Another year has passed since the last Yearly Awards I did. In contrast to that one and the one before it, not much has happened. I continued to work over at Bagogames as a reviewer/previewer, and I continued to be part of the recap crew. I also continued to cover EGX Rezzed and EGX, the latter making the interesting decision to let press in after those who bought the week pass. I hope this snub will be a one-off, but it probably wouldn't be.
However, there has been some new. I ended up giving news work a go finally. It was always an area of unfamiliarity and uncertainty. However, it was one I also knew I had to get some experience in if I wanted to ever get a chance to climb the games journalism totem pole. So first I did some writing for Reinhold's website, then some for Digital Confederacy. From there, I finally got my first paying news work at OnlySP. About six months later, I left as management changed over to new hands. As the company got sold to another company, I got cut. In total, due to various factors, it was a very unhappy experience.
On the other hand, this wasn't the only new thing I experimented with. Some of you who follow me on Twitter may know I dabbled in something special for EGX. I had planned to do some interviews, maybe with transcription of audio and note-taking. However, a colleague was willing to lug a camera along and do some video editing for any interviews I wanted to head. So I managed to get some video interviewing done (each of those links go to an interview I did). Naturally, there were some problems. Like it needed a huge amount of editing as I kept freezing up and losing my train of thought. Overall, well, I heard generally good things! So hopefully this is something I might continue on doing. Maybe even branch into audio interviews one day if I can.
I've also been releasing Venture into Destiny for a few months now. Remember those Venture into Borderlands series that I did? Y'know, the analytical written Let's Play series of Borderlands 2? Now, imagine that for Destiny. I ended up choosing not to release for Destructoid due to a large amount of effort required each week to upload for Dtoid and lack of interest from the staff to release it as a weekly column on the front page. While originally it was to be released onto Bagogames and ScaryGranules, the latter was dropped due to my own failings. However, it is still going out most weeks on Bagogames where it has gotten its own success there. I'm still musing if I do want to do a third game though. Doubt it, but maybe a six month break will change my mind?
I also, for the first time ever, covered an Insomnia event. The less said about that experience the better. Only good thing that happened was meeting Domanda, who I hadn't heard of prior to meeting him. Really nice guy to talk with.
However, this award parade isn't all about me. It's about the games! I'll be employing something very similar to last year. First will be the top 5 list. While not necessarily the most technically marvellous creations, these are the games that I feel were the most interesting. Although it comes with the qualifier that they will have to be games I actually played for a decent amount of time which were released this year (no, I didn't play Titanfall 2). There is also a special mentions list for those not quite good enough but still noteworthy in their own right. Then will be the Lifetime Award, given to a title whose excellence goes beyond the year.
Although you take the good with the bad, like chasing your Rekorderlig cider with a shot of rotting pus. Then we must consider the 5 missteps of the year that perhaps should have stayed at home. Which comes with its own special mentions. Which is all topped off by shaming a title with the Cautionary Tale Award. A crown of thorns not simply given to a bad title, but whose abysmal attempt can be learned upon. Like learning not to huff chlorine gas from the bloke who did. Oh, and where applicable I've added a link to my original review. So let's start counting with the shiny top 5!
5th Best of the Year
Dying Light: The Following
Like remembering you did all the work yesterday, so you have the day free.
Working out a top 5 was hard for me. A lot of good titles, but very few (if any) great ones. So rather than put one of the many, many, many serviceable titles on the 5th slot I went with something flawed but interesting. A game that I'd be astonished if it hits any other top-5 or top-10 lists this year. That is even assuming if you can even call a DLC campaign a game.
Dying Light was a game that appeared in 2015 and never managed to do anything particularly well. It did parkour, which sometimes was hit-or-miss if it'd work right. It did zombies, that never quite felt menacing or as gleeful puppets to slay. It even did a Vaas knock-off that ended with a QTE boss fight. Overall, it was alright.
