony has been on the money for the last three E3s, so there's little else I could say besides "enjoy whatever fucked up scenario Kojima shows off" and cross your fingers for a demo of whatever From Software is cooking up in their mealy-marrowed laboratories.
MICROSOFT: "LET'S SEE WHAT THIS MONSTER CAN DO, BESIDES PLAY PUBG POORLY"
Although the XBOX/1/X continues to turn a reasonable profit alongside the billion dollar Minecraft venture for MS, I've never been inclined to show interest in what they have on hand at E3. Scalebound was the closest I've ever been to saying "wow, might have to buy an Xbocks" and that game was eventually executed behind the curtains. What else is coming for the XBOX1X, strongest console on earth!? Well, PUBG upgrades, maybe. Halo? Crackdown 3 previews? Forza? After Sea of Thieves, a premier first-party game from Rareware, tanked like a ghostly galleon, the fellas from XBOX are likely going to need to work doubletime to contend with a PS4 that already has a heavy lead in the GOTY race with God Of War and a quartet of new shit that is dead to rights excellence. There better be, because this show is going to be two fucking hours. I'm not sure I have faith in the Xbox to provide me with an equal measure of entertainment on par with a fucking Marvel movie, but I'm here for it, and will probably be stuffing myself with too much nachos to care, so fuck it--bring forth the Microsoft Cinematic Universe. The powerful exclusives may not be there, but the ever-expansive backwards compatibility and free game services at least buoy the XBOX versus a continuously disappointing serving of PS Plus and PS Now games. Perhaps the key to an XBOX1X victory lies within the past, where the 360 had revolutionized online gaming. That's right, I'm calling it: Blinx the Cat returns this year.
BETHESDA: "SKYRIM IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR YOUR TEXAS INSTRUMENTS CALCULATOR"
Relatively a newborn on the E3 roster, Bethesda is still a huge player given its package of studios that pump out some of the best 1st person games on the market. While last year mainly shit out a bunch of VR crap and Fallout/Skyrim paid content, 2018 may be poised to deliver in a big way. RAGE 2, driven by a scorching-hot id Software and bolstered by the fellows in Avalanche, will be making an appearance after it was unceremoniously leaked via a Walmart ad or something. All evidence points to a Prey DLC expansion on the moon, which is excellent news considering it was one of the most underrated games of 2017. I'm banking on seeing Quake Champions, a game I'll never be able to run on my PC, while Pete Hines babbles on about VR bullshit and Gamer Tokens used to buy stupid Skyrim user-created content. I want Bethesda to REALLY surprise me this year, though. I want them to announce something earthshattering. Send Todd Howard to Mars. Make a turn-based tactics game with Dishonored assets. Put Fallout on the Switch. Do SOMETHING, Bethesda, that doesn't involve microtransactive horseshit or VR re-releases that sell for 59.99. It kills me that Bethesda genuinely has some of the best fucking developers in games history right now (Harvey Smith, Shinji Mikami, everyone at id, even Todd Howard) but they make dumb decisions all the time, especially with marketing and sending their non-reviewed products out to die. Though committed to churning out funds for Arkane and Tango Softworks to make crazy shit, Bethesda really needs to send itself off this year with a big bang.
NINTENDO: "WE SNAP OUR FINGERS, AND HALF OF OUR INVENTORY DISAPPEARS"
The king triumphant and fresh off 100 GOTY awards for its sparse yet beautiful Zelda launch, Nintendo is set to once again broadcast its own Direct at the tail-end of E3. Unlike most of the other presentations, Nintendo has made it clear that this Direct will focus on 2018 offerings; not surprising, given how the company operates within a sphere that likes to hold back on anything that's too far into the future. I don't think we'll be seing Metroid Prime or Bayonetta just yet--but I won't discount further looks into Travis Strikes Again, a Pokemon title, or the virtually-guaranteed Fire Emblem that Nintendo's fiscal reports keep gassing on about. What does intruige me is that something as big as Monster Hunter was tossed ahead as an announcement in May. A money-plundering release like Monster Hunter isn't even in the 2018 E3 Direct? What could be in store for us, then? Nintendo's schedule after this summer is practically empty, leading me to believe Fire Emblem, Smash Bros, and 1 or 2 other new titles will be finding their way to the holiday season. Smash Bros will of course be the premiere title, but with all the weird and wonderful ports we're getting lately (The World Ends With You, Mark of the Ninja) I have to wonder what else will be "perfect for the Switch." I'm going out on a limb and saying Vanquish is next, from good friend Platinum. As for the rest? I can't even pretend to know what Nintendo could do. Is Star Fox Grand Prix real? Will a Virtual Console happen? What is Retro and Next Level working on!? The ball is in Nintendo's court to continue the white-hot momentum for this splendidly succeessful hybrid console.
And no, I do not think Mother 3 will appear.
SQUARE-ENIX: "FINAL FANTASY 7 WILL BE RELEASED IN 2022"
Squeenix could roll out just two things at their special video presentation and call it a day:
1) Release date for Kingdom Hearts 3
2) Release date for Part 1 of the FF7 Remake.
I'm not really privy to what else Squeenix is up to, besides infinite DLC for FF15 and perhaps showing off more footage of the beautiful Octopath Traveler. Free of Hitman and devoid of Deus Ex, Squeenix's new weirdo game on the plate is actually an Avengers-themed venture, though I don't know if we should expect any early news about it. What I would bank on, however, is a Life is Strange-related newsflash, and some kind of Dissidia Duodecim Peacecorps Nebulacrum Final Fantasy spinoff whateverthefuck game being shown off. There's something called Outriders, which could be anything from a racing game to a dating sim? Squeenix is weird like that. With their subsidiary studios either busy as fuck or decimated, it's hard to predict what Squeenix has in store for the next year or so. Expect delays!
UBISOFT: "FLOW MY TEARS, THE TOM CLANCY WEPT"
The Developer As A Service, Ubisoft had a pretty good year in 2018: shoring up their finances with the stupid dogshit of Wildlands while cultivating a new IP in the grand Kingdom Battle tactics RPG for Switch. Additionally, service was bolstered within the scope of The Division, For Honor, and even Siege--which was a feat unto itself, since only Blizzard works this hard anymore to keep multiplayer affairs breathing for more than a release window. On top of that, Ubisoft quietly released what was probably their best Assassin's Creed game since AC2 with Origins, though it was crushed to death by the open-world twosome of Horizon and Zelda. After both a Far Cry and an AC game out on the streets, look for Big Ubi to capitalize the goodwill on Beyond Good and Evil 2 as well as a possible Splinter Cell revival. We'll probably get a good look at the Donkey Kong DLC for Kingdom Battle as well as a new season of For Honor on the way. Ubisoft has turned into a much better company over the last year and a half, so anything involving improvement on their existing IPs is a net gain for everyone, unless it's another fucking Watchdogs game.
EA: "WE ARE SO SORRY"
Jesus Christ. Fucking EA, where to begin? After a wink and a nod about how "we got a lot of criticism for Battlefront" last year, EA proceeded to become embroiled in one of the bigger controversies of 2017 with Battlefront 2's bullshit lootboxes and fucked up parity-breaking multiplayer. Not that EA cares, because how could they? At the end of the day, they made money. Will critical consensus even have a hand in improving EA? With Mass Effect dead for the foreseeable future and Dead Space ripped in peace, I have even less to care about in regards to this year's presentation/apology. There's only so many times EA can say sorry about fucking up before I just take their show as the cue for a bathroom break. Unlike Destiny 2 and its spiral into boredom, I was lucky enough to avoid both Andromeda and Battlefied 2 after trying them out briefly. What's next? Anthem? The real deal after Andromeda got shuttled into an airlock for dead? Maybe it'll be good??? All I can say here is good luck with your Iron Man game, EA--and don't overplay your hand with preorder bullshit.
MISC. NOTES AND THOUGHTS
There are a few bits and bytes that don't really belong in any specific presentation (as of yet) but I thought I'd mention these games anyway:
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim: It's been an eternity since I saw this awesome new Vanillaware title, which will be the first game from the developer set in "modern" times (and by modern I mean "huge fucking mechs piloted by schoolgirls.") It seems this bizarre game pops up once a year at a trade show, like a silver fox, and then it vanishes into the tall grass once more. I just want a fucking release date, guys. I JUST WANT A FUCKING RELEASE DATE.
Devil May Cry 5: Gee, I wonder what Itsuno has been working on all these years? It's almost the worst kept secret in history by now but we've all assumed that Devil May Cry is ready for its big return, especially since everything else not named Monster Hunter has been fucked up by Capcom. Maybe we've all been huffing farts for the past year or so but I choose to believe that DMC5 is very real and it will make its debut at E3 2018.
Resident Evil 2 Remake: Okay, I lied, Monster Hunter isn't the only thing Capcom somehow succeeds at, since RE7 was such a great experience--but knowing Capcom, this was probably by accident. Quite possibly one of the finest games of its generation and runner for best in the series, Resident Evil 2 was selected for an ambitious remake project on the scale of the famous first REmake way back in 2015. It's been 3 years and we're owed at least a preview of things to come, and it'd be a fitting thing to do given that it has been 2 years since the shocking RE7 reveal at E3 2016.
Star Fox Grand Prix: I think I mentioned this earlier but I'd like to put it here as well. It's just such a weird goddamn idea but the more details emerge, the more I'm okay with it. Star Fox has been a series of failed gimmicks and halfbrained ideas since Star Fox 64, and there's just no market for a big Nintendo-driven shooter. The only way to drag Star Fox back into the light is under a gutsy new mix of genres, so why not make it a crossover with the F-Zero we'll never get at this rate? Mario Kart has the racing genre cornered already, meaning it'll take a bit more than hyperspeed highways to get people on board. Maybe this leak is bullshit but I kind of hope it turns out to be the "Kingdom Battle" of the conference and surprises everyone.
It's embarrassing to know my only large review of the year so far is fucking Far Cry 5, which wasn't a bad game by any means but won't likely crack my Top Ten at year's end. I have a Monster Hunter World review languishing in a notepad that I need to finish, and enough time has passed that I should get to a God Of War writeup. (Spoilers: I loved it and it's excellent). I've mostly been working/doing my serious literary shit so unfortunately the games stuff takes a backseat for now. Not much else has been on my plate in a slow games year thus far, though I still need to get Yakuza 6. Ports like Bayonetta 2 and Tropical Freeze are currently on my Switch, as well. But more importantly, I've had "free" games occupying my time, and by free I mean "emulation." Gamecube was the only Nintendo system I never owned, so I'm catching up on that generation and playing my first Paper Mario game ever. I'm told Thousand Year Door is the best of the 3 original games, so that's where I'm at now between rounds in Soul Calibur 2.
I'll be taking a day off for the Monday of E3 as usual because I'm a tremendous nerd but hey, it's E3, fuck it--I love this hobby and it's sort of mostly ok, for most of the time, in terms of community--so let's all HAVE A FEAST of laughs and gasps when it comes to be.
FAR CRY 5
ONLY YOU CAN MAKE ALL THIS WORLD SEEM RIGHT.
Far Cry always has, and always will be, one of Ubisoft's tentpole IPs alongside Assassin's Creed. While the latter game has been given hearty competition in recent years alongside Dishonored, Zelda, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and even the Shadow of Mordor series, Far Cry remains alone as a tried and true open world 1st person chaos simulator ripe with glorious explosions and hi-jinx galore. It's a series that, until now, has aimed to explore the far reaches of islands and Asiatic countries--most of the time as an outsider or invader. The Nepal analogue of Kyrat in Far Cry 4 was lustrous, diverse, and beautiful in how it mirrored the culture and nature of an actual country, and alongside this world was a story of a young man trying to discover the truth about his lineage. Atop a grey area of morality was Pagan Min, the charismatic tyrant whose generosity towards protagonist Ajay Ghale was one stemmed from betrayal and a lost attempt at true family. Ubisoft did the best job they could with this recipe, and created what I felt was one of 2014's better games. Far Cry 5 is, no pun intended, a far cry from the exotic locales in the past 4 iterations, preferring to take us down to Montana in the United States for country twang, grain silos, and a more toned-down approach. Far Cry 5's themes of family and falsehood are, in many ways, a bizarre funhouse mirror of the previous game's tale, and in doing so warps gameplay to positive and negative degrees.
Far Cry 5 follows the same underlying blueprint as the two previous games in the series: a huge region divided by separate claims of ownership via outposts, sidequests from various regular NPCs, animals who will pop up at inopportune moments, snappy gunplay, a wingsuit, heavy vehicular usage for travel, and antagonists who taunt you and make you miserable any chance they get. Unlike Far Cry 4, the fifth game gives a little more freedom with your choices via letting you tackle any of the 3 "herald" co-conspirators in any order and at any time. There's also a revamped "guns for hire" system, letting you have up to 2 AI companions from a list of 9 unique people or animals. Nothing's quite like storming an outpost base with a grizzly bear and a man doing strafe runs in a fighter plane. Each friend carries different skills, so depending on the situation you may want the silent bowslinger Jess Black over the trigger-happy bazooka joe, Hurk Drubman. Whether its through choppers, sniping, flamethrowing, or straight up "being a fucking mountain lion," the NPC companions are all fun or funny to utilize and converse with. They all have their distinct personalities and occasionally specific quests relating to their own goals.
