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Since we’re now officially six months into 2016 it’s only fitting to stop and chat briefly about the game’s that have already come and gone. Now, keep in mind that is purely a list of games I’ve played this year, which excludes any WiiU or PS4 exclusives since I own neither of those platforms. There’s also going to be a couple of obvious games missing like DOOM and Overwatch because I never got a chance to play them. There’s only so much time in this crazy world, after all, although I can’t blame you if you grow slightly irate at me having not touched such huge releases, especially ones that have gotten huge critical and commercial success.
So far this year hasn’t exactly been a vintage time for videogames, at least not based on what I’ve played. We’ve had a couple of really enjoyable triple A efforts such as Rise of the Tomb Raider and some disappointing ones, like The Division. The indie scene has, as usual, been the more interesting area with smaller companies putting some great games, albeit ones you have to wade through the general detritus to get to.
The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine
Okay, so technically this isn’t a game, but it may as well be, and since this is my list I’m going to let it slid. This expansion pack chucks in a tonne of new content to an already vast and wonderous game, while also managing to add in graphical improvements and a beautifully vivid color palette. The new landscape is completely different to the Witcher’s normal bleak fare, and yet still manages to feel like it fits neatly into the fiction. Also, knights who talk in a wonderfully over-wrought fashion. God, is there anything to dislike about Blood & Wine? It’s like CDProjekt RED wanted to bitch slap all the other big companies out there and proudly proclaim that this is how you do DLC. It’s affordable yet expansive, and while it doesn’t radically alter the main game in any way it brings more of that stellar writing and fantastic world-building.
It’s a shame I’ve not had the chance to review this, but I’ve been too busy as it is, so at the moment I’m just getting to sink an hour or two into the game here or there, and I’ve still got so much content left to get through, including the Heart of Stone expansion. By Odin’s beautiful bear, The Witcher 3 is a freaking huge game.
Nail-biting tension is something I’d say is rarely conjured up by videogames. XCOM 2, though, manages this in spades, piling tension upon tension until you’re too afraid to make a single move in case it means the utter obliteration of your favorite squad. It’s not a massively brave sequel, but then given the adoration myself and a lot of other people had for Firaxis’ first attempt at rebooting the venerable XCOM franchise it didn’t need to be. It takes what made Enemy Unknown great and simply ladles on some more goodness, like pouring a layer of toffee sauce on a chocolate pudding.
Is it as good as Enemy Unknown? That’s a tough call. Performance problems and annoying timed missions do their very best to ruin the hair-pulling, nail-biting enjoyment of the game. Those timed missions, especially, really damage the enjoyment of the new stealth mechanics that let players set up fun ambushes. Still, very few titles out there make me consider every single move quite as much, nor do they typically make me mourn the loss of a soldier.
Hearts of Iron IV
Having never played any of the prior games in the series and having only played a single Paradox grand strategy game (Stellaris) before I entered Hearts of Iron IV with some trepidation, and then came out the other side with a chest full of medals, a charming smoking pipe and the thorough belief that if I had been helming the Allied forces in World War 2 shit would have gone much better. I am, of course, utterly wrong as my forays into the multiplayer side of things proved, but regardless the grand strategizing quickly pulled me in.
Sure, the game apparently hates my FX-8350 processor (it’ll be getting that upgraded soon, don’t worry) but that didn’t stop me from having a blast with the game. Currently I’m playing as Japan and have just finished up a heated argument with China, by which I invaded, smashed everything to pieces and then blithely tried to play nicey-nicey with the Allied forces because screw Hitler.
Hopefully in time they’ll manage to clean up some of the performance problems, or I’ll have upgraded my processor to one of Intel’s latest. Regardless, though, if the idea of a grand strategy game appeals to you then I heartily recommend this one. It takes some time to get used to the interface and the many intricacies of the mechanics, but once you do it’s a thoroughly rewarding game.
Offworld Trading Company
Huh, a third strategy game? Coincidence? Nah. I never saw this one coming. Literally. I’d not paid much attention to any previews, trailers or news for the game and had doubts about whether something that described itself as an RTS but using money instead of troops could be very engaging. Man, was I wrong.
Offworld Trading Company somehow takes playing the produce market and turns it into something very, very fun and surprisingly fast paced as you try to capitalise on current product prices, all while attempting to screw over your opponents by outproducing them, ramping prices up, crashing the market or just hiring pirates to shoot down convoys. Good times, and a perfect lesson in why everybody in business has to be a dick unless they want to fail. The human race truly is amazing.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada
There’s definitely something of a strategy game theme going on here, isn’t there? But then how could you not enjoy big-ass ships from the Warhammer 40k universe colliding in the middle of the black void we call space. Answer: you bloody well can’t. The singleplayer here is surprisingly strong, tasking you with defending the Gothic sector of space from the encroaching forces of Chaos and the general pillaging and pain-in-the-assery of all the other factions, too. With limited moves per turn and a relatively solid level of difficulty things can go south fast.
