GOTY 2016: Stu's Picks

It has to be said that 2016 was a great year for games. So many top indie releases and in my opinion more innovation from the big developers and publishers than you often see. When gaming does have a good year it is both a blessing and a curse for end of year lists. There isn’t really enough time to get to all the releases and with the ones you do, it is harder to decide where they should fit in your list.

This means that there are some games that likely would have featured in my list but are omitted due to not enough play time, or not playing them at all.

There are lots of fantastic games that I also started but never got far into, mainly because over the winter period leading up to compiling my list I may have got a little absorbed into a certain new JRPG and then everything else went out the window.

I hope that you enjoy my humble list and I also hope that you had as much fun gaming this year as I have.

Here is to a great gaming 2017!

8 - PSVR

I start the list not with a game, but with a piece of hardware. I have to say that originally I was not all that interested in VR gaming. I was never inclined to wait in a line at any games show for a couple of hours to have 5 minutes on the Oculus Rift or PSVR. That was until I was able to try PSVR in more accommodating surroundings and I experienced gaming in a way that I hadn’t since I was a child. Pure wide eyed, big grin enjoyment.

It is looking likely that PSVR is not going to be a huge success for Sony, personally I think that they released it alongside the PS4 Pro in a confusing manner. They are selling the Pro as a machine better for PSVR but actually if you have a Pro, PSVR and a 4K TV you are going to have a pretty bad time as you will have to constantly switch cables as you can’t use 4K if you have PSVR plugged in. A really strange situation that Sony has created for themselves.

I however don’t currently have a 4K TV and am enjoying my Pro as the 1080/60FPS console that it secretly really is which means I do not have this issue and can just enjoy PSVR without any hurdles. Every game I have tried in VR never fails to trigger the childlike excitement of fully being in a new world for me but a few standouts are:

Batman VR - Not so much as a game but a very interactive and very cool Batman film. The moment I headed down to the Batcave (by pressing keys on a fully functional piano) and suited up, I was sold. This is Batman as the detective not the fighter: In fact there is no combat to speak of, but it no less of an experience for it. In my opinion, this is the true must-have title for PSVR.

EVE: Valkyrie - This game is Battlestar Galactica. And I love it for this. It is even narrated by Katee Sackhoff (aka Starbuck). It is primarily an online dogfighting simulator set in the expanded EVE universe. It does have single player but it is more or less just training for the online action. It features cross play between PSVR- and PC-based VR hardware which is a nice bonus and will ensure that there should always be someone to play with. The game looks fantastic, sounds great and is excellent to control. At full price, I would say that it is the most fully fledged game available for PSVR. If the high price is off-putting for some, there are a couple of free experiences which may scratch your VR flight sim itch. These are the free dogfighting missions for Call of Duty Infinite Warfare and Star Wars Battlefront.

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood - I love Until Dawn so I was really excited to see something related to it release alongside PSVR. Rush of Blood is an on-rails (literally, you are on a rollercoaster) shooter set in the universe of Until Dawn. It features some characters from the main game and does expand the lore of the franchise a little. One thing that I really enjoy about this game is that it is unashamed of what it is. As mentioned, it is a pretty simple on-rails shooter, but they really embraced that by placing the user in a rollercoaster and just letting them have fun blasting enemies. They are not ashamed of what they have made and I find that really endearing. It helps that the combat is fun and it never gets boring dual-wielding Uzis or sawn-off shotguns. A great, easy and fun game to show off your PSVR to friends and it never gets old. Perfect for quick blasts when you want to unwind and shoot things. It does get quite scary later on in the game though, so be warned!

 

7 - Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2 did not stand too much of a chance really, which is a shame as it is a fantastic game. Personally I think it is the best first person shooter of 2016. For me it is both old-school, as it reminds me a lot of games I would play in the early 2000s (coincidentally most being on the Source engine) and at the same time modern with its sci-fi setting and quick-paced movement and acrobatic gunplay.

As everyone knows, Titanfall originally released on just MS platforms and PC and was online only. This time around, Titanfall 2 landed also on PS4 and brought with it a single player campaign. Most would probably be forgiven for assuming that the campaign would just be tacked on and half-assed, simply existing to respond to criticisms of the first one lacking it. However, Respawn really put the effort in and created a fantastic single player experience. They created and expanded a much deeper world than you may expect from a game about giant robots. In fact it is possibly some of the best world building this year.

The single player campaign was kept fresh by interesting settings, characters and by introducing lots of new mechanics but also changing things up before they got stale. It also helps that the multiplayer is fantastic. No surprise really. But in a year of several huge FPS games, Titanfall 2 to me is the king. Although unfortunately it is more like the Pauper Prince in reality. This game did not get the sales it deserved and I hope that word of mouth does go some way to rectifying this in the long term.

