Okay, so this year's list is even more unconventional than last year's. I'm not exactly making a list. It's more of a series of moments.
DOOM Was King and Lord of Shooters
Let’s skip to #1. Almost everyone’s #1. I know, it’s getting boring to see Doom as everyone’s #1. But that is entirely earned. Doom is the greatest single-player shooter ever made. I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all. I knew that well before I finished. The combat arenas are basically race-tracks with multiple tracks. You can go over, under and around and never get stuck unless you lose focus. It’s a race-track because the game is designed for flow. To put you in a trance, where you dance with demons. A trance where you generate your own health packs and even ammo, by killing more enemies.
Early on, I thought the game was too hard or that I wasn’t good enough. But aiming and precision are not the factor. It’s attitude and approach. I had to get in Doom’s headspace. I was used to being afraid of getting hit. But the Doom Slayer is a predator and demons are his food. You have to be the hunter, the aggressor. I later read that Mick Gordon (who created Doom’s music) was told almost the exact same thing by the dev team. It was a pillar of their design. The demons are afraid of you and are lashing out in desperation.
Doom is the greatest reboot I’ve ever seen in any medium. They found what made Doom good and changed only what made it better. The result is something totally unique to past and present. You can’t say this is just like the original. It’s not. It’s also unlike any shooter since then. You can draw a line from one the other. But compared to almost anything else, it doesn’t really compare. To quote The Last Samurai, "I belong to the warrior in whom the old ways have joined the new".
Mick Gordon Slayed at the VGAs by Performing a Live Metal Show, Because Doom
Do I even have to explain why this rules? Doom gets my game soundtrack of the year. It’s perfect for the game. The music represents Doom so well it could have been designed around it.
Titanfall 2 Unpacked Its Universe for Me
You’ve heard, I’m sure, very vague reasons why Titanfall 2 had a great campaign. Let me try to clear that up without spoilers. Titanfall 2 starts with the well-trodden trope of a soldier separated from his squad. But it’s so much more than a war game. It’s a tour through the nuts and bolts of how this universe functions. You wander through it as a lost outsider, both as a player and a rookie soldier. It’s not a walking sim or anything, but it probably could have been. A non-violent version of Titanfall 2 would probably still win a bunch of awards. Because it’s very smart, without really trying to look smart. It looks and feels like a military sci-fi paperback story. But it’s the kind that wins sci-fi awards, even if it never goes mainstream.
Of course, I have to mention the amazing sense of mobility and speed. This game doesn’t have parkour. It has jet-assisted parkour. Fashionable gentlemen wear the latter. Titanfall 2 doesn’t have time to be Mirror’s Edge, it has places to be. And in multiplayer, you also get a grappling hook. Ironically, the customizable, iconic and fun titans are the least interesting thing in the game. That is high praise. Everything else is more interesting than the giant robots, because the Titanfall universe completely rules.
Final Fantasy XV Succeeded by Mastering the Details that Matter
Every review of Final Fantasy XV mentioned small annoyances that were easily overlooked. Mostly with combat and getting used to it. Or with the infamous Chapter 13, which gets a worse rap than it truly deserves. But everyone comes away loving it, even before they get to the great ending. Why? It’s the things that don’t make it sound like a video game at all. It’s not the systems or mechanics, it’s how they interact with your experience of the world and its characters. Was I annoyed by the long car-rides and day-night cycle? At first, sure. Was I annoyed by having to sleep all the time? Sure. But FFXV isn’t designed simply to be won. It’s not a race to the finish. Like Persona 3, FFXV uses the currency of its long length, of time, to make it all mean something. The end isn’t rewarding because you won, but because you lived in that world like a real person. They made you take long car-rides, they made you camp with your best friends and look through Prompto’s camera roll each night. It’s not a just a chore. The game is building your reward. It all matters because you were a citizen of that world and a friend to Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus. You created the stakes by investing in the world. You did that. That stupid mundane stuff is why you care so much, what makes it real. They focused on what really mattered.
I Discovered Volbeat, and “Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie” is My Favorite Album of the Year
Where do I begin? Volbeat is, basically, rockabilly metal. They have this throwback crooner-sounding lead singer who is completely amazing at what he does. The band is amazingly gifted and amazingly creative. Their musical influences are seemingly whatever they feel like. Volbeat is truly eclectic. I’ve heard the term eclectic thrown around to describe music before, but I’m serious about Volbeat being eclectic. They have a metal song inspired by the band Mumford and Son. That was literally their direct inspiration. They cover Teenage Bottlerocket and an old honkey tonk-sounding song called Battleship Chains. It’s all got a distinct sound, while still being all over the place in its ideas. It’s hard to describe, honestly, but it towered above everything else I heard this year.
