Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Game Of The Year!

                Here I am at the last article of this year choosing the best PC video game of 2016. Dark Souls III, Inside, DOOM, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, Titanfall 2 or Hitman are all great games competing for this title and I had a blast playing all of them.
                My choice for game of the year is a partial victory for PC gaming. Hitman returns to form after Absolution dived deep into a consolized gameplay losing much of the values that define this series.

The Most Disappointing Game

               The year 2016 was in itself one hell of a fight to reach the pinnacle of disappointment. Many of the titles that were supposed to rock the gaming foundations of this year turned out to be mediocre or riddled with problems that took away their best features. The most controversial game of the year was no doubt No Man’s Sky which promised a huge universe and delivered, but turned out to be a generic grinding game with many of its cool features being falsely advertised. This was the peak point of excitement and unrest when the internet drama went as far as death threats and DDOS attacks. But what I feel to the subject matter isn’t disappointment but rather disgust towards another attempt of taking advantage of a consumer’s society and of gamers’ dreams for interesting gaming concepts. The games that truly disappointed are those that, realistically speaking, had a much easier time to deliver on promises, following on a strong background and coming from studios that prompt higher expectations.

The Best Sound

Over the years, most AAA games and even indies have mastered the art of sound design and picked the right voice actors for the parts. Choosing a winner could be difficult in most situations, but this year is different and not because other games didn’t do well, but Mafia III did such an amazing job that, for me, it managed to overshadow every other game.

The Best Graphics

                This year’s competition of technical and artistic visuals was stained by so many problems that leave accidents like Arkham Knight far behind in the rear view mirror. Rise of the Tomb Raider, Mafia III and Dishonored 2 are just a few examples of games that required heavy patching before becoming playable. Problems aside, we have been spoiled with some sharp and detailed graphics, courtesy of today’s technology, to immerse ourselves in some of the most diverse and unique settings in years. We’ve explored the chill inducing Siberia and a devastated New York then seeked the warmth of sunny Toussaint before going to the almost sunless Mars ending in the muddy trenches of World War I with a few stops in between in cities like Paris, Sapienza, Bangkok or Prague. But even if I’m to overlook the visual power driven by advanced technology, we had the pleasure to enjoy the distinctive artistic direction of games like Unravel, Dark Souls III or Inside.
The year 2016 was quite a visual journey and choosing a winner is hard, but my choice goes to a game of over achieving technology combining graphical fidelity, physics, thrilling world design and maybe a bit of false advertisement.

The Most Promising Early Access

                I’ve created this category last year because Early Access is a trend to stay despite the problems, complaints and deceit that surrounds this controversial games launching and funding system. This year has seen successful and well made games like Layers of Fear and Killing Floor 2 leaving Early Access, while quite a few notable titles joined in.
                The year kicked off with Factorio, the base building and resource management wonder. The kickstarted Hack & Slash Umbra changed its name into Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem on its way to Steam’s Early Access and has taken inspiration from Path of Exile’s skill tree to add more depth to the progression system. The Bioshock looking game set in a drug-fuelled retrofuturistic city, We Happy Few, has brought its survival mode to Early Access. EVERSPACE is trying to take advantage of the space hysteria with the quite unique concept of roguelite with spaceships. The Chris Avellone pumped story of Divinity: Original Sin 2 shows great promise improving over its predecessor in every aspect. Stunlock Champions returns with Battlerite to right the wrongs of Bloodline Champions. SEGA has bought AMPLITUDE Studios, but Endless Space 2 looks as promising as ever. And last but not least, the voxel driven planet exploratory with base building and survival elements, Astroneer, joins Early Access to put No Man’s Sky to shame.

The Best Online - Multiplayer

                This is a though choice, the online games I played the most this year are not eligible. Rainbow Six Siege has seen great improvements over this year making me sink hundreds of hours into to its frustrating ranking matches. Battlerite is an Early Access game coming out of nowhere and stealing 100 hours of my life. Both of these games are excellent, but are not truly the product of this year.

The Best Strategy

                Grand strategies, RTS, RTT, TBS or 4X, this year had them all. Homeworld saw a planetary iteration. XCOM 2 did a lot of things right despite inheriting the story and many of the issues of its predecessor. Master of Orion was revived. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada pulled off the rules of the board game beautifully with a gameplay that resembles naval combat and a campaign against Abaddon the Despoiler, but the production value of a small studio. Paradox has taken Grand Strategy to space with Stellaris. The Warhammer universe met Total War in a streamlined strategy game with a modest narrative and epic battles which proved a great opportunity for SEGA to spam pricy DLCs. Cossacks 3 copied the original game with all its qualities but with additional problems. And at the end of the year, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun has resurrected Commandos 2 and transformed it in a battle between samurais.

