Happiest of New Year’s to you! I don’t know about you, but this last circuit around the sun was a bit of a tough one for both me personally and many of the people around me. Fortunately, there’s always games to take our minds off the difficulties of everyday life! If you find yourself in need of just such a thing, here’s a list of games that I played this year and highly recommend you all experience. Some are sad, some are happy. And
most some aren’t even from this year! I’m never one to keep up on games as they come out, so I’m here to remind you of games from years past that perhaps you’ve overlooked, or always meant to play but then forgot about. In no particular order, here is my list of games that I most recommend you check out!
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a game I’d been wanting to play for quite some time. As soon as I heard about it I was intrigued. A game about World War I that wasn’t just about blowing up baddies or whatever? Sign me up! What I did not expect was the rollercoaster of emotions I was met with. Valiant Hearts made me laugh, it made me cry. It made me angry on occasion at the puzzles I couldn’t figure out, but mostly it made feel deeply about a war long past in a way no game ever has before. Valiant Hearts is at its heart a story not about violence (although there’s plenty) nor of explosions (though there are quite a few of those too!) Instead, Valiant Hearts is a story about a group of people whose lives intersect in unexpected ways, and the tolls that a vast and unrelenting war can have on the everyday people who are forced to live under its devastating hand. If you’re looking for a good, cathartic cry, this is the one.
The Portal Series
Okay, so, remember how I said some of these games were going to be pretty old? It does’t get much older than the Portal series. I’ve seen references to these games for years (I can’t tell you how many times Syn has quipped “The cake is a lie!” only for me to nod and smile as though that has any meaning. Now it finally does!) If you suffer from motion sickness in games maybe sit this one out, or watch a let’s play of it because I’m not gonna lie, it was a bit rough for me even. But motion sickeness aside, Portal (and specifically Portal 2, though you should probably play the first too for story bits) is one of the cleverest games I’ve ever played. If you watch our streams you know I’m not particularly good at puzzles, but even though I was constantly raging about how confused I was in this game, it was absolutely 100% worth it. The puzzles are hard if you’re bad at spatial stuff like me, but so rewarding once you finally figure them out. In addition to that, the story is fantastic and boasts one of my all-time favorite video game characters. I quote her fairly often because she’s just that great (though, admittedly, her moral compass may be a bit askew.)
Meadow is made by the same people who made the Shelter series, and it is one of the purest games I played this year. In Meadow you run about the Shelter world as various woodland animals from the previous games, and together, with other online players, you work together to find new skins, unlock new animals, and just have an all around lovely time. Similarly to The Endless Forest, there’s no chat system in Meadow. Instead, you communicate to your fellow players with emotes. Everyone I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been nothing but friendly and helpful, so if you’re looking for an online multiplayer experience without the trolls, this is the one!
The Beginner’s Guide
Probably one of the best games I played this year, The Beginner’s Guide had also been on my radar for quite some time. Made by the creator of The Stanley Parable (another game I’d recommend but, drat, I technically played it last year), The Beginner’s Guide is one of those games that I want you to just kind of blindly trust me on. Anything I say about what makes it special will ruin the experience for you, and I really don’t want that. But if you enjoy story and character driven games and aren’t bothered by a lack of “gameplay”, then I think you’ll enjoy this one just fine. Everything about this game is well crafted I could honestly gush about it for days. The music was gorgeous, the narration absolutely on point. At times you forget that it’s a work of fiction being told to you, so well is the story made. Seriously, I can’t say much more, but just trust me on this one, yeah?
Oh, and maybe have a box of tissues at the ready. I didn’t find myself saddened by the ending, but lots of people do. You’ve been warned!
I’m no joke listening to some of the music from Oxenfree right now. When I first saw this game announced at E3 I knew it was something I would be into, but I honestly couldn’t have guessed how into it I would be. Oxenfree was one of the best character games I’ve played in a looooong time. While the plot was maybe not the best I’ve ever seen, the characters more than made up for it. Some of them are annoying, some of them are funny, and they all feel like real people. As far as scary stories go Oxenfree is a pretty safe bet for when you want a spooky ghost tale but don’t want to have to worry about endless jumpscares. Sometimes I’d get startled because I’m an easily spooked person, but for the most part it’s not a game I would consider actively frightening. It’s a fun, spooky ghost story, something I’d love to see games tackle more often!
