I say this every year, but we do the Game of the Year thing a bit differently at Bitparade. You might, rightly, thing 'different' is a euphemism for 'late', but shut up yeah? We also have a rule where no single game can be picked twice, or in Mark's case at all
Until a couple of years ago Iíd never played an Etrian Odyssey game, then I played Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Fafnir Knight
and promptly picked it as my Game of the Year. Theyíre remakes of the DS Etrian Odyssey games, and while optional, theyíve added a story and locked in characters, rather than you building your own party. It doesnít sound like much of a change, and the story isnít the worldís greatest, but it all adds up to refine the experience, focus it down to drive you forward. The only knock Iíd put on Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 is that it does feel a little familiar, but itís a better game than the first Etrian Odyssey Untold, and if youíre after an rpg to play on the go, or laying in bed, you should really check it out
I mean, hands down, Doom
is the surprise of the year. It looked terrible, and Doom 3 wasnít great. I personally liked Rage quite a bit, and the 2 Wolfenstein games were great, so there was a glimmer of hope, but that multiplayer beta as a final tease didnít exactly get the heart racing. Itís brilliant though, I really donít have enough superlatives for it. Itís relentless, pacey, gleeful. Itís nonsense but in the right way, but itís also superbly precise, on PC at least, I canít vouch for the console ports. If you were holding out because itís Doom, buy it, play it, love it, but then Iím just one of a million people raving about it so itís old news that Doom is brilliant at this point.
There was a couple of games in contention for my 3rd placed spot, notably Stella Glow, which misses out just because itís a bit of a grind to finish. Really good SRPG, thereís a huge amount to like about it, but it makes the mistake of undermining its own pace by throwing a couple of uber-powerful bosses at you right at the end. Anyway, Dishonored 2
took the place, and while itís not underserved, itís a game I liked more after time passed. I think because I enjoyed the first game so much, it was a real breath of fresh air, both for its morose tone and Half-Life esque world, but also the way it made a stealth game work while giving you super powers.
Dishonored 2ís big problem is in its presentation. It still looks great, although it runs worse than it really should on PC, but the way it just tosses out its story, itís a shame, if the game doesnít care about the story then itís hard for you to, and this isnít helped by some piss-poor casting/directing/performance for the voice work.
Anyway, the good. Dishonored 2 has a few incidental bits of world building, moments where you stumble on npcs being wronged, you can watch it happen or you can get involved, shaping the game world. It pulls you in, makes you care about things and feel like youíre taking part. The Dishonored gameplay is still there, thereís still immense satisfaction to the painstaking stealth, and creatively murdering everyone. I wish theyíd presented it all better so I could have enjoyed it more at the time, I got a bit blinded by how disappointing the set up was
I'll admit I paid Overwatch
literally no attention during its development. It wasn't until the open beta on console that I knew of its existence, which is probably as much down to the lack of attention I've paid to videogames in the past 12-18 months as it is anything else. But after my partner, eldest daughter and I spent an entire weekend with that beta we knew we had to own it. Fast forward some seven months since its release and we're still playing it, individually and as a pass-the-pad family activity. Blizzard have created a game that, in my opinion, is instantly accessible to almost everyone whilst having enough to it to constantly reward skill and hard work, the sheer number of characters to choose from, each with their own unique abilities, means there's always a different way to play and something new to try and even after all this time and even with us recently mostly playing the Mystery Heroes playlist (wherein you're randomly assigned a character with each spawn) there are some characters I've barely played. When it came to thinking on my list for Game of the Year, Overwatch was a no brainer and I'm genuinely excited to see what 2017 brings to the shooter.
As I write this, and with Bitparade being traditionally late to the party with these lists (we do it on purpose! Its called being fashionably late) Blizzard have just launched their Luna New Year event with the theme being centred around the Chinese Zodiac and the Year of the Rooster. With this they've introduced yet another new (but temporary for now) Capture the Flag mode that will be familiar to FPS players and, again, it just seems to work really well with you being able to take advantage of characters abilities. Its this balancing of using familiar modes and traits that gamers who have spent years playing competitive shooters will recognise, all tied to a very team based game that also has that MOBA element with the need to learn how to get the best out of each and every character and switch things up with a different tactics where needed that keeps me coming back to Overwatch more than any game I can remember since my weekly online escapades on Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow.
This game is a prime example of why we're always late to the party with these lists. If we had have been preparing for this all to be posted at the turn of 2017 then The Last Guardian
wouldn't appear here. But the fact its placed second in my list at the expense of titles like Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, Grand Kingdom and No Mans Sky (quiet in the back! I really liked it!) says a lot about it. Ok, even I noticed the frame rate from time to time and there were elements of its last hour or so that I felt were a bit tacked on and came in as suddenly as that final boss in Final Fantasy IX. However, from the moment I freed Trico from his chains and then saw him stick his big stupid head through a hole that was far too small for him to fit through I knew that I was playing something very special.
The Last Guardian isn't for everyone, but I think those of us who have developed a strong bond with a pet will recognise the relationship that begins to grow between the boy you control and the beast you try to command. There are times when you want Trico to do something and its definitely apparent that there is a lack of discipline there, now of course there are also times when you know that the AI has gotten itself stuck and you've got to let it work through whatever mechanics have been put in place by the very talented develoment team, but for the first time that I recall that my companion was behaving in a manner where it wasn't a tool to lead to progression through the game but was an actual element of the game that was designed to be experienced, which is just a phenomenal thing for a game to do and is something that, in my opinion, has been worth waiting through this long and difficult development period for.
