I played around 20 games this year. That’s lower than my usual count. One big factor in the decline has been the age of my gaming PC. It’s over 7 years old now, and it shows. I need to rebuild it, but I’ve been punting that work to “next year” for a while. So, there are games I’ve actually avoided buying and playing because they won’t work well on my PC and I can’t (or don’t want to) play them on console.
This is my first year-in-review post for games, so I am going to focus on what I liked about the games and what my experience was like when I played them. I’m not a professional game reviewer, and I’m not going to score them on a scale of 1-10 in 5 different categories.
Anyway, let’s get started. The games are listed in roughly chronological order from when I bought/played them, but not exactly.
One Sentence Description: “Doom 2016 feels like it had one design pillar: ‘is it speed metal?’” - Brendon Chung (@BlendoGames)
DOOM is easily the best game I played in 2016. There has been more than enough ink spilled praising DOOM, so I’ll stick to the three things that I tell anyone who will listen to me rant about DOOM:
#1 - The game is fast as hell. There’s no camping in the corner or carefully sneaking your way through a level. You’re going hard in the paint and you’re gonna get dirty. You never stop moving, you never stop shooting, and the demons never stop coming. Too many games coddle you with clean spawn waves and simple monster closets. DOOM throws enemy after enemy at you and challenges you to cover yourself in their giblets. Enemies that were once mini-bosses become trash mobs by the time you’re done.
#2 - You have complete control over your environment and arsenal. There’s a plethora of weapons and upgrades available, and there’s a dozen or more ways to solve every problem. Usually I get analysis paralysis in the face of tech trees and talent nodes, but DOOM makes it simply and everything gets the job done. You can duct tape a micro-missile launcher to your assault rifle or add explosive shells to your shotgun. Both options rule, and that’s important. You can get all over the map, climbing crates and jumping chasms and sprinting around the arena. The player agency in DOOM is unrivaled in any other shooter.
#3 - The game rewards you with fun. Watching demons explode into chunks is fun. The mini-challenge dungeons (Runes) are bite-sized fun. Ignoring the fucking NPCs that are yammering on about who knows what on your radio and stomping the shit out of McGuffins (and demons) is fun. One of DOOM’s signature weapons is the chainsaw. Do you know what happens when you kill something with the chainsaw? It explodes into a shower of ammunition like a fucking bullet piñata. Fun is baked into every single detail.
Genre: Survival Shooter
One Sentence Description: “Minecraft plus Payday, but with dongs”
It’s 2 AM. Your crew is outside the wall, dressed in black and shotguns . The guards are asleep. Your crew farmed for a week to gather materials for these explosives. Your demolitions guy places the C4 on the wall, and counts down in Mumble. “3… 2… 1… breach”. An explosion!
But the wall still stands. It must be reinforced. You nod to one another, and everyone pulls out pickaxes and goes to work. After several minutes of furious clicking, the wall crumbles. You’re into the vault. Fan out to find the best chests and cupboards. Quickly smother the sleeping guards. Someone starts a 5-minute timer. Your firebug starts setting the base ablaze.
You spend the next few precious minutes performing inventory management, as you focus on taking only the best and most valuable things. New guns? Grab ‘em. Tons of potatoes? Leave ‘em. Black biker jacket? Take it, it’s your size. Your lookout calls “time’s up” and everyone funnels out of the tunnel and into the night.
You move as a column on your way back to your base. You talk about how tense the raid was, and swap details on the loot you scored. Adrenaline is pumping through your veins. Wait, what’s the smoke over there? As you crest the ridge, you see your base. Well, what’s left of it. The exterior walls look like swiss cheese, and someone’s built a giant phallic structure in your courtyard. Your only remaining possessions are what you have in your pockets. You pull your biker jacket tight, and get ready for revenge.
“Jump Check” is my favorite memory from Rust. There’s no UI in Rust. There’s also friendly fire. The combination of these two mechanics means that you’ll often find yourself looking at a player running across your screen, and you don’t know if they’re a friend or foe. So, you use jump check. Every time you see another player, you say “jump check” in Mumble. If the other player doesn’t immediately jump, you shoot the hell out of them. If you hear the jump check, you have to jump, no matter what you’re doing. Almost done with a 60-second crafting channel? JUMP. Or else.
Genre: Turn-based Tactical
One Sentence Description: “That’s more XCOM, baby!”
I never played the original XCOM games. XCOM: Enemy Unknown was my first experience with the series. I really enjoyed the tactical gameplay. It reminded me of a high tech or sci-fi Final Fantasy: Tactics. I like being able to plan at every level. You plan your base, you plan your crew, your plan your items, you plan the mission, you plan your abilities, you plan the whole dang thing. And then every shot misses and your entire team goes insane. That’s XCOM, baby.