The Following mostly followed this same problem. Although it also added a new driving mechanic that was actually more fun than parkour, complete with parts customisation as your buggy goes through wear-n-tear. Just as this, it would have been a pretty good DLC to an alright game.
Where it becomes noteworthy is its narrative. 90% of it is pretty much dross you've seen a thousand times. Cult roams the wastes but has cure, so you infiltrate. You do odd-jobs, including sneaking a farm owner's daughter out the area with her girlfriend. Eventually the cult trusts you more. Especially as not-Vaas's crew (despite having a dead leader) is trying to bring them down so you shoot them back.
Where it takes a turn is its endings. Without spoiling it: Yes, there are multiple endings. However, the lead-up to it and the choices aren't good nor even approaching bittersweet. That's right, it pulls the old Kane & Lynch: Dead Men trick of multiple bad endings and for you to pick one. A gutsy decision by the writers, and yet it fits like a glove in the narrative. So the 5th spot goes out to this DLC, in hopes more writers have the guts to let more stories end badly, because not every story has to end even bittersweet.
4th Best of the Year
Criminal Girls 2
Like getting the top rating in a play-through of a game.
You can read my original full review: here.
JRPGs have a problem. Grinding is tedious, but it is one of the engaging parts of it. It's like saying the most engaging part of housework is the washing up. Yet it is honestly relaxing if perhaps dull, like listening to Brian Blessed read a Tom Clancy novel. Some JRPGs tried to cut it out, to not much effect (hello Final Fantasy!). Others allowed you to speed the combat up so you can just get it over with (oh you Bravely Default). There was even one that decided cartography was the way to go, which was a strange approach to take for Etrian Odyssey 2: The Fafnir Knight.
Yet Criminal Girls 2 is the only one I can say truly spiced it up. Something that is odd as, being a very prudent and sexually private individual, I was set up to absolutely loathe this game. I was excited to get my fury out of my system. I just wanted to wail on its shallow perverted ways, giggling all the while. Yet, I had a very good time.
This was mostly because the grinding was broken up with mini-games that played into the narrative and mechanics. Ones that progressively got harder, but wouldn't chain you down if you failed. Which these were changed every so often, as to avoid going stale. This is a mechanic I hope more developers do actually steal from. The narrative was also surprisingly good, lending gravitas to what is a pretty nasty situation.
However, I wouldn't go higher than a 4 on this list. The actual combat felt a bit too random, and there's no getting away from how some of the characters do seem very under-aged for a sexually-loaded scenario. Still, means Criminal Girls is a series I'll have to keep my eye on in the future, privately.
3rd Best of the Year
Like getting a promotion and finding your true love on the same day.
Usually AAA is boring to me. It's like being dropped into a sandbox where you're told precisely what activities to play at what time, and you also find bits of cat shit in it. It is the bane of a reviewer's existence, because nothing is more tedious to write about than a title that is safe. FPS titles especially suffer from this. Each one finding new ways to remind me why I loathe competitive games.
So yes, I was cynical when Overwatch rolled around and had absolutely no intention to buy it. Then they released the beta and I realised then Blizzard had summoned the dark moon gods because it was fun. The aesthetic was bright, catchy and instantly easy to understand what the hell I was looking at no matter how insane things got. The combat was quick, fluid and new. There was even a variety of modes, in case if things got stale in one.
So I pre-ordered it. I even got the Origins Edition. After playing it, its no god damn surprise it sold 7 million copies and will be reaping Game of the Year awards. Not only due to the release state that has such a fantastic array of characters to pick from, but also the post-release state. There's the addition of a competitive ranked mode, a series of arcade modes, more heroes, more maps and a gourmet of aesthetic options. On top of this lies a heavy heap of seasonal things, like Christmas, Halloween and Summer Games. So despite usually having no interest in competitive FPS titles, Overwatch certainly has me hooked. Like a frail Tracer caught by Roadhog's hook.
2nd Best of the Year
Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma
Like winning a lifetime supply of your favourite booze.
You can read my original full review: here.