But none of that matters in comparison to the combat itself. There’s no vast armies or bases to take care, instead there’s just you, your mouse and a handful of ships that must be micro-managed in order for victory to be earned. This does mean that in the heat of battle things can come down more to whomever can click the mouse the quickest rather than tactical decisions, but at no point does it ever feel like you lose purely because you weren’t fast enough. No, it comes down to knowing where to teleport bombs, how to get those deadly torpedoes lined up and how to position ships for maximum effect. Correctly building a fleet is also vital. It’s pretty easy to embark on your first campaign and just start randomly cobbling upgrades together before realising that you really needed to focus your ships toward specific things.
Dead by Daylight
Well, isn’t this a tad surprising. My review of Dead by Daylight was hardly glowing, highlighting numerous faults within the game’s design, including frustrating exploits and a general lack of content. Despite these problems, though, on a personal level the game clicks with me, latching on to my love of slasher movies and giving me a powerful jolt of satisfaction every time I hunt down a survivor and hang them from a meathook. It’s simple and rough and becomes repetitive far too quickly for its own good, but….there’s just something about Dead by Daylight that keeps me coming back for a match or two each day. Maybe it’s those screams of pain as you hack people up or drive a meathook through their flesh. It’s almost relaxing, in a horribly sadistic way. Poor buggers.
Down the line the developers are promising more killers, maps and survivors, so that should hopefully keep things fresh and interesting. I’m personally hoping they implement a local voice chat system where survivors can only talk to each other when they’re close, and the killer can potentially listen in. The game has a potentially strong future ahead of it, although how repetition will be combated is hard to say. It’s not a design that lends itself to a lot of new objective types or playstyles, so the dev’s have their work cut out on that front.
Layers of Fear
So we’ve moved from the realms of strategy into the dark recesses of horror, it seems, with Layers of Fear rounding out this little article. It’s constantly changing environments were simply a joy to explore, even if it somewhat failed at being creepy, tense or outright scary. I loved how the game was constantly playing tricks on my senses, altering the rooms and corridors when I turned around or even right before my eyes. It creates a surreal, nightmare quality to the story that I loved.
Of course there’s also no getting around the fact that Layers of Fear is what many love to refer to as a walking simulator. Aside from wandering through the creepy corridors of an old house and occasionally choosing what path to take there are no traditional gameplay mechanics. There’s no combat, puzzles, platforming or guns. It never feels like its missing anything, though, or like it needs any of those things.
There’s actually a reasonable amount to like about The Division, which is probably why I still fire it up from time to time and grind away for another hour or two in search of another M4 that’s exactly like my current M4 but with bigger numbers. The ruined city of New York looks beautiful, the gunplay is reasonably solid provided you can accept bullet-sponge enemies, and the appeal of loot is strong, despite how held back it is by the game’s realistic trappings.
But it’s bland. After all the hype, the game is simply dull. The story is forgettable dross, the missions are lazily designed with no thought given to pacing or variety, and the Dark Zone is a horribly wasted idea. I’ve not touched the newly released Underground DLC which many say help improve the endgame considerably, and frankly I don’t have any immediate intentions to, either, although never say never. It’s just that every hour of The Division feels exactly the same; grind through boring missions against the same enemies for the same rewards. Sure, the Borderlands games did the same thing and I love those, but at least they have compelling loot and a good sense of humor.
Ultimately it isn’t a bad game. It’s just a great one, either.
I loved the original Deponia trilogy with all my heart, viewing it as a beautiful return to form for a genre that has all but faded over the years. Daedalic’s chaotic sense of humour perfectly fitted my own warped view of the world, and while the puzzles did often fall into the realms of “you bloody what!?” they were almost always highly entertaining. Toss in a cast of bonkers characters, an interesting world and a fun narrative and you had the recipe for a very, very enjoyable trilogy of games.
And then Daedalic announced a fourth game and released in shortly after, surprising almost everyone. I was excited. How could I not be? And yet…the magic was missing. Ostensibly Doomsday is an attempt to tackle the ending of the original trilogy, which was a bittersweet moment that caused considerable controversey. My issue with it wasn’t that it was a sad finale, but rather than there was a general lack of resolution and that it came too abruptly. But what Doomsday really is is one long, somewhat convoluted attempt to justify the original ending, an attempt that ultimately fails since it adds very little to the overall plot, doesn’t advance the characters much and fails to explain why the first ending actually works within the broader narrative. As I said in my review, “it stinks of a company who maybe regret wrapping up their most successful franchise and who wanted one last monetary hurrah, and of writers who struggled to deal with the dislike for their clumsily executed ending to the original trilogy.”
But I still liked it. And that’s the thing; disappointing games can still be good, great or even fantastic, or just simply enjoyable. I don’t regret playing Doomsday. I don’t regret hanging out with Rufus and Goal again. But I do regret not seeing what it could have been, what could have been done with a fascinating premise and those brilliant characters.
While 2016 has had some good games thus far there have been very few that have amazed me or that I’ll look back on in years to come and remember with fondness, with the exception of Blood & Wine which served as a great farewell to one of my favorite games of all time. Hopefully the next six months manage to impress more, but right now it doesn’t look like 2016 is shaping up to be a classic year for gaming.
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