As 2016 levers itself off the cliff, our writers put quill to parchment and look back over the past twelve months. The good, bad, rubbish, awesome and the henchest: we rank and rate it all.
Best AAA Game
Don Rowe: EA UFC 2
My key factor for deciding ‘best’ comes down to what did I spend the most time playing, and what did I enjoy the most. While there were games with better graphics, better storylines, more fluid gameplay, as of yet nothing comes close to winning a close fight against a skilled opponent while drunk on a beanbag in my lounge. And nothing is more infuriating than losing to some jumped-up, pre-pubescent bastard, especially when he has a mic and I don’t. Fight me irl ya lil shit.
Eugenia Woo: Dark Souls 3
Disclaimer: FFXV (for obvious reasons) and The Last Guardian were close runner-ups but for DS fans, nothing quite compares to the feeling of having your ego mercilessly crushed again and again by every trifling enemy that you come across. I don’t know what that says about me and I don’t really want to know, but what I do know is that Miyazaki changes his mind about Dark Souls 4, my ass will be first in line for the pre-order.
Matthew Codd: Final Fantasy XV
I don’t know how they did it, but Square Enix somehow managed to take a series as storied as Final Fantasy and push it in a new direction, without losing the core of what makes people like the series in the first place. That’s an impressive feat for any game, let alone one that’s had as long and turbulent a development cycle as FFXV did.
Final Fantasy XV tells an engrossing coming-of-age story inspired by Stand By Me, full of rich, interesting characters in a surprisingly believable modern fantasy world. Few games are as ripe for getting completely lost in as this.
Liam Maguren: Uncharted: A Thief’s End
One of the many great things about The Last of Us is how the story is told through the environment. Naughty Dog took that skill and amplified it in the fourth Uncharted, successfully spinning an expansive story about a hidden pirate kingdom without ever using a flashback or a shiver-me-timbers voice over.
It’s the greatest thing about A Thief’s End, hitting that sweet spot of wonder that makes exploration a joy. It also happens to look astonishing, play superbly, contain a wealth of character, and maintains a meaty multiplayer side.
Best Indie Game
I wrote about RimWorld earlier this year, chronicling the descent of my crew of castaways into a pack of manic, diseased cannibals, and I’ve since returned time and again, even just to listen to the bluesy guitar soundtrack. Bonus points for developer Tynan Sylvester’s transparent creative process and willingness to involve his fanbase in decisions through social media.
EW: Stardew Valley
I thought this was going to turn out like Harvest Moon lite but Chucklefish did a really great job with this charming farming simulator on steroids. The real villain in this game isn’t a bout of bad crops; it’s actually the malevolent force of supervised consumerism marching all of humanity into an age of joyless robotic efficiency.
On the surface, Firewatch is a simple first-person adventure game about being a fire lookout in Yellowstone National Park, but that doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Really, Firewatch is a story about love – more specifically, the complicated intersection between platonic and romantic love. Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones give stunning performances as the two main characters, making this one of the most heartfelt games of the year.
A Polish studio has crafted the most innovative shooter of the year – a first-person shooter where time moves only when you move. It’s a crazy idea, but you need to put your hands on this thing to fully understand how well this works.
Twitchy reactions mean nothing. Strategic movements are everything. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I can’t stop playing it. Join me. Be one of us.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year
DR: No Man’s Sky
What can I say, this game fucking sucked. The story of No Man’s Sky will go down in the history books as the prime example of the dangers of hype, and just how easy it is to bullshit your way to millions of dollars if you’ve got the gall to straight up lie to an entire customer base. No Man’s Sky would be overpriced as a $10 indie game, but charging full price for what is essentially a half-finished tech demo is astounding in its absurdity. No surprise that Hello Games was actually taken to court in the UK, even if they ended up getting off.
EW: No Man’s Sky
Let’s face it. Hello Games is on everybody’s hit list this year and I’m one of the discontent masses who found this game supremely underwhelming. Even though my wallet is pleading with me to believe, the latest patch doesn’t quite make up for the total lack of communication from the studio as their game crashed and burned on release.
MC: Uncharted 4
This is going to be controversial because a lot of people seemed to love it, but for me, Uncharted 4 was the most disappointing game of the year. I really love the Uncharted series, mainly due to its characters and stories. They’re silly, pulpy adventures that don’t take themselves too seriously, but are grounded in humanity and heart.
Uncharted 4 seemed to just throw that all away in favour of a shallow, “emotionally-stunted man takes a Feelings 101 class” plot masquerading as something deep and introspective. It took great characters, watered them down – or just outright erased them – and gave nothing in return. At least it looked pretty, I guess?
DR: Ratchet and Clank
One the 11/11/2011, the day Skyrim released in New Zealand, I fled a 21st in order to go home and fight dragons right through the night. You’d think, then, that SKSE would be a guarantee for best remaster. WRONG. Because my love affair with Ratchet and Clank goes right back to childhood. For a full run-down on just why Ratchet and Clank is so awesome, check my review here.
