The Best Games of Not-2016
Two things have severely hampered my gaming this year. Well, technically one thing, but it sort of led to a second thing, and I regret neither of them.
The one thing is the birth of my son, making me a father for the first time. As such, the luxury of time that can be dedicated to gaming has all but evaporated completely. Last time I was able to play on a console was October.
The second, related thing is the luxury of money which, while it hasn’t exactly evaporated, is something I’m much more conscious about spending (I’ve been waiting to get paid before I can decide whether to buy the full Super Mario Run). The result is I haven’t been able to buy all the awesome games I’ve wanted to – and yes, journalists still have to buy games.
While I’ve dabbled in some 2016 games – Far Cry Primal, Quantum Break, Forza Horizon 3 and of course Pokémon Go – the majority of what little game time I’ve had has been spent on back catalogue. So, just for a bit of fun, here’s my picks for the best games of not-2016 I’ve been playing.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
I heard so many great things about this when it first came out, but never got around to buying it. The game definitely lived up to my expectations.
Yes, Shadow of Mordor can be labelled as just an Assassin’s Creed game in Middle-Earth, but on the upside… it’s an Assassin’s Creed game in Middle-Earth. Both the combat and stealth make you feel like a real badass and it can be as much fun preying on Uruk-Hai as it can doing the main missions.
Which leads me on to the incredible Nemesis system. How such a mechanic hasn’t found its way into more games since staggers me. The system makes every encounter so personal, pitting you against characters you have a genuine vendetta against rather than faceles enemies. Every Nemesis feels unique to you, nothing feels scripted or orchestrated. It’s easy to believe that no other player will have the same experience and that makes Shadow of Mordor feel particularly special.
Star Wars Battlefront
Okay, so this one isn’t that old but with Star Wars fever gripping the world again, this has been a real pleasure to dive into. I never played the original Battlefronts, nor the Battlefields, so to me this is an incredible and new experience, perfectly wrapped up in the Star Wars universe.
The graphics are nothing short of incredible. Visuals rarely rate highly on my list of priorities in a video game, but here I can’t help but marvel at how glorious it all looks and how close it is to the most iconic of film sagas. Everything from the locations to the special effects oozes atmosphere and instantly transports you to that galaxy far, far away.
True, it could have done with a bit more variety and certainly some more single-player content (I’m just cannon fodder for other players online so I’ve mostly been playing survival). But there’s plenty to keep Star Wars fans happy – and the dogfighting helps ease the pain that we’ll probably never get a Rogue Squadron game again.
I played Red to death back in the day, so I didn’t think there would be much in the way of new experiences for me in Yellow… and I was right. But my word, what a great nostalgia trip I’m having.
As entertaining as Pokémon Go is, it’s great to get back to what the series is best known for. To go back to a game where gyms are possible, not dominated by people who clearly play 24 hours a day. To know that your starter will become your strongest monster, not your weakest.
That said, I forgot how tough the early games could be. It’s easy to see why players are complaining about Sun and Moon’s lack of challenge when the originals felt like a constant grind. Even when you beat a gym, the next route sees trainers pummelling your monsters into submission. And yet I can’t stop playing, I can’t stop wanting to be the very best that no one ever was.
The Battle of Polytopia
Technically this is a 2016 release, but it’s actually a rebrand of the much older Super Tribes. For me, this is the first mobile strategy game I could actually get into.
The strategy genre and I have a frustrating relationship, mostly because I’m absurdly picky about what I want from it. I want to raise large armies but I don’t constantly want to be on the defensive. I want to manage and customise my home base but I don’t want to spend all my time in complex management menus. Age of Empires II is the only game that has the balance between combat and base-building right for me.
I’ve tried countless Clash clones and got bored. I tried and briefly enjoyed Civilization Revolution. I loved Dominations but became frustrated by the free-to-play mechanics. The Battle of Polytopia, however, is immensely satisfying.
Essentially a streamlined Civilization game, the ability to quickly raise a huge empire is one that I’ve yet to tire of. The turn-based system means I can take as little or as much time as I want when I play (handy as I can never guarantee a set amount of time for gaming now), and I can play one-handed while rocking my son to sleep. The random worlds also means no two matches are ever the same and I’ve found myself in epic struggles for domination that have lasted days. Well worth a look if you’re in need of a new strategy game.
Sea of Thieves
I was incredibly lucky to achieve a childhood dream and go to Rare’s studio this year. While there I was also lucky enough to take part in a playtest of Sea of Thieves with some of the team. While the game had previously piqued my interest, it’s now one of my most anticipated releases.
Playing with friends is always better – it’s why I can never really get into online gaming. So to sail a pirate ship as a team, tackling other crews, is immediately great fun. As your ship inevitably starts taking on water and sinking, there’s a real sense of camaraderie as you frantically try to plug the gaps. The way you can jump over to the enemy ships and starts messing with their sails, anchor and cannons also shows that this will be a game where the best moments are organic, not scripted.
While I was only able to try out the ship combat, I’m now looking forward to finding out more about the other pirate activities Rare will include, like hunting for treasure or exploring uncharted islands – and all with a literal boatload of friends.
I remember when Banjo-Kazooie was released on Xbox Live playing the first level and thinking: “Why don’t they make games like this any more?” Well, finally, they do.
I’ve not only dabbled in the Toybox demo released to Kickstarter backers – an excellent playground/tutorial that inspires you to explore every nook and cranny in the hopes of finding every last secret – I’ve also been lucky enough to play an early build of the first world. This is going to be every bit as fun and quirky as Rare’s early 3D platformers, and a promising start to a new series.
If it were just a standard 3D platformer, it would be fine. The levels are far larger than anything the bear and bird ever explored, the music instantly reminds you of your gaming childhood and the abilities and controls are instantly accessible to anyone that remembered wrestling with the N64 controller. But the studio’s vague, teasing hints at how each level expands and unlocks more secrets is enough to have me chomping at the bit for the full version. Roll on 2017.