I had been waiting for this game for about three years. It's been since I got my hands on its prior title Virtue's Last Reward. It's honestly been the main game I've been full-on properly looking forward to for the past few years. With the final release in the trilogy, it ended up being a pretty good send-off for the Vitue's Last Reward and 999 cast mechanically. Chock filled with choices that are more looser on the choke-chain and all the gore and violence I could want out of the sequel. I've even played it a second time this year.
“So why is it at 2nd?” is a question on some people's lips. Because the ending is terrible and the new cast sucks. Eric and Mira are as interesting as two wet flannels with googly eyes and lipstick on them chatting about boiled cardboard. Carlos always flits with attention grabbing, before turning back into a 2d plot-vehicle for Akane and Junpei to drive about in. Q and Diana being exceptions, although in Diana's case the moments are far and few.
In addition, this Zero feels less of a calculating mastermind and more as though 4/5ths of the plot was written before Kotaro Uchikoshi remembered he needed an antagonist. An antagonist that seems written by someone in their early teens. It has a lot of “I'm complicated because I said so” with some “MY SPECIAL POWER LETS ME DO WHAT I WANT!” thrown in. On top of all this lies a supernatural time-travelling element that has gotten particularly stupid for the series.
Yet still, even at its disputed worst for the series (I can't work out if I dislike this or 999 more), it is still heads and shoulders over a lot of writing found in games. Even if it is easily the most disappointing title I played this year. It is still technically enjoyable to a heavy degree. Is this a good enough send off from a narrative perspective? Not entirely. However I struggle to say it wasn't one of the more interesting narratives of the year. Not THE most, because that goes to...
1st Best of the Year
VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Like meeting your favourite celebrity in person for a day out and a late night drinking.
While Criminal Girls 2 wins the award for most surprising title for me, VA-11 Hall-A (fuck it, I'm going to call it Valhalla) comes in a very close second. I walked in expecting it to embrace its original name: Waifu Bartending. As in, I expected the protagonist to be a an empty vessel for the player to project into as they woo'ed waifus with differing anime archetypes. I guess it didn't help my basis was the free demo on the website and a Streaming Chan demo at EGX Rezzed. Both of which tormented me with anime tropes like a child torments ants with a magnifying glass.
The only thing that really made me curious was I do love cyberpunk. Which to this Valhalla seemed to offer the ability to learn about the setting via the occupants who come in to whine about their 9-to-5 labour at the evil corporation. Something that sounded like an enjoyable curiosity, one that I was constantly tempted to buy but constantly got a reason to be a sulky shit about the choice.
Suddenly, the planets aligned. My constant bad luck with RNGs lifted for a moment to take a breath of fresh air before disappearing under the surface again. In that surfacing time I took part in Hypno Coffin's Community Giveaway and surprisingly won, getting a copy of Valley Halley that TheBlondeBass donated. So here's to you two for this!
For those easily offended by pretentious waffling, you may want to look away as its time to drag out a word incredibly relevant to Valhalla: Ludonarrative. You see, the best stories use gameplay to infer the narrative and the narrative to infer the gameplay. It makes for a beautiful loop that makes both parts more engaging. While adding other parts to it may make it fun, every additional part you staple on makes the loop more clunky. Taken to its ultimate breakdown, you feel absolutely detached from what is going on.
While Valhalla is a visual novel to its very core, it remembers you are a bartender. So it makes you operate a bar as you hear the stories of the occupants who stumble in. Which your success leads to if you have enough money to pay for luxuries, electricity or even rent. There are also a few other gameplay moments that mix things up. These in turn influence the narrative, as you are telling a story about Jill.
Which leads to one of the reasons why this was such an unexpected fountain of joy: The narrative is great. Jill (the protagonist), rather than being a vessel, is her own person with her own motivations, feelings and conflicts. There is even an arc to her that progresses along smoothly. As well as this, you bounce off the characters who walk in, and they bounce off you with their stories. Ones that aren't just setting information delivered in an anime archetype fashion, but instead are incredibly naturally presented.
