As 2016 draws to a close, I look back on another eventful year in gaming and talk over some of the highs and lows. In a year that saw a new, smaller Xbox One and PS4, a more powerful PS4 Pro and VR really take off, let’s start with the positives from the year =)
My biggest highlight of the year was EGX in September in Birmingham. The UK’s biggest games event, it felt absolutely huge this year. This is my third year of going, and I’m getting more and more savvy about how to get the most out of the show and play all the games I want to try. It was a great opportunity to try out some of the year’s biggest releases for the first time, Battlefield 1 (voted game of the show), Titanfall 2, Dishonored 2, Final Fantasy XV, to name but a few. The most exciting area, for me, is the Indie section. There truly are some absolute gems out there already or on the way very soon, and this is where I spent most of my time across the two days I was there (see my Indie Highlights article).
There was an immense VR showing, particularly from Playstation, as they tried to tie up more pre-orders. The queues were huge, so unfortunately I didn’t get to try it, but sales suggest it’s done well, more on that below. There were huge gaps on the show floor though, no Xbox stand like previous years, no Playstation stage, no Nintendo (although they weren’t at E3 either, so no surprise) and no Ubisoft, despite some big releases coming from them in the lead-up to Christmas. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to next year. I’ve already booked the days off work, and I’m planning on going for all four days this time!
Indie games have continued to snowball in popularity and frequency of release throughout 2016. The craze started a few years ago, with development tools and engines being released for free to make it easier for the home developer to produce a simple game. Now, some indie games are proving far more popular than some of the big triple-As. 2016 saw some massive (in terms of sales and hype) games released to much critical acclaim. You only need to look through Opencritic’s Hall of Fame for this year to see how many top indie titles have been released, Inside, Owlboy, Stardew Valley to name three.
The best part is the creativity of some of these titles, because quite a lot of Indie developers aren’t afraid to take risks (the same can´t be said by a lot of today´s big publishers and AAA developers). The sheer breadth of ideas is staggering, there’s an indie game to satisfy any taste out there. It’s clear that most of these developers have sat there, had a think about what’s missing from the gaming market or taken their favorite bits from several games and made it into their own game. And I salute these people, well done, keep up the great work!
Ever since the days of PS2 I’ve been a massive PES (Pro Evo) fan. So it was with a heavy heart, and much reluctance that I made the switch to FIFA during the mid 2000s. Because it felt like I had betrayed my beloved football series. However, since the gameplay was going downhill fast, and I was drawn in by FIFA’s flashiness and beautiful presentation. Nevertheless, if we fast forward a couple of years, then it’s clear that Konami took notice of how far they’d fallen from their perch and started to address the issues, because in the past few years, the gap between PES and FIFA’s gameplay has been closing. So much so that this year’s edition of PES (PES 2017) took back the top spot (in my opinion, of course) in terms of gameplay mechanics in the match engine and being fun to play.
Sadly, I think that PES still lacks on presentation, panache and game modes, especially not having the licences for a lot of teams, but I’ve played both PES 2017 and FIFA 17 and PES wins by a long way for me. It’s so much easier to play and more fun, and surely that’s what counts, right? Unfortunately, the sales charts suggest otherwise, with FIFA 17 in the top spot (at time of writing). Oh well, you just can’t help some people!
It´s sure isn´t no joke that VR taken off in a big way this year. As HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Playstation VR all released this year. Now, I remember the previous attempts at virtual reality, around the turn of the century, and it was not good! Lots of reports of motion sickness, lack of support and sub-standard graphics meant that no-one really bought into it. I wondered if the same would happen again, whether VR would just be another novelty that would come and go, much like 3D. Well, it seems like I was wrong, at least for now. You’ll be hard pushed to find a Playstation VR headset anywhere.
When they appear in stock, they’re gone soon after. As I mentioned before, I didn’t get a chance to try PSVR at EGX, the queues were far too long, but that alone showed just how popular it was. Opinions on forums and among the community appears to be generally positive. I for one, can’t afford the approximate £500 price tag (headset, camera, move controllers and games) but it seems a lot of people have managed. It’s proven to be a novelty for some as headsets have started to appear on For-Sale forums, but, for now, it seems that VR is here to stay, so long as developers continue to support it.
With every high, there must come a bit of a downer (I know, it´s sad but true). We’ve had a few not-so-great moments this year in gaming. Judging by general opinion on forums and other gaming sites, I’m not alone in my feelings…
I only have to type those three words, and you’ll probably know what I’m going to say! Announced back in 2014 at E3 with an intriguing teaser trailer, shown in more depth at E3 2015, everyone started to talk about this game. The sheer number of planets and time it would take you to explore them all had everyone intrigued. However, we all started to ask “Yeah but what do you actually do?”. The aim was to get to the centre of the universe. Furthermore, along the way you’d discover new planets, species and wildlife on those planets (some hostile, some friendly), all of which could be named, brilliant! There were space stations to dock at, and you’d come across AI ships from time to time, again, some hostile, some friendly.