The Best Shooter

                The year 2016 is a return to force of First Person Shooters with many quality titles for the wide array of styles that this genre entails.
The shooting madness started in force with the big pleasant surprise that was DOOM. A shooter returning to the roots of the series providing great entertainment value through an action packed singleplayer campaign with an extremely satisfying shooting system and the surprisingly awesome Glory Kills. DOOM sacrificed the narrative, which no one really cared about, for better gameplay mechanics and a level design powered by greatly optimized graphics by its new id Tech 6 engine. Too bad the multiplayer couldn’t capture the feeling and greatness of the singleplayer campaign, but nevertheless, DOOM is a shooter to be remembered. Homefront: The Revolution followed with a quality that was a reflection of its long and troubled history, but its lack of success was covered by Blizzards’s entry on the FPS market with the online game Overwatch. This game took the world by storm gaining a huge fanbase way before it was released with its cutsy characters and colorful graphics. Providing casual fun while still having a learning ladder to climb on, Overwatch ticked all the boxes of current trends becoming a huge success. ARMA 3’s Apex expansion hit new grounds of success for a niche game with its vast and intricate new tropical map that pushes the boundaries of sandbox gameplay even further. Shadow Warrior 2 derived from its classic formula with a Borderlands-esque gameplay and progression system that wasn’t as entertaining for all Wang’s fans out there, but made up for it with a PC support that’s worth praising. Battlefield took another direction with the weirdly name Battlefield 1 that went for a massive change with its WWI setting beautifully displayed with the immense power of Frostbite Engine. The campaign has seen some improvements, but still lacks the consistence in narrative and gameplay that other shooters have. The multiplayer remains action focused like the latest Battlefield games, but taking a step backwards with a further streamlining of its gameplay. Killing Floor 2 left Early Access with enough content to support the gameplay elements that make it such a good horde mode shooter.

The Best RPG

                Looking back, 2016 has been a pretty good year for RPGs. It kicked off with Darkest Dungeon’s full release, an example of how Early Access can succeed and produce a fantastic, brutal RPG experience. Soon after, the second part of Pillars of Eternity’s expansion, The White March, picked up the pace from the unconvicing first part through a much more engaging story and left me yearning for more Pillars, which I eventually got when I replayed the whole damn thing. We’ve also had The Banner Saga 2, which improved the original experience through much welcomed refinements in gameplay, the addition of Survival Mode and a captivating story whose cliffhanger ending makes waiting for the final part of the trilogy pure torture. Unfortunately, the expected shining star of this year, Torment: Tides of Numenera, was delayed to 2017 and we can only hope that the additional two years of development will lead to something extraordinary. Finally, 2016 saw a second release from Obsidian Entertainment with Tyranny, a narrative and C&C driven RPG set in a world where “evil had won”. Although this approach led to great reactivity and replayability, it fell short of Pillars of Eternity with its tedious combat and uninspired companions, making it my biggest disappointment of this year.

The Best Adventure

                It has been a good year for adventurers. Either if you like a narrative driven experience or you are looking for the brain teasers of puzzle solving, the genre mixed both sides well enough to satisfy everyone’s taste. Games like Firewatch, Layers of Fear, Silence and Batman – A Telltale Series had players following delightful, action packed and even twisted narratives fitting the newer trend of the current generation. But even the older gamers like myself haven’t been left out of the loop and titles like The Witness, Candle and even Unravel or Inside have been around to provide the mental challenge that today’s games need so much.

The Best Action - Stealth

                The best action doesn’t always include pure action games. The games of this genre have redefined themselves becoming a blend of action with adventure and stealth in order to target a larger audience. This year, the PC action scene has been troubled. The good expansion of Dying Light with The Following didn’t make up for what was to come. Rise of the Tomb Raider went full on graphics while putting some effort into the survival elements the reboot ignored, but all that effort was in vain as the game was leaking quality through a narrative full of holes and the obvious technical problems. Mafia III turned out to be a technical mess, launching with a 30fps lock and having the repetitive missions of an average MMO in the detriment of some quality features. Not even Dishonored 2 escaped untouched from the grasps of 2016’s bad releases, launching in a poorly optimized state despite overshadowing its top notch gameplay. And while most action games struggled with various problems, Watch Dogs 2 went quite unnoticed because the unstable foundation laid by its predecessor.

The Best and The Worst of 2016

                What a crazy year 2016 has been. The Division turned out to be just an extended Beta version. Brian Fargo forgot that PC gamers and cRPGs fans made his games’ and implicitly his studio’s existence possible. No Man’s Sky was the first indie game released with a price tag of 60$, yet had the content and polishing of an Early Access game and the false advertisement that beats anything to date. Battlefield 1 Collector’s Edition didn’t come with the game code. SEGA is set on releasing the whole range of Games Workshop’s miniatures as paid DLCs. ARK: Survival Evolved missed its target release date, but Studio Wildcard didn’t miss on the opportunity of releasing an expansion to an unfinished game. Star Citizen was delayed, again… Mafia III had a solid 30fps on launch. Activision thought that the 110$ total value of the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare wasn’t enough and added pay to win microtransactions. And when I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, Dishonored 2 launched in a deplorable technical state. So, are there any good video games in 2016 that didn’t screw the PC gamers? Let’s find out!
                As usual, because of my limited time and budget I couldn’t go through all the games of this year, but I played most of the notable titles and some (many) more.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #106: Let it snow!