The best way I can describe Valhalla is humanising. The cast feel like human characters, both apart and distinct from their environment. The protagonist has her own life that exists outside the bar, one that does have an impact.
If I had two complaints, it would be the lack of replayability and how the ending determining system is naff. However, it is nitpicking on an expertly and carefully crafted specimen. For that, Valhalla is my game of the year.
Before we leap into the 3rd Lifetime Award, it's best we talk about the...
Stellaris – There's always been the hunt for the sci-fi game that encapsulates the mystery of space, the possibilities of tales to be created beyond the stars and the simulation of interactions with other curious species. Mass Effect strode out and set the world ablaze with its attempt, but to me it always felt more science-fantasy than sci-fi. More heroic, optimistic and sane than what I believe the eternity of outer space is like. With Stellaris now, we possibly now have the current best simulation of the nonsense that is the far reaches of the galaxy. So if you're a sci-fi fan looking to dive deep into beyond the stars, this is currently as good as it gets and it is a pretty fantastic punt that is only getting better. You can read my original full review: here.
Steins;Gate 0 - Steins;Gate 0 has a messy plot, an awkward ending system and enough plot-holes to act as an improvised sieve. However, it did probably have THE song of the year for me. Even if it is just a remix of a song I already love, it feels distinct but still nails the melancholic ambient tone that excites me. So check out Believe Me 0. You can read my original full review: here.
Pony Island – When I compile my top-5, in a tie I tend to put uniqueness above technical prowess. Good graphics, excellent sound-design and lots of content tends to matter less to me than a memorable experience. So after I played (and reviewed) Pony Island, I knew I would be at least mentioning it at the end of the year as it is a bizarre adventure akin to if The Exorcist featured a BBC computer instead of a small girl. Not quite great enough to hit the top-5, but damn it was hard to admit it to myself. You can read my original full review: here.
Salt & Sanctuary – I confess that I am a Dark Souls fiend. I can not defeat them for the life of me, but I just love wallowing in the melancholic despair those games give off. Enough to chase down other similar titles. So Salty Sancho was already in my good books, but the 2d dimension and unusual aesthetic won more points. I even managed to defeat the sodding thing. Although it is let down by a lack of an identity, made more apparent by my top-5 list being dominated by those who did. Still worth a crack if you want something to scratch the Dark Souls itch. You can read my original full review: here.
Killing Floor 2 – When it was nearing the release date, I knew I was going to give it a glowing review. You don't get 75 hours on a game you don't like. However, as soon as I slid my reviewer's cap on, all the problems crept out with a guttural growl. Still, there is satisfaction in letting loose both revolvers on the head of a stumbling groaning creature. Even as I die, I can't help but let out a maniacal scream as I take something down with me in an explosion of gore. You can read my original full review: here.
So we find ourselves at our 3rd Lifetime Award. This is any game whose excellence can serve as something for other games to learn from. The First award was given to Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward for narrative excellence, and the second year's was given to Mount & Blade: Warband for mechanical excellence. So I wanted to do something a bit different. Not simply good story-telling or good use of mechanics, but a more specific part of either. This time, I wanted to give the award to a game that approaches a difficult subject with grace, care and critique.
The 3rd Riobux Lifetime Award goes to...
...The Witcher 3
There's no doubt it is a brilliant game. Flawed perhaps (including its rather poor difficulty that requires cranking to Death March to feel a challenge), but even now it is ahead of its time by leaps-and-bounds. Even as someone not impressed by prior games, I admit I fell pretty hard for Witcher 3. Its incredibly huge lived-in environments, its thoughtful combat and its narrative makes sure that even 60+ hours in there isn't a dull moment. That is assuming you've completed it.
However, The Witcher 3 is not here because it is a great game overall. It would go against the spirit of this award to do that. More it does a particular thing incredibly well, in a manner that other games haven't matched prior to or since. The Witcher 3 approached a subject that is considered difficult, loaded and tragic, and then proceeded to give a respectful portrayal of it from all perspectives including the offender's. There's simply no dancing around this subject without spoilers. So those who are not familiar with The Bloody Baron and does not want spoilers of him, well, look away until I give the signal.
