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Tain
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(01-21-2017, 06:51 AM)
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It's that time again! As I spend more time with multiplayer games I find it especially hard to weigh them against single-player ones. As always, don't pay much attention to the order. Here are some great games:

X


Titanfall 2 (PC)
Respawn Entertainment, Electronic Arts
This doesn't top DOOM, but it's very, very good. Master difficulty is tough without feeling like you have to resort to corner-creeping, and you'll spend a lot of time approaching enemies via blistering wallruns or sliding attacks. Titan combat is pretty good and, like in multiplayer, it can be a ton of fun to pop out of your own and hop on the enemy for extra damage. There's no shortage of clever scenarios, and the campaign spends enough time focusing on the awesome pilot movement mechanics to do them justice. Multiplayer has been at least as good as the original: while I don't like the maps as much, I prefer just about everything else. Campaign played on Master difficulty.
IX


Uncharted 4 (Playstation 4)
Naughty Dog, Sony Computer Entertainment
Probably the best in the series. The combat is an overall step up: the melee moves aren't quite as good as in 3 and I don't know if there are any arenas that beat the very best ones in 3, but it's overall far more consistent, the animation is back up to UC2's level, and the new rope stuff is a blast. The gorgeous visuals and charming cutscenes, the stuff the series is probably most known for, is at its strongest in this game and there's an especially great ending. Even the lightweight puzzles seemed a bit more thought out than in the past, albiet no more challenging. I actually didn't finish it on Crushing like planned, lol. I switched to Hard a bit over halfway through the game as I felt like the crazy-cautious play I was doing was harming the pace of the game too much. Hard in this game felt like Uncharted 3's Crushing, at least, so I was having a lot of fun with it.
VIII


The Last Guardian (Playstation 4)
SIE Japan Studio, GenDESIGN, Sony Interactive Entertainment
Of Ueda's three games, Shadow of the Colossus might be my favorite, with this in second and Ico in third. All three are really good regardless of all the dumb "are games art" takes of the 2000s, but SotC is probably the most involved mechanically where this is the strongest aesthetically and has the best puzzles. Trico himself is incredibly impressive from an animation and AI standpoint, and you can't help but be really distraught whenever he's harmed. It all builds up to a great ending, too.
VII


Street Fighter V (PC)
Capcom, DIMPS
Launch kind of sucked with the limited online functionality, but once lobbies got going I started putting a lot of time into this game. The most I've put into a fighting game in a long time. I love the high-damage focus after all that time spent with SF4. I love the new moves given to the classic cast. I love the new characters (okay mostly Laura). I love the bombastic-ass backgrounds. I love the crush counter sound effect and reeling animation. I'll be playing this for a while yet.
VI


DOOM (PC)
id Software, Bethesda Softworks
What a huge step up from Rage. This is the first FPS that has a chance of dethroning Serious Sam 3. Things get pretty rough in Nightmare mode, and because it's the first id Software game with manually-placed checkpoints, there's actually a good chunk of tension in the game's massive battles. Battle arenas are very much monster boxes, but like in Sam 3 this isn't a problem at all given how great the encounters are. The cast of monsters is well-modeled and wonderfully animated, with a lot of distinct movement styles and behaviors for each type. Much of the ammo is distributed programmatically (I suspect), between the Glory Kill drops and the arena ammo pickups, and you're generally making full use of your arsenal. I'd say that the monsters and weapons don't play off of each other quite as perfectly as in Sam 3, but you're definitely saving certain weapons for certain situations and you'll make use of them all. The action doesn't get quite as hectic as the heights of Sam 3, either, but it's still very intense and very fitting of the Doom name. And then the boss battles. Doom fucking kills it when it comes to boss battles. These are, hands-down, the best boss battles in a first person shooter campaign, and they get better as the game progresses (even if they're mostly seen later in the campaign). These are what I want to see more of in the genre: fast 1v1 fights against huge bosses with tons of mechanically and visually distinct, learnable, and awesome-looking attack patterns. I've can't think of another FPS campaign that comes close in this area. Throw in nice-looking hellscapes, solid secrets, a well-paced character upgrade system, and a soundtrack that ties into the game's action masterfully, and you have what I'm thinking is one of the very best games in the genre.