 

6 - Dex (PS4)

This entry might be surprising to some, especially as the PC version of this game already released last year (in fact I actually supported this title when it was Early Access on Steam). In the end I did not play much on PC, in fact I never even played when it was fully released but when I saw it drop on PS4 I decided to double dip, thinking I was more likely to play it on console. I am glad I did. I love this game! A gorgeous 2D side scroller that takes many of its inspirations from Blade Runner, The Matrix, Shadowrun and Deus Ex. Seriously this game is basically a 2D Deus Ex, and if that appeals to you, you should check it out.

The combat is pretty rudimentary, gunplay even more so (This is a brawler first and foremost, guns simply a secondary option), but once you upgrade the titular Dex a few times it gets a little more complex. Basic combat aside, the story, writing, art and music in Dex are to me fantastic. It is not overly original and clearly wears its inspiration right on its sleeve but it really nails what it sets out to achieve. 

I may not have given it the attention it deserved on PC but I am happy to say that I 100% it on PS4 and loved every second! I am looking forward to trying Czech developer Dreadlocks' next project Ghost Theory.

Overall, Dex is a great cyberpunk RPG experience. Highly recommended!

 

5 - The Division

Every year my list has featured some form of Destiny. Whether the original release covered in 2014 or The Taken King last year. So why should this year be any different? With no notable update to Destiny in 2016 (and me constantly saying I was done with it), The Division steps in to take its place. The Division was probably the biggest (if not the first) attempt at a Destiny clone. It switches out the sci-fi for a more realistic near-future setting.

At its core it is a third person, cover-based shooter with MMORPG elements. These MMORPG elements contributed to one of the biggest complaints for this game: The enemies are bullet sponges. This is a common trope in MMOs, it is one of the ways to show the player they are advancing or getting stronger. The thing is, when you are fighting giant dragons or huge alien monsters, people do not have an issue with this mechanic. When the enemy you are facing is a guy in a tank top with a baseball bat who takes a full magazine to take down some people start taking umbrage with it. Personally this was never an issue for me. I accepted it and moved on and had a blast with The Division. It is not perfect, games that attempt this genre rarely are. But as is most important the mechanics of the game were solid and I had some great times in co-op.

Ubisoft and Massive did a great job with updates as well in my opinion - at least the timing and consistency. The content and success of each update is of course debatable but they hit repeatedly at the right time. Just as I had pretty much done all I could in the vanilla experience the first big (free) update was just around the corner, and kept me engaged and willing to play. This was a cycle that continued at a regular pace and is a really good example of post-launch support.

What is not such a good example of post-launch support is the exclusivity deals for DLC: Premium content releases a full month on PC and Xbox One before PS4. Of course this is not the first of its kind, Destiny was the reverse and even more extreme, PS4 getting content a year before Xbox. I think however that these deals are especially damaging to these types of games. These games survive by keeping their player base and keeping them engaged. Forcing a month-long wait for new content just to honour an exclusivity deal is a quick way to turn your players away. These deals do not make people abandon their PS4 and buy an Xbox One, or vice versa, so the only thing that suffers is the game and its community. I would like to see less of these deals in 2017 and beyond. I have bounced off a little now but often feel myself wanting to play. I am a Season Pass owner, so I think I will head back soon to check out the DayZ-like Survival DLC.

 

4 - Batman: The Telltale Series

Another year, another Telltale adventure on my end of year list! I didn’t even used to like the games they produced and whilst maybe they are getting a little rote by now, the quality still speaks for itself (ancient engine aside). This time, Telltale turned their sights towards the famous bat detective and boy did they put an interesting spin on the long running character. They did things with him and his lore that I am so surprised had not been done before. I believe that DC even commended them on shaking things up and doing something they wished they had thought of. High praise indeed!

But what about the game itself? Well the game is pretty much the usual Telltale fare. Talk to people, make decisions, and finish the story. However, Batman: The Telltale Series is notable for three things in my opinion.

- The aforementioned spin on a well-established character;

- The pacing at which they delivered the episodes. In a first for Telltale the entire Season was complete and released within a couple of months;

- Decisions that actually matter!

Looking at that list, the top two items are important and a great achievement in and of themselves but the third is what really impressed me. I was playing this series at the same time as Earl and we would catch up and discuss events. Our playthroughs featured huge differences based on decisions we made. Whole events were different, or didn’t occur at all. Characters may or may not appear, even the baddie in my game was different to his!

Telltale are famous for their games that feature decisions, they declare it at the beginning of every game they have released. Batman: The Telltale Series is the first time I have really felt like it was true and my decisions mattered and had an impact on my game. And for mainly that reason it has become my favourite Telltale game, knocking Borderlands off my top spot.

Another aspect that I really appreciate in this game is that quite often you are given the choice to approach a situation either as Batman or Bruce Wayne, meaning you need to weigh up the pros and cons of going as either persona. It really adds an extra layer to the thought process as you have to consider how particular characters may react to who they are faced with.

