It's that time to talk about video games again. 2016 was a very interesting year. I moved twice within 12 months, which was pretty miserable in and of itself. I discovered the joy of Critical Role and also playing D&D for myself. I also got to play some pretty cool games. Some of which unfortunately don't fit into this category because they released last year, but cool nonetheless. Also a friend died, which, man, that sucked real bad.
Alright, now that we're all somber let's get to it. Video games. What does it mean? What does it convey? Themes and tones, atmosphere and elation for some. For others, a way for a person to shoot the living shit out of nonliving entities and then summon a giant robot for you to continue shooting the shit out of bigger nonliving entities. A way to subdue a security guard with you bare hands, then take his uniform and walk around killing people discretely, or, making things awkward with some not-so-discreet "ah fuck ah shit don't move ah fuck GRAB THE BODY DON'T GO INTO COVER AH FUCK *restart mission*". A way to... build blocks and then build more blocks.
What I'm getting at is, video games. That's why we're all here. That's why the same 17 people still click on some of my articles from time to time. And it's also the end of the year so it's about damn time I talk about my top five favorite games of the year.
5 - Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
|A pirate hanging up his hat. I'm so fucking clever.|
I can spend all day talking about Uncharted 3, but Uncharted 4 is so good I'm just going to move on with that. And speaking of: Uncharted 4 is the shit. A dramatic change of tone was introduced in this game that shifted it from being a so unbelievably "consequence free" adventure to a much deeper, personal, striking tone where danger and secrets lurk around each turn.
The grappling hook gameplay, the more opened up level design, a functional stealth system, fantastic writing that wraps up the story of Nathan Drake in spectacular fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed what both of the minds behind The Last of Us brought to Uncharted, and I think they shipped the series off on a high note. (And I'm also fuckin' excited for TLOU: Part II)
The traditional feel of Uncharted was very "care free". Drake trotted the globe, fought against actual armies, monsters, demons, other supernatural forces, the harsh elements of the earth, survived ambushes, uncovered mysteries, charted uncharted territory and honestly has to be worth about 600 billion dollars with the amount of treasure he's picked up over the years. It's all so lackadaisical. He just goes places and does things, and irrationally angry bad guys say things like "I KEEL UR FRIEND IF NOT HELP ME HELLO I JUST GRADURATED VILLAIN SKOOL" instead of, I don't know, just working with this guy to uncover the treasure and being a part of history.
As much as I liked Uncharted 4, the one thing that blew my mind were the villains. Not because they were good, but because they were so hilariously incompetent. You've got Nadine Ross, new found owner of a PMC that her father used to run, working for the CLEARLY psychopath billionaire Rafe something or other. I don't even remember his first name. But anyway, this guy has spent a decade+ looking for this super secret treasure and has made ZERO headway on it, meanwhile Nathan Drake & Co make immediate progress on it. And while Nadine may seem somewhat intelligent, she just goes along with her duty as "PMC Scary Lady" alongside Psycho Billionaire(And no, not Vince McMahon).
If I recall correctly, Drake even points this out at some point, yadda yadda "Help me find the treasure and cut the crazy guy out of the picture" yadda yadda. But she says no, because she majors in Incompetent Villainy, and Drake & Co immediately do what you expect them to and the rest is history. But anyway, aside from that small tangent on how Uncharted has shit villains, is good game.
4 - Final Fantasy XV
|Just hanging out with the boys at the local Chocobo farm!|
Final Fantasy XV is a weird game. I have not been a particularly big fan of Final Fantasy through much of my life, except for being into FFX for a long time(Blitzball yeah!). But the others never really did much for me. Honestly, I missed the boat for most of the time, often not being able to find discs for FFVII or others. In fact, when I was young I remember it being a really big deal when we found a complete package of FFVII in a pawnshop, and they were selling it for around $70.
So, FFXV was nearing release and I decided, you know what, let's give it a shot. Long story short: I like.
It's a weird game, right? The first open world Final Fantasy. You drive a car. All of the character designs are terrible(Except Ignis, but I just like that guy completely so ya know whatevs). They look like strangely aged japanese model boys or some shit. I don't even know what I'm supposed to feel when I look at them, other than "Someone found this shit in a Final Fantasy Hot Topic and said awwww yeahhhhhh". But anyway let's get away from that subject.
The game is just good. Out of all of the open world games I've played recently, there's always this weird state of, like, boring. There's nothing to do in the open world, there's nothing ever happening. It's a stale, flat thing. But in XV, that's not the case. The world is maybe a little more in line with the rest of the open world games, but it's got enough life poking out that adds some personality to it. You see monsters crossing roadways, prompting characters to converse about where they might be going. The random encounter system of "run until your screen shatters" is now replaced by an enemy dropship that flies around and drops off shock troopers near your location, and sometimes it'll even drop some Metal Gears down as well.
