Year in Review: Gaming level ups, failed objectives and the age old promise of great gameplay.

Like many who write, either full-time for work or just to enjoy the act of putting thought to page, I too have a year in review type article to add to the internet’s list. It is currently 4am and I have a literal two liter mug of coffee so let’s get this started.

The beginning of the year, for the non-game news was a mixed bag. EA released Origin Access in January, and while I don’t partake, it looks like a decent system for Microsoft users to toy around with. Blizzard Entertainment celebrated its 25th anniversary in February as well as the Pokemon franchise turning twenty. On a sad note, GameTrailers had to shut its digital doors and the internet mourned for a moment, then went back to making memes.

As we head into spring, another unfortunate closer in the way of Evolution studios in March, though in April the majority of their employee’s were taken in by Codemasters. The Resident Evil franchise had its 20th anniversary, Sega acquired Atlas and Lionhead studio’s was closed by Microsoft. In weird news Gamestop announced its new publishing arm called Game Trust and NIS America announced it cut ties with Atlas due to the Sega acquisition. The first casualty in the ‘toys to life’ genre was had when Disney Interactive studio’s closed Avalanche Software as they decided that self publication was not in their best interests. On a more positive note, juggernaut gaming new site IGN purchased a ton of GameTrailer’s assets from Defy Media. Oh we cannot forget that Yahoo’s games was shut down by Yahoo. . . . *sarcasm*

Rolling into the summer months, things start to heat up with the Vivendi hostile take over of Gameloft. June saw the rise of the Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3 which had both Microsoft and Sony give incredible conferences. Electronic Arts also had their first ‘fan-event’, EA Play,  outside of E3 with a moderate amount of success. Quietly, yet somehow equally as raucous Sonic the Hedgehog celebrated his 25th anniversary and if you haven’t seen their live show clips on YouTube, please do yourself a favour and watch that madness. On some bitter-sweet news Adam Boyes, VP of Third Party Relations,  left his position at Sony to flex his creative muscles over at Iron Galaxy an indie dev breaking onto the scene. At the end of the summer we had Gamescom in Germany and I imagine that was packed to the gills as usual. We also had an interesting turn from Nordic Games, who changed their name to THQ Nordic. Unsure if this was to help with brand recognition, as they bought most of the ip’s THQ had, or they are tempting fate by putting THQ in their name.

The fall, and leading into the winter gave us some interesting spikes in non-game specific news. Microsoft Studios announced their ‘Xbox Play Anywhere’ program to allow cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10. Blizzard announced that they would be phasing out their online battle.net, in name only, to a more generic ‘Blizzard tech’. This allows for less confusion on which account name you need, and I imagine makes their back-end management significantly easier. We also had two pretty big shows to close out the year in The Game Awards, hosted by Geoff Keighley and PSX, a fan focused Playstation event. The Game Awards, in my opinion, were very lack luster, as most of the awards were given off camera and the categories were not given the explanation and gravity you would want or expect. Also the product placement was pretty terrible. Skip forward a week and you have Sony’s PSX event which rocked the house. Like any good fan focused event, Playstation got the crowd fired up with the Crash Bandicoot triglogy look, Patapon/Loco Roco/Parappa the Rappa remasters and a Wipeout HD collection for the PS4.

all-about-the-games

Talking about the year we obviously cannot forget the actual games. Above and beyond the games however there were also six new pieces of hardware released, which is insane. March and April saw the release of PC gaming’s VR gladiators; the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, then piling all into the end of the year we have the Xbox One S in August, the PS4 slim in September, the Playstation VR in October and finally just released in November is the PS4 Pro. Hardware aside, we also got a metric ton of games to sink our teeth into. Some great, some terrible, and others leaving an odd taste in our mouth.