Although the satisfying gameplay and combat largely remains the same from the previous iteration, there are some serious drawbacks in Far Cry 5 when it comes to other basic aspects. Foremost is the stock of guns available, which have been scaled down and made more exclusive. Instead of going out on specific goals to craft or earn special weapons like Robocop's Auto-9 or a handheld flamethrower, your unlocks rely on the level of progress across all 3 regions you're working to free. By the time you're nearly done with the game, the last of these weapons unlock--which is kind of batshit since there's no point in even using these last few tools at this point. The progression system in general is kind of fucked since it teeters between worthless and "things that you could just craft with materials at anytime in the last game." Eventually you learn to get over it, but the sad assortment of guns to play with and earn through special means feels a bit lifeless; the rewards just aren't there.
Let's talk about the most obvious change in the game, which is the fact that it takes place in rural America instead of a hostile island of madmen or an exotic hidden Shangri-la of villages and mountain paths. Montana is beautiful in motion and in passing; as usual, Ubisoft has done a fantastic job creating a scenic location that you'll be happy to drag on its face before blowing up with a remote bomb. Silos, tractors, and demonic turkeys are in abundance over the fruited plains and fields of grain, with plenty of rivers to traverse in your gunboats if you want to choose the low road. Adding to the choppers of yesteryear are fighter planes and seaplanes, which are a bitch to handle and will probably get you killed more often than not. Ubisoft claimed that FC5's world is their biggest in the franchise, though a lot of it is claimed by flatlands and the hilly mountains in the north which don't have that much to hide. The map may be larger but it feels less dense, making the game itself feel like a faster completion than FC4. Fortunately, there are no radio towers to climb to reveal locations or gain access to forts; you simply come across a thing to uncover it and earn a fast travel point. In doing so, this eliminates the need for the minimap (I never missed it) and promotes more exploration across the countryside. Although there are far fewer places to utilize the wingsuit, the other aerial vehicles and the option for an air drop make up for it.
Okay, great, we all know Far Cry is a happenstance carnage simulator wherein the boy with the biggest grenades wins the fights. What about the story and the characters therein, which have been called everything from "trite" to "downright worthless garbage?" I won't lie: Pagan Min and Ajay Ghale's dance of death across the land of Kyrat in a war to understand the past and the future of The Golden Path was a far more nuanced and well-crafted storyline than the bumblefuck cult of a David Koresh doppelganger believing in the world's end. I won't waste my time debating if there was something more political to the edge that was initially promoted for Far Cry 5 because it's clear it's not really there, just as clear as it seems Joseph Seed takes a similar "fuck politics" turn in his words and deeds. The core of Far Cry 5 lies within the apocalyptic ramblings of Seed and his siblings (John, Jacob, and Faith) as they abduct people from the surrounding areas in order to "save" them from a countrywide collapse. From the start, you are told that you are the catalyst of ruination; a prophetic horseman destined to sow even more chaos through the realms Seed has claimed.
Far Cry games, in general, are chaos simulators. Far Cry 3 asked the player if they knew the meaning of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again. Climb a radio tower, do a sidequest, reload your guns, practice your bowhunting. Far Cry 4 asked you to put aside your petty cares about this land you have no real connection to, and join the benevolent tyrant Pagan Min in the Best Weekend Ever. The twist, of course, is that you really can't, though you are free to try even as you support one of two opposing factions whose own ideals are different kinds of fucked up. If Far Cry 4 is the tease, then Far Cry 5 is the fulfillment of what the other two prophesized: the ultimate in destruction of the self and your inability to truly fix the world through a hail of bullets.
The criticisms of the Seed family (and their stupid abduction mechanics that interrupt gameplay) are all well-founded, though they do at least attempt to bring more to the table. John clearly has issues and Faith is a whole can of worms when it comes to drug abuse and Joseph Seed's predilection to "use up" people himself, but it's in Jacob's metanarrative on video game violence that the game comes closest to saying something different. Joseph Seed's final encounters and the game's ultimate passage result in one of the creepiest, most ridiculous endings in the Far Cry canon to date--much more batshit than the "congratulations, game over" of the previous title--and unlike many other people, I loved it. It's the perfect way to end a game that has promoted you to the rank of an angel of death, and in the final moments has the unflappable guts to spit in your face as a thank you for playing. As Jacob might have said, you were never really free, and as the protagonist who likely fucked up more than once in your playthrough, you might be nothing more than another horseman of death. It's a somewhat clumsy and bittersweet curtain call that could have offered more clues and pulled more strings to earn what it does, though given the overall disconnect of the entire game's shenanigans versus the brutality being kept at bay, I can't really complain too much. The game saves its most heated, honest moments only when characters--the Seed family included--are at their most desperate; this goes double for Joseph, whose postmortem moments are among the game's best and help redeem his voice actor's presence. Death, the great equalizer, serves as the emancipator of the emotional resonance that Far Cry 5 is so curiously intent on hiding.
Though I still have a soft spot for Far Cry 4, I did genuinely enjoy my time with Far Cry 5 as I soldiered on and began to unlock more ways to cause havoc. A few of the story beats did fall in nicely (someone in the dev team clearly loves Nick Rye), and by the end, Joseph Seed becomes unhinged enough to gain a degree of menace I didn't feel for most of the journey. A few shortcuts were taken here and there, but the initial experience is still a fun one to take, even if it doesn't last as long or hit as hard until the sucker punches near the end of each region. Life, as Hobbes puts it, is nasty, brutish, and short--a fitting way to transcribe FC5 versus the others of its bloodline. FC5 condenses a great many things in favor of bringing you down to earth for some home cooking in the US of A, watering down some of the potential with gaseous monologues from Jacob and John while gifting you with better excursions happening with your NPC pals. You are, in the grand scheme of Far Cry 5's world, a tiny blip trying to save a tiny town on the brink of collapse, even as the rest of the world is trying to figure their own shit out. Enjoy the ride while it lasts, fire that grenade launcher into the sun, sic your dog on cultists, and take your combat drugs daily, because we're all just ants and Far Cry is the magnifying glass we are so hellbent on using to get that last roast of the hour.
BEST OF 2017: existence and persistence
Yes, I'm late to the party, but I've arrived with a belated Best Of 2017 article. Not for NOTHIN' would I miss out on posting my top games from an extremely fruitful year. Sure, this hobby might be fucked up with truly awful people and unneeded shit, but hey--games are great, and we should all be GREATFUL for such GREAT things that bring us together. The theme of 2017 seemed to be one of both ponderous inner battles and wide-reaching spaces, both figurative and literal. It was the year Nintendo rose from the grave and took the world by storm with not one but two critical darlings. I must say, I absolutely love the Switch, and have extremely high hopes for its months ahead.
Let's bite right into it!
10) NIGHT IN THE WOODS (Everything)
After what felt like an eternity, I was very pleased to finally play Kickstarter darling Night in the Woods. A charming world of animal people in a small town caught in a microcosm of nostalgia, hopelessness, and stagnancy, Night in the Woods casts you as Mae, a cat who has skipped out on her college experience and moved back to this aforementioned community. Largely reliant on its candid characters and bolstered by wonderful writing, I loved my experience with this game and loved it even more seeing my wife play through the experience in a different way than I did. It resonated with me immensely, hearkening back to my own post-college listlessness and despondency, but let me laugh along with it even as it descended into more depressing elements. It's more real than the majority of stories offered in games right now, well worth the price of admission, and has a spectacular ending. In such an exceptionally strong year, it's pleasantly surprising that I (and others) loved this enough to put it in the upper echelon. From the standpoint of games being able to tell a great story, Night In The Woods is up there with the best of them.
9) RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD (PS4, X1, PC)
Resident Evil, a franchise long in decline, hoisted itself up by the bootstraps and did the sanest thing possible: coast off the goodwill earned by the dearly departed P.T.--and it mostly worked, for about 3/4 of the game. Anything involving the terrifying Baker family is pulse-pounding and legitimately chilling; the last chunk of the game spent in a gauntlet of slime monsters and a salt mine, not so much. Even though RE7 runs out of steam near the end, it redeems itself with a knockout ending encounter and an overall terrifying journey. It's refreshing to get back to the "resident" in Resident Evil after galloping across Europe and the polar icecaps and volcanoes or whatever, and I hope future entries keep us grounded in smaller, tighter environments. Please do not fuck this up, Capcom.
8) INJUSTICE 2 (PS4, X1, PC)
NetherRealm Studios' largest and most ambitious project to date, Injustice 2 is possibly one of the biggest fighting games ever created in terms of the content it offers. It's also one of the most accessible, even for those who don't have the time to commit to every single Multiverse match; there's a fun tamagotchi mode to customize your own AI fighters and watch them conquer the universe. If playing dress-up RPG with your fighters is desirable to you, Injustice 2 has a wealth of options for how to outfit each member of the roster, impacting their stats and how silly their stupid fucking helmets look. Speaking of looks, NRS pulled out all stops with the visuals because goddamn this is a huge leap in quality, especially in facial structure. We've come a long, long way from horrific skull shapes, balloon bosoms, and plastic hair, but Injustice 2 represents the pinnacle of this studio's work. A complete success in every possible way, NRS once more dominated the charts with their fighting game and dominated my heart with their ridiculous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles announcement for 2018.
7) MARIO+RABBIDS: KINGDOM BATTLE (Switch)
Nothing so perfectly encapsulates the revival of Ubisoft's public fortunes as the Mario Plus Rabbit: XCOM game does. Initially derided upon being leaked months before E3, the presentation that followed that summer made a believer out of most of us due to some fun new mechanics to the formula and a simple, though engaging momentum to the madness. Fun writing and personalities for the Rabbids make them the most endearing and enjoyable they've ever been, which is some kind of ungodly triumphant. This is a potential new cash cow for Nintendo and Ubisoft together, as we're sorely lacking in XCOM clones these days, let alone strategy games on a Nintendo home console, so by all means Ubisoft, go full hog on your "milk this for all its worth" because I would keep buying these forever.
6) PREY (PS4, X1, PC)
The heir presumptive of System Shock, Prey is the culmination of everything Arkane has learned in its 20+ years of expertise with mirror-men Raf Colantonio and Harvey Smith at the wheel. Combining the best of what immersive sims have had to offer, Prey is a grand narrative told by way of objects both sinister and nakedly confessional; the fake and the real intertwining like a helix around the makeshift identity that you and your adversaries are creating. A masterpiece in creative thinking and toolsets, Prey absconds its flaws by way of just how great the construction and execution of its ideas are. Not without its warts, I still enjoyed the grand majority of Prey's themes and overarching exploration, even with semi-sequence breaking possibilities. It will possibly be Raphael Colantonio's final contribution to gaming--but what a last hurrah it was.
5) SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY (Switch)
Nintendo found a way to liquefy pure fun and bottle it into Mario games sometime in the 80s, and the recipe hasn't lost its flavor just yet. Odyssey is a small revival of the Mario 64 and Sunshine template, but focuses more on accomplishment in miniature through 900 or so Moons to collect. Every new level is a notable playground to dig up and turn over, and hardly any space exists for naught. The prizes may be more plentiful but so is the nonstop sense of accomplishing something, which is good for making even the dumbest games journalist feel smart. In terms of presentation and execution, this came through with flying colors, and might just be the prettiest Mario game created yet.
4) FIRE PRO WRESTLING WORLD (PC, PS4 coming soon)
The return of Fire Pro was one of the coolest goddamn things ever, because I miss the old days of creating a bunch of whackjob combatants and programming them to my heart's content. Fire Pro is less about the fighting you're doing and more about the spectacles being detailed and narrated to an insane degree. The AI system has always been the most interesting aspect of Fire Pro; making your own federation of weirdos and madmen eclipses anything that resident shithouse 2K could even dream of cooking up. I've got a roster of almost 60 custom fighters by now, and with the upcoming Management Mode on the way in February, this game is going to get even sweeter. I have probably 120 hours logged in this and I don't see myself stopping at any point.
3) PERSONA 5 (PS4)
The latest entrant from Atlus continuing to revolutionize the now considerably-niche JRPG formula--a genre that even Final Fantasy is slowly moving away from with FFXV's real-time combat and wide-open world. Though Persona as a series does rely on turn-based 4-person combat at its core, it's only a small facet in a much grander and eloquent scheme cloaked in domino masks, part-time jobs, your disgruntled coffee uncle, and capturing satanic pixies after gossiping with them about high school. This is the wild metaverse of Persona, wherein a bunch of teenagers are playing a game within a game while a fansite eggs them on to solve the squelchy problems others don't have the clout to investigate.