The Bloody Baron is a Witcher 3 character that comes relatively early into the narrative. He tasks you to find out what became of his daughter and wife as they've both disappeared. However, very quickly you discover that the Bloody Baron would often get drunk and beat his wife. Which one time led to an accidental miscarriage. It is from this the wife and daughter fled the manor.
I believe a competent writer would have made the Bloody Baron into an unsympathetic villain. It would be akin to a kick-the-dog moment. A gutsy-and-failed sympathetic attempt would render The Bloody Baron's actions as okay or forgiveable in too light of a manner. However, CD Projekt Red's attempt walks the line excellently and with grace. It paints The Bloody Baron as a deeply flawed individual who doesn't mean to inflict domestic violence on the ones he loves. That it is a shameful part of him that he hopes to stop doing.
Interestingly, it isn't just directed at the wife. It is also directed at the miscarriage, by using The Witcher's own lore to explore how a life has been lost due to his actions. As well as the decision to turn what was a forgotten life lost into a child that has been killed by the baron's vicious behaviour.
There's no more spoilers ahead.
CD Projekt Red's writing not only approaches a difficult subject, but also does what I believe is one of the most important things when doing so: Humanises those involved. Even when their actions are unforgiveable, destructive and vicious, it is still a person who committed the atrocities. In this case, it is a person who after and before the fact is sickened of the thought of the action; but in the moment can be caught up in an activity that is bleak, dark and full of fury. I think to complete the thought, I'd like to refer to a quote from Mark Twain's autobiography:
“But who prays for Satan? Who in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most, our one fellow and brother who most needed a friend yet had not a single one, the one sinner among us all who had the highest and clearest right to every Christian's daily and nightly prayers, for the plain and unassailable reason that his was the first and greatest need, he being among sinners the supremest?”
So here's to you Witcher 3 for showing to the rest of us how to approach a sensitive subject in a humanising, respectful and thoughtful manner.
However, we're done venturing through the good of the year. After all, a lot can be learned not only from what did work, but also what failed. So it's time to rummage through the electronic equivalent of dumpster fires.
The bottom 5 of this year were a lot easier to pick than the top 5. A lot of memorable turds to drag out and slam onto the desk, flicking bits of the brown crap onto each other. There's no time like the present, so let's get onto the bottom 5 of the year!
5th Worst of the Year
Like waking up at noon, and remembering it's Monday not Sunday.
In true form, the 5th worst place often goes to a game that is interactive white-noise. There were a lot of contenders, including some we'll be seeing in the Special Mentions part. However The Division couldn't rub me up the wrong way worse if it insinuated the Holocaust is a lie.
It has you shooting looters for looting, and then you go and loot the stores yourself, without any self-awareness of what this means. Meanwhile you're doing this to a plot that isn't sure if it wants to fear-monger or appeal to conspiracy theorists. Within said narrative exists characters that range from forgettable to a groan-inducing annoyance. However, worst of all, it is so boring. Little weapon variation, linear corridors of dull repetitive combat and a story that is incapable of drawing sympathy, tension or enjoyment.
However, what does separate The Division from the other murky-water dross? At least besides the fear-mongering that does raise some questions about Ubisoft's authoritarian tendencies. It is the fact it had all the opportunities to create something better than this. Ubisoft has a history of well-created characters, or at least okay characters. Here it cuts graphical corners at every turn despite its budget and, again, its history. The content is also simply not varied enough for what is an AAA game set around set-pieces within missions.
Put simply, Ubisoft had the budget, manpower and ability to do better and it squandered it. So it gets 5th place for having every opportunity to make a game that is better than inoffensively bad and not giving a damn enough to avoid it.
4th Worst of the Year
Like finding out you missed a skippable object and now can't complete the game.