“Static” by Huntress Was Underrated, IMO, But So Much Fun
Huntress does have fans and Amazon reviews, but nobody is talking about their new album “Static” this year. Almost nobody reviewed it or mentioned it on YouTube and YouTube is a big place. That is a damn shame, because it means people are missing this thing. Static is fun, fun, fun. It totally rips.
If I called things guilty pleasures, this would be my guilty pleasure of the year. Huntress spins tales of witches, electronic disease and general apocalyptic mayhem. It feels pulpy and low-art in the best way. Lead singer Jill Janis wails through, seemingly inhabiting a punk rock witch character. The music is metal that feels as much like punchy punk. It’s got an almost danceable momentum to it. If you haven’t had the pleasure, rectify that. I bought this for $4 dollars on Amazon a week ago. Then I bought a T-shirt, because I actually felt bad. They’ve earned more money from me.
Overwatch Made Multiplayer Shooting Friendly and Reaped the Rewards
Blizzard made a shooter with different priorities than looking grown-up and “hardcore”. They made a game that emphasized the positive and ignored mistakes, that made teamwork king and where you can commend teammates for their contributions, even on the other team. Blizzard made a game that children can play next to old people and they’ll both love it. It’s got fun, bright colors and costumes for the younglings. And for grown-ups it has tactics, map memorization and ass, beautiful ass. It’s got dude ass, girl ass, mature woman ass. Asses for everyone!
And the characters are so interesting and likable! Their stories intertwine and their interactions are great. The storytelling is subtle, environmental and drip-fed through dialog exchanges and short videos and comics. They’ve done so much to build this world without any kind of campaign or long-form story. Riot Games (League of Legends) toiled for 3+ years to cultivate the level of fandom Blizzard generated in three MONTHS. They should be so pissed, but they’re probably OW fans themselves.
When the original SSX came out, the devs said every character was somebody’s favorite and somebody else’s least favorite. Overwatch is like that, except I honestly love all of these characters. Of course, competitive is still full of idiots, it is in every game:
Pokemon GO Changed the World
I didn’t play Pokemon GO. Don’t even want to. I like the little critters, but I’ll just look at them and occasionally buy a plushy (Chespin is my special boy). But any end-of-2016 write-up must acknowledge that Pokemon GO changed the world. It got nerds (and not-so nerds) around the world to go outside for a walk. Maybe even too much. It was a cultural hit across the world. Pokemon GO players looked like flash mobs in town squares. The actual quality of the game was beside the point. It got kids to frolick in dangerous places, it made people walk off cliffs and some people even found dead bodies, like a fucked-up version of Stand By Me. Now that is magical. Good for you, Nintendo. Together, we'll find all the floating corpses.
Supergirl Defined Feel-good TV This Year
Supergirl can have the worst day of her life and this show will still manage to make you feel great by the end credits. I love this show to an embarrassing degree. I would choose this over a Marvel Netflix show, because it leaves you feeling amazing. The feels are real. Supergirl is the modern Superman movie we should have gotten years ago. She beats the current movie Superman at every dramatic turn. They even have a better Superman in Season 2. It’s not high-budget: you won’t see a city get destroyed and Darkseid will probably never show up. But if you ever liked Superman, watch Supergirl. They get it. They know what people like about Superman and Supergirl does it better.
Star Wars Made a Good War Movie in Rogue One
I loved Rogue One for almost none of the reasons anybody likes Star Wars. Stars not charismatic? Besides the point. No feeling of magic or destiny? Wrong movie. It still has a great droid, though. Actually, K2SO is the best droid yet. Why see Rogue One? The same reason you see a war movie. It’s about tactics and stealth and morale. It’s about sacrifice for a greater good that you might never see. It’s about going down fighting and completing the damn mission. You may die, but you will die having kicked the empire in the damn nuts. Part of this movie reminded me of The Devil’s Brigade: a 1960s war movie about a stealth unit in WW2. This is a Star Wars story where Darth Vader feels like a third wheel and the force is largely just a powerful religion for those on the battlefield. It also explains things about the Death Star that make A New Hope make more sense.
Estonian Popstar Kerli Has Returned from the Forest and Her YouTube Channel is Amazing
This is a long story. A few years ago Kerli, a d-list popstar I never payed attention to, had an episode that made her leave the recording industry to find herself for a year and a half and reconnect with her roots and the forest and stuff. Kerli is super, super pagan and the most new-age person ever. Now she’s back and independent and writing songs about nature that kick ass. Her videos are entirely DIY and look incredible. We’re talking high production values, but no computer effects. The props and makeup are all done by herself and local artisans. But better than that, she has mini-doc videos about making them (mostly on Feral Hearts). This development was amazing to follow on YouTube throughout 2016.
It feels kind of bad to say I don’t like anything she did before 2016. But she has one of my favorite YouTube channels now and I think that says a lot. Here’s my favorite music video of 2016. It’s not very complex, but it’s well-directed and shot. It feels amazing to me.
Also, watch Feral Hearts. It was quite an achievement. Witness this thing.