As much as I wanted to finish my review of this, I just didn't have enough time--but I will say that it improves so much upon Persona 4 Golden in the gameplay department that I could likely never return to that dungeon-crawler setup. With a menu system more stylish than the entirety of other games and a soundtrack to die for, Persona 5 is wild ride with wonderful characters, a fun and snappy fighting scheme, and more than enough to keep you occupied in the downtime it offers. It's great that JRPGs are still alive and have even managed to evolve over time. When it comes to straight up RPG entertainment and ease--of-access to a speculative genre, Persona 5 is the cream of the crop.
2) THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD (Switch)
I'm no Zelda guy, but BOTW was a game that captivated me right up until the closing act. The freedom it offers and the sparse, sometimes tranquil solitude you wake up within is a pleasant change from the cacophony of modern games these days. Sure, Horizon Zero Dawn or even Assassin's Creed: Origins put similar, sometimes better elements on a platter--but Zelda captured me by the sheer scale of exploration and the puzzles within. There was a refreshing simplicity in many of its moments, and I do hope that the future of the franchise follows up by improving upon some of its highest moments achieved here. I've said way too much about this already so by all means, refer to my dedicated review for more.
1) YAKUZA 0 (PS4)
Yakuza 0 was an anomaly coming into 2017 because the Yakuza franchise was very much a cult game series. Yakuza 0, a brand new origin story, turned the tables by kickstarting at least 2 other remakes for 1 and 2 while guaranteeing 6 would be coming to the West. Although I can't say how much influence Yakuza 0 really had in this outpouring of support from Sega, what I can say is that Yakuza 0 is one of the best games I've ever experienced. Much like DOOM in the year before, Yakuza 0 is just simply fun in a Dreamcast retro-classic kind of way. It's a near-perfect gem of tremendous storytelling wrapped around a joyous brawler, and sprinkled over generously with wonderfully written sidestories and genuinely fun supplemental activities. It says a lot that the pool game in a Japanese dramabomb is so well realized that it could have been a standalone game somewhere else.
The people behind this game put a lot of soul and passion into it, and I can only hope that Yakuza 2 and Yakuza 6 follow in its footsteps to garner even more fans of this fantastic series. But even if you simply start and then stop at Yakuza 0, it's well worth the playthrough and the fun to be had by hosting your weirdo nightclub and slamming men into traffic cones for real estate ventures. Sometimes, videogames just need to be simple in the ways they delight you. Yakuza 0 is an experience that's out of time, free of season passes and microtransactions, offering you a world of bewilderment and passionate fistfights within the scale of just a few city blocks.
SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS: "THE SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS!"
Boy, it sure was a stacked year in 2017! Unfortunately, not everything was on my top 10, and not every game gets a Special Award (mainly because I'm so fucking late this year and had less time to write this shit) but let's just be thankful for EACH OTHER, AND WHAT WE HAVE.
Best DLC: XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
XCOM2 was a major success when it came to isometric strategy tactics against an alien menace. With the tremendous overhaul in WOTC, now it is just plain sexy. Not only cribbing from Shadow or Mordor with the surprise assailants in the 3 Chosen, but putting in a legit zombie horde mode in certain maps really takes the cake. New faction classes, movie poster victory rolls, teamwork synergy, and rad new maps are just the tip of the iceberg, but this DLC is almost essential to the XCOM2 experience now in terms of the colossal amount of content it dumps onto you. This is the grand kahuna of tactics games, so take a big spoonful of WOTC next time you double dip into XCOM2. Nothing compares to beating a psionic alien warlord in a swordfight while two dozen zombies are crashing out of derelict apartments towards the cynosure of the conflict.
Best Music: Persona 5
It was a real dogfight this year in the Best Music department. Night in the Woods has a great blipbloop score, and Nier: Automata's space language made for a beatific vision of an otherwise repetitive and dusty adventure. However, I couldn't let go of the smooth jazz stylings on offer in persona 5. I thought it would be impossible to put one over on the spritely janglepop of Persona 4, but in the end the score for P5 was one for the ages with its upbeat jams and rainspattered slow burns.
Best New Character: Jack Baker
In a year full of goth lolita androids, Rabbids, and space junkies, the most charming and hilarious of them all was a swampman in a jumpsuit who just wanted to WELCOME YOU TO THE FAMILY, SON. Jack Baker may be infested with some kind of mind-altering fungus that grants him invulnerability and super-strength, but his best asset is still his ability to take bullets to the face with a smile and a laugh. A cackling omnipresence in your Resident Evil 7, two of the best boss battles in 2017 were against Jack, setting the tone for a mostly frightening journey. Capcom dropped the ball by refusing him entry into the latest Marvel v. Capcom, thereby guaranteeing the game's immediate and utter failure. How do you say no to such a well-mannered gentleman? Not many bayou boys can wield an axe or a pair of chainsaws with such class, except for maybe Jimmy Carter. Hats, and hands off, to Jack.
Best Story: Prey
Although Yakuza 0 has one of the best narratives in years, I have to give this pick to Prey solely due to how important it is to the entire game's progression. The writing isn't just limited to the plot, but permeates every pore and object available to examine--from books and computers to secretive recordings and abandoned board games. Prey's greatest strength lies within its atmospheric tales and mysteries left on the wayside; often the best tales are the ones that have been lost to time and (literally) space. It's fascinating how the prevailing of these memories now depends on a character who may not understand or trust their own memory at all. When it comes to Prey, you get out of the narrative as much as you want to give.
Best Boss: Jack Baker
It's a rare thing that the Best New Character pick also happens to be a grandstanding boss within his game, as well--but Jack Baker is just that good. In the 3 main encounters with Jack outside of his usual stalking, you're taken through 3 completely different scenarios that mirror the mounting horror and mutation faced on this vacation from hell. The second duel in particular is a plainly incredible grindhouse moment, bridging the gap from stupidity to awesomeness. There may have been more complex bosses last year but nothing holds a candle to how insane your fights with the Baker patriarch were in RE7.
Best Comeback: Ubisoft
I can't believe that I get to eat crow over a company I've shit on year after year, in consecutive E3 previews, since the beginning of time. Ubisoft playing the long game ended up working out pretty well, as they had a new and generally fun medieval fighting IP, an Assassin's Creed that's actually really good, a Nintendo XCOM that is beyond the scope of our expectations, and a fantastic new Far Cry coming up in early 2018. Sure, they also created Wildlands, which is like if MGSV was brought to a house party and left with party favors that somehow made you blind and shit blood, but hey--who hasnt done that?? Yes, Wildlands sucks and is a stiff mediocre shootman with impressively bad vehicle collision, but aside from that, Ubisoft continued to support For Honor and even Rainbow Six Siege well into 2018--no small feat in this gaming climate. It's been a long road for the little Frenchmen that could and their friend Aisha Tyler, but taking a year or so to development their new toys instead of pumping out 6 in 12 months paid off handsomely, and even gave them a mutually beneficial hit with the Switch. I can say that I'm actually looking forward to the future of Ubisoft, whatever it brings. Hopefully the reveal of Beyond Good and Evil 2 lands on its feet, and within the next 2 years.
Biggest Wet Fart: Destiny 2
It gives me no joy to declare Destiny 2 a wet fart. Hell, I bought it and played for a month or so, enjoying the new experiences and improved missions offered within. There was an actual wealth of stuff to do....until there wasn't, and the rewards or even purpose for most of these things added up to very little. It turned out that the homogeneous gun stats and equipment on hand would be a kind of undoing, and the continued small offering of Strikes didn't help. By fixing the problem of "not enough stuff," you were soon encountered with "too much stuff too fast" and at that rate, you could get the 2 or 3 best guns rather quickly (anything with fucking exploding bullets.) What's worse is that the crapshoot 6v6 PvP, which was somewhat fun in Destiny 1, was dumbed down to 4v4 matches that devolved further into crouching and nervously shooting around corners, while your Ability cooldowns were hobbled worse than a Stephen King protagonist's ankles. Gone were the frantic moronic spacefights with DBZ beams and knives to the head; PvP had been transformed into the dullest, worst multiplayer offering in existence.
At this writing, Bungie is pretty much in an endless loop of apologizing for things every 2 weeks, fixing or fucking something up ad infinitude. It's madness that they still can't seem to grasp the solutions to these problems, but hey, why bother when you had the biggest release of any console game in 2017? Take the monies and run.
"This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get" Award: King Of Fighters 14
No, this is not an award sponsored by Public Image Limited. I figured even though XCOM2 won Best DLC, I should still mention SNK's comeback game King Of Fighters 14 and the excellent tendency they now have to give the players exactly what they're asking for. In this case, SNK dropped a DLC character pack of Whip, Yamazaki, Rock Howard, and Vanessa, pretty much running the gauntlet of fan favorites everyone was asking for since day 1. Their great work continues with another character pack coming this April, and they've already exceeded expectations by injecting a rare badass one-time character, Oswald, into the mix. SNK may not have the same budget as Capcom or even ArcSys right now, but they're doing all they can with the resources and time available, and for that I have to give them props yet again.
Retro Classic Award: Blaster Master Zero
So many little gems were released on the Switch this year--but we'd be here all day if I went down the list. Instead, I did want to point out how fun Blaster Master Zero is, taking an original concept from long ago and adding some quality of life improvements and a trove of cheap additional DLC characters to sweeten further playthroughs. It's not the biggest or the most difficult game there is, but it's a very charming romp that gets what makes "retro" games popular. Inti Creates, aside from Mighty No. 9, has a spectacular batting average when it comes to this niche, and I hope they get the chance to remake even more classics.
Dog Park Award: Friday The 13th
A curious and unique game from GUN Media, Friday the 13th had a rocky start but eventually transformed into a corny yet faithful recreation of a slasher movie survival sim. The real joy isn't in playing a camp counselor, though--it's when you step into the big soggy boots of Jason Voorhees. The sheer power you feel as you stab through a closet to annihilate your victim, or punch their head off with one swing, is unbelievable. Jason is a brutal monster and a horrific antagonist, but goddamn he's fun to play as, even as his fatal finishers make the rest of the players wince.
As usual, let's review what I had picked for my 2017 top 10, in 2016:
1) Persona 5
2) Nier: Automata
3) Resident Evil 7
5) UNANNOUNCED NINTENDO GAME
6) Red Dead Redemption 2
7) Mass Effect: Andromeda
8) Injustice 2
10) Yooka Laylee
50% ain't too bad, considering the Nintendo game was Kingdom Battle. I suppose I got tired of putting Zelda on my list every year and left it off. Red Dead, as we all know, was postponed til 2018. Nioh, while rather good, didn't quite make my cut as I didn't have too much time with it. Yooka-Laylee is a hilarious pick, given how it bombed--same with Andromeda, which was very unfortunate. Games like Yakuza 0 and Fire Pro weren't really a thing back when I made this initial list so I had no way of predicting what would happen.
You probably have noticed the distinct lack of Nier:Automata on this list. I toyed with the idea of giving it an "overrated" award but decided not to write about it. All I can say is that I found the combat dreadfully boring, the open world aspect unnecessary timewasting, and the story to be a rather diet take on better ideas that I've read from Phillip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov. It's a game with a lot of good ideas but the concept of multiple playthroughs isn't quite deserved due to the lackluster characters that don't get worthwhile until 30 hours in, and the disappointing combat that can actually frustrate you if you're a "lower level" than future enemies, which is ridiculous.
Now, without further waffling, here's my presumptuous list for the Best of 2018:
Red Dead Redemption 2
God Of War
Monster Hunter World
Far Cry 5
I admit, it's kind of cheating to create this list when I've already been playing a bit of DBFighterZ and Monster Hunter, but fuck you. As usual, I took out insurance on Nintendo, presuming things like No More Heroes: Travis Strikes Back come out in 2018. The rest of these are kind of no-brainers. It seems to be a very simple year but I kind of like it; there's a clear road ahead of the heavy hitters, though I could certainly see games like Indivisible or Celeste be on here, as well.
IT'S BEEN A GREAT YEAR FOR GAMES, AGAIN. EVERYONE IS A WINNER IN 2017 AND WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE WINNERS IN 2018 WITH BIG BUCKS AND BIG THRILLS. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR NAME AT THE DOOR. WELCOME, AND GOODBYE, EVERYONE.
Arkane's history is one that's been carved out of the blood and cracked grandeur of games like Deus Ex, System Shock, and Arx Fatalis; the games they make wear these inspirations on their sleeves easily, mainly because Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio have either directed, written, or done extensive QA on all of those aforementioned projects. Arkane has continued a strong tradition of skill trees, power sets, worldbuilding through documents and audio logs, freewheeling hubs, dark secrets, and continuous espionage with their products over the course of their existence. In Dishonored 1 and 2, there was a beauty in the mechanics and the freedom of choice--the ways in which to conquer each objective and utilize a terrifying mystical arsenal in rich, satisfying ways.