V


Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (Playstation Vita)
Chunsoft, Aksys Games
This does such a good job of taking the complexities of classic roguelikes and actually making something elegant and aesthetically appealing out of them. You have tons of items and enemies, all with legitimately interesting and often goofy interactions, and all well-distributed throughout the game's main story dungeons. You're in total control of the passage of time, too, letting you blast through any mindless stuff without worrying that you'll miss a crucial decision. As you hit key milestones the game shifts in structure a little bit: the risks still get higher, but the traveled parts of the road itself become a little more interesting and interconnected on the way there. Unfortunately the game's persistent elements (driven by items that let you exit the dungeon without losing your inventory) become a pretty huge focus by the end, but it's not a big enough problem to drag the game down from greatness. And the gigantic amount of optional dungeons (many of which sound larger and more difficult than the main story) seem awesome. Some don't let you take items into them, either, I think. This has me really curious as to whether the persistent elements are a big part of the older games in the series. I might have to check out the original (as in the first Shiren, not the DQ spinoff) soon.
IV


Dark Souls III (PC)
FromSoftware, Bandai Namco Entertainment
While it's definitely less fresh than the other Souls games, it builds on the high points in such a way that I wouldn't be surprised if I considered this the best in the series given a little bit of distance and the complete set of expansions. Easily the most consistent of the games in terms of enemy layouts, boss battles, and aesthetics. The only thing to really hold against it is that the world isn't as elegantly interconnected as in Dark Souls (making shortcuts a little less meaningful), but that's not a huge deal compared to the upside of having practically no weak areas or boss battles (save maybe the Deacons lol). Holding off on the DLC until it's all out, but I'm sure it'll be great.

III


Hitman Season 1 (PC)
IO Interactive, Square Enix
I'm so, so happy that IO managed to top Blood Money. There aren't a ton of missions in Hitman, but they're all huge, dense, and ultimately the best and most consistent in the series. They're built in a way that the devs could get plenty out of them, and this has allowed them to fill the game with legitimately fun optional goals and side-missions. I think that focusing on a single difficulty level has worked to the game's benefit, too, as it's pretty rare that you can cheese out a combat-heavy success now. Oh, and the Elusive Targets! These rule and I'm ticked that I missed so many of them before realizing what this mode even was, lol. Season 2 should rule.
II


Chronos (PC: Oculus Rift)
Gunfire Games
This is a wonderful game. My expectations were tempered, thinking the praise might be due to the understandable thirst VR enthusiasts have for polished content, but I was blown away. To be crude, the game is something like a more focused version of Souls mixed with classic Biohazard. It's a series of fairly spaced out bonfire-ish checkpoints scattered through interconnected spaces, and you connect these spaces with sometimes clever shortcuts as you progress. The camera is a series of fixed perspectives (think old Biohazard but you can turn your head and lean around), which means zero chance of motion discomfort and some strikingly positioned scenes. The combat is fairly Souls-ish (lock-on, block, roll, iframes), but you have no stamina meter, you get brief and satisfying damage boosts for dodging and parrying, health items are even sparser (imagine an Estus flask that maxes out super low and having that be your only option), and enemies chase you down much further. The tense stretches of tough combat (on Heroic difficulty) are dotted with scene-setting exploration and vaguely Biohazard-ish light puzzles, some of which are pretty damn clever. All of this would combine to make for an incredibly refreshing and super-engaging game, but then you top it off with all of the immersion benefits of VR (the sense of real-life scale when watching your character fight an enemy in close proximity to the camera is nuts). The only bad that I can really say about it is that the art design isn't on the level of the games that probably inspired it (though it's still clean and nice) and that it ends a bit abruptly. Currently the best VR game I've played, easily. Some former Darksiders guys made this, and I never would have guessed they had it in them.
I