 

3 - Overwatch

This is the big one, right? The game that most likely could be considered the overall game of the year for the GoPlayThat crew. I have played a lot of this game, it is likely my most played game of this year and for that fact alone I nearly put it at the number 1 spot. It is certainly worthy, but after a lot of consideration in regards to what is more important to me when considering what I want most out of a game, a more overall package than a multiplayer-only experience, I had to bump it for the following two entries.

Everything that Blizzard releases is pure gold and Overwatch is no exception. Tight and fun gameplay, fantastic characters and settings and possibly most importantly, great support from the developer. Blizzard has once again proven themselves to be leaders in the industry when it comes to listening to their players and updating and balancing their games. Since release, new characters have been added and many existing ones have been balanced in response to community feedback. New modes have have come to the game, whether permanent or temporary and themed like the fantastic Lucioball. Most importantly, Blizzard have added all these completely for free. The only paid content is restricted to cosmetics contained within the Loot Boxes.

Despite being an online multiplayer only game, Overwatch has more lore and backstory than some full fledged single player experiences. The animated shorts that Blizzard have continued to release alongside the game to flesh out some of the characters are almost at a Pixar level of quality and emotional depth. With this considered, I would be really interested in some sort of single player addition to the game - or fleshed out even further into an MMO going back to its supposed roots as Titan.

Not a lot needs to be said about Overwatch really, it is certainly one of the highlights of 2016 and I imagine it will also end up being one of my most played games in 2017. If you own it, please continue to enjoy it and if you do not, please pick it up and have a blast!

"Cheers luv!"

 

2 - Dark Souls III

I have reshuffled my top 3 a lot over the last couple of weeks. At one point, I considered each of these 3 games as my number 1 and could have easily stayed there but with a lot of soul searching I finally decided on which game should take the crown and for a second year in a row it is not a game from my all-time favourite franchise.

My love of the SoulsBorne franchise is very well documented and Dark Souls III is certainly no exception. I have commented several times before that Demon's Souls remains my top game in this franchise, which could possibly be mainly because it was the first, but it did also feature some cool mechanics that have been lacking from the Dark Souls/Bloodborne games. Namely the World Tendency element.

Now, this rambling about Demon's Souls is relevant because I have found with each new Dark Souls game (including The Old Hunters DLC for Bloodborne) they have become a little more like Demon's Souls in tone and execution. Dark Souls III continues this trend and is for me, the closest to the original game from the more modern series. Everything you would expect is here: The fantastic world building, the mysterious and ominous characters, the haunting yet beautiful music and of course, most importantly, the fantastic gameplay.

Alongside Overwatch and The Division, Dark Souls III is up there as one of my most played games this year and another one that I will continue to play into 2017 as I work towards all the different endings and await the second half of the Ashes of Ariandel DLC.

From Software have said they are done with the Souls series now. Whilst I have some sadness regarding this, I also would hate for my most beloved game series to become stale so with a slight tear in my eye and a tinge of regret I welcome them wanting to leave it for now and turn their immense talents elsewhere. New IP, or a new Armored Core? I am up for either!

 

1 - Final Fantasy XV

As of writing this list I have just earned the Platinum Trophy in Final Fantasy XV. I say this, not to flex my Trophy e-penis but because I want to tell you that I have got all the trophies, I have finished the story and I have played 130 hours, but I am not done. I still have dungeons and quests and most importantly I have the impetus to do them.

Usually when I play any game with open world elements I try and do as much as I can before progressing the story; Final Fantasy XV was no different so I approached it in my usual fashion. I do this primarily because I find my enthusiasm to return to a game post-story wanes a lot as I feel that it is a bit pointless to be doing these quests now that the story is over and the threat resolved. Final Fantasy XV has been my first exception to this rule. So much is only available once you finish the story that I realised I had a lot more that I needed to do and most importantly I enjoyed this game so thoroughly that I wanted to do them. I wanted to spend more time with Noctis, Gladio, Ignis and Prompto. These are great characters that have a real bond. A true bond that is cemented from the very first seconds of the game. The opening scene to Final Fantasy XV is one of my favourites in recent memory. Square-Enix did such a good job of making these characters real, and real friends without having them barely speak a word. Boot the game up, experience the opening few moments of the game and you will know what I am talking about.

The fact that this game came out and is as good as it is after its long, troubled and well documented development is nothing short of a gaming miracle. The combat, whilst some may scoff at as it is not traditional Final Fantasy, is just so damn fun - another reason I keep playing, it is just a lot of fun! The characters are great as I mentioned already, so far removed from the boy band accusations that dogged the game pre-release; They may not look it, but they are some of the most real characters in videogames in a long time. I never thought I would say that about Final Fantasy. The world itself is really interesting, a unique blend of realism and fantasy. 