Prey, although hewn from the same sharp minds that collected and dispersed the wonders of Dishonored, goes further in both narrative and game design, especially when it gifts you the subtle poison of being unfaithful to the player. In times past, games like Metal Gear Solid 2 and Bioshock had the audacity to commit a sin: lie to the player. In recent years this is not so shocking, but as an early concept in the last 10 or so years, deliberately leading you on is a quality that many games are not particularly partial to. Prey is built to test your perception of self inside and outside of the game, leading you to confront your own actions as you explore a story that is built on the environment and relics left behind.
Prey begins with a lie that slowly spreads like a death blossom, countering what you fear to be the worst case scenario with even worse half-truths. As Morgan Yu, you're suddenly privvy to an accident at a research facility that you and your brother Alex are in charge of. The science being undertaken at the Talos 1 Space Station is both life-changing and gruesome, as the same wonderdrug that grants humans unbelievable abilities has ties to an interdimensional menace known as the Typhon. These aliens are not only versed in elemental attunements and psychic blasts, but can do things such as split into many or even mimic ordinary objects in order to ambush you with their deadly tendrils. What follows is a battle of attrition and paranoia, as the first half of the journey is spent in fear over whether or not a simple cup or a chair might turn into a dangerous spidery Typhon. This is a mission of not only survival, but one of discovery and re-discovering who you are, what you will be, and how you want to end this nightmare--before the literal Nightmare enemy stalks and destroys you.
Your means of exploration and self-defense are sometimes an overlapping junction, as one of your primary tools is the GLOO gun: a machination that serves both as a halting containment to most Typhon and natural hazards, and a constructor of platforms that you can climb upon to reach almost anything. Aside from that, you'll be taking a page from Gordon Freeman with a blunt wrench, a standard pistol, shotgun, and a few other specialized grenades to do battle with your alien enemy. Aside from these weapons, you'll begin accruing Neuromods--the product that your TranStar company is famous for. Plugging one into your skull grants hacking power, health upgrades, agility boosts, scientific knowledge, or repair abilities. Later on, once you've studied enough Typhon, these powers will divert into 3 more skill trees of morphology (turning into teacups and cellular regen), telekinetics (psionic shocks, telepathy, and remote control of machines) and energy-based power (elemental attacks, resistances, and siphons.) The drawback in ingesting such alien material is yet to be seen, although it does mark you as hostile to any turret systems currently in use on Talos 1.
Speaking of Talos 1, it's a wonderous art noveau juggernaut that holds a wealth of unique installations and facilities, from the lush Arboretum and the wide space of the gallant lobby to the core reactors and dark reaches of the cargo hold. What's even more unique to Talos 1 are the airlocks, which serve as "fast travel" points and allow you to spacewalk outside the station itself to quickly get from one area to another as they are unlocked. Spacewalks were a highly enjoyable way to float back and forth between areas, and even the cold reach of outer space holds its own secrets and side-ops for you to discover.
Although the main narrative--one of conflicting histories and memory banks of deceptive directives--will be guiding your hand towards one of several conclusions, the real meat in the skeleton of Prey's gameplay lies within the world contained in company emails, documents, and audio recordings. Like Dishonored, this is a game that hides the most interesting tidbits in plain sight; however, with Prey, these side stories are substantial in scope and will often cascade and intersect with each other. There is a mindblowing amount of detail in this web of relationships, from a far-reaching RPG game group across the space station to a huge amount of information for Danielle Sho, who could be considered almost a full-fledged character when you see just how much information and history she leaves behind. Sho is a character who you could easily never read about, care about, or encounter once--but putting in the work to discover new things in Prey pays back with a myriad of fascinating facts about Morgan Yu and his ever more dangerous projects.
Even though the exploration is the main hook to Prey, you're still trapped in a space station with a hundred hungry Typhons and all their terrible abilities. As the game moves onward, more and more breaches will mean that not even the central lobby hub is safe from bigger and badder aliens inhabiting it. The combat that takes place in Prey is a mix of stealthy assault and psionic warfare, depending on your build halfway into the game. A shotgun blast is reliable, but indirect attacks hacking security drones and creating pyrotechnic implosions can be just as good, depending on resistances and enemy type. Luckily, your constant psychoscope can pinpoint weaknesses in each alien as you gradually analyze more of them. I wouldn't go as far as to say Prey's combat is on the same tier of Dishonored's dance of teleportation and hidden blades, but
Through both the main story quest and the missions, evidence, and scandals you collect along the way, Morgan's story will quickly become your own--due in part to the memory erasure of the Typhon mods and the delirious experimentation Morgan took upon himself. In more ways than one, the game becomes an exploration of identity and consequence: in the circumstance that you are embroiled within, how can you avoid the mistakes of the past and build upon the future? Will your sense of truth and reality affect your actions? What does it mean to be humane--or even human? Being that Prey is essentially a game about mimics that transform and mirror everything from people to desk lamps, the greatest transforming act of all may be within your own story told through Morgan. There is so much more to the elements of self-consciousness, ethics in science, and transhuman development, but it will be up to you to define the path ahead and decide how Morgan Yu should--or-would--react.
Within the rich construction of both the inner world and the inner self that Arkane creates in Prey, there's a story even greater than the shocking ending and ramifications therein. There are particles and pieces in the scenery that echo the spectacle of Dishonored 2's Clockwork Mansion, and much like how amazing peeling back the layers of that level was, there's a hidden joy in combing over the intricacies of how Prey both seduces and deceives you. Whether it's seeing for yourself how the ridiculous intro was "created" or connecting the dots from one departed scientist's project to the far reach of the space station's outer workings, the best moments lie within systematically finding your own truths. Even as the final beats of the story tick down and leave you with even more questions, the answer for me was clear: Arkane once again delighted and intrigued me, even against the darker and challenging moments posed in the middle of the experience. If this was truly Rafael Colantonio's swan song, it was one hell of a fucking game to go out on--combining everything he and Harvey Smith touched in their 20+ years experience and crafting an immersive experience that asks you to similarly touch upon a plethora of stories in one package. Prey is, for this multitude of reasons and psychological queries, a fantastic example of what a videogame can accomplish.
MOVE ANY MOUNTAIN
At the start of Breath Of The Wild, I awaken after a 100-year long slumber. From the exit of my cavernous rejuvenation chamber, I can see the entirety of the world from this apex: a plethora of plateaus, pathways, and the cursed kingdom itself. I clamber down the mountain face rather than follow the trail towards a decrepit temple, hoping to explore a bit first. Soon after the dangerous journey, the earth quakes--a huge rockbeast called a Stone Talus erupts from the soil to battle me. With no equipment or experience in fighting, I'm quickly felled by the grand enemy, and two more additional times when I start over. Eventually, I gave up, and climbed back up to reach the path to the crumbling sanctuary.
Many, many hours later, I'm in the polar caps of a ruinous mountain range, fading slowly to the chills and perils. I parachute down to a thought-abandoned patch of flat land atop another peak. A Stone Talus emerges. Equipped with the necessary tools and quick-footed skill, this time the Talus falls to me, sprinkling amber pieces and minerals at my feet. Victory, for now, is mine.
Later, I climb one of the tallest structures in the game purely to see if I could do it. After much trepidation and several frantic dashes along the steep cliffs, I reach the top. There is a single rock; without thinking, I uproot it. I'm rewarded with a Korok seed--an item held by well-hidden faeire folk that can be exchanged for expanding your item slots. One down, 899 to go.
Breath Of The Wild is a fantastic example of how to create a diverse journey of discovery and wonder, and yet, it can be summed up quite easily: it is a game that never stops rewarding you for being creative, curious, and well-prepared.
To preface the rest of this review, I have to pose the following statement: I've never really given a shit about the sanctity of the Zelda franchise. Ocarina of Time isn't on my shortlist for anything, I never played much of Majora's Mask or Twilight Princess, and I detested the caged repetition of Skyward Sword. The extent of my Zelda gameplay lies within the handheld games, namely Awakening, the Oracle series, and Link to the Past. I was never a fan of the tired dungeon schema, the continued gimmicks in every game (ocarina time travel, turning into a wolf, motion control and boring bird flight). I was always more of a Mario and Metroid guy, so Breath of the Wild only got my attention when it became evident that this was a complete revision of the series tropes and traditions. As such, I want to try and completely divorce Breath Of The Wild from its siblings, much like how experiences like MGS5 or even the upcoming Prey should be judged based on their standalone gameplay and not their lineage.
As much as I fucking hate saying this tired phrase, Breath of the Wild--like Resident Evil 7--is a "return to form" in the most radical way. The original Zelda for the NES dropped you in a field, had an old man give you a tool for protection, and the rest was up to you. Breath of the Wild similarly puts you in a wide open space, has an old guy give you a semi-tutorial thing if you want (and you will want to, for the parachute item he gives you), and you're given a singular goal: Defeat Ganon. That's it. Whatever goals you set for yourself--whatever story beats, accomplishments, and rewards you receive--are completely optional from this point onward. Unlike previous Zelda games that consisted of the "3 or 4 macguffins followed by the Master Sword followed by 6 more macguffins" formula, Breath Of The Wild throws it all into the ocean; you can run right to the castle if you want, and have the guts to go through with it. Nothing is required and everything is permitted, so if you want to take part in things like recovering your memories, resurrecting 4 ancient beasts to help you, or even finding the well-hidden Master Sword, that's up to you.
The crux of why BOTW feels so good is partially within two facets: being rewarded for exploring a genuinely fascinating landscape, and having more means than ever before to conquer the world. Traversal in most open world games fluctuates, and is usually infuriating; Dragon Age had some truly awful ways to explore a world filled with boring minerals, and games like even Fallout promised things like "if you can see that mountain in the distance, you can go there." BOTW fulfills that promise by actually allowing you to get anywhere with the new climbing mechanic, which allows Link to scale almost every single object in the environment, provided he has enough stamina. This singlehandedly changes the entire game and the means you have to explore, especially with your parachute tool that lets you save yourself from steep falls or float over to distant islands. More than perhaps any open world created, Zelda's entirety is truly open for you to map out and claim for yourself. Even halfway through the map and I've still yet to uncover the depths and heights offered, as every turn may reveal new items, new characters, new shrines, and some of the 900 or so Korok faeries hidden throughout the earth.
One of the central themes of BOTW is the addition of shrines over dungeons. Each shrine offers a mini-puzzle room usually centered around one of your abilities, or several--or simply your ability to divine the solution from a perplexing situation. Not only will each one reward you with an orb--4 of which will help increase your Heart or Stamina meter--but they'll also function as fast travel points. Not all of the shrines are simply laid bare for you to enter, as some require anything from solving a small puzzle to actually engaging in some kind of epic encounter. Some of the most interesting moments came from events that I assumed were full-scale quests but actually turned out to be the key to shrine revelations. Some of the shrines can feel like padding, and not all of them are A+ puzzles, but in terms of the open world structure they work well as 1) meaningful discoveries to accrue orbs and solve fun little things and 2) as fast travel checkpoints along your way to exploring and scoping out areas.
The weaker shrines are just "use magnet thing here, use cryonis there" but some of the best moments in the game come from actually making a shrine appear through a battle with a huge enemy, navigating a strange area, doing some kind of platforming challenge, or some other weird shit like the "Twins" shrine puzzle. Running a gauntlet in a crumbling temple full of Guardians or shifting through haunted darkness just to find a shrine is pretty cool. There are more than enough of these special shrine scenarios to go around, and it's delightful to stumble into one and become enraptured in a miniature adventure.
Although shrines take center stage as functional fast travel checkpoints and as a means to upgrade stamina and hearts with every 4 orbs earned, the 5 or 6 main dungeons set in the bellies of massive mechanical beasts are quite fun and engaging in what tools and features they hand you to solve their mysteries. My complaint about them lies within the fact that they end in boss battles that are not as intruiging, and generally become annoying to deal with.
Central combat in Breath Of The Wild revolves around the durability aspect of your weapons and shields. Though it's a bit of a mixed bag for me--and others--I never really felt upset about this part of the game. Combat is such a fleeting thing in the big picture, and although it gives you the same lock-on and dodge aspects mixed with a new parry button, I never felt like it was ever the crux of any Zelda before, either. What does change are the physics in BOTW, which serve as part of your offense as much as any arrow or boomerang. Pushing or summoning boulders with your magnet tool, throwing rechargeable concussive bombs to separate enemies from weapons, blowing up objects, and even stopping time will be part of your arsenal as much as your inventory. Although I did feel a sense of paranoia about my rarer weapons earned in shrines breaking with too much use, I never felt like I'd ever be locked out of generally good weapons; luckily, many items like even knight greatwords and shields eventually respawn in set places after in-game days, and many enemies have decidedly good items on them to acquire at any given time. Besides fighting, items like axes, hammers, and torches have a great deal of uses, whether it's chopping a tree to get to its fruit, hammering a shiny rock for its minerals, or lighting an entire field ablaze to stave off attackers. Other non-breakable equipment like your head, chest, and leg armors can be upgraded and recolored with the right materials, which you can find literally everywhere.