If there is one game released this year that I'll hold my hands up and say “I don't get it”, it's this game.
This is one of the ugliest games I've seen in years, and that's a statement I don't say lightly. It harkens back to the Clive Barker's Jericho days of being able to get lost in linear corridors due to horrifically dark and muddy visuals. I'm honestly surprised an artist looked at how dark the game is, even with the torch on, and said “yep, this is good enough”. The only plus I'll give is how enjoyably gory it feels as well as the enemy aesthetic design.
The combat feels weak, sloppy and too hard to focus upon. You will be moving fast in said confusing environments, and never quite sure if you just hit something. Meanwhile you'll be getting hit by creatures you can't spot due to how dark it all is. In addition, there is a very limited amount of guns which leads to no substantial tactics.
Gameplay wise, to give credit where credit is due, it does try to reinvent the last-stand mode seen in many games. However nothing makes a whole lot of sense due to an inadequately explained UI. I don't know how to get more starting gear, if you can. I don't know what these unlocks do, or how to get them precisely.
The main word to describe UNLOVED is messy. It all doesn't really make much sense to me, despite its surprisingly high Steam review positive score percentage. So maybe I don't get it, but I couldn't work out what the hell I was staring at no matter how much time I spent with it.
3rd Worst of the Year
Like getting fired from your dream job, paper-clipped with the divorce papers from your partner who is the boss.
You can read my original full review: here.
Sit down young 'un, as I've got a story to tell. Once upon a time, it took 14 years to make Duke Nukem Forever (first announced in 97, released in 2011). Pretty ridiculous of a development time, during which 3D Realms lost the rights to the Duke Nukem franchise. Roughly around this time, Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction was being made by Interceptor Entertainment, as a top-down action RPG. As Gearbox Software filed a lawsuit against Interceptor due to this game, all references of Duke were changed into Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison and the game renamed Bombshell.
The reason for that backstory is a good few failings can be chalked up to Duke done badly. You have about eight quips just vomited into your ear over and over. You have enemies that rely more on swarming than any form of tactics. You have about 8 guns that you cycle through just because you ran out of ammo, rather than pleasure of choice. There is also a narrative/characterisation that does nothing but serve as string between one level and the next. It really feels like a greatest hits of the worst things about Duke Nukem games.
If it stopped there, it'd be maybe competing for 5th. Except it doesn't, it goes all the way. The extent of its missions is exploring caves, getting keys to put into holes and then repeating it all over again. Which assumes you don't get lost. Then there's the glitches, oh how there are so many glitches. XP glitches, AI glitches, menu glitches. I'm surprised it didn't complete the spectrum and crash on me.
Bombshell is the type of game I somewhat was rooting to be good. I wanted Bombshell to be a sign of how Duke Nukem can survive post-2000. After all, he's currently the videogame character equivalent of the ex-fratboy who is now overweight, divorced and a bigot. He walks through the familiar landmarks, dreaming of how he once was someone to somebody, before returning back to the bar to drink himself unconscious. However, now the best thing that can be done for Duke is to move on, consider him a lost cause. Let him live as a crazy relic of an era now gone; rather than stumble bleary-eyed onto the stage, drunk and confused.
2nd Worst of the Year
Like winning a lifetime supply of your favourite booze, which proceeds to be quickly bankrupted due to the deal. You are then given a case of Billy Beer instead.
You can read my original full review: here.
Back when I used to stumble around Newgrounds during the 2000s, you used to find most flash animations/games rated on average 2 or lower out of 5 wouldn't get many reviews. The reason for this was the logic that some things are so bad, the only advice you can give is “IMPROVE EVERYTHING”. Sadly, this is kind of the case here.
The narrative is rather lacklustre with poorly thought-through endings. The gameplay consists purely of walking about poking things, with one puzzle randomly put in. Despite this it is glitchy to a shameful level. This includes crashes, clipping through walls, events not triggering or triggering multiple times. Graphically it is on the low-end of mediocre, peering into ugly's garden. There is simply not enough to really poke at, not even in an angry way, because that assumes an amount of content that simply does not exist.