XCOM 2 (PC)
Firaxis Games, 2K Games
XCOM 2 is insane. It's so tough while being so polished. Floors are now destructible, leading to a ton of awesome possibilities. The player is now forced to be aggressive, greatly diminishing the prevailing creep-and-overwatch strategies of its predecessor. And that aggression is going to cause a lot of mortifying losses when playing on Iron Man, which is always and forever the way to go with a game that is so flexible when it comes to letting the player lose. It's extremely gorgeous given its genre, with detailed and sleek city, armor, and alien designs, all while delivering procedurally-generated maps that generally hold up to the static maps from before. Despite the fresh start and how big of a shift it is from Enemy Within, it doesn't feel like a step back at all. This is pretty much a perfect sequel to a wonderful game.
Honorable Mentions (some other noteworthy games in no meaningful order):



Overwatch (PC)
Blizzard Entertainment
This managed to suck me in despite being pretty turned off by a lot of the pre-release media. The cast is everything. I mean, they're great and memorable characters and all, but it goes beyond that: having such a big cast with extremely distinct abilities tied to their extremely distinct aesthetics makes everything so much more compelling. I also generally like the maps, and I love how fast the matches are.
Furi (PC)
The Game Bakers
Surprisingly good! A boss rush game that uses a very well-realized mix of twin stick shooting and fast dodge-and-parry melee. It's tied together with a nice structure: you get three lives per battle, and battles usually consist of 4 or 5 drastically different phases (some dodging bullets, some melee, some both, some in wide arenas with cover, some on 2D fields, etc etc). Die and the phase restarts, run out of lives and the battle restarts. The battles aren't the longest (damage dealt and taken are high), but you'll still feel plenty of tension when approaching the last phases of these fights. While the ultra purple neon faux-80s look is pretty overplayed these days, Furi does a good job of using its highlights without pummeling you with it. You can definitely pick up on some rough edges in the game's presentation, but the devs mostly avoid tripping over what I assume was a limited budget. Neat character designs, great music, a very cool "true ending", and apparently an excellent Hard mode.
Thumper (Playstation VR)
Drool
A rhythm-themed game with really harrowing and intense aesthetics (especially in VR). Most of the stages are actually kinda tame difficulty-wise, but anybody with a pulse will find themselves dying an awful lot while trying to perform risky optional actions in order to make the whole experience look and sound way cooler and get higher rankings. The way the retry structure works in the normal game is pretty flaccid, but the developers later introduced "Play+" mode, which is exactly what I wanted from them: a single life to clear a stage (some of which can get surprisingly long).
Star Fox Zero (Wii U)
Nintendo, PlatinumGames
After playing the original, 64, and this back-to-back, I'd say that this easily smokes the other two. It's busier, faster, prettier, more complex, more difficult, and more varied than 64. There's definitely a learning curve with the gyro controls and screen-swapping (hitting that select button is better than looking down at the gamepad imo), but they're learnable and plenty reliable. Having decoupled aiming with a wide range allows for neat situations like pinpoint strafing over ground targets, tightly aiming to the side while keeping distance, and even some dope pseudo-FPS boss battles. The stage branches and general flexibility of the game are pretty neat, moreso than in 64, and Arcade mode (unlocked after beating any single path) is better-structured than SF and SF64. I'd still like one more higher difficulty level, though.
Raiden V (Xbox One)
MOSS, Microsoft Studios
A new STG that carries on in the Raiden tradition of being among the coolest-looking games in the genre, this time accompanied with a lot of silly dialogue flying around as you play, branching stages, some wacky new weapon variants, and an extra-weird online "cheer" system. This doesn't strike me as being as rough as Raiden IV, but I definitely start sweating halfway through. I especially like the playfield-expanding zoomed out bits.
Obduction (PC: Oculus Rift)
Cyan, Inc.