Character sidequests range from a classic Cucco herding to re-discovering an ancient faeire fountain. Oftentimes, I found that some of the most interesting rumors and discussions amongst villagers and random travelers would lead me to truly intruiging journeys. A passing quest to find out what happened to a frozen shrine lead to an awesome boss encounter in the frozen peaks. A normal delivery across prairies leads to a short battle with a follower of Ganon, followed by meeting Hestu, the Korok ambassador residing up ahead. However, there are a majority of sub-quests given by other characters that are disappointing and not worth the effort, often rewarding you with little more than 20 rupees or something equivocal to that. As I've said before, the best discoveries and achievements usually came to me through simply going off on my own, accomplishing feats that I did not have prior notion were being hoisted along as NPC requests.
The journey in BOTW is as much about what you discover before even knowing about it --the Master Sword being one of the coolest "sequence breaks" in a game yet--and there are enough charming villages and settlements to walk around and play with. Exploring Hyrule is a beautiful thing, as this pushes the limitations of the WiiU to its threshold. From the lush grass-laden fields to the bleeding sunsets and lighting effects, every biome and atmospheric theme is breathtaking and is probably one of the most incredible graphical feats in Nintendo's history. The graphical power comes with a cost though, as I inevitably ran into framerate hitches in very intensive areas---mostly crowded towns, thunderstorms, and large clusters of enemies. I'm a huge asshole when it comes to FPS problems, though I will admit that the slight jitters you get sometimes in BOTW weren't a dealbreaker for me. Things never fell into a "day-one Fallout 4 on console" level of constant slowdown, and for the majority of the experience I was able to traverse throughout the game unhindered by the normal 30fps. Playing on a WiiU didn't see to have any drawbacks, either; this is still a visually wondrous game on the elder hardware. While it may be a matter of subjective taste, I also liked the more ambient musical score that reserves itself for either towns or grand encounters. Most of the game is populated by environmental sounds and only the occasional music notes accompanying discoveries or overlooking and climbing vistas. Given how free-spirited and liberating the game feels, I felt the minimal nature of the score was better fitting than a constant triumphant theme.
In even the most minute tasks and activities, such as finding and taming a horse or surfing down the rocky side of a mountain on my shield as dawn breaks, there's a simple and inimitable joy just experiencing what Zelda offers. The game has been a degree of freedom I did not think was possible coming from the longtime series, and I commend Nintendo on unshackling the old ways and handing the agency back to the player. I've been constantly impressed by how much more there is to see at every corner, even after the game's climax was reached--I still had much more to discover. Breath of the Wild is absolutely worth all the hype and praise if only for showing players how a simple yet exciting open world should look. It's my hope that future games take up the torch to not only show you the vistas waiting for you, but also assure you that yes--you can trek all the way there and stand atop the tallest spire...only to surf your way all the way down on a pot lid.
RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD
YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE SOMETHING WONDERFUL
How do you define what Resident Evil is? It began as a tank-control 3rd person survival horror set in a mansion in the midst of nowhere, then quickly spun out of control into a huge series. After the initial 3 or 4 installments, the franchise went everywhere from radically divergent (Gun Survivor, Outbreak) and revolutionary (Resident Evil 4) to hamfisted (Resident Evil 6) and possible low-key revivals (Revelations 1+2). The gameplay, as of late, has generally held on to the core principles and 3rd person controls introduced in RE4, veering further and further into badly-balanced action segments and convoluted stories. What had started as primarily a horror series was becoming an offshoot bioweapon shooter with wildly fluctuating dips in quality. As someone who enjoyed Resident Evil 2 and 4 (the best ones, the Leon ones), I began to just accept that all hope was lost and Resident Evil, with Revelations 2, had become a low-budget throwaway property concerned with microtransaction bullshit and shoddy gameplay.
Capcom's answer to this was twofold: dedication to the old-school crowd with development of a Resident Evil 2 remake, and a surprise reveal of Resident Evil 7 at E3 2016. RE7: Biohazard was to be a complete resurrection of the series, taking place in a completely new setting with new characters, and throwing the player into a first person experience. Resident Evil 7 puts the "resident evil" back into the series and more, because this is one scary fucking game fraught with terrifying situations and encounters. I was distraught when P.T., a game rich with promise, was cancelled and sent to the abyss--however, RE7 has pulled in some of the best elements of Outlast, P.T., classic Resident Evil games, and SOMA.
The obvious shift in RE7 is the 1st person control, which serves in making each escape and confrontation that much more stressful. Unlike the movie angles of classic RE games, you're only going to see what's in front of you. As I don't have a VR headset, I can't comment on what it adds to the game--but I imagine it makes things that much more immersive. Although this shares many tropes and controls with other 1st person horror games of this ilk, RE7 still rests on collecting weapons, sparse ammo, herbs, and first aid kits, and puzzles that rely on things like weird objects and a series of keys.
In RE7, you play as Ethan, who is convinced his long-lost wife is being held hostage in a Louisiana estate. Ethan wanders into a southern swampmeat residence, gets captured by backwoods psychos, and hilarity ensues. It certainly puts the "resident" back in Resident Evil, as you mainly explore and run around an old house full of secrets, a disgusting basement area, and a dilapidated shack near the water. The sinister Baker family--Jack, Margeurite, and Lucas--all have their own unique quirks and challenges for you, and their respective areas change up the game each time. You'll go from a wild goose chase with a Nemesis-esque Jack to dodging bugs in the shack to solving tripwire puzzles from Lucas in the main playthrough. I did love how the type of encounter changed with each family member I had to go through, and the resulting backtracking into new, horrible areas to keep making progress. Like the original Resident Evil, the house itself is a pertinent and important feature because you'll be traversing its entrails for quite some time, and the challenges will constantly morph. Besides the merry pranks from the Baker family, you will also have to deal with a slimy black symbiotic slew of monsters called Molded. These guys are more or less the dangerous shock troops that have been infected by whatever moldy shit is infecting everyone's brains, and some of your toughest decisions will come from whether you want to use your limited ammo to take them out or flee.
It feels like yesterday I was downtrodden over the death of the excellent P.T. project, which held so much promise in its presentation and unease. Resident Evil 7 has actually succeeded in spooking me just as much as P.T. did--the terror of pushing open each door and navigating through the next dimly-lit room had my heart pounding, especially when I knew something was following me. A lot of this can be attributed to the excellent graphics and hyper-real construction of the household, which was a reason why P.T.'s hallway and relatively "normal" space seemed so scary; there's something not quite right under the surface. Much like the odd viscera and threatening pictures in that game, RE7 has more than enough moments to make you question what the fuck is going on in this estate, and what happened to this family. The best moments come from absolute radio silence, because in those instances the threat is at its worst. You will be taken aback when you feel your safest, and every escape feels like a tiny victory--especially in the more decrepit areas of the Baker estate that have fallen to ruin and sludge.
It wouldn't be Resident Evil without boss battles, something that I feel didn't even become worthwhile until Resident Evil 4. I'm glad to say the battles in RE7 range from pretty good to genuinely thrilling. I don't want to spoil anything, but some of the battles are actually fun and/or funny to go through, especially since you're being egged at by the equally fun Baker clan. Provided you are careful with your inventory, you should almost always have enough in the tank to conquer these battles, though quite a few supply you with items in or around the fighting arenas. Towards the end of the journey, those battles may get a bit bigger and more obnoxious, but critical thinking and quick reflexes will always win out over these creatures.
Regarding the narrative and pacing of the game as a whole, things are at their best when it's confined to the madhouse of the Bakers and their humble abode. The game gets a bit iffy once you leave this area and dive into the final 2 zones, which will have you getting a bit more trigger happy than usual--but the payoff, and storyline revelations, are served up on a platter that is an exquisite callback to classic Resident Evil in ways that mirror the finale of the very first two games. After an initial game dominated by caution and fear, you're sent on a wild run through to the bitter end; a bombastic reminder of what series we're still entrenched within.
My hope going forward for Capcom would be that they continue on this new route of satisfying the hardcore old-school crowd with their REmakes, while also experimenting with this well-conceived first person dimension. RE7 is a largely satisfying endeavour when you understand the perspective of its release frame--a game that came out after P.T. was buried, in a world where Resident Evil's latest outing was a very cheap-budget but acceptable Revelations 2. Although RE7's makeup is an amazing beginning/ending with a low point in the ship zone, it's more than worthy of your time if you're hungry for survival horror and a tense, terrifying dive into gross muck and brainwashed podunks. It's an extremely promising start to what I hope is a new tradition. And after all, tradition is what makes a family closer, son.
NINTH CENTURY NETWORKING
Ubisoft, the perennial slash-and-burn 3rd party, is coming off a moderately successful Watch Dogs 2 outing (I wouldn't know, I don't give a shit about realistic open world busywork) and a bargain bin snowslope sim in Steep. Normally, I'd have something to say about an Assassin's Creed game, but Ubisoft took a year to think about the franchise future and offered up Ghost Recon: Wildlands and For Honor in 2017 instead. For Honor is easily their most unique IP in the last few years, not stemming from any series in the past and offering a new kind of fighting game formula. Pitting samurai, knights, and Vikings against each other in 1v1, 2v2, and 4v4 scenarios, it's focused largely on the multiplayer components--though it offers AI matchups and scenarios, including a semi-interesting single player campaign that functions more like an introduction. Although For Honor lays the groundwork for some very fun brawling and laughable moments, it does suffer from an outer layer of typical Ubisoft bullshit.
Starting from the beginning, the fighting system in For Honor relies on your 3 directional stances and the numerous light and heavy attacks from them. You also have special directional moves, character-specific combos, guardbreak grabs and throws, parries, deflections, dodges, and movement-assisted moves. Certain characters have qualities like a dodging parry or a full-defense stance, others may have better counter cabailities and bleed effects to their attacks. With 4 characters each for the 3 factions, the basic 12 (with 6 to come for free later on) is a nice round number for a 3D weapons fighter. For the most part, each character has a nice balance of strengths and weaknessess, although selections like the viking raider or the ironclad Lawbringer suffer in speed and moveset pool when compared to other easier characters. When it takes twice the work to do things that come simply to others, why bother playing them? Overall the system is very unique and very enjoyable, mostly through the one-on-one duels you have where you're on equal footing.
The game modes available boil down to a few basic selections: solo or duo battles, group elimination, and a quasi-MOBA zone capture. Solo/duo is exactly what it sounds like: 1v1 or 2v2 against players or the AI. The 4v4 modes are a little different; not only are you in complete chaos, but you'll be dealing with "gear stats." Throughout your play, you'll get gear you can equip on each character, buffing and nerfing specific qualities. You can buy stupid steel points with real money to speed up this process, if you're insane. Normally, these stats are not active for solo and duo modes, but they'll be turned on for any 4-man battles, and this will quickly become problematic for you if the matchmaking decides to fuck you over. Though the game is primarily one of skill, being matched up against characters with ridiculous high-tier high-level gear will undeniably cast things in their favor. Additionally, Elimination matches can quickly devolve into either 1) your opponent hightailing it away to doubleteam someone faster, or 2) a wild goose chase to continuously revive teammates ad infinitum. Elimination is rarely "for honor" and to be fair I don't expect anything beyond frantic drunken fights, but it gets fatuiging chasing down another agile character through a level over and over.
Dominion is a mode where you have a horde of AI soldiers helping you take Point B in a map, while points A and C depend on you and your teammates to capture and hold them for points. Again, this is a mode that quickly turns into "rove around as a pack to take points or get ganked badly" so it's not nearly as interesting as it appears.
Let's talk about the stages and the overall aesthetics. I think Ubisoft ought to be commended at locking this game to a very steady 30fps, as I rarely experienced any kind of stuttering or slowdown (terrible fucking servers nonwithstanding). Each stage for duals and larger 4v4 setpieces is lovingly crafted and looks great, from the crumbling medieval forts to the Asian temples and walls. There are plenty of stage hazards, aka "places to throw people off a cliff or into a pit" and that will surely cause many a player to disconnect in salty anger. In terms of animations and effects, Ubisoft nailed everything from telegraphed motions to the more brutal executions. Where the game sucks is the bare bones bullshit of the "soundtrack," which is mainly the same loop of fucking war drums over and over. I ended up setting the "music" down to almost mute because it's fucking worthless. I would have preferred some kind of heavy metal or stupid techno shit but I guess no fun is allowed, even if the presence of such metal aesthetics would have lended itself to such a soundtrack.
