Day #213: Games of the (Half) Year

Game of the year lists are stupid and arbitrary. They really only serve to fuel more confrontational debate among an audience due to any perceived slights in how the games have been ranked, demanding either a justification of one’s pre-established biases or an authoritative objectivity that the author didn’t intend.

Thankfully, my audience is above that kind of thing, so this should all go swimmingly.

Lacking any sort of major news or recent topic to comment on, I figured I’d dive into the completely useless exercise of ranking the games I’ve enjoyed from 2016 thus far.  I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking and the numbering kinda doesn’t matter.  Give me a break, it’s Sunday.  Consider this less of a ranking than a list of games you should probably play this year if you haven’t already.

goldeen_pokemon_go#10 – Pokemon GO

For sheer time spent, this really needed to be represented somehow.  It’s not a good game.  It’s not.. even really a game, though boy is it popular.  As a tool to motivate you to go outside and walk around, it works, and the positive social effects it’s had have been well documented.  I’ll be very interested to see what the game looks like in December, not just in hopes of it actually, you know, being functional, but how the public opinion has shifted by then.  I wonder if people will still care by the time it’s been patched enough to actually be everything it was promised.

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#9 – Street Fighter V

Okay, this is already getting kind of depressing.  Look, 2016 has actually been a really good year for video games.  I just haven’t played all of them, otherwise I’d have probably have put DOOM or Firewatch or Hitman here.  That said, if you ignore all of the bullshit surrounding Street Fighter V… you’re basically a saint.  A really really ignorant saint.  Sorry.  What I mean to say is – it’s still Street Fighter.  The part where you play it is still very good and the fighting game lover in me wants to reward that in some way.

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#8 – Joy Exhibition

Perhaps it was a matter of hitting me at the right place and time, but Joy Exhibition really spoke to me.  Even now, quite distanced from it, it stands out in my memory among the vast number of indie games I’ve played this year, probably because of how effortlessly it seems to capture the plight of the frustrated artist; a role I’m all too familiar with.

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#7 – Devil Daggers

I really hope people don’t forget about Devil Daggers by the end of the year, but I fear many already have.  I suppose it was inevitable given the very straightforward nature of the experience, but that experience is one that needs to be studied, not just to welcome a torrent of imitators, but to understand how repeatable “pure gameplay” design philosophies still have a place in the modern era.  I want more of this.

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#6 – VA-11 HALL-A

I don’t think a game made me smile more than VA-11 HALL-A, which is strange given that it’s not a particularly upbeat game.  Something about the slice-of-life tale of a bartender in a dystopian cyber future that I found hard to pull myself away from.  One of my biggest regrets is that I still have six months before I can even consider returning to Jill and seeing how her story ends.

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#5 – The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne

This one surprised me for a number of reasons, mostly because I tend to have a hard time with games that revolve strictly around “issues”.  Too often, they’ll be overly-sincere to the point of losing all relatability, turning into more of a lecture than a game.  Samantha Browne solves this by doing quite the opposite, crafting a character that’s less a tool than someone we can see ourselves as.

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#4 – Pony Island

I keep trying to think of ways to describe Pony Island and I find myself repetitively typing synonyms of the word “cool”.  It takes something truly special to supersede my natural bias against meta-narratives and even rarer to present something that actually satisfied when its initial promises for crazy had to be delivered on.

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#3 – TEW 2016

Had this been any other year, TEW 2016 may have been the only game I played for the past three months.  Having not spent as much time with it as with previous iterations, I still recognize just how much of a leap it is from TEW 2013, adding quality-of-life improvements that I couldn’t imagine not having at my disposal now.  This is another one that I’m going to likely dive back into hardcore when I have the free time again.

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#2 – Dark Souls III

Though I want to give it another chance one day, few games broke my heart quite like Dark Souls II did.  I didn’t expect the third game in the series to fully redeem the sins of the past, but even my relatively short time with Dark Souls III has renewed that curiosity and sense of wonder I had with the original.  Part of that may be due to just how much it goes out of its way to reference the first game, but also because it tries to recapture some of that lost spirit, presenting a challenge that seems lofty, but never insurmountable.  Sometimes all you need to do is lead dudes off of a cliff.

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#1 – Overwatch

If you’re surprised by this… you must be new.  I tend not to devote entire weeks of coverage to games I’m ambivalent on.  As someone that’s been out of the FPS scene for years now, Overwatch kind of came out of nowhere.  I heard the name constantly during the beta period, but never actually stopped to see what it was until release.  What I discovered upon playing it for the first time turned me into an obsessive; looking for the most minute bits of information, anything to prolong this high I was on.

No, it’s not the most hardcore shooter in the world, but it is insanely fun with some of the most interesting and, more importantly, diverse character designs we’ve perhaps ever seen.  In that respect, Overwatch’s success is a success for games as a whole.  If I’m so inclined to do this again at the end of the year, I can’t imagine anything else taking this spot.  It’s not without its issues, for sure, but I know I’ll be playing Overwatch for years to come.

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