1st Worst of the Year
Like meeting your favourite celebrity, only to accidentally kill them and go to jail where you proceed to become the local cum-dumpster.
You can read my original full review: here.
You know, this spot was a tough fight between ALONE? and this. After all, Eisenhorn was rated a 3.5 and ALONE? a 3. However, sometimes the worst game of the year isn't one that is technically the worst. Sometimes it is the game with the worst motivations. Which Eisenhorn has some crummy ones.
Getting the general game quality out the way: It is a game that pretty much fails in every area. The narrative, despite being based on a book, is presented in an awkward and clunky manner. A manner that sometimes just proceeds to throw the book at you and shrug its shoulders with a contemptible scowl on its face. The audio delivery of this trainwreck isn't any better. All the lines are delivered with the emotion of a rotting sponge, and sometimes audio would be left-only or right-only.
Then again, I guess it isn't helped by awkward puppet-style animations and pop-in graphics. These are so bad as to be laughably distracting, as I would think a character was a burn-victim before the game finished loading their textures properly.
Oh, and let's not forget the gameplay. Gameplay that spends 3/4s of the time being spam left mouse button and space to win. The other ¼ is stealth that is so bare-bones that social services have been called. Of course, with a title as bad as Eisenhorn: XENOS, it is glitchy with crashes, audio-bugs and other oddities. In every sphere, it is a mess.
However, where Eisenhorn proceeds to piss me off the most is how this is a port of a tablet game, with the price increased. No thought was given of if this game would survive on the PC marketplace. Just a simple awareness that this is a game they want to make money on. That it probably hit a plateau on tablet and thought maybe it should see some life on PC, at an increased cost. At £14.99, it is a rip off and a blatant insult to Warhammer fans. At £34.99 for the Deluxe Edition (over double!), it is a spit in the face of anyone who gives a damn about games. This game is a trainwreck, and its pricing is absolutely shameful and shameless. May this heresy die long and hard.
Of course, with that list out the way, there are some special mentions. Special little flecks of shit that deserve some acknowledging.
Slain (original edition) – Slain's original release was a fucking disaster. I even recorded footage of it, include “PRESS 9 TO BREAK GAME”. I heard it got a new edition that fixes a lot of the problems, but at this point I can't bring myself to replaying it. Sod this game, it shouldn't have released in such a broken state. You can watch me play it as a first impressions: here.
Firewatch – I've barely seen anything so anti-climatic as this. Not only in the sense of how the main mystery is resolved, but also how the game itself ends. The main saving grace is the superb characterisation, but it wasn't enough to save it from the bitter feeling of “...that's it?” I got from it. You can read my original full review: here.
Psycho Pass: Mandatory Happiness – Ever since the excellent season 1, Psycho Pass has struggled to get back onto its feet again. Season 2 started okay and then grew much worse over time. Meanwhile the film was simply okay in an inoffensive bland way. So I did wonder if Mandatory Happiness would be able to prop the anime series back onto its feet. In the end, to put bluntly, it didn't.
The plot is inoffensively forgettable, with the colossal plot-holes you get when you set a game with new characters in an anime mid-season. There was also a pretty bad curry scene that has enough lore problem to make your mind numb, but let's keep moving. In addition, the ending system is hard to wrestle with, often locking yourself into a bad ending with no idea why. What saves Psycho Pass from my shit-list is the use of two characters to play as, giving you different perspectives on the same plot. This is something that is a nice touch within the visual novel medium.
You can read my original full review: here.
It's now onwards to the 3rd Cautionary Tale Award. Similar to the Lifetime Award, this is a game that works as a demonstration of some kind of how to improve our medium. However, this is the evil counterpart. This is a title that does something so badly, in an awe-inducing manner, that you can't help but want to avoid recreating it. Two years ago it was Clive Barker's Jericho with its abysmal characterisation and last year it was Vampire Rain's dreadful stealth/combat mechanics.