So, For Honor has a cool combat system, some nice stages, and looks pretty good. What else is there to say about the core of the game? Well, besides the multiplayer modes, there isn't much else. Like Overwatch, this is primarily a multiplayer game--though one with not as much flexibility or updates, most likely. For Honor has a few problems with the gear functionality, primarily with the piss-poor matchmaking: there is zero discrepancy with how you get premade with people that are either level 8 or 80 with their overall experience and items. There's the entire issue of "honor" in the game, as well--and why not, it's fucking called For Honor, isn't it? And yet, across platforms, people disconnect or quit midmatch all the time, or accuse others of not fighting "fair" i.e. waiting their turn to jump in next in a 1v2 situation in duo dualing, or grouping up rapidly against others in 4v4 scenarios. While I can't really say how this gets enforced or if people really care about it as a majority, I will say that Ubisoft gives zero shits about leaver penalties at all. It's very common to see a "desyncing, please wait" notification break the action for a few seconds, leading to players getting rapidly replaced by bots or even replacing bots without much warning. The peer-to-peer matchmaking isn't the worst thing in the world, but it's certainly susceptible to errors and fuckups when people are dropping out like flies. I don't think Ubisoft really thought about this kind of thing hard enough, so as a result the multiplayer is less than solid. What we're left with is a fairly confusing base game with modes dominated by gear stats and anarchy while others are governed by strictly standard rules. Meanwhile, a "pay-to-win" dichotomy exists for those who want an easier time with 4v4 rules, possibly gaining better items from the weapon packs on sale. Add to all this the tiring matchmaking with a lack of lobbies for duels and a necessity to exit out of underfilled matchups, and you have an undercooked product.
I like playing For Honor--it's an enticing new direction to go with duel-based games and has the ability to make people isnsanely angry. That alone is pretty cool, but if I paid the full $60 for this game (I paid $1.80 due to old trade-ins) I'd be pretty disappointed. In the long run, I can see a lot changing with the game, and maybe it'll have a longer tail than Rainbow Six Siege does for Ubisoft. For now, it remains an experience that is marred by stupid statboost microtransactions, moronic matchmaking and connections, and a playerbase that cannot decide if they want honor or glory. For now, the only potential dishonor might lie with Ubisoft if they fuck up an otherwise great new idea.
YARE YARE BRAWL REVOLUTION
For the majority of us, Yakuza 0 is the first proper introduction to the batshit insane series by SEGA. Having started way back on the PS2, Yakuza is probably best described as Streets of Rage combined with Shenmue--a strange bizarro world representation of 1980s Japan crossed with a soap opera story, brutal brawling, and hundreds of side activities. It would also be correct to describe Yakuza 0 as a real estate and cabaret simulator with breaks to play darts, shoot pool, and smash bicycles over the heads of an entire crime syndicate. After all is said and done, you retire to your home office to write letters to a radio show in the hopes your stupid tale about helping a dominatrix restore her confidence will make the air. Also, your best friends are a man in a diaper with acute priapism, and a debt collector woman who destroys people with milk crates.
Yakuza 0 deals with the ascension and fall and ascension of two different crime mens: Kazama Kiryu, a strong chinned man who loves karaoke and hates kinkshaming, and Goro Majima, a yakuza-turned-cabaret manager with a fondness for blind chicks, baseball, and breakdancing. A murder happens, people are blamed for it, betrayal and sexy honorbound battles occur, and manly tears are shed over the course of a multi-chapter epic wherein you will switch back and forth between Kiryu and Majima.
The core of the game is a hodgepodge of factors, but after the narrative it's the fighting system. Although not as transitional in nature as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, Yakuza 0 gives you a wealth of combo options, grabs, and counters. The upgrade system, as explained by a drunk American wino/trainer, is tied to "investing" the monies you earned into any of the 3 fighting styles each character has. Being able to switch to each style with the control pad is quite intuitive, especially if you use one style as a "battery" to build up Heat for another. Heat is what you'll be using to strengthen normal attacks and pull off brutal finishers, which number things like curbstomps, smashing fruit in a dude's face, twisting (breaking) somebody's neck, or treating someone like a fucking lawn dart and piledriving them into the concrete headfirst. Combat is by and large quick, exceedingly painful-looking, and an absolute spectacle, especially when your Heat meter is off the charts and you're throwing around motorcycles like the fucking Juggernaut. Equally as fun are the many skills to unlock and upgrade, which give access to some truly neat counters and context-sensitive actions that might save your ass in the thick of the tougher encounters. Don't forget that block button, kids.
I'd call this game "a bit like Shenmue" because it's not a "true" open world, and honestly, thank god for that. Unlike sandbox games like GTA, Yakuza 0 trims the fat and the meandering drives towards fuck-all; there's very little filler here and little time wasted from one event transpiring to the next. SEGA instead has created a smaller hubworld for each character with restaurants, shops, random sidequest encounters, and recreation centers around, with random thugs sprinkled around to test your resolve. It has a distinct arcade feel, densely packed in a small but lovingly crafted city rife with places to visit and experience. Since the city is such a contained sphere, it's easy to simply run around and discover new things to do and partake in, many of which are humorous side-stories that usually require hilarious dialogue challenges.
I love taking a break from burying people's faces into concrete to help a poor little kid purchase a porno mag, or help a band achieve its big break. The more sidequests you complete, the more letters you can write about them to a radio show. You'll also be able to recruit some of the people you've helped into Majima or Kiryu's side-business games. There's nobody I'd rather trust with my property investments than a guy known only as "Masochistic Man."
That being said, how is the actual storyline for the main game? In a word, it is the GREATEST STORY SINCE METAL GEAR SOLID 2. This is a MANLY COURAGE tale, one inhabited by love, loyalty, and danger. Kiryu, the strongest human in the world, will do anything to honorably clear his name and restore honor to the imprisoned man who took him in as a child. After being thrown out of the yakuza, Kiryu proceeds to become even stronger and more diligent than the clan itself--a paragon of unrelenting, unyielding machismo and halfway-heroism. On the other side of the coin is Goro Majima, a yakuza broken and beaten but accepting of his assigned role as a stewardly manager of a cabaret. A hitman unwilling to execute the innocent, Majima slowly ponders ditching his one-time family of cruel criminals and creates a new identity as the "lord of the night," a dutiful manager of hostesses who doesn't even know how to return to the life he worked so hard to get back. It's interesting that Kiryu is the protagonist that changes the opinions and reactions of those he comes into conflict with, enticing respect and friendship---whereas Majima is morphed and moved around constantly by the people he fights and protects. Majima's story is fraught with enemies who become friends, whilst Kiryu has made a family clan the enemies. That Kiryu is willing to burn down the institution of the Yakuza to make things right while Majima views his destiny to profit or suffer eternally within his caste is as telling as their fighting styles; one man is an unstoppable force centered on brute force while the other is one rooted in strangely different styles, all adapted solely to advance his one goal with any means: winning a way back into the only life he ever knew. There are so many twists and turns and dramatic soap-opera beats that you'll likely be engaged for the entirety of the ride, and left with some new favorite characters to love and hate.
I'll leave the rest to you to discover but there is one other character--Tetsu Tachibana--who was very intriguing to me. Tachibana brings an element of xenophobia to the tale, being a half Chinese-Japanese man who was unwanted by both clans. A man desperate to make good by coming up from a life of crime, Tachibana fords a real estate front in order to reconnect with an ancient secret and prevent a city from upending into chaos. Moreso than even Punished Snake from MGSV, Tachibana is the real "Fallen Man" drawn by a unique phantom pain: the loss of his hand, along with his past, is the fuel that drives him to mentor Kiryu. In a world filled with dumb punk rocker bands and stupid salarymen, Tachibana's anger and sorrow driven by a dose of racism from his countrymen was a poignant point to take in. As much power as he wields, he cannot change the past, which defines both his failures he could have prevented, and the genetic code he could not.
The story beats and cinematics spare absolutely nothing, as we get not only fully-voiced high-def cutscenes, but also in-game cutscenes with voices, "motion-comic" stills with voices, and general interactions with text-only. At one point I think I went through all of these styles in one story moment, though it was followed up by a huge 3-on-50 gauntlet so I didn't really mind. Although it's not going to be mistaken for Naughty Dog anytime soon, the art and graphics are quite good and have a clean, colorful "SEGA arcade" feel. This is a great looking game, and one that sounds just as good, too--the mix of beat 'em up rock and techno fits well with every encounter and moment in downtime. There's a lot of cheesy buttrock, but it's the enjoyable kind. Personally, I loved the ridiculous karaoke song "Judgement" the most. Although it's Japanese-only dialogue with English subtitles, the professional inflections and excellent facial expressions go a very long way in building each character throughout their tribulations.
There is so much goddamned depth in this game that it's dizzying. Unlike other checkbox crap and boorish minigames inserted into every GTA clone on the market, Yakuza 0's side orders are as engaging as the main dish itself. I've spent hours just playing the various darts and cue sport minigames, both of them given a sheen of polish that most games would barely care about. That's the way it is with most of Yakuza 0's distractions and sidejobs; they could certainly be portioned off as very satisfying ventures on their own on mobile or handheld plaforms. It's an entirely new postgame activity in itself to go into Kiryu's real estate shakedowns and investments or Majima's recruitment and training ventures with his cabaret roster. There are entire storylines and cutscenes devoted to things like this, with more content constantly being brought forth. And yet, none of it is ever overwhelming, as you could do as much or as little as you want in the realm of combat training, weapon crafting, slot car racing, and more. You are getting the most bang for your buck, and without the bloat that most open world games bring with it in terms of long spans of nothingness partnered with needless grinding. With Yakuza 0, even the "grind" of your character stats is achieved by way of investing money in yourself; thusly, all your ventures in the game bringing cash will help you not only purchase items and plot macguffins, but also improve your abilities. It's a brilliant way to reward you for simply enjoying some of the non-fight related stuff, so when you do get back to busting up a 20-man gang, you're going to have a lot more fun and look a lot cooler doing it.
Yakuza 0 is a game that reminds me of that Dreamcast era where everything ran fast, looked beautiful, and constantly gave you fun things to do while handing you a ticket to the craziest ride you could imagine. It is a drama and a comedy, a fist fight caught in a twister of disco dancing and telephone clubs. Yakuza 0 boils down everything to its bare essence and slathers it with a saucy overdrive, demanding you give equal attention to epic showdowns and toy collecting. It's the Shenmue experience we never got in the following decades, a game that fulfills Sega's reputation of going big with the gameplay and unique attitude. This is one of the most enjoyable videogames I have ever played, combining the new era's narrative drama with the old era's arcade sensibilities--especially the long-dead brawler genre. Much like last year's DOOM, this game almost flawlessly packages everything you love about games into one experience.
Hello, friends. 2016 was a very cool year for games; I played over 140 combined hours in strategy games, and that alone is a "win" as far as I'm concerned, but there were plenty of neato games that had to do with shooting, running, and running PLUS shooting at same time. This was a landmark year not only for strategy games (especially if you're unlike me and love to play Civilization) but for stealth assassin games. If you loved to run and jump and teleport and grapple around shit, 2016 was your wet dream with Dishonored, Mirror's Edge, Titanfall, Overwatch, and Deus Ex. And if you love puzzles that use dots, then hold onto your fucking hat because the king of all dot puzzle games, The Witness, also came out.
Unlike 2015, wherein I kind of waffled my list choices at the tail end, 2016 was a tough year for my Top Ten. The games I left off were given "dark horse" awards, which I'll be showing off in the Special Award section, as usual. This was a great and diverse year! BUT MY CHOICES MATTER MORE THAN YOURS SO HERE WE GO.
10) KILLING FLOOR 2 (PS4, PC)
Killing Floor 2 is basically Left 4 Dead injected with a cocktail of steroids, meth, and caffeine; it's jacked up with dumber and bigger explosions, better gore-filled enemies, and sillier weapons. While Overwatch was a game my buddies and I spent much of our time with, KF2 was the one we took on to blow off steam and just blast the shit out of gross monsters. It's a simple tale of "zombies and monsters have fucked the world, you shoot them all" and I have fallen in love with this brutal game of slow-mo headshots and buzzsaw guns. The only sleight I have against this game? Too many Brits. I don't need all these fucking Brexit cops and SWAT officers in my zombie game unless they are named Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. My hatred of limey humor aside, absolutely buy this big bombastic shootman game if you love dumbbell survival modes and katanas.
9) KING OF FIGHTERS 14 (PS4)
Normally, I'd have written a dedicated review for one of the top 10 games on this list, but KOF14 just strikes me as a such a simple and clean effort that there wasn't really much to say about it (For more about my opinions on SNK in general, scroll to the "Biggest Comeback" award). I've played a handful of fighters this year, numbering SFV, KI, and GGXR among KOF14's release. KI has been a treat and GGXR is absolutely god-tier in terms of aesthetics, features, netcode, and the ways it offers an enorminity of content and guides and services for players--but neither I could really classify as 2016 releases, due to their episodic/revisionary nature. SFV was not even close to winning this year's fighting game spot so by default it goes to SNK's baby. KOF14 is well-deserving of this honor, so here's to many more successful years of SNK making fun shit for us.
8) FINAL FANTASY XV (PS4, X1)
I wanted to write a review for FF15, but ran out of time and patience. The best I can do to describe FF15 is "road trip with your friends wherein the royal house does what he can to get favor with common folk by becoming a monster hunter and occasional rebel against the big mech bases of a frowny face empire." I want to emblazon this summary and tattoo it across the box along with the caveat "enjoy while you can," because the game morphs into a slog of meager highs and plentiful lows around halfway into the game--around 25 to 30 hours in. From Chapter 8 thru 13 (itself one of the worst 2 1/2 hours of any game I've played in years) the fun romp of charming food recipes and chocobo races turns into one of awful plotlines, "twists" so bad not even the main characters care about them, and generally dreary encounters.