January kicks us off with a cluster of gems that need to be played. If you own a Vita, and you should, pick up Volume as it was released near the beginning of the month. A fun tactical stealth game which hooks you almost instantly. Another pair of fantastic games that were criminally overlooked was That Dragon Cancer, a heart crushing story about a boy with cancer and The Banner Saga, an intense turn based strategy RPG harking back to the old days with beautiful artwork servicing your journey. While I have not played it yet, Oxenfree was another game that became a critical darling yet did not see the love it seemingly deserved. If you are a fan of the Soul’s style of tension and overbearing nature I should not have to say much for Darkest Dungeon a game that lends credence to the motto “stare into the abyss long enough and the abyss stares back”. Nintendo had a strong month with Minecraft Story Episode 1, Mario & Luigi Paper Jam and Final Fantasy Explorers. Sony also had a strong finish to the month with The Witness, a complex puzzle game as well as Dragon Quest Builders a game of Dragon Quest meets Minecraft.

February and March had a bevy of games for us to purchase, and hear our wallets weep due to their emptiness. In no particular order, the first half of the month gave us, Firewatch, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, Great Detective Pikachu, an expansion to Dying Light called ‘The Following’, Lovers in a Dangerous Space time and a remaster of the fantastic tactial RPG Valkyria Chronicles. The back half of February gave us Rocket League on Xbox, a fantastic RPG in I am Setsuna, Fire Emblem Fates, Stardew Valley; which is a must play and Planets vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2 which was surprisingly fun. March brings us gems such as Broforce to PS4, Gears of War: Ultimate edition on Xbox One and the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD on WiiU. We also got the punishing side scroller Salt and Sanctuary for the Bloodborne fans, an episodic action adventure stealth game in République. As the month closes out, we get the start of season three for Killer Instinct, Hyper Light Drifter and a fantastic but brutally underrated game known as Sleeping Dogs Definitive edition.

April thru June at first glance seems like a dry portion of the year, I however think there were a ton of great games to be played through these months, not to mention your backlog of games that you keep meaning to get to. We get games like the punishing game Enter the Gungeon, the time warping Quantum Break and everyone’s favourite way to hate themselves; Dark Souls III. We cannot forget the incredibly well done Ratchet and Clank game, a new entry to the franchise after so long, as well as the snarky yet charming Stories: Paths of Destiny, and before you say it I do agree it had a whackadoodle name, but it is pretty damn fun. The 3DS rocketed back into many RPG fan’s lives with Bravely Second: End Layer, and Vita Owners got another great reason to dust off their system with the release of Axion Verge. If you are into Metroidvania games this is a must pick up on either Vita or PS4, but really just get it for Vita and support the cause. A follow-up to a great game on PC, Banner Saga 2 got released near the end of April though we also saw the release of the not so hot Star Fox game for the WiiU, so much potential there.Alienation fed our ‘fast paced Diablo but in space with lasers’ fix as we fought corrupted humans, bipedal alien soldiers and Goliath’s that could crush you in a single blow.

Battleborn a game that should have come out six months earlier releases at the beginning of March, and consequently gets demolished by Overwatch which came out near the end of the month. We also saw the rise of hell and the subsiquent asskicking it received in the fantastic Doom game from id software. Uncharted 4 was also released and much like the previous titles, it was another smash hit. On the disappointing side we had Home Front: Revolution which failed to capture its previous games glory as well as TMNT Mutants in Manhatten, a game which seems like it would be hard to bungle, but ended up being a spastic mess. We can swing back to positivity though with Total War: Warhammer, a true blue representation of Games Workshop’s table top battle game as well as Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. A cluster of smaller games also came out throughout this block of the year which I found very entertaining. Grand Kingdom, a three lane tactical RPG, stole many nights and weekends from me while Hearts of Iron IV consumed a few friends for a full month and the always beautiful Odin sphere Liefthrasir had Atlas back in the spotlight.