It's really nice to play a modern and gorgeous Myst game in VR. I think some of the swap-related puzzles could drag a bit, especially that damn maze, and my general inability to navigate was painful from time to time, but those are minor complaints. I dug the new take on the segmented-worlds idea, and hey, the hammy acting wasn't too bad!
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (PC)
EA DICE, Electronic Arts
Looking purely at the story missions, I'd say this is pretty true to the original while even being a clear improvement. Better melee combat, prettier world, and cutscenes that aren't laughable (though still not particularly good). The controversial decision on DICE's end is that these story missions are stitched together in a free-roaming world. I'd say that, ultimately, this is an improvement. It makes for a more natural integration of worthwhile stuff like the original game's trial missions, and while the story missions all take place in the game's best and exclusive areas, there's a lot of fun to be had in learning the layout of the city. Some may tell you that Runner's Vision is needed to get around, but I disagree: I almost always enjoyed the change-up in pace when I had to slow down and figure out how to get to a certain part of town. It's not perfect, as the city could use more landmarks, less choke points, and less arbitrary grapple points (seriously these things are nonsense), but I definitely wouldn't throw all this away.
SuperHyperCube (Playstation VR)
Kokoromi, Polytron
A solid action-puzzle game. A novel concept but not a gimmick: this is a game about rotating increasingly-complex clusters through increasingly-complex holes, and it uses VR really well to allow the player to make sense of what's in front of them in a way and at a speed that they wouldn't be able to on a monitor. The minimal visuals are no Rez, but everything is clean and reflective and there's really nice ambient audio going on.
SUPERHOT VR (PC: Oculus Rift)
SUPERHOT Team
2016 brought us VR controllers in the form of the HTC Vive wands and Oculus Touch. These are undoubtedly the biggest step forward in gaming input devices I've seen, and you'd be seeing more titles in this post this year if they weren't in Early Access lol. Like its traditional monitor prequel (?), SUPERHOT VR isn't a challenging game, but more of a sandbox in which you come up with action movie scenarios. While the almost turn-based nature of the game means that the VR controls don't make the biggest impact mechanically, they let you perform and exist through far, far, far cooler actions than the keyboard and mouse ever could. And that's the whole point of SUPERHOT, isn't it? It's like the Rez of action movie scene storyboards. This is the probably the best introduction to VR controllers that I can think of.
Wild Guns Reloaded (Playstation 4)
Natsume
I wish I could have put more time into this, but from what I've played it seems like a wonderfully brutal enhancement to an already-great Super Famicom title. Killer music, massive bosses, and a surprising amount of complexity between jumping, walking, dodging, using the lasso, and scoring.
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And as always, there was stuff I couldn't put enough time into. I wish I could talk about Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator, The King of Fighters XIV, Rigs, and Let it Die, for example. I also wish I could talk about Space Pirate Trainer and some of the other games bubbling up in the VR space, but they're all still Early Access! Maybe next year. And as perfect as Rez Area X was, I couldn't justify bringing up a game I had played so many times prior to this year.

See you all next year.

For the tally:
1. XCOM 2 ; As horrifying as ever but far tougher, more varied, and aesthetically accomplished. This is a perfect sequel to a wonderful game.
2. Chronos ; Coming out of nowhere, Chronos is probably the best game to take this much inspiration from Souls. The vaguely Biohazard-style puzzles and the difficult combat more than make up for the simple character customization, and the obvious immersive qualities of VR fit wonderfully with the Souls-style combination of difficult encounters and a stoic tone.
3. Hitman ; I love Blood Money, and I never thought it would be topped. Hitman's maps are stupid-complicated and the developers have managed to make them a joy to repeatedly run through.
4. Dark Souls III ;
5. Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate ;
6. DOOM ;
7. Street Fighter V ;
8. The Last Guardian ;
9. Uncharted 4 ;
10. Titanfall 2 ;
X. Overwatch ;
X. Furi ;
X. Thumper ;
X. Star Fox Zero ;
X. Raiden V ;
X. Obduction ;
X. Mirror's Edge Catalyst ;
X. Super HyperCube
X. SUPERHOT VR
X. Wild Guns Reloaded