It's not all bad, though; unlike Xenoblade X from last year, FF15 genuinely brought me a lot of fascination and wanderlust, because there were actually interesting things to discover. Someone said that FF15 is basically "the overworld of a 16-bit FF game made whole," and I agree with this, in a way. There may be a lot to traverse but the fighting gameplay is great and the locales are quaint. For the timeframe before and after the 5-chapter slog you get embroiled within, FF15 is genuinely fun as heck and totally worth the investment. It's a huge step in the right direction for Square, if they can resist the need to run amok with forced stealth sequences or claustrophobic epochs of time spent doing very little.
7) SUPERHOT (PC, X1)
I am seriously so tired of writing the same glowing details about this game over and over so please skip to either the dedicated review I did earlier last year or the Best Narrative award below, spoiler alert
6) OVERWATCH (PS4, X1, PC)
After seemingly eons removed from my college years playing Team Fortress 2, a new class-based FPS from big daddy Blizzard came down the pipe and won everyone's hearts. For the countless hours I've wasted with my friends in this stupid game alone, Overwatch was responsible for quite a lot of fun I had in 2016. More than anything else on the list, Overwatch was the premier multiplayer experience--and a stable one that has been updated constantly since release. Everything from hero stacking to matchmaking to game modes has been addressed beautifully, leading to the very admirable state it's in today. Blizzard's done a great job with their console endeavours, and Overwatch is well on its way towards even greater things in the future.
5) XCOM 2 (PC, PS4, X1)
XCOM 2 was the first in the series that I actually completed, which says a lot about the quality of this sequel. I loved the new aspect of your X-Com troops being the guerrilla force this time around, allowing you to craft some very fun setups and takedowns. I also loved the level of modding and customization you could put on your team, and the overall control of the game template itself. There's nothing like XCOM when it comes to the highs and lows of isometric cover-based strategy, and I 'm already looking forward to the next outing I'll have with my stupid custom squad of freaks and veterans. Thanks to the heavyhanded troop creation and endlessly fun maps, it's safe to say my clocked 70+ hours of this sucker will increase in 2017.
4) DARKEST DUNGEON (PC, PS4, Vita)
Darkest Dungeon is somewhat of a "longform" pick here, given that I've actually been playing it since early access in 2015 for a year. 2016, however, brought a plethora of fantastic changes to the game that helped ease the late grind and balance a few more aspects. Darkest Dungeon is a diceroll in the dark, a panic-button of an RPG, a cosmic encounter with mortality at every juncture. In Darkest Dungeon, the main character is your town, and your teams are nothing more than sacrifices for the greater good. Death is inevitable, much like XCOM2--but the victories gained as you play smarter are quite rewarding. Aesthetically and thematically, this game was already a huge winner for me; the endless weeks drag on in the same save file I've had for a year. I almost don't want it to end, as the "grind" of doing dungeons is always new and exciting as I mix and match team compositions and strategies. I love Darkest Dungeon intensely for the fact that I can jump in at anytime and still build towards something--it's already as timeless to me as older, mustier strategy outings. Darkest Dungeon, like the blight therein that infects and burns, is the itch that never goes away for me.
3) HITMAN (PS4, X1, PC)
One of the most successful franchise resurrections in quite some time (besides a certain id Studios franchise mentioned below), Hitman had a few things going against it with online-dependant unlocks and a potentially fatal episodic structure. The overall quality of Season 1 is so wonderful that I find it hard to complain about IOI's minor quibbles, even if I do hope they can someday just flat out give us an offline security blanket. Hitman has been a hallmark of excellence when it comes to imagination and devious creativity within a variety of intensely fun sandboxes; I'm already excited for what the future holds in 2017 and beyond for this game.
2) DISHONORED 2 (PS4, X1, PC)
Dishonored 2 comes so, so close to the precipice of GOTY--but falls just short due to a few glaring performance flaws and beginning section pains. It's an otherwise perfect action-adventure game built on the ability to choose. From the get-go, you're presented with an option that comes straight from the developers, but out of the mouth of the Devil: will you accept a gift greater than anything in the game's existence, or will you spurn the promise of godhood in favor of flesh and steel? As much as the creative and amazing skillset afforded by the Outsider is the trademark of Dishonored, it is also within your means to challenge yourself even further by accomplishing your goal as a normal human. This is just the first of many decisions in the game, one that is followed by an endless appeal of problem solving and incredible gameplay. When it comes to making you feel clever, invisible, or just plain magical, Dishonored 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by showing us just how much fun games can be when the signposts are uprooted and we are told to simply "play it your way, go crazy, and have a blast."
Game Of The Year: DOOM (PS4, X1, PC)
The biggest shocker of the year, DOOM had the entire deck stacked against it: a questionable multiplayer beta. A release-day review embargo. Being a so-called reboot to a historically important sacred cow. And yet, id Software completely nailed the revival by marrying classical FPS principles with the modern control and features of current gen games. DOOM is a beautiful, blood-soaked game that looks hellishly good and runs like a rabid Ferrari. It's a series of challenges that come down to guts and glory, while offering enticing environments that hide devilish secrets and shortcuts. It's an experience based on acrobatics and strategy, item management as much as knowing when to be aggressive or defensive. As much as DOOM postures to be raving machismo, it is a thinking person's shooter in its moments of judgment. It is a crimson crystalline triumph in terms of aesthetics, gameplay, and beating the odds of a piss-poor marketing push. DOOM has always been an important name brand, and with the release of its new 2016 adventure, it has successfully made the transition from the cold DOS bootups of the 90s to the sleek home consoles of now. For perhaps the second time in game history, DOOM is a revelation--and the Game of the Year.
SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS: "THE SPECIAL EXTRA AWARDS!"
Not everything can be in the hallowed Top Ten---and not everyone can win a special "Special Extra Award" award! Here are some fun little awards for extra fun special categories like Coolest Macaroni, or Lamest Sock Drawer in a JRPG.
BEST WASTE OF TIME: Overwatch
Congratulations Overwatch, for wasting so much of my time with endless quickplays and gimmick matches all throughout the course of 2016. They say time spent with friends is never wasted though, so I suppose maybe I should amend this award to "best use of time" or something. Nothing brings me more joy than getting pissed that a team won using 3 turret characters. For all the pissboiling to be had in a family friendly shooter, we salute Overwatch for capturing our hearts and wallets.
BEST COMEBACK: SNK
SNK made a bold choice not only to get back to its roots as a fun and feisty fighting game factory, but cut down on time and effort with their new graphical style. KOF games were known for their beautiful spritework and animation, so it was a little unsettling to see the PS2-level 3D character models on display for their return to the fighting game scene. Eventually, SNK made good on their promise to deliver a quality product, touching up the aesthetics as much as they could while creating yet another very satisfying KOF experience. KOF14 is a very odd beast in the fighting game landscape, not only for its nostalgic Dreamcast-era graphics but for its refusal to milk a playerbase of time and money. KOF offers itself as is with 50 characters, multiple single player modes, and good netcode--things that were a premium in early 2016 with SFV's questionable release.
Don't get me wrong, Killer Instinct has been a thrill to play and offered a huge package for the full price I paid, but KOF14 is so pure, so fun and so uncompromised that its existence is a huge victory for SNK going forward. The fact that SNK has already relented on its limited update policy and has already begun to plot balance changes, visual updates, and possibly DLC characters is proof enough that they have best interests at heart--even moreso now that they want to rebuild SamSho and Garou. SNK's comeback may not have been nuclear-level, but in a business full of microtransaction bullshit and piecemeal season pass scumfuckery, they beat the odds.
BEST SOUNDS: Final Fantasy XV
Nothing beats riding around in my crusty cruiser and listening to classic tunes in FF15. It's kind of cheating to consider FF15 for this award given how it literally hands you a dozen or so great soundtracks from previous games, but who cares? More games would win this award if they fucking included music options. Maybe Xenoblade Chronicles X would have been more fun to play if I could swap out that godawful home base song with literally anything. Ironically, FF15 does everything XCX wanted to do better, so it's fitting this is one more thing it has over that wreck. Speaking of which...
"HINDSIGHT IS 20/20" AWARD: Xenoblade Chronicles X
Last year, I hit the panic button with my top 10 because I didn't play nearly enough of games like Invisible Inc or Splatoon. I gave XCX a spot on my list, despite my growing frustrations with it. I regret this immensely, especially since I soon after got rid of the game and washed my hands of all its horrid flaws. Some people have called it "the best open world made in years;" I'd like to know where I can ingest some of the fucked up drugs they've inhaled. XCX had possibly some of the most boring open world locations since No Man's Sky, filled with sound and fury and brontosauruses and horrific pop-in but absolutely zero interesting things to discover. (In a year where Witcher 3 existed, this "best open world" statement was even more fucked.) XCX did its best to step up the combat complexity, but only succeeded in making it even more bizarre and needlessly baffling. The game completely erased all the charm and character of the previous outing, offering the worst fucking story and roster of cardboard anime cutouts I've played in years. I didn't even make it to when you get a mech because it's gated behind the shittiest hunt and fetch landmark discovery ever created. XCX was one of the WiiU's most monumental failures in every way, and is sort of a fitting end to the console's efforts.
BEST BALD WHITE GUY: Agent 47
We joke about "angry bald white guy" protagonists like Kratos, Cole Macgrath, Starkiller, and so on and so forth--but Agent 47 was the angry bald white guy before it became "cool." Nobody is fucking cooler than 47 in Hitman. If he needs to go undercover as a drummer to assassinate a rock singer, he can slam the skins like a pro and look awesome doing it. He can cook spaghetti better than Mario Batali. He can scale walls with the upper body strength of a gorilla. He has an uncanny resemblance to a German model. He owns and everyone should fall in love with this genetically-modified man of mystery. He's like a weird celibate James Bond who prefers a tall glass of water to a martini and a leather jacket with red clip-ons to Brooks Bros. Move over, Billy Corgan and Michael Stipe; there's a new Kojak in town.
BEST NEW CHARACTER: Xanadu
Xanadu is one of a few new faces in the KOF14 restart, and he's one sexy mothafucka. A weirdo pinhead inmate who styles in pimp coats over his jumpsuit and shark teeth, Xanadu might be an idiot savant with his strange philosophical ramblings put forth post-match; however, this is in juxtaposition with his frightening, babyman arm swings and rockabye-baby grab attacks. Xanadu is like the Iron Sheik crossed with a Zorastarian criminal and for this, he owns hard. 2016 needed more stupid fuckhead genius psychopaths with simpleton superstrength, and Xanadu filled the quota handsomely. Here's to hoping he sheds Choi and Chang and creates a true psycho team with Yamazaki and Shen Woo next year.
BEST CHUCKLES-TO-BUX RATIO: Final Fantasy XV
FF15 has supplied me with almost limitless mirth, whether it's Ignis' broken-brained yammering about finding new recipes in a public bathroom stall, or summoning God from heaven to smite a poor fucking hippopotamus creature for its sins. I've shared many laughs with my boy Prompto, seeing his photography skills grow with each passing apocalyptic battle. I've also crieds tears of laughter whilst playing through Chapter 13, one of the worst segments in any game I've played this year. It made the comparisons of FF15 to MGSV ring true because it reminded me of the No Fun Allowed battles I had with the Skulls and Sahalanthropous last year. I also could do nothing but laugh as the game froze at the culmination of a story chapter, forcing me to redo the entire Leviathan sequence from the start. Fucking hilarious shit, FF15.
"BEST" NPC DIALOGUE: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
The following video link will express everything needed to be said, but I can't stress enough how fucking godawful Squeenix and Co. bungled their whole "Aug Lives Matter" bullshit. The police officer in this video is especially and particularly fucking batshit, and I hope to god that no sane cop takes this worldview if confronted with quasi-fascist mindfuckery.
BEST BOSS: The Hellguards
Although not in the least bit as flashy or menacing as the Brainlord Spider or the Cyberdemon, the granite Hellguards in DOOM took me more than a couple of tries to vanquish due to their unrelenting abilities and speed. Two rockmonsters at once sounds like something you'd only encounter in the most vile of hardcore porns, but DOOM makes it work wonderfully. I dare you to stay unaroused as you leap over the flaming currents and stiff hard fists these sex machines hurl towards you.
BEST DRACULA HAUNTING: Hitman's "Vampire Magician" Disguise
It's sad that vampires aren't really prevelant this year in games, as even Darkest Dungeon won't get their bloodsucker expansion until early 2017. However, Hitman picked up the slack with the incredibly dumb and somewhat hilariously useless Vampire Magician costume you find hidden in a far-reach attic room. It's by far the dumbest thing you can wear at the Paris fashion show, and is guaranteed added difficulty towards whatever the fuck you're trying to do. Like most Hitman gameplay tactics, it has its place, though: looking fly as fuck while you drop chandeliers on people.