This year's Cautionary Tale Award goes to...
When Actual Sunlight crawled out the door onto PS+, I knew I would need to find a special place to put it. A place that honours not only how bad it is, but actually bordering on harmful it becomes.
Actual Sunlight is an indie game where you live a few days in the life of a severely depressed individual. This takes the form of walking up to things, poking them and then leaving the room to go to the next scene.
As a game, it is virtually non-existent. No gameplay to speak-of. No real interactivity besides what things you poke. Something that can be fine, which titles like To The Moon have shown. Just said titles rely on the narrative. A narrative that is simply badly written. No arc, no pace, no progression. It is as though we got to the last 10 minutes of a film, and someone decided to drag it out for two hours again. The story does not move from the beginning, not an inch.. This is something that's important and I'll be coming back to.
The main narrative delivery that exists here are mini-essays you read when you poke items. You'll nudge a games console, and then get a mini-essay about how meaningless it was to even get the thing. Sometimes it is delivered as though it was a chat-show interview, or a therapy session or in another method. Yet even when dressed up, they feel like you're being swamped with information which has no takeaway. It's a lot of reading, with no substance.
Now let's get to what makes Actual Sunlight appalling to me. Actual Sunlight is a game that tackles the troubling subject of depression and suicide. A 2014 NHS paper said in a survey of 13,122 households, depression appeared in 3.3% of people. In addition, 20.6% of people have had suicide thoughts ever, 5.4% have experienced suicide thoughts in the past year and 6.7% have attempted suicide at some point. Not only does it affect a large group of people, but even discussing the condition can have a negative effect if done badly.
To say Actual Sunlight dwells on the protagonist's depression is to sell it short. He obsesses over it. Every single scene is about his depression. He talks to a colleague, and he talks about how he'll probably never amount to anything. He goes shopping for food, and he'll think on how he's a fat slob. Even looking at the alarm clock and he'll give you an essay on how he's shit. It just goes on, and on and on, endlessly. As though there is nothing else at all. Not that everything else has faded due to the ongoing misery, that there is absolutely zilch else.
In of itself, it is an interesting situation. The protagonist is a tedious creature who keeps blathering on endlessly about how miserable he is. Which this presentation could be done on purpose. Created to perhaps illustrate the looping cycle that is able to wear away on the spirit of those around the person and the person themselves. The endless internal fights of frustration.
However, this isn't a game in the sense of making choices through the lens of depression. Nor is it the type of story that shows not to give up, that there is always hope no matter how bleak it is or that you can seek help. Nor even one that shows an arc of it. Instead, it starts at point A, ends at point A and the protagonist throws himself off a building.
Besides throwing back the negativity of depression into the face of the viewer, I do not know how Actual Sunlight could help anyone at all. On the other hand, the dwelling on “suicide is the only thing that works” train of thought that keeps coming up is something that could have an adverse effect. I could see some viewers beginning to think about suicide from such a portrayal.
This potential harmful effect, layered on the frustratingly dull writing, is why Actual Sunlight deserves the 3rd Cautionary Tale Award. Something that coincidentally works as a perfect juxtaposition to The Witcher 3's Bloody Baron.
That said, it's now time to look onwards to 2017. A year that looks to promise some interesting titles. Already there's Persona 5 creeping around the corner with a sly wink at me. Prey also seems interesting, as hopefully it'll have a psychological horror angle. Torment: Tides of Numenera is releasing soon too. Tokyo Dark is also definitely worth watching out for. We may even see Mount & Blade: Bannerlord make an appearance!
I guess what I'm saying, in a roundabout way, is I think 2017 will be a better year. I can not judge the political sphere, I'm not a political journalist. Nor can I speak of global warming, as an environmental journalist could speak of that. I don't think I could even tell you of the economy, as that's better suited for an economy journalist.
However, fortunately, I am a games journalist. I believe I can judge a year's release calender, and I think bright times are ahead.