July through September, to me, were the months of the indie title. I played more small/budget games over these three months than I have in the last couple years. Headlander, Brutal, Abzu, Bound and Song of the Deep gave me the joy of a simple yet challenging game, much like the games of our youth (if your over 30) while titles like I am Setsuna tugged at the emotional heartstrings and Hyper Light Drifter gave Playstation and Xbox owners a sample of what Zelda could be like on their system, the real winner is Pokemon Go. This game nuked everything else around it from orbit and dominated the majority of July.We also saw the release of Telltales new Batman series which got rave reviews and from what I hear, the entire first season is a great buy. Dues Ex Go also came out and brought a new spin to a franchise that it needed as well as got us up to Tomb Raider Go! We cannot talk about heavy hitters without mentioning the new World of Warcraft expansion as it did insane numbers. We were also treated to the Bioshock Collection on PS4/Xbox One as well as the Dead Rising collection. While not an incredibly notable game, I would personally be remiss to leave out Warhammer 40k Eternal crusade from my list as while my PC is blown out, and I write this on a tablet, I am a huge Warhammer 40k fan and want to start playing this. I also have to shout out Spacehulk: Deathwing, out in December, another 40k game that allows you to cleanse giant spaceships full of aliens with both blade and bullet.We cannot talk about all of these games, plus those not mentioned, without pausing to give light to No Man’s Sky. A mountain of promises and hype which crumbled under its own weight. I personally had a pretty good time playing the game, as I had not expected ‘the world’, to turn a phrase, from this game. It’s current updates seem to be moving in the right direction in terms of features promised, but we will have to see if people are still interested in trying to sail to the center of the universe.

At last we come to October to December. Many games pushed into the new year, many games announced but no release dates, and many still incredibly vague on details with a seemingly close release. Looking into these gets me excited, my wallet terrified and my electric company happy with the power usage. Mafia III is the first big title I looked at, and I have to say minor bugs aside I had a good time with this game. It falls into a similar trap many Ubisoft games do; which is the collectible grind turns into a slog, that turns into a “why am I doing this again” type of mentality. Gears of War 4 was released to a moderately positive review/reception while Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th year anniversary got stellar praise. As the VR train for Sony was officially out we got a lot of experiences like the Batman VR which ran the gambit of responses. Some, like Batman VR, were received well, while others fell flat or didn’t fulfill their ambitious goals. I do not have a virtual reality headset, so I don’t believe my opinion on these games is very valid. We have four titans battling it out as we continue through October and head into November. Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty Infinite Warfare all shoot it out, while Civilization VI consumes you one turn at a time. Midway through November we have Dishonored 2 and Watchdogs 2, both games didn’t interest me too much personally and if you look at their sales numbers, that sentiment was echoed across the player base. We obviously cannot forget the juggernaut that Nintendo have in their back pocket with the 3DS’s Pokemon Sun & Moon, while a personal favourite of mine got remastered. . . well Warmastered. Darksiders Warmastered edition is another fantastic remaster to own and beat back daemons and angels. I have to say that December has been a slow month for me, lack of money to purchase games means I have been working on my backlog and sinking time into the PS4 version of Stardew Valley (which you should get if you don’t have it). That said, can you beleive the mostly positive attention that both Final Fantasy XV and Last Guardian are getting! Who would have thought those troubled developments would turn out the games they did.  I have heard however a lot of the games being released this month have been doing well so that is positive news heading into the holidays.

It is obvious we didn’t cover all the games released this year, as that would be insane and require a team of people. I do think however the ones I have covered, both games and game news are some of the highlights of this year. This also doesn’t cover the media aspect of gaming, such as the gentlemen from Kinda Funny or listening to the fantastic podcasts from IGN. Listening to Giantbomb Podcasts while planting  beans in Stardew Valley or watching the Knerds of the Round table podcast on YouTube while researching DPS builds for the Division Darkzone. Let us not forget reading Superman American Alien by Max Landis while listening to Collider Heroes dish on all the Comicbook related movies and TV.

This year has been a bounty of games, experiences, people and shows. I look forward to another 365 days of nerding/geeking out and look forward to consuming as much content as humanly possible.

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