BEST NARRATIVE: SUPERHOT
2016 offered up gameplay first and story second, which is how it ought to be, unless you really have a hardon for long drawn out sequences wherein Nathn Drake eats dinner with his wife, then showers, then plays with a dildo on a webcam, then reads Proust before bed. 2016 said "fuck that" and gave us action-packed shit nonstop with DOOM, Dishonored, and Killing Floor. While a few strategy games gave us interesting themes and settings, and Odin Sphere attempts to be a giant nightmare Pixar tale, there was one game that had the guts and the gall to rise above the rest: SUPERHOT. A mishmash of Videodrome, The Matrix, Scanner Darkly, and Lawnmower Man (the film, not the Stephen King story about a satyr who eats grass), SUPERHOT is a wonderful package deal, right down to the options to view a "live" chatfeed in-game about the world it is set within. It's a minimalist masterpiece of blending consciousness with game immersion, and gave me more thrills than all of the "press X 100 times to adventure" prompts combined.
BEST ITEM/POWER: Rats
Normally, I nominate a specific weapon or tool, but I had to bend the rules a little this year. Sure, Overwatch is full of cool shit, and DOOM has the gauntlet of splatterhouse firearms, but from the beginning I knew the coolest armament was bound to reside within whatever occult skills Arkane had in store for us in Dishonored 2. You could righteously just say "Dishonored 2, as a whole" and leave it at that but I just want to hammer home how fucking incredible it is that you can realistically become the fucking Rat King of New York in this game without giving a shit about possession, doppelgangers, or any of the other amazing abilities. The game turns into a demonic Charlie Kelly simulator as your rodent pals consume bodies, cause chaos, and follow you pied-piper style into battle. How many games let you overtake a kingdom with just rats? That's right, fucker; none. Uh, Miyamoto? Kojima? Take notes, kids.
Best "Mouths Agape" Moment: Sneaking Up On A Bigass Bird
It's funny that for all my criticisms of FF15's latter half and various missteps as a whole, the charm and fun of simply being royal hunters taking out huge beasts never lost luster. The game does a great job letting you know that titans and demigods are going to be a regular occurence early on, as you're tasked with collecting a dumb trinket for a 25 year old man with a 50-year old Italian accent. You're faced with a slumbering, godlike squab, who wakes up immediately and takes wing to the heavens. You know somewhere, somehow, you're going to face this sucker later on and it's going to be glorious. This is how you introduce the wonders of a world you're building up.
BEST VILLAIN: Delilah Copperspoon
Sometimes the best adversaries aren't necessarily the biggest or baddest of the bunch, but the ones that make you question the purpose of their villainy. In a game that preferred to show you the nature of the world and its characters through found lore and psychic revelations through a heart-device, Dishonored 2 gives you the enigmatic Delilah, a witch who immediately starts a hostile takeover of your kingdom. However, as the story continues, it becomes apparent that Delilah could merely be just another victim of Dunwall's depressing poverty and misfortunes. The bastard daughter to a king before being forced to endure heartbreaking misery, Delilah's ascendance to the throne is one full of sound, legitamate fury--I felt a degree of sympathy despite her occult warpath. Robbed of her birthright, childhood, and general innocence, Delilah is dangerous mainly because of her wild quest to stop at nothing to create beauty in a world that had rotted over twice now. A woman who spent a lifetime crafting beautiful sculptures and paintings to counter the warped reflection of the continent that broke her, Delilah's ultimate goal to bring her artistic vision into reality is one that may be crazy, but not entirely undeserved in light of the shadows that bound her. Delilah's presence throughout the entire Dishonored mythos is one that makes you rethink the whole of Jessemine's character, alongside the worthiness of the world to be saved.
WETTEST FART: Street Fighter V / Pokemon GO
Honestly, before P:G, this was a shoe-in for me with how utterly bored I was with SFV's terrible launch week, incredibly, shockingly bad "story" mode, frustrating Survival, and utter lack of anything beyond netcode-driven combat. Even if SFV is a nice fighting game, it's still a fairly bad *game* in general, which is evident enough from the blustered sales/reviews from the public. P:G is just flat out bad, though being a mobile game saves it from some otherwise deserved ire. With 15 million downloads, you'd think there was some meat on it, but instead you're treated to a buggy and broken grindfest that boils down the premise to its most base idea. What may have encouraged social gatherings has also created some embarrasingly dorky shit, from trespassing private property to car crashes to cringe-inducing stampedes just to catch Snorlax. In retrospect, it reminds me of the Amiibo craze--another cash cow that involved similarly useless avatars that did almost fuck-all. If you want to play a good Pokemongame, try Sun/Moon. P:G was an interesting experiment, but one that has been handled by a shit-tier company that is holding the product together with twigs and glue.
When I say "wettest fart," I'm talking about how neither game has completely shit their pants, but has created enough of a fucking stink that I can't help but leave the train car they inhabit. Maybe 2017 will bring better tidings to both of these rickety heaps, but in terms of 2016, neither impressed me when it came to consistent quality versus their initial promises.
BEST PLACEBO UPDATES: Overwatch
As much as I love Overwatch, every update is merely a vote of confidence that "we won't fuck up this time." Maybe someone got nerfed? Maybe next time they'll get buffed? Who knows!? It's all a part of the sugarpill bullshit of Big Pharma Blizz, and we're all the teeming, sweaty masses in search of the next aquacola fix. Admittedly, the changes to Quickplay, hero stacking, and various abilities have come faster than expected, and big daddy Kaplan has done an admirable job keeping the peace. Just remember, we're one bad update away from the next top anime fiasco.
WORST ENDING: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
This is cheating because I only finished 80% of the game, but I already know what's coming: an ending cut off due to a desire to milk everyone of their money for a sequel. For the sole reason that the ending--and overall content--was portioned off out of complete greed, I give DXMD the golden butthole award of Worst Ending. I DIDN'T ASK FOR THIS.
GORILLA MINDSET AWARD: Darkest Dungeon
This award, named in honor of famed broken-brained twitter philosopher M. Cernovich, is given out for achievements in games that validate selfish shitfuckery, idiotic Sun Tzu fuckups, and misplaced machismo. This year's GM Award goes to Darkest Dungeon, a game that encourages foolhardy use of your disposal army, best laid plans gone to hell, and general RNG chaos. The town is your character in Darkest Dungeon, so don't get all sappy and weak about sacrificing your children for The Greater Good. Only weak-kneed libs and babyback bitches will weep at the prospect of a narrow victory.
"DOG PARK" AWARD: Hitman
In 2015, one man displayed unmatched digital cruelty in a series of videos known as the "Dog Park Tapes." In 2016, we are proud to announce the inaugral Dog Park award--a designation given to the game with the most diabolically heinous potential for inherent vice and sadism. Past Dog Park winners would likely include games like Postal or GTA (the grand origin of Dog Park.) I'm proud to announce that Hitman is this year's Dog Park nominee. Hitman is not only a brilliant and creative wetworks simulator, but a splendid "asshole recreation" in terms of terrorizing the public at large with explosive rubber ducks and sniper attacks. If you ever wanted to destroy a rich man's estate with methodical assassination or disguise yourself as a priest to smother a Steve Jobs millionaire to death, this might be your shit. On the other hand, if you also want to merely sucker punch civilians, stab custodians, drop coins and annoy cameramen, or hide chefs in garbage bins, this might still be your shit. Dropping a landmine in the midst of a mime performance was one of my game highlights, and reason enough for Hitman to win the coveted "Dog Park" trophy of 2016.
MOST WOKE AF GAME: Fire Emblem Fates
Fire Emblem's latest 3-part epic was unfortunately too fucking large for me to even come close to completing this year, much like how Awakening took me like 2 years to even finish. I'm sure by the time I beat all 3 goddamn episodes we'll have a new President, so for now all I can do is say "8, 9 out of 10, idk, it's Fire Emblem it's good it's great" and move on with my existence. However, Fates wins at least one concrete award from me: the "woke as fuck" award. Fates proves how aware it is of progressive social norms by normalizing weirdo incest fetish shit with your big and little sisters, no matter which family you choose. In Conquest, prepare your body for possible sexual harrassment from your older BDSM sister obssessed with giving you sponge baths. In Birthright, hope you're cool with fending off the creeptastic attention of your younger Nippon sister who idolizes your goofy non-shoe wearing ass. FE has always been a bit of a waifu simulator, but Fates cranks the dial to uncomfortable levels of relationship acceptance. For your commitment to exploring and advocating these new and fucked up spaces, we award FE Fates with the "Woke AF" Award 2016.
DARK HORSE 2016: Odin Sphere: Leifthreiser
Theoretically, "dark horse" might as well be the new developer title of Vanillaware, a company that continues to have a track record of beautifully-drawn sprite art and reliably enjoyable combat. I was a big fan of Muramasa and Dragon's Crown (having bought the collector's edition of the latter title) and immediately opted for the collector package of Leifthreiser last year. Sadly I haven't finished even half of the game, but it's so awesome to look at and so much fun to fly around the screen slashing shit that I had to commemorate it somehow. Vanillaware, as usual, created an underrated gem tha deserves a look if you have the spare change.
BLACK SHEEP 2016: Grand Kingdom
-Technically, a black sheep and a dark horse have precious little differences, though while Odinsphere comes from an established place (being a remake affords you that notoriety) and a memorable developer, Grand Kingdom almost comes off like Vanillaware-Lite in its aesthetics. It's a strategy centered around galloping around a map dodging perils and fighting enemies, while the combat takes place on a 3-lane area with your 4-person team. It's one of the better Vita games available on the go--it's also on PS4--and had almost zero fanfare upon release in the West. I don't expect many people will remember it being a thing, but it's a brilliantly fun little action strategy RPG with a huge clot of missions and leveling to do.
DARK KNIGHT 2016: Titanfall 2
-"Please what the fuck is the difference between a black sheep, a dark horse, and a fucking dark knight you insane idiot"
Ok, here me out: While Odinsphere is an underrated game from a niche, and Grand Kingdom is a little-known good game from an even more obscure team, Titanfall 2 is the dark knight of the year due to being "the game we deserve" in a sea of COD clones. The movement, the gunplay, the incredible setpieces, and the extra robot action all put Titanfall 2's offerings ahead of the curve when it comes to twitchy shootman games. In a year where Battlefield took us backwards in time and accentuated miniscule steps, Titanfall 2 jumped forward and leapfrogged over anything tiring about Call of Duty Blops Modern Infinite Warfare Deluxe. It's a tremendous shame that, like Batman, Titanfall 2's story ends with being left in the cold even after doing everything right; its future is uncertain in a world where it was a legit finalist for GOTY in many circles. Although this game and the latter 2 just barely missed the cut for me, I love what Titanfall 2 accomplishes in both its brilliant singleplayer jaunt and its frenetic multiplayer--especially when the progression system is almost perfect. It is my faint hope that EA continues to improve and update Titanfall even further in 2017, which is looking like a year devoid of traditional FPS games after 2016's deluge.
As usual, let's end the year with a review of the previous year's GOTY predictions, and put down my 2017 picks.
Here was my laughable 2016 prediction in 2015:
1) Mirror's Edge Catalyst
2) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
3) Fire Emblem Fates
4) Uncharted 4
5) Final Fantasy XV
6) No Man's Sky
7) The Last Guardian
10) Dishonored 2
Honestly, not a bad selection of games; the sore thumbs are definitely No Man's Sky and The Last Guardian, one which turned out to be shit and the other I haven't even played yet. Zelda, of course, got delayed for the 100th time. I didn't see DOOM coming at all, and hadn't played the Overwatch beta just yet. I haven't mentioned Mirror's Edge at ALL in this article, despite it dominating much of my pre-release hype; while Catalyst wasn't a horrid game, I found it simply too drab and the challenge runs way too difficult to acknowledge its existence. When it comes to parkour and thrills in the 1st person, Titanfall and Dishonored delivered better.
Here's my very early 2017 list, of which I have great confidence in, despite not knowing what will be arriving in the year's latter half:
1) Persona 5
2) Nier: Automata
3) Resident Evil 7
5) UNANNOUNCED NINTENDO GAME
6) Red Dead Redemption 2
7) Mass Effect: Andromeda
8) Injustice 2
10) Yooka Laylee
I could easily see Zelda, Tekken, Ruiner, Gravity Rush 2, RCR Underground, Tokyo 42, God of War, Spider-Man, and The Surge also become contenders, if/when some of those even come out this year. You'll notice I put "random Nintendo thing" in the list; I'm convinced Nintendo will put out something amazing this year that we don't already know about. In fact, I'll go as far as say that no less than 3 or 4 "masterpiece-level" games will come this year from the Switch. (The last time we had such a year, it was back in 2014 with Smash Bros, Bayonetta, and Kart 8.)
IT'S BEEN A GREAT YEAR FOR GAMES. 2017 WILL BE EVEN MORE FUN, AND COOL. I THINK PLAYING GAMES WITH FRIENDS IS VERY COOL AND GOOD. SEE YOU FOR THE GRAVITY RUSH 2 REVIEW, CHIPPIES.
Amazing and topical!