Bajo’s gaming year in review
2016 WAS FULL OF FAMILIAR VIDEO GAME FRANCHISES AND SEQUELS, BUT IT HAD MANY SURPRISES, TOO. THERE WERE ALSO MASSIVE DISAPPOINTMENTS, BUT WE GOT TO PLAY SOME OF THE BEST VIDEO GAMES THAT HAVE EVER BEEN MADE. I GIVE IT A B+.
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.