So far, so good right? Well…Yeah, but then came the biggest hook. You see, we thought that we could come across other players in the game. It was vaguely talked about by the developers, but they said it was unlikely given the size of the universe. However, it had people wondering what would happen if we did bump into someone else. Day 1 came, and the sales were massive. So everyone wanted to start naming planets and animals but above all, they wanted to meet other players. However, then reality hit! The game itself actually got boring quite quickly, very samey, jumping from planet to planet, mining resources to jump to the next sector while managing your ridiculously small inventory.
Two people even worked out where they were in the galaxy and got to the same planet, only to find that they couldn’t see each other, huge disappointment. Hello Games, the developers, have since had to answer a court case brought against them for false advertising. It wasn’t helped by the fact that while the community were extremely vociferous about the game, the developers went silent. The claims have been cleared and Hello Games have since come out of the dark and spoken and released a patch that “is the start of something bigger”. Nevertheless, most of us have moved on, unlikely to return and all a lot more cynical about hugely hyped games. I haven’t pre-ordered a game since!
Pay up to £40 a year (or equivalent), be able to play online multiplayer on your Playstation device AND get a bunch of free games, sounds good to me (although obviously I’d prefer a free online service a la Steam). There were 72 games available to PS+ subscribers in 2016 across Sony’s three devices. They had an average Metacritic score of 74 and an approximate combined value of just under £1000. Even so, that still sounds pretty good to me. So why is this in the lows section then? Well, if you look at the articles when each month’s games list was announced, there is a very negative feel.
I know people seem to find easier to complain than praise, but still, the general feeling of disappointment was clearly evident. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some absolute gems this year, but out of 72 games, I’d say only a handful (less than 10). It’s more difficult for me to praise the list given that I don’t have a PS3 any more or a Vita, so my potential library is greatly reduced. Compare the list to the Xbox Games for Gold and, in my opinion, the PS+ list pales into insignificance! Above all though, I actually find myself not buying digital games from the store for fear that they will appear for free later on, so do the developers get the support they need? Here’s hoping Sony managed to secure some better titles for 2017. Alternatively, I’d happily pay less for my annual subscription and lose the instant game collection.
I’ve got PES 2017 as a highlight. So I’ll balance that with FIFA as a low for the year. As its number 1 in the charts at the time of writing, so there are obviously still a lot of people who like it. However, I feel that EA are truly resting on their laurels now and not really changing FIFA all that much each year. They’re clearly relying on Ultimate Team and the licences but there hasn’t been a major improvement in gameplay for a few years now, in fact. I felt it went backwards this year. As it feels slower and more cumbersome playing a match. The only bright side to 17 is The Journey mode. I wondered how EA would get a “story” mode into a football game, but they seem to have done it. There is some issues that need ironing out but this mode (and I think career mode in FIFA is better than PES’ Master League) almost had me reaching for FIFA over PES. Nevertheless, ultimately, FIFA and PES are about playing a game of football, and as I’ve already said. PES came out the clear winner for me this year. Be interesting to see what happens next year.
Also worth a mention…
I really couldn’t decide if this was a high moment of the year or not. As I think that there just isn´t enough information at the moment. Even so, it’s got a lot of people talking. Furthermore, since I’ve been a huge Nintendo fan ever since I received my first console, the NES (shows my age!) and have been disappointed to see the negativity surrounding them in recent years. The Switch is intriguing. I love that Nintendo aren’t afraid to try and innovate. This time they’ve managed to get a LOT of big developers on board, something that let them down on the Wii U, so I’m really hoping the Switch goes well for them. We’ll know a lot more in January at their next announcement event and I, for one, can’t wait to find out more about it.
I´m more than aware of the fact that the Game Awards 2016 event had its flaws and down sides. Even so, I still think it´s safe to say that the event was a blast to watch as it offered something for everyone to enjoy (for most part). As we got to see plenty of awesome games and performances on site (like Mick Gordon´s topnotch Doom performance, for example). So I can´t wait to see what the 2017 edition of the Game Awards has in stores for us.
And last but not least we got Sony´s PSX 2016 event, and what an awesome Gaming event it turned out to be (the PSX 2016 event was kicking out the jams for two full days!). I mean, Sony sure didn´t hold back on anything, because they showed us everything from “The Last of Us part II”, “Nex Machina”, “Resident Evil 7”, “Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy” to a new “Parappa Rappa”, “Patapon” and “Loco Roco” game. Simply put, Sony was in great shape during their PSX 2016 event (I wonder if Sony will be able to top that event with PSX 2017?). That´s also why I took my time to watch both day one and two of the event.
So that’s my highs and lows of 2016. Obviously there are a lot of things I’ve not touched on, you’ll maybe disagree with what I’ve said, so feel free to comment below on your highs and lows of this year. Here’s to a top 2017 in gaming.
This is a personal opinion of the writer, and it doesn’t necessarily represent the other writers (nor The Gaming Ground´s) opinions.
Robin Ek – Editor
The Gaming Ground
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