Donnie’s Top Ten 2K16
Top 10 Games 2016
- No Man’s Sky
A beautiful, meditative little indie game about roadtripping across an artificially-created self-aware universe. For a game that purportedly had “no story”, its story was a surprisingly tongue-in-cheek and economic metanarrative that frames the whole thing as a sort of commentary on games themselves, which sounds dull and didactic but comes off as quaint and charming. I’m incredibly interested to see what it’s going to become in the team’s hands over the next year or so. Is choosing this as my favourite game of this year intentionally contrarian? Mostly yes.
2. Kentucky Route Zero Act IV
Kentucky Route Zero is a body of work made by two people released over almost four years now, with no sign of when it might end. Its acts are released without ceremony and take me at least a week to fully digest. The fourth act delves deeper into the stories of the people in Kentucky Route Zero’s dreamlike mirror-world America, people whose lives are all touched by the pervasive effects of a crumbling labour economy, poverty, stories of what those things do to human beings and their communities. Looking back at Kentucky Route Zero as a completed work is going to be a strange thing.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a studio so roundly improve on every aspect of their first work in their second, while still keeping the core design ethos of the thing intact. Inside should be taught alongside Limbo in curriculum everywhere as an example of how to iterate your ideas effectively. Also teaching the player how to play your game through design without a single UI element, how sound design is a crucial part of creating tension, and why “secret endings” suck.
RIP AND TEAR.
5. Hyper Light Drifter
I’ve always been a sucker for that modern pixel art aesthetic and vague, overly portentous storytelling. Hyper Light Drifter has so many core design problems that make me seethe upon reflection, but it’s a game I can’t stay mad at. It just looks and sounds so goddamn gorgeous. I think I’ve listened to Disasterpeace’s score for it longer than I ever played the thing. Reading at length about Teddy Diefenbach’s trials in making Hyper Light Drifter helped me enjoy this labour of love that much more.
Firewatch is a very lovingly-crafted narrative exploration game that wears its influences on its sleeve, and manages to mechanise the building of a human relationship in a way that doesn’t feel perverse or uncanny. What Campo Santo have made is clearly propped up by an incredible amount of thought, care and experience, and sits right at the apex of modern, medium-budgeted, high-fidelity narrative-focused experiences that makes me excited both for what the studio will do next, and what Firewatch hopefully means for future games of this ilk.
7. Dark Souls 3
For better or worse, the Souls series has had its hooks in me since the first Dark Souls game five years ago. Bloodborne was likely my favourite game of 2015. Dark Souls 3 shaves off a lot of the more idiosyncratic design choices that gave its predecessors their unique, if somewhat unpleasant, flavour, and the game is more playable for it. Should these games even be striving toward accessibility and friendly user experiences? Do Soulsian idiosyncrasies lend something inextricable to the experience which is lost in Dark Souls 3? I’ll leave those questions to better critics. In any case, the last entry in the Souls series has that vague, portentous storytelling I crave in spades, and the same maddeningly satisfying core loop that’s had me coming back for punishment time and time again.
A narrative exploration game that cold opens with a Twine game in which you argue with a text adventure game. In space. I really enjoyed event, and was kind of surprised to see so little publicity or chatter about it this year. The central conceit has you stranded on an abandoned spaceyacht, navigating your way through claustrophobic corridors by talking to (by physically typing at consoles) the ship’s AI, which, depending on your tone and lines of conversation, can come of as anything from cold and menacing to childlike with affection. The design of the AI and its conversations makes just enough sense in the context of the clunky 80s scifi art direction that the whole thing gels well together, and makes reading text logs and environmental cues to glean the game’s slim narrative an interesting, brief experience.
9. Devil Daggers
That Devil Daggers and DOOM 2016 were released in the same year through sheer coincidence is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Devil Daggers is like a portal into the frenzied, PTSD-induced nightmares that the Doom Marine himself would suffer post-DOOM. It’s a roguelike shooter that has you tearing at your hair and your hands shaking in the thirty or so seconds your first play session will last. I’ve never lasted more than 65 seconds in the game, which feels like a monumental achievement. I once looked up what the world record holder for Devil Daggers beheld at the end of his ten minute-ish run. I’ve never played the game again.
10. Uncharted 4
The absolute pinnacle of graphical fidelity, a spectacle of labour, that Naughty Dog, somehow, managed to weave an affecting story with likeable characters into. The Last of Us director Neil Druckmann took the helm of this game from series showrunner Amy Hennig about a third of the way through production, and while the mark of both creators can be seen, Druckmann’s character direction and writing is what shows in the final game. It’s arguable whether the happy-go-lucky action adventure series needed to take a more somber, dramatic turn, but they did what they did and they did it exceedingly well.