                I’m in a holiday’s vibe and what game could be more suiting for this than The Division. A post-pandemic New York in a disastrous state covered in mountains of trash, it’s not exactly Christmassy, but the Snowdrop engine snow colored by Christmas lights sure is. I haven’t seen a more immersive winter landscape in a video game and since there is no trace of snow in my city I went for the digital experience.
So, on that note, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…
I can almost feel the cold!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #105: For the Lion!

                The end of the year is closing in and one of the last games to judge before going through the annual best and worst of gaming was Space Hulk: Deathwing. As someone who loves the Warhammer 40k universe and doesn’t shy away from horde mode shooters I was looking forward for this game, but the long wait wasn’t really worth it.
                Based on the expansion to the Space Hulk board game, Deathwing has a squad of terminators from the Dark Angels Chapter fighting hordes of genestealers in the vast complex of some old Imperium ships. Following on the lore of the 30th millennium and with a level design that represents the grandeur of the Imperium’s constructions and technology, the game stays true to the fluff using both board game’s concepts and Horusy Heresy books for that. For a 40k fan this could be a dream finally coming true, playing as a terminator, eradicating xenos and following on old and lost lore that only the readers know. But stepping onto video games territory, Space Hulk: Deathwing fails to deliver on key factors like gameplay, UI and optimization, falling short to what could have been. As fun and atmospheric is to explore the vastness of Imperium ships, which are basically flying monasteries that stand as testimony to the fanaticism of the mankind, as basic and unappealing the gameplay is.
                As players take the role of a librarian leading a squad of terminators to face the tyranid threat that dwell in a Space Hulk from times long forgotten, they have to fight through hordes of genestealers or mutated humans and go toe to toe against Broodlords. This sound exciting, at first, but it gets old really fast because there are no elements to add depth to the gameplay to keep the entertainment level high enough while fighting the same enemies over and over again. The limited arsenal and psychic, the basic progression system and the annoyingly dumb friendly AI put a brake on everything that could be great about this game. It’s great that Deathwing stays true to the lore and the board game, but this isn’t an excuse for a poor melee combat implementation, the repetitive objectives or the unplayable multiplayer. Compromises should always be made to make sure the gameplay experience hold true to a video game not only its source material and such wasn’t the case here.
                For what it is, Space Hulk: Deathwing is the best represantation of a game of this nature, but a lot of potential has been wasted here and if the Emperor of Mankind could still talk, he won’t hesitate to express his disappointment along with me. As a horde mode game with a sketchy multiplayer, Deathwing could be an enjoyable experience for the starved fans of the 40k universe, but it’s sad that has been resumed to nothing more than that…
Burn the xenos?!


Monday, December 12, 2016

Book of Demons Early Access Impressions!

                Book of Demons is a quirky looking game by Thing Trunk part of a series of tributes to the old but gold games of the 90s.
                The action takes place in a paper-cut looking village and its haunted cathedral. With the support of a handful of villagers, a hero ventures into the depths of the cathedral that stands as a gateway to hell. Sounds familiar? Setting aside, everything about Book of Demons stands as a comical homage to Diablo. Right off the bat players can choose between the three classes and even if the Early Access version contains only warrior and mage, the trio will be completed with the addition of the rogue. Going past the simplistic character creation, the player arrives at the troubled village inhabited by some caricature characters including this game’s version of Deckard Cain and Adria (I guess Griswold didn’t fit in with the game mechanics). Even the cathedral’s submerging progression culminates with a silly Archdemon that’s the paper-cut embodiment of the older and terrifying Diablo.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Squad Early Access Impressions!

                Writing something more serious about Squad has been a long coming and I wasn’t going to let this article join the folder of postponed indefinitely. With the recent free weekend I rejoined the ranks to check up on the progress and I picked up this article right from where I left it shortly after the game’s Early Access release, almost one year ago.
                Kickstarter is probably the only medium where a game like Squad could receive the financial support it deserves, because Squad is for the most hardcore fans of war simulators. After a successful crowdfunding campaign and more than a year of development, the shooter powered by Unreal Engine 4 and created by the people behind Project Reality entered Steam's Early Access on December 15 2015. I used to follow the progress of  the Project Reality modes, but by the time they became popular I already put Battlefield 2 behind me and I never got into ARMA 2 (I don’t know exactly why). Yet, I played all the tactical and tactical wannabe shooters of this generation and I was intrigued by this game from the moment I spotted it on Steam's Greenlight.