2016 Games Of The Year: Honourable Mentions
The games that didn't quite make it into my top five of 2016, whether that be because they were a remaster, or titles I only just managed to enjoy this year.
As I wrote about yesterday, it was really hard to pick one Game Of The Year for 2016. That's why I cheated, and picked five instead. But, as a newer gamer (compared, at least, to a lot of the people whose writing you probably read about games), each year I don't just pick titles from the current year to play; I playback into years from the past, whether that be something I missed the previous year, or something from a long time ago. So, in no particular order, here are the games I played in 2016 that I couldn't choose for Game Of The Year, but would've made the list otherwise.
I've written about my love of Skyrim so many times, it doesn't seem worth doing it again here - all I'll say is that it's a huge part of why I play games today, and why I ever wanted to write about them. Never for a second did I even contemplate not buying the Special Edition; as soon as I saw it revealed at E3 I went ahead and pre-ordered (something I would never normally do), beginning to count down the days until it came to my PS4.
The reason being, I wanted to ensure I had a place to play Skyrim for years to come. I think it's fairly likely the next generation of consoles - let's call them PS5 and Xbox Two for the sake of argument - will be fully backwards compatible with the current gen, and as such I'll be able to play the game that simply fills my heart with joy for years to come. That's what I hope at least. If not, I'll just be happy with being able to enjoy the game all over again on my PS4 - and that's pretty great in itself.
If you're reading this, you're probably aware of Batman. He's a character famous the world over, and one whose had stories told about him for over 75 years, so a new way to use the fantastic characters that surround him is something of a tall order. Of course, I've not absorbed every piece of Batman media every created - not even close - but, from what I can tell, the story Telltale have told in their Batman story is a really great remix of the characters and themes, and one very apart from the archetypal norm of the Dark Knight's normal tales. Here, Batman and Bruce Wayne are just as important as each other, and you, the player, gets numerous opportunities to decide which one you prefer to see on screen. I think that's a really clever way to utilise the Telltale tools and warrant the story playing out as a game, not, as it could easily be, a movie.
But, equally, the really great thing about this story, aside from the unique way in which the familiar characters are used, is that it really does feel like watching a movie play out in front of you. It's really easy to forget that you're playing a game at points. What's great about Batman, though, is that - for the first time I can remember in a Telltale game - the gameplay actually feels fun. The fighting works and makes sense, and the detective work is rewarding and interesting - a far cry from having to find batteries as Lee Everet in The Walking Dead's inaugural episode.
Of course, Batman is a game that came out this year. It is a game that could've been on my Game Of The Year List. But, ultimately, I chose to whittle the list down to five, and episode five's numerous problems really didn't help boost my opinion of the game enough to place it on that list. That's not to say it isn't great, it's just not outstanding.
I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that Dark Souls might be one of the best games ever made. The commitment if forces on the player in order for them to "git gud" is an incredibly high wall to scale, but one that - when scaled - is one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. Equally, the story that can be extracted, again if the player is committed enough, is beautiful, dark, dystopic, post-apocalyptic and gut wrenchingly sad.
I first played Dark Souls towards the end of 2013, two years after the initial release. Like so many people, I beat the Asylum Demon then couldn't fathom how to get any further. So I quit. I quit. I looked to Dark Souls II, hit the wall and quit. I tried Bloodborne, got past the Cleric Beast, then quit. Finally, I decided that, maybe, the series, or style of game, just wasn't for me - maybe I should be looking elsewhere for easier games that I could get my head around and would have a payoff worth fighting for.
I thought nothing more, until - early this year - I saw IGN uploaded a video called "Prepare To Try" to their YouTube channel. It was a Dark Souls let's play with Rory Powers, Daniel Krupa and Gav Murphy and it forever changed my opinion of the game. That's a story for another day, but it taught me that anyone can play Dark Souls - anyone can "git gud" and anyone can get past that wall. And I did. And I've loved every minute of it. I will be writing more about Dark Souls in 2017, so stay tuned.
Life Is Strange is a really great video game. You can read my full thoughts in my review of the whole season from earlier this year. It tells the story of Max, a girl coming back to her home town of Arcadia Bay after years away. In returning, she reconnects with her childhood best friend Chloe, and what follows is a tale of time manipulation, heartbreak and friendship.
It's a really great story told in a really, really interesting way. I've never seen a mechanic used quite in the way that the time manipulation is, and in such different and varied situations. That alone should be a great reason to pick up Life Is Strange - to see a really cool, unique mechanic used in a fabulous way. But, if we're honest, the reason you stay with the game is to watch Max's story play out. I think it's rare to see a character be so relatable, to be so easy to empathise with - but Max is certainly one of them. From the very moment you see her story beginning, to the final, heart-wrenching decision, you don't just like Max, you feel like she, and the story playing around her, is your own thanks to the fantastic way decisions that truly affect what's going on around you. This isn't the faux-decision making of a lesser game - these ones truly matter, and the whole experience is made infinitely better for it.
Tales From The Borderlands is the second Telltale game on this list, but it's also the superior and, I think, possibly the best game the company has ever made. From the first moment to the very end, you're enraptured by the story, transfixed by the characters, and intrigued by everything going on.
I played about five hours of Borderlands 2 a long time ago, and wasn't a fan at all - something just didn't click for me. In fact, that's one of the first things I ever wrote about on this site (I won't link it because it's embarrassingly poorly done, but you can find it if you're so inclined). This was, initially, why I veered away from Tales - I thought not really liking my one experience with Borderlands previously would mean I certainly wouldn't like this one. After a little convincing from various avenues across the internet, I finally did give it a go and was instantly hooked. The humour is perfectly executed, and the story is perfectly told. It also saw the introduction of the (now no longer used?) opening title sequence, complete with brilliant music and hilarious visuals - a very welcome addition to the Telltale experience, and one which made it feel even more like playing a movie, which is exactly what I want from that style of game. We've had one Tale from the Borderlands: come on, Telltale - why not give us one more in 2017?