GOTY 2016: Earl's Picks

Earl (@earlbaker on Twitter) is taking a break from GoPlayThat to focus on the daunting task of raising two humans.. at the same time! Nevertheless he remains our biggest fan and favourite cameo, his latest appearance was as a Dr. Robotnik glove-clad chilli-eating wrestling fan. You can catch that on YouTube, in Part 8 of the 24 Hour Gaming Marathon.

 

2016 will be remembered by some as the year of great sporting achievements and surprises. For others, it's a year better left forgotten, as we lost talented artists and beloved performers. For me, 2016 was the year my twin daughters were born and the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

This year created powerful, delightful memories that I will cherish forever. I'm very thankful that GoPlayThat has granted me an indefinite sabbatical to spend time with my little monkeys. I'm also honoured that they would have me back as a guest for these game of the year awards. I hope they don't realise my checks are still clearing.

Being a new parent is time consuming and sometimes stressful. This article was written exclusively during bathroom breaks, on my mobile phone, during family visits over Christmas. You are welcome to that visual. As an escape, when life allowed me, I played some videogames. These five games were the best games I played this year and the soundtrack to the most important year of my life. Enjoy.

 

5. Batman: The Telltale Series

I’m starting to tire a little of the Telltale formula to branched storytelling. It's starting to feel like once you've played one game, such as the Walking Dead, you've played them all. But dammit, I love me some Batman and I couldn't resist to give this a go. Ironically, the story told isn't Batman at all, but an alternate universe, but that's what made this game so brilliant.

One of my favourite comics of all time is Red Son, which theorises what would have happened if Superman had landed in Russia and not Smallville, USA. Telltale's Batman plays on this idea, on a smaller scale. The game starts in a familiar place - Bruce Wayne in Wayne Manor - but where the game goes from there really does feel up to the player. You can shape your Batman how you wish. Are you Animated Series Batman, or more of a Nolan movies Batman, or perhaps something unique, or more violent? You also not only ask yourself who the man's true ego is - Batman or Bruce Wayne - but answer that question for yourself.

Being set in its own universe affords the game freedom to play with characters and events we are familiar with and turn them on their heads. One twist in particular changes the entire premise of Batman and it's amazing it hasn't been done before. DC themselves have said the same. 

Stu and I compared notes as we played the series and ended up with more than half of our final episodes being completely different, with different locations and characters involved. I'm hopeful that Telltale evolve from their tried and tested formula in future games, but I don't regret this last visit back to the well for what was perhaps the best Batman story in a decade.

 

4 - Devil Daggers

One map, one mode, one weapon (with an alt-fire), one life. Sometimes great games don't need to be complex. Gothic Serious Sam with a fierce online leaderboard. Getting higher and higher up that leaderboard is your only real goal, as death is inevitable and with lifespans averaging around a minute for most players, you end up repeating the same chunk of gameplay over and over. Yet, it's amazing.

That minute or two is all it takes for the game to leave you with sweaty hands and your heart pumping out of your chest. A total sleeper hit for the year and the perfect precursor to the release of...

 

3 - DOOM

Having to wait 8 years for a game to be released is generally a pretty bad sign. DOOM doesn’t come close to the fifteen year torture of Duke Nukem Forever’s development, but people had the right to be doubtful about id’s return to their flagship franchise. I don’t want to pretend to be precognitive, but after hearing they had ditched their original “Call of Duty” styled narrative game, known then as DOOM 4, I had a good feeling. Instead we got a reboot of sorts, as well as a masterclass in classic first person shooter action. It feels like the 1993 original game is ripping a hole in hell and pulling you in through your 2016 computer monitor. The campaign was an incredible, fast-paced rush from beginning to end and I felt the multiplayer was underrated, as I had some of my favourite gaming moments this year online in Freeze Tag.

 

2 - Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

I fell out of love with JRPGs quite some time ago. My favourite series in the genre, Final Fantasy, has completely lost its identity to the extent that I have lost any interest in playing the newer ones. FF XIII was such a travesty that I quit the game halfway through and haven’t given XV the slightest of looks. It was so damaging, I retired from the genre altogether. I was a fool.

There are two series that have passed me by over the years: Shin Megami Tensei (I dabbled with Persona 1 & 2) and Fire Emblem. I remember watching a Nintendo Direct, while chatting online with the GoPlayThat boys, where it was announced that the two series are to be mashed together, to create a new, one-off adventure. What they showed next was an incredible cell-shaded fireworks display of demons being slayed by fantasy weapons, against the modern-day backdrops of Shibuya and Harajuku. As a self-confessed Japanophile, the only information I needed beyond what I saw, was a release date so I could pre-order, something I very rarely do.

The combat and levelling mechanics are as involved and enjoyable as any JRPG I’ve played in decades and I found the story’s focus on idol culture and celebrity to be an entertainingly unique setting for a game of this type. Only Yakuza to my knowledge has ever touched upon these subjects and that game is equally bat-shit crazy. Perhaps most importantly, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has reignited my passion in the genre, with me actively seeking out gems I have previously missed and also picking up a digital copy of Final Fantasy VI, as a gateway to getting back into one of my favourite game series of all time. 

 

1 - Overwatch

Overwatch’s similarity to games of my youth, particularly from the Half-Life modding era, is worn as a badge of honour. It's a game that feels as familiar as an old favourite, yet completely new. It's the game's ability to maintain its freshness over time that puts it at the top of my list. Also the fact  that almost every person in my personal and professional lives was playing and loving the game. The day after the night before would involve coffee machine conversations at the office, discussing the best plays of the evening, as if they were Premier League football matches.

Like the most passionate of romances and the strongest of friendships, I've had my quarrels with the game. Even meltdowns and brief breaks-ups. However, Blizzard have done such a great job of rebalancing and changing the game for the better over the year and maintaining a constant flow of content and events, that I always eventually turn up on its doorstep with a bunch of flowers. 

The seasonal events and Brawls in particular give the game the same urgency of wanting to login to see what’s going on, as a living game like World of Warcraft would. New gameplay modes are introduced in a temporary basis, from snowball fights to football matches. If you only logged on once a month, the game wouldn't be the same as it was the last time you played. I’m looking forward to playing after the Christmas break more than any Winter or early 2017 release. New characters and maps more anticipated than entire game releases. There is video evidence on the GoPlayThat YouTube channel of how much I've spent on Loot Boxes alone. This ended up being an easy pick for my game of the year. 

 

Happy 2017 from the girls!