XCOM 2 is truly the sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It’s got more tactics, more abilities, more items, etc. The gameplay is great and the campaign was fun to replay multiple times. Unfortunately, it also had a lot more bugs. At launch, there were tons of issues with frame rate, animation speeds, and gameplay problems. I ran into a particularly nasty bug related to carrying unconscious VIPs around that required me to rollback over an hour of gameplay to fix.
However, thanks to buying the game on PC, I was able to fix most of these issues myself with a couple of simple mods and .ini file tweaks. PC games might not have the same level of QA and certification that console games go through, but you can often take action and fix things on your own.
Despite these issues, XCOM 2 was a very fun and memorable game. The level design was great, the mechanics were fun, and I felt challenged at every step. The final battle is one that you’ll immediately want to talk to your friends about, to compare notes and war stories.
Hyper Light Drifter
Genre: Isometric ARPG
One Sentence Description: “High-tech and low-tech Zelda“
Hyper Light Drifter is one of those games that I liked better on Kickstarter than Steam. I liked the idea, the art was beautiful, and I gave them my $25 in 2013. To give you an idea on how long ago this was, the campaign was advertising OUYA support. Then, I forgot entirely about it, outside of the 30 seconds or so I’d spend reading the semi-regular backer update emails.
Hyper Light Drifter, the idea, was a stylish game with engaging mechanics and a beautiful aesthetic. Hyper Light Drifter, the game, is arcane and difficult slog. Don’t get me wrong, the game itself is great, if you like that sort of game. It’s beautiful and engaging, but incredibly difficult and terse. I don’t like long frame-perfect combos and checkpoints that don’t refill your HP. If you’re a Dark Souls fan and you’re looking for a palate cleanser, this will do the trick.
Something I learned in 2016 is that I am not an explorer archetype. I don’t like esoteric games that have obtuse maps and zero dialog/UI/explanation/anything. I just never feel like pouring the time and effort into the game to really get the most out of it. It’s the same reason I’ve never finished more than 30% of Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim or The Witcher. I get it, you can do like 10,000 missions as Geralt. That’s really cool, it’s just not my jam.
Mighty No. 9
Genre: 2D Platformer
One Sentence Description: “Shitty Mega Man”
My other 2013 Kickstarter dollars went to Mighty No. 9, which promised to be the off brand Mega Man that skirted as close as possible to getting sued by Capcom. The net result was a mess of a game that overemphasized a single mechanic, dash, and failed to deliver any actual fun. I played it for two hours and then uninstalled it and hid it in my Steam library. I would’ve asked for a refund, but instead wrote it off as an important lesson about early 00’s nostalgia and its failures. Now excuse my while I go watch the new Netflix seasons of Arrested Development and Gilmore Girls.
Genre: FPS RPG
One Sentence Description: “The world’s best sandbox”
I was sitting at the hotel restaurant, eating breakfast before another long day of E3 setup work. My friends and I were watching the Bethesda press conference on someone’s phone. When the Pip-Boy collector’s edition was revealed, I took out my own phone and went straight to Amazon.
Fallout 4 - Pip-Boy Edition - PC
Order Placed: June 14, 2015
“Chase, you just said you’re not an explorer and that you hate games with massive unguided plots? WTF?”
It’s true, I never finished Fallout 4. I’m not even sure how far into the game I actually got. I’ll never know. What I do know is that I had a ton of fun taking Fallout’s sandbox for a joyride around the wasteland.
When I play games like Fallout, I spare no expense. Every cheat code is turned on, every way-over-the-top mod is installed, and I aim for maximum chaos. I equipped myself with the regalia and armaments of a post-apocalyptic god-king. I slew foes small and large across the blighted city of Boston. Lasers, power suits, and every single trait in the game. Steam says I’ve put 50 hours into Fallout 4, of which a solid 45 hours was spent building massive fuck-off bases with infinite resource and stomping every single living creature out of existence.
Fallout’s literally insane sandbox lends itself to tons of goofy fun. Watching your enemies be ripped into shreds in slomo V.A.T.S. is a real treat. Restrictions like “ammo” are fun, but spooling up your gatling gun and just letting it rip 24/7 is even more fun.
I will admit that I was underwhelmed with the physical Pip-Boy itself. It was really only a fancy wrist-holder for your iPhone and a huge security hole on your computer by letting wireless devices send commands to your PC.
As an aside, I also spent many hours playing the Fallout Shelter pre-game on iOS before Fallout proper was released. The game was fun while it lasted, with a very XCOM feel to it. However, it eventually devolved into the typical mobile game monetization trap, where spending cash was the only way to continue advancing at a reasonable pace.
Genre: FPS / Mecha
One Sentence Description: “The most innovative FPS campaign that does Mega Man better than Mighty No. 9“
Titanfall 2’s campaign is the best FPS campaign I have played in years. They’re not afraid to add insanely fun and complex mechanics that only show up for a single campaign mission and never again. The story is rote, but compelling. The environments are stellar, including once memorable scene where you’re wallrunning on pieces of a house as it’s being constructed in a massive assembly line machine.