We had a bit of a discussion about this on Skype, it wasn't a particularly long discussion but it did begin with me asking if I could include Super Mario Bros. 3 on this list. The jist is that, no, I couldn't, and I understand why, its literally a re-release of a very old game, one that brings back fond memories from my childhood, but Nintendo hadn't done enough work on it to warrant its inclusion on its own. So we agreed I could cheat and include the NES Mini
on the list instead. However, I did literally just buy it because I wanted to replay the original version of Super Mario Bros. 3, not the version I own via Super Mario All Stars and not the version I have buried away on my PC's hard drive in ROM form either. £50 plus another £8 for a second controller just to play the one game is rather excessive, but I did want to play some of the other games included too even if the majority of them weren't a part of my nostalgia trip as I only recall playing the 3 Mario's, Teenage Mutant Ninja/Hero Turtles and Digger T Rock on the NES that I had as a kid, but aside from a bit of Bubble Bobble, the NES Mini has been mostly a machine to introduce my family to Super Mario Bros 3.
If you told me at the beginning of last year that Iíd put down two driving games as my favourites by its end, I would have laughed back at you.
With the numerous closures of various racing specialists last gen - Disneyís BlackRock, Segaís Racing Studio, Bizaare Creations - and the declining sustainability of the big budget driving game, you couldnít blame my scepticism for the genre this generation. But Forza Horizon 3
certainly delivers, and feels like the driving game Playground Games always wanted to deliver from the beginning. The original Forza Horizon never felt like a truly open world racing game since its setting forced a lot of your driving onto tarmac. Two games later Horizon 3ís take on driving across Australia is liberating by comparison - both Yarra Valley and The Outback offer tremendous variety in how you can approach each corner to the checkpointed events and races, and trying out new car types rarely feels old as a result.
The real star of the show are the bucket list challenges dotted around the map. These give you a very specific task to complete Ė Push through the mist and find the haunted house in an Oldsmobile 442! Ignore your Sat Nav and bounce your way to the Gorge in the Penhall Cholla! Ė but the unbridled nature of the landscapes youíre driving in turn these challenges upside down. Youíre not just racing to a goal, youíre taking an unplanned trek across the outback and hope for the best as your car tilts and turns, or cut across a section of rainforest to make it to the goal in time.
It can feel a little bit too uncontrolled at times. Progression is often dependent on just completing things rather than completing them well, and even the Drivatars can struggle with the gameís often unfamiliar landscapes. But these are only minor blemishes on a superbly varied, fun driving game that really does succeed at its attempts to be all things to every driver.
If Forza Horizon 3 was about having a good time and soaking in the easygoing atmosphere of your own racing festival, DiRT Rally
may well be the polar opposite. But like Forza, what it sets out to do, it pulls off almost effortlessly. DiRT Rally is the return of the serious Rally game, where even the shallowest corner can throw you off course, where driving in a straight line can often prove to be a challenge, where championships are the culmination of dozens of races, not a few. Itís a rather refreshing change in identity after the DiRT games last gen focused heavily on gymkana face-offs with a flashy atmosphere that arguably lowered the tone of the sport at hand.
What really made DiRT Rally one of my picks is just how unique and peerless it feels to play: Youíve got one of the best driverís seat cameras in the business, every inch of road is modelled convincingly, the physics are satisfyingly characteristic. No course plays out in the same way, and you can never be so sure of having nailed down a perfect route through those winding roads. Codemasters has focused on one area of driving and nailed it Ė had this vision been a part of a more sprawling racer, like Gran Turismo, itíd have inevitably been compromised.
is the Pokemon sequel I never knew I wanted. Thing is, the excitement I once had for new instalments in the main series started wearing off after Pokemon Black and White 2. The games are still good, and the metagame and battle system are still in a class of their own. But I found the series starting losing the purity it once had (and regained with Black and White), and the single player campaigns were becoming increasingly contrived. Battles became even easier by way of mega evolutions and poor balancing around a new EXP Share. NPCs would keep handing you powerful Pokemon. The once-labyrinth layout of routes between towns was straightened out into linearity. The games no longer felt ďdesignedĒ in the same way they once were.
So I was pleased to find that Pokemon Sun was a breath of fresh air. The change in setting, of course, helped a great deal. But Sun rethinks a lot of aspects that had become to feel contrived. The world map is now a series of organically designed, tightly-packed islands, a big improvement from the linear routes of the last few games.
Rival trainers are now stronger and smarter, urging you to make full use of your tactics in battle and making the new EXP-sharing system share actually matter. Mega evolutions were kept out of the game until after the campaign, and in their place a much tighter system of Z-moves were introduced. Its improved approach to storytelling played a significant role in making the gameís world feel more like a living, breathing, interconnected place, rather than a series of disconnected locations. A shake-up of the gym system prevented the game from being predictable like previous titles did, too. I wasnít expecting any of this, despite the game looking promising in its trailers, and it made Pokemon Sun one of my favourite Pokemon campaigns since 2011ís Black and White shook things up in similar, but less significant, ways.