I think where some of the development troubles show are in the execution and pacing of the actual story, whilst it has a beautiful opening and a conclusive ending, some of the parts in between can get a bit muddled. This did not sully my enjoyment of the game in the slightest, however. It can at times just require a bit of player investment in delivering and understanding the story. With such a great overall package, this is something I was completely willing to do.

I need more of this game in my life, more than what I have left in the base experience. With this in mind I absolutely cannot wait for the eventual DLC based around the supporting characters. I also really, really hope that Square-Enix decide to do a Final Fantasy XV-2. It is probably the first time I have wanted this, not being a big fan of X-2 or any of the XIII series. It also makes me salivate at the prospect of playing the FFVII remake. It is a good time to be a Final Fantasy fan again!

I actually think that Square-Enix summed up Final Fantasy XV best themselves and therefore I want to end this section with the following text you receive prior to starting the game:

"A Final Fantasy for fans and for first timers".

It truly is.

Phew! What a year and what great games! 2016 will go down for me as one of the best in recent memory in regards to games. From what I see on the horizon, I am hopeful that 2017 will be even better!

 

Honourable Mention:

I Am Setsuna

I had been following this game prior to it's release but for some reason, despite it coming out way back in July, I only just picked it up post Christmas this year. I have already sunk a lot of time into it and feel it could certainly make my list proper if I had completed it. What I have played so far justifies going into a little more detail than simply listing it below.

Developed by Tokyo RPG Factory (an off shoot of Square-Enix set up to develop more old school JRPGs) I Am Setsuna is certainly that. It is a traditional JRPG harking back to the SNES through to PS1 era. It is heavily inspired by the likes of Chrono Trigger.

It features gorgeous art, settings and music and gameplay mechanics echoing the older games in this genre, such as the aforementioned Chrono Trigger and of course Final Fantasy games. There is no flashy action based combat here, the game features good old turn based fighting. Although with a few modern tweaks to keep it a bit more snappy.

A simple story of assisting the titular Setsuna on her journey to fulfil her destiny as the sacrifice - an offering the humans must make every decade to keep the ever more present monsters at bay. It is a surprisingly low key affair, focusing on strong characters and simple gameplay but has all the trappings of a fully fledged JRPG.

I am finding this game a great counterpart to Final Fantasy XV as playing them both in proximity is a good way to experience the evolution of the JRPG genre itself.

A Few More Honourable Mentions

Whilst I am happy with my list and the games I have gone into detail with, there are a few more that I think would have made it if I gave them the time they deserved. These are: Owlboy, Civilization VI, Forza Horizon 3 and DOOM. All great games from what I have played and all most likely worthy of my list. I am just sorry to say that I did not play enough of them to feel comfortable including.

 

My Most Anticipated Game of 2017

With 2016 wrapping up, we must look toward 2017. With that in mind I wanted to make a short shout out to what is my most anticipated game of next year (early next year luckily!)

Nier: Automata

The original Nier is one of my favourite games and a painfully overlooked gem. I do not understand why it was not better received at the time, maybe it was the mix of genres: JRPG, twin stick shooter, side scrolling shooter and platformer to name but a few. It certainly was a rare beast and I can maybe understand that people were a bit put off. It was also quite rough around the edges and certainly not on par with many games in terms of visuals.

But it beat most games in lots of important ways. The music, to this day is possibly the best OST of any videogame in my opinion. The voice acting, even the English dub, is simply outstanding. The game also packs such a surprising emotional punch, it explored the father/daughter (unless you were playing the Japanese version, then it was brother/sister) bond and dynamic long before any other games that have done it more famously since. Also, all the different genre elements work. They give the game a unique edge and a degree of quirkiness.

I was happy, but surprised, when Nier: Automata was announced. The game I loved was getting an unexpected sequel! It is not as if the first game sold much, so to me, this really was "for the players".

Despite their obvious calibre the announcement that Platinum Games would be handling the development filled me with some trepidation. I was worried it wouldn't feel like Nier, that it would feel like a Platinum hack and slash and miss what made Nier, well, Nier.

Then I played the demo. It is still early to say for sure how the full game will be in regards to the story elements - I hope it is as deep and emotional as its predecessor - but the look and gameplay felt like Nier. I was relieved to say the least. The interesting thing is, it even looks like Nier graphically. Almost like they could have made it look better with today's technology but decided to dial it back some in order to thematically fit with its predecessor. It even has the strange transparent black bars at the top and bottom of the screen during cutscenes that the first game had for some inexplicable reason.

Please, if you have the opportunity, seek out the original Nier and play it. I would love to have more people to talk to about this fantastic, odd little game. 

Square-Enix are quickly becoming my favourite publisher/developer once again, just like the '90s!

I hope you had a nice 2016 and that you have a great 2017. Happy gaming!

 

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