EW: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
I remember pestering my parents to the brink of death about getting it for me when it was first released. They’ll testify that I was an unholy annoyance every time I got my hands on my Wii and talked their ears off about what I good time I was having on Epona. Seeing it again this year was an unbelievably nostalgic experience and I was no less fascinated having a go on it the second time around.
MC: Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
Does “best remaster” cover full, from-the-ground-up remakes? Because if so, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past takes the crown. If not for the game’s distinctive character designs, the new release would be indistinguishable from the original. What makes this particularly impressive is the sheer scope of the game – Dragon Quest VII is massive even by RPG standards, and Fragments of the Forgotten Past doesn’t just rebuild that in its entirety, but brings even more to the table. The amount of blood, sweat, tears, and love that went into this remake is impressive. (It helps that the game itself, in both its original and remade form, is really good.)
LM: Ratchet and Clank
This year’s Ratchet and Clank could have just sproosed up the graphic, slapped a ‘Remastered’ on the cover, and patted itself on its undeserving back. Instead, it rebuilt itself from the ground up, using the designs from the first game with the best mechanics from the franchise to create something both refreshingly new and warmly familiar.
It’s like going back to primary school and seeing they turned the jungle gym into Disneyland.
Biggest gaming cultural happening/issue
DR: The MOTAT fist fight
Esports have long desired the legitimacy of a real sport, and the MOTAT fistfight provided a key breakthrough. When two young men began to punch one another in the head at the 2016 League of Legends national champs, they definitively proved that League of Legends is just as capable of inciting off-field violence as soccer or rugby, and is thus worthy of the title of sport. Kind of.
EW: Pokèmon Go
Sure, the game has met a rather doddering end, its flame almost sputtering out in the same sad fashion of Charmander’s from Episode 11 of the original anime. Unoriginal metaphors aside, Go took the world by storm and for a good few months, both young and old were happily taking hits off Nintendo’s crack pipe.
LM: Pokèmon Go Insanity
Pokèmon Go turned the human race into an extended episode of Planet Earth 2. From mass migrations to reports of Darwinism, the mobile game reached an unprecedented number of users. It was a frighteningly huge phenomenon that you were either a part of or paid witness to with an agape jaw.
World domination was just around the bend. That is, until users got bored of it a month or two later.
Best Industry/Fan Event
DR: League of Legends nationals
Fistfight aside, the LoL nationals were great fun and surprisingly slick. While I’ll never number among the hardcore fans, I can see a case for LoL as a legitimate spectator sport and that’s pretty cool.
Maybe it’s just because of Kojima’s Death Stranding announcement. Maybe it’s because Horizon Zero Dawn was premiered and I don’t think anything could be cooler than robot dinosaurs. E3 is a classic and there’s still no better way to keep abreast of what’s brewing in your favourite studios.
Most nuts controversy in fandom
EW: Bethesda’s new review policy
Bethesda dropping the much-unexpected turd on all game reviewers by announcing that they weren’t going to be sending out copies of their new games to us any earlier than one day before launch. We all know why they’re doing this – potential consumers won’t get to read any reviews slagging off possibly bad titles. That’s one way to protect your products, I guess, but it’s a stupid one.
MC: Pokemon Sun/Moon starters
When Nintendo unveiled the new starters in Pokemon Sun/Moon, people laughed at Popplio. By most accounts (including my own), the new Water starter was kind of dorky-looking, especially next to Litten and Rowlet.
Then Nintendo the second-stage evolutions, and Popplio was redeemed – it would grow into the glamorous, beautiful Brionne. Only a lot of people just got mad, because Brionne was, apparently, “too feminine”. There are already plenty of feminine-looking Pokemon, most of which are available as male and female, and what’s wrong with that? This was misogynistic gamer outrage taken to its most pedantic and pathetic.
Josh Drummond: No Man’s Sky The No Man’s Sky community was batshit fucking loco even before the game launched, which should have been obvious when a three month delay to the original release date spurred multiple death threats. No matter how the good the game was on launch (and opinions ranged from “kind of fun!” to “terrible”) it was never going to satisfy the hype.
Turns out all that energy needs somewhere to go, and that hype is easily perverted to poison. The gaming community, most prominently on the subreddit r/nomansskythegame and the game’s Steam forums, indulged their abiding love for a witch-hunt and spent three months dedicated to conspiracy theorising and (often amusingly) shitposting the game. r/nomansskythegame even managed to turn fan frustration into a charity drive for cancer research. Developer Hello Games’ post-release silence complicated matters, with many fans deciding they’d taken the money from initial sales and run.