While Oxenfree was just a fun ghost tale, SOMA was the real deal. Jumpscares, monster, and an existential crisis to boot, SOMA is probably the best horror game I’ve ever played. I was messed up for days after we finished playing it, not just because suddenly everything made me more jumpy than normal, but because the ending hit me so damn hard. I’ve watched the ending at least two more times since finishing it and I cry every time. SOMA is so much more than just a monster ridden horror adventure. The questions it raises (while not perhaps always done in the most logical way) had us talking about some real serious shit on stream almost everyday. If you’re prone to existential dread as it is, go into this with the full knowledge that it will fuck with that, so take the necessary precautions you need. I never expected it to hit me as hard as it did since too often games peg themselves as being much more philosophical than they actually are. This one though, well, it has the potential to pack quite the punch.
World of Warcraft: Legion
I feel a bit weird putting an expansion on here, but I’ve been playing the heck out of Legion and loving every moment of it. If you’re a former WoW player, or just a person who’s long contemplated playing but never gotten ’round to it, now is the time. Not that tears should be an indication of how good a game is (though judging by this list that seems to be exactly how I qualify things…oops), for the first time in the six years I’ve been playing this game, I cried. And I didn’t just cry once, oh no. The current tally is three full on cries, and one moment of incredibly moist eyes. Blizzard finally seems to have gotten a hang of how to tell a compelling story. And, yeah, it probably won’t affect you as much if you haven’t been with these characters for years. But if you grew up with them, or spent hours of your life with them? The tragedies that surround this expansion will certainly have an impact.
It’s also gorgeous. I have so. Many. Screenshots. And the music! Oh, I could gush forever….
I feel like everyone is putting Overwatch on their lists this year, but I had to too because let me tell you, I have never enjoyed a shooter before. Ever. Yet here I am, playing an FPS on a regular basis. What world have I entered?
It’s hard to list all the things about Overwatch that make it special. I’d say perhaps it’s the bright and beautiful maps, or the diverse cast of heroes. Maybe it’s the fun and, at times, ridiculous personalities of the heroes we get to play. Or maybe it’s the incredible community that’s sprung up around it.
Is it perfect? Oh heck no. Blizzard has made some mistakes, absolutely. They’ve fallen into the same tropes game designers have been trapped in for years. But they’ve made an effort to change, and I can’t help but commend them for that. We’ve currently got a major blockbuster game whose poster character is a queer woman–you can bet your butts I’m delighted by this! There are still certainly aspects of the game worth criticizing, and far be it from me to suggest people not. But at the same time, this is the progress we’ve been hoping to see for years. Perhaps I’m naive, perhaps I’m settling for the barest bit of representation we can get, but I don’t choose to look at it that way. I look at Overwatch and I see hope for an industry that has spent far too long drowning in the same characters, the same stories, and the same boring old scenarios from the past 20 years. Overwatch, to me, represents the shift in mainstream game design I’ve long been hoping for.
Alright, okay, this last game is a bit of a cheat for me. I debated for quite awhile whether or not I should put it on the list. But, you know what, this is my list and I can do as I please, and the main thing I want to do is tell you about the games that help me get through life.
No game has helped me more than Journey.
While I technically played it for the first time a year or two ago, I still play it whenever I’m feeling lost, hopeless, or just plain sad. Journey is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a spiritual experience (and yes, I know that sounds a bit ridiculous.) There’s not much I can say without ruining the entire experience for you, so again, I ask that you just trust me on this one. If you’re prone to feelings of confusion, hopelessness, or despair, play this game. Play it when you’re in those moods where nothing else seems to help. When you’re certain that you’re a wreck, you’re life’s a wreck, and there’s nothing for you in your future. Play this game. Play it when the world seems dark, when you feel small, and when the monsters are knocking at your doors. Play. This. Game.
I sometimes wonder if the impact can be the same if you play it in a cheerful mood, or when you’re just looking for something to kill time. I often tell people that I played Journey for the first time at just the right moment in my life. Sometimes to appreciate all a story or an experience has to offer, you have to be in one of your darkest places.
I’m not saying you can’t play this if you’re a naturally chipper person who just wants an incredible experience. I still think it can be that for you! But for those predisposed to moments of melancholy and loneliness…I dunno…I think there’s something extra special in it.
And of course I’m not saying we’ll all interpret it the same way. The beauty of Journey is that the story is delivered primarily through gameplay (while the back story is delivered through beautiful murals). I worry at times that I hype Journey too much, but I guess it’s just because it had, and continues to have, such a profound affect on me.
So there you have it! My list of games I played in 2016 that I absolutely recommend you play as well. I’m sorry so many of them might make you cry, but sometimes it’s healthy to have a good cry, don’t you think?
Thank you for sticking with us through this wild ride that has been 2016, and here’s to all the beautiful, magical experiences games will bring us in 2017!
Happy New Year from me, and the entire +10 to Fire Resist team,