Respawn tripled down on movement modes as their niche, and it shows. You feel like you’re flying most of the time. Most FPS levels put you into a box and ask you to clear the box before you can proceed. You can skip a fair number of enemies in Titanfall 2 just by stunting on them. The freedom to roam around massive and engaging environments is a ton of fun, and the shooting itself is good enough to get the job done.
My favorite feature of Titanfall 2 is how they handle enemy titans in the campaign. Each enemy titan is named and they get their own anime-style cutscene. Once you defeat them, you gain their abilities and arsenal. Rather than force into a loadout between missions, Titanfall trusts the player to find the fun, and lets you swap between any titan loadout at any point. You can pause in the middle of a battle and swap to whatever abilities and guns sound cool at the time. That cool laser that the boss tried to use on you? One swap later, you’re blasting enemies to bits with the very same laser.
I normally don’t play multiplayer in random FPS games. But, since the original was multiplayer-only and I enjoyed it, I decided to give it a try here. It was worth it. There was a learning curve to the pace of the game, but the game modes (especially Amped Hardpoint) and maps were a lot of fun. I was cheesed off at some of the higher level abilities at first, like the anti-pilot turret and the shield wall. They’re really good, and starting players don’t have access to them. But you have to earn them yourself, there’s no way to buy your way to the top. I worked my way up to the “bullshit spells” eventually, and then made other newbies cry. The circle of salt.
Genre: Team FPS
One Sentence Description: “The best game I absolutely hate to play”
Everything about Overwatch is awesome. The character design is tops. The art is sharp. The maps are creative. The gunplay is smooth. Everything is awesome.
Except for one thing: my temper. There’s something about team-based objective-focused games that brings out my competitive nature, and in a bad way. I always feel like my teammates aren’t doing their jobs. I know it’s my own character flaw, but playing Overwatch is a guaranteed way for me to end the night with an Alt-F4 and pissed off as hell. I yell at friends and pubs alike. So, despite my wife sinking hundreds of hours into the game, I refuse to play it anymore. I can’t play a game like Overwatch casually. A team deathmatch/slayer mode might fix that, but for now, I just get too upset at my teammates to make it worth playing.
Guitar Hero Live
One Sentence Description: “The boys are back in town”
I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have picked up Guitar Hero Live if I didn’t get a great discount on it through Activision. I loved the early Guitar Hero games, and I used to practice until I could finish every song on Expert difficulty. But Live required a brand new guitar, which seemed like a cash grab at the time. I was wrong.
The new guitar has a radically different layout, which makes it so much more fun to play. With the old guitars, you were constantly worrying about hand positioning, and making sure you could reach the top and bottom keys. Now, there are only 3 keys, so you’re not moving your hand constantly. Each key has 3 different variations: top, bottom, both. So you’ve actually got 9 total notes to work with, which makes it both easier and harder at the same time. It’s about technical skill instead of constant shifting up and down the neck. After playing with the new guitar for a few weeks, I won’t be going back.
The updated visual environment, replicating the actual experience of being a guitarist and a rock star is fun. There’s something magical about a roadie handing you your guitar and giving you a big thumbs up. The crowds are realistic and exciting to play for. The atmosphere really sells the experience.
Also, you get to play Eminem and Skrillex back-to-back in one playlist. It was such a treat to break out of the typical genres that Guitar Hero has focused on over the years. I was really delighted to get the opportunity to branch out and try some new beats. It feels pretty kickass to be jamming to Bangarang.
I actually like the new way they’re handling song ownership. Instead of buying and owning songs, you instead have the entire catalog at your disposal, and you pay for plays. You get a certain number free per day, and you can earn more, or you can buy a pass that unlocks as many plays as you want for a set time period. It’s great to be able to look over the vast list of songs and not feel nickle-and-dimed over every single song or pack. There’s downsides to it, but for my use case, it’s actually a pretty great model.
World of Warcraft: Legion
One Sentence Description: “The premier Illidan simulator of 2016”
Every teenager that played Warcraft has wanted to be Illidan Stormrage, and Legion delivered. Demon hunters are incredibly fun to play, and I really enjoyed the leveling and story experience. Blizzard killed it with the new level scaling system, which lets you play any zone in any order. World quests and emissaries are ripped straight from Diablo 3, but that’s fine because they’re crazy fun and really make the world feel alive. Suramar is unlike anything Blizzard has done before, and it really paid off. The first two months of Legion were some of my favorite months I’ve spent playing WoW in the past few years.
Destiny: Rise of Iron
Genre: Shared World Shooter
One Sentence Description: “Yeah, I played another 300 hours of Destiny”
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
One Sentence Description: “CoD meets Star Fox, a fun couple of hours”
Genre: MMORPG FPS
One Sentence Description: “I wanted FPS first/MMO second, but got the opposite”