JD: No Man’s Sky
The much-hyped No Man’s Sky was undoubtedly 2016’s biggest disappointment. After only a few hours the limitations of the game engine and gameplay were obvious, and overtly-hinted-at (if not explicitly promised) features were nowhere to be seen. After the launch, the developers went to ground and said almost nothing about the game for three months. This move was widely decried and mocked among the gaming press and community, but it turns out they were trying something new: anti-hype.
With expectations for the future of the game only measurable in negative integers, Hello Games announced and simultaneously released the Foundation Update, fixing many of the game’s more glaring flaws and adding a whole host of new gameplay features. The mood among fans turned remarkably, with many praising the update and hoping for further developments, and the game, astonishingly, once again appeared on bestseller lists. I’m playing it again, and I can confidently say that while many frustrations remain – let me crash my ship if I want, for fuck’s sake! – it’s newly challenging and, somehow, genuinely fun.
Favourite fan community
This has waned as of late, with an increase in heavy moderation and the subsequent drop in quality that always entails, but for a while there r/games was my go-to for gaming news and discussion.
Even though the bulk of my written repertoire is me screaming incoherently about League of Legends, our fan community is… an experience. Like the way having boiling hot oil poured on you is an experience. However, I don’t think I’ve met a more welcoming bunch of folks than the lot over on the Animal Crossing subreddit. Y’all get bonus points for making me a millionaire by letting me sell insane amounts of fruit in your towns.
Gaming‘s most pressing issue that needs to be addressed like right now
DR: Game of War and other shitty money grabs
Game of War can get on a boat with the celebrities that endorse it and sink.
The attitude towards women and non-binary players in e-sports. Sort that shit out and stop bullying good players off teams, you big bunch of children.
Gamings most pressing issue that was actually dealt with OK:
Ask me again in about 5 years and I might have an acceptable answer because of the slim chance that the industry might have miraculously fixed at least one of its glaring representation faults by then.
LM: IT’S BEEN NINE YEARS AND I STILL DON’T KNOW WHEN THE GODDAMN FUCK THE LAST GUARDIAN IS COMING OUT oh there it is.
2017 Game most amped for
DR: Crash Bandicoot remaster
I’ve just realised I’m a major hypocrite. Despite writing off every superhero or comic book movie to come out in the past five years as nostalgia porn for manbaby’s, I’m absolutely frothing for next year’s Crash Bandicoot remaster. Ooga booga!
EW: Horizon Zero Dawn
Like I mentioned earlier: robots and dinosaurs.. An action-RPG set in a post-apocalyptic universe. The new Decima engine. Need I say more?
MC: Persona 5
2017 is already looking like a great year for games, but none has me more excited than Persona 5. This is a series that takes Japanese pop culture, Jungian psychology, high school drama, and a beautiful dark twisted fantasy and blends them all together perfectly. Persona 5 is set to take that tradition further with a new story about a group of teen outcasts who moonlight as the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, a group of picaresque anti-heroes who fight evil by “stealing the hearts” of the corrupt.
Yet another delay means this gorgeously-animated, ye ole Disney-inspired, boss-rush side-scroller gets to be my most anticipated game of 2016 AND 2017. It’s unfair, sure, and I am quietly running out of patience, true, but that should speak volumes to how badly I want this game.
But you will not get the 2018 nod, Cuphead.
2016 Shout Out To:
DR: Total War Warhammer
Oh TWW, the game of my dreams, yearned for since I was just a wee babe. Would that I had a computer capable of playing your deliciously demanding game, I might never leave mine abode. Seriously though, I’m a huge Total War fanboy, and to be able to play around with the Warhammer factions without spending $1000 or hanging out in a smelly Vagabond shop is a treat indeed. The final, three game package will define the Total War series for years to come, and may indeed be it’s peak.
I laughed, I cried, I cursed my own folly and incompetence. I also waxed lyrical about this game and how it blew me out of the water. Being the bad guy never felt this mechanically rewarding but emotionally exhausting, and I couldn’t have higher praise for this title.
MC: Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan
Developing nations aren’t exactly well-placed for making games, but that hasn’t stopped Cameroon-based Kiro’o Games. Despite infrastructure problems and frequent power outages, they brought Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan to the world in early 2016. It’s an action RPG heavily inspired by Japanese games that the developers grew up playing, but its African roots make it stand out. Everything, from the story and presentation to the quirks of the combat and levelling systems draws on a myriad of African cultures and mythologies, creating something that’s unlike anything else available.
LM: Unravel score
The Swedish folk score to Unravel, which is the video game soundtrack I fell in love with the deepest. And the best couch multiplayer game of the year, Overcooked, for being an insanely-fun four-player mind-welder and making me lose my voice yelling “Where are the dishes!? I need dishes! Someone clean the Goddamn dishes!”
That’s a wrap (almost) for 2016. Make sure you give those old jokers Bigpipe Broadband a visit, they so dope.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.