Bajo’s gam­ing year in re­view


TechLife Australia - - WELCOME - [ STEVEN ‘BAJO’ O’DON­NELL ]

THE BIG­GEST SUR­PRISE of 2016, with­out a doubt, was the way Pokémon GO took over the en­tire planet for about two weeks.

No one saw this com­ing. If you some­how man­aged to avoid in­stalling and play­ing this game, con­grat­u­la­tions! You might be the only per­son on Earth. Per­haps you’re ac­tu­ally an alien. De­vel­oped by Niantic, it’s a sim­ple aug­mented re­al­ity game where you walk around the real world col­lect­ing Pokémon. It’s not as fully fea­tured as their other big ARG game Ingress, but Pokémon nos­tal­gia re­ally mat­ters. The mo­ment this game launched, mo­bile phone own­ers, gam­ing hard­cores and ca­su­als alike ven­tured into the streets to throw balls at imag­i­nary crea­tures. Pokémon GO lived fast and died quickly, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore this truly mag­i­cal thing that hap­pened when the whole world came to­gether to wan­der around in parks at 11pm at night in ques­tion­able neigh­bour­hoods.

Of course, this was a mega year for VR. Lots has been writ­ten about the HTC Vive, Ocu­lus Rift and PSVR. But it’s still quite hard to rec­om­mend any of them yet. It’s the wild west of VR — de­vel­op­ers have very lit­tle idea of what they’re do­ing. That’s why we get some games which make us vomit within sec­onds, and others that let us be Bat­man, where all we re­ally want to do is throw ob­jects at Alfred’s face in­stead of ac­tu­ally solv­ing mys­ter­ies.

The big­gest downer for games this year, was No Man’s Sky. I have not met any­one who wasn’t al­most to­tally dis­ap­pointed by it. This space ex­plo­ration game promised so much, but de­liv­ered so lit­tle. That’s not en­tirely the de­vel­oper’s fault in my opin­ion, but more that the game suf­fered from ex­treme, end­less over­hype. This would have been an in­cred­i­ble in­die ti­tle, but it was mar­keted as Mass Ef­fect meets Elite, and it was none of those things.

It was also a year where sim­i­lar games seemed to be re­leased at the same time. Bat­tle­born and Over­watch are two on­line mul­ti­player team-based games, and were re­leased within a cou­ple of weeks of each other. Of course, Over­watch won. When you have Bl­iz­zard be­hind a game, and ex­ten­sive hype and be­tas, you just can’t com­pete.

Over­watch is also the bet­ter game, in fact it might just be my Game of the Year, for its fab­u­lous di­ver­sity, deep strat­egy, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and the fact that it’s not re­ally a shooter ­— it’s a team mul­ti­player game, where you can make ice walls and be a sniper who shoot-heals.

Ti­tan­fall 2, prob­a­bly the best sin­gle­player shooter cam­paign of the year, is al­most def­i­nitely go­ing to strug­gle sales-wise. That’s what hap­pens when you re­lease a game in be­tween a new Bat­tle­field and a new COD. Even if those two games weren’t good (and they are ac­tu­ally very good), you would be fool­ish to com­pete. It has so many sim­i­lar­i­ties to COD: In­fi­nite War­fare. Wall run­ning, sci-fi, ro­bot friend, space shooties... they’re so sim­i­lar, but COD will win. Some­one over at EA has prob­a­bly lost their job over this in­sane re­lease win­dow de­ci­sion.

We had a few unique puz­zlers, too, that were so dif­fer­ent from any­thing else out there. The hack­fest of Pony Is­land broke the fourth wall in new ways, Quadri­lat­eral Cow­boy was a stylised heist jour­ney and The Wit­ness was a fan­tas­tic and com­plete ass­hole.

Even in­clud­ing the games above, the in­die scene felt a lit­tle quiet to me this year. But there were some stand­outs, such as the nar­ra­tive open-world walk ‘em up Fire­watch. I usu­ally hate walk ‘em ups, where you just wan­der while voiceovers hap­pen around you. But this eerie and ut­terly beau­ti­ful game won me over with its de­ci­sion-based con­ver­sa­tions, and beau­ti­ful set­ting. That Dragon Can­cer was also an af­fect­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It was inspired and led by Amy and Ryan Green, who lost their child to can­cer. Me­chan­i­cally, it’s a lit­tle rough around the edges, but con­cep­tu­ally, it’s full of con­fronting and heart­break­ing scenes.

We also got two new con­soles this year, with an­other two on the way in 2017. Mid-cy­cle hard­ware up­grades are nearly un­heard of, but both Sony and Mi­crosoft did it. Mi­crosoft re­leased a slim Xbox One, the ‘One S’. But that’s more of a cos­metic up­grade than any­thing else (al­though it does have a phys­i­cal but­ton to turn it on, which is the best!). Project Scorpio is their next big up­grade, due out in 2017 and bound to come with a hefty price tag. It will be the most pow­er­ful con­sole ever made. Right now, though, that award goes to Sony’s PS4 Pro (also with a phys­i­cal but­ton to turn it on! Yes!).

This con­sole claims to do 4K gam­ing, al­though much of what we play at 4K will utilise up­scal­ing and a ‘checker­board’ tech to reach 4K. Not a bad thing, but what I’m most ex­cited about is the games that will give you op­tions for higher frame rates at 1080p. Fram­er­ates and po­ten­tially richer tex­tures are far more im­por­tant than 4K in my opin­ion. It’s pos­si­ble the sweet spot will be some­where in be­tween, at a res­o­lu­tion of 1440p. Time will tell, but new con­soles are ex­cit­ing.

And then, there’s the Nin­tendo Switch — a big tablet that plugs into your TV, with mod­u­lar con­trols and po­ten­tially amaz­ing porta­bil­ity. What ex­cites me about the Switch is that it’s so dif­fer­ent. Noth­ing else out there is like it. But if you’re af­ter raw power, I doubt this tablet con­sole will be for you. That’s not to say it won’t make great look­ing games, but I don’t think we’ll see fu­ture Bat­tle­fields on the Switch, much like how third-party sup­port died off for the Wii (in the 2000s, we saw a lot of PS3 and Xbox 360 games, with a shoddy, cut-down or to­tally ter­ri­ble Wii ver­sion). That might not mat­ter, though, as Nin­tendo make great Nin­tendo games! I’m most cu­ri­ous about how long the bat­tery life will be on a tablet with the specs they’re promis­ing.

2017 is go­ing to be huge for hard­ware, game de­sign and, hope­fully, fewer games where we just shoot stuff, and more where we do stuff.

is a video game critic and co-host of ABC shows GoodGame and GoodGame SpawnPoint. His love of games is only sur­passed by his love of cats. That Dragon Can­cer puts you in some very sad shoes.

Un­charted 4 is sim­ply one of the best video games ever made. Play it. Fin­ish it. Sit back and cry with joy.

If you’re af­ter story and a fran­chise we all know well, Arkham VR is def­i­nitely your best bet, and prob­a­bly the most thought-out VR ex­pe­ri­ence out there.

The con­ver­sa­tions you have over your two-way in Fire­watch do more than just help ex­plain the story.

The Wit­ness was made by Jonathan Blow, who also cre­ated one of the best puz­zle plat­form­ers of the last decade Braid. Both games are mean and make me feel dumb.

Ti­tan­fall 2 of­fers tight shoot­ing, a bril­liant move­ment sys­tem, and a gi­ant ro­bot friend.

Pokémon Go made me go out­side, and I will al­ways resent it for that.

In No Man’s Sky, you’ll ex­plore the vast­ness of space for about 10 hours... and then feel let down by it all.

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