The side quest and hunting system can be a bit trite, as they are 100% always "Go here, kill a thing/Go here, get me an item" over and over and over again. But I didn't have a problem with them as much as I thought I might.
As for the characters, even though I hate their designs, I found the companions to be very well fleshed out. Sure, I honestly barely even know who these guys are, or their backstories for the most part. And the story is very impersonal so you never really get too close to anyone personally, but they've got depth to them. The way they talk and act, they just feel so cool. And because you only ever have the same 3 companions with you, you don't really get any of that "Oh boy I better switch out some characters in case I miss something" like different dialog or interactions. The same people interact regardless.
The story, on the other hand, barely interacts with anything. It's wild, random, changes every 5 minutes, and after 100%'ing the game, I have no fucking idea what it was about. You are going to your wedding, but then war happens, but then magic swords, but then giant summons, but then... demons? Look, maybe I'm stupid but I tried following this game and lost the plot somewhere around the end, but due to spoilers I won't talk about any of that.
The game is good though. I had a lot of fun hanging out with the characters and exploring the beautiful world(Holy shit, have I taken this long to talk about how beautiful the world is?). It's such an established, fleshed out landscape that's as much alien as it is earthly. I really loved spending time just going places and seeing the sights, and boy was there a lot to see.
I mean you can have your own Chocobo that you can color and name! Customizable Chocobo's! How cool is that! Shout out to Chokee the Chocobo!
I struggled with putting this on the list, or putting Valkyria Chronicles here instead, but the reality is this game was much more fun to play, even if it is hard to compare them. After all, the sheer amount of grinding required in XV is fucking ridiculous when compared to the grinding in V.C. And honestly, aside from a terrible lock-on system fucking with the camera all of the time, Final Fantasy XV is a game I am really happy to have played.
3 - Hitman
|Amazing that this guy never decided to become a model. You know... thinking about it, he kinda looks like Helmut Kruger!|
And holy shit that game was garbage. It turned Hitman into some weird fucking Robert Rodriguez/Tarantino inspired... thing. With a ridiculous Danny Trejo looking Ogre monster that you kill via QTE while dressed as a Luchadore inside of an octagonal caged ring, live streamed directly into homes around the world. Agent 47 takes off his mask to dramatically reveal his identity before taking the life of the Ogre, all while attaining the "Silent Assassin" rating. It's. Fucking. Terrible. I hated that game with a goddamn passion.
While I was never a direct fan of Hitman with any personal, hands on experience to talk about, I was always on the sidelines cheering it on. And so this new Hitman was announced, aptly titled "Hitman". I didn't really think much on it, but after the whole shindig of it coming out and people talking about it and me getting to see it, I knew I had to have this game. Cut to: Like a week ago.
Not that I know personally, but this feels like Hitman at its best. The art of assassination has never felt so electric. Just figuring out how to get through levels, knocking people out unseen, making your way to the target and getting rid of their body before anyone even has an idea. It's just so amazing. And the challenge system keeps you coming back over and over again, trying not just to get a better score, but to become a better player.
And that's just the assassination stuff, there's also a story in there.
The game comes out of the gate with bumpin' music and cutscenes that are probably too stylish for the game's own good. Unfortunately, the story never really comes to any meaningful conclusion, and you are left with more questions than you have answers, but... it kinda works? Sure, most people, even I, would see that as a message from the developers to "BUY SEASON 2 WHEN IT'S AVAILABLE!!" but for this type of story, one of espionage, assassination, spies and intrigue, it makes sense to me that not everything is given away all at once. You're being strung through a tale of lies and deceptions, and you've only now just learned the true depth of the situation, so it actually serves as more of a well timed "to be continued" than something more cynical. At least I would hope so.
It's a case of the craft being just as important as the art itself. They get to make a Season 2, and I get to be really fucking excited for it. It'll probably be some time off, and I've got plenty of elusive targets to work towards, so let's take our time together.
2 - Titanfall 2
|This is about what you can expect: Wallrunning, giant robots, and 40 million guys about to fucking die.|
I've played few games in my life where just moving was fun(Sans platformers, as movement is kinda the soul purpose of the game, whereas Titanfall 2 can easily be played like a mundane shooter, or you can do some crazy mirror's edge shit and hit warp speed). Just jumping around and hopping on walls and running off and shooting guys in midair... It's so incredible. The way the announcers will actually talk to you and applaud your kills and overall effort is also something well deserved. I get to pull off a triple pilot kill and then amp my weapons, pull out the anti-Titan grenade launcher and kill one of those as well, all while capturing a Hardpoint, and then fucking Liam O'Brien calls in over my headset talking about how fucking awesome I am, and also how he's an... alcoholic? Okay, Barker. You do you.
It's fucking, as the kids call it nowadays, "lit". In any other shooter, I don't know, I just don't think it would work. It takes me back to Call of Duty where most of the killstreaks were A.I. controlled MURDERBOTS that would fuck you two ways from sunday all at the touch of a button, but in Titanfall 2, while your Titan can be autonomous, it's not going to be at the top of the leaderboard or destroy the entire map in a glorious nuclear explosion(Though, they can do that).
Titanfall 2 makes you work for it. You have to get the kills, cap the objective, call the Titan and fuck shit up. It has no interest in making something as simple as "camp here, call in Titan there, win gaem", but that's mostly because they weigh the points you get based on what you're doing, ala you can end a game in last place with 30+ kills, but the guy with 0 kills is in first because he was capping bases and doing a lot more of the heavy points lifting. Which was another problem I had with games, and how camping ruins good games. Titanfall 2 was way up on that issue and fixed that as well as they could, because if people want to camp, they're going to pitch the tents.
The interesting thing about Titanfall 2 is that I was in the beta and absolutely hated it. Movement was slow and restrictive, the Titans just didn't do it for me. It was like someone took the original Titanfall(Which I played for a grand total of 30 minutes at my uncle's hotel room as we were about to go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier and needed to kill some time), and buried it deep in molasses. It was slow and boring. But the base game has improved tremendously and the result is probably one of the best first person shooters I've ever played.
And that's just the multiplayer...
Titanfall 2's singleplayer might be a little basic, and sometimes it's a little confusing. After the first game released without any form of singleplayer campaign to speak of, they decided to right their wrongs(BUT IT'S OKAY IF OVERWATCH DOES IT? CHECKMATE GAMETHEISTS!) and release with a singleplayer. And what a fucking singleplayer it is. You play Jack Cooper, a rifleman with some brigade or another, who quickly gets in over his head and finds himself stranded on a hostile planet with nothing but his wits, and also a fucking 30 foot tall hundred ton autonomous comrade in arms.
The story takes you from all over, to intense FPS sections where you're supposed to shoot shoot shoot, and also some really cool platforming puzzle sequences that were definitely more fun than I would have expected. Since basically no one bought Titanfall 2, I had on idea that the singleplayer would be any good, but having completed it I can say without any doubt, yeah, it's fucking awesome. The way the game heightens the action and increases the stakes near the end and curves right into the climax is just good old fashioned video gaming fun. From a gameplay level to a narrative one. It comes together to make this rip roaring romp one to remember. So, you know, please buy this game.
1 - Dragon Quest Builders
The message, the often-one-song'd-soundtrack, the gameplay, the lighthearted and then suddenly super fucking depressing tones, building up my mighty bases so that bosses can come and fuck shit up, making me feel really sad to see my base in bad shape, but then filled with a sense of purpose as I rebuild it again. This game just comes at you on all fronts. And sure, maybe if you don't like Minecraft this game won't do anything for you, that's a fair assessment. But for me, this game did a lot. I spent many hours in sequence playing this game.
The way it scales up the things you build as you progress through the game, giving you access to wondrous objects like a super motorcycle or magical cannon to defend your base and assail giant monsters, it's just... man.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within is one of my favorite games. I love turned based strategy games and with the level of customization that they allowed, I was in love the second I laid my eyes on it. And with XCOM 2, it was that same love that drove me to get my hands on it, but eh... There was something to XCOM 2. Firstly, it wasn't really a complete game on PS4, as it lacked the waypoint system that the PC game has and that made it quite difficult to navigate around zones that trigger enemy attention upon entering. On PC you just drop a waypoint to navigate around that, but not on PS4!
It's unfortunate, but I never even beat XCOM 2. I was really into it for a while, playing all day every day for a solid couple of days. And while the core gameplay is still there, and that fascinating customization is even more in depth, oh boy, I will return. But maybe give it some time to get some patches and maybe get that waypoint system in there.
I'm so glad to have finally completed this game. I really enjoyed the artstyle, the incredible gameplay, and the sorta-kinda-not-really-but-really racist undertones that explore the realities of war, even if it was approached in more of a cutesy-anime kind of way, but I mean, it's a cutesy-anime kind of game so I can't really complain. I mean, I did, but you know.
No, buddy, I didn't forget about you. I started the year off right with that big ol' Black Flag in The Sky. I haven't played you sense then, but I still remember how good it felt to run alongside big ass enemy ships and dumb your full loud right into their rock hard hulls. You gave me great thrills, and you deserve a slot on this honorable mention. You suffered for some issues, big and small, but it was a great joy to play you. And I realize I'm talking to an inanimate thing as if it were my long lost friend, so I'm going to stop now, and we're not going to mention this weirdness again. Word.
And with this list out of the way, here's hoping 2017 doesn't suck so much ass and also kill so many celebrities! Happy New Years folks!