“I’m one with the Force and the Force is with me.”
- Chirrut Îmwe (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)
We all have our preferred gaming tastes, the familiar mechanics that come almost second nature. For me that’s the precision jumping and “left to right” of platformers, the exploration/upgrade/exploration loop of a good Metroidvania title. But there are pockets of the gaming canvas that I tend to ignore for the most part. Sports games are generally a dead zone for me, and more and more complicated strategy games always seem more trouble than they are worth. Occasionally however, a title breaks through this preconceived mold and hits me in just the right way that I quickly lose countless hours enjoying a game I’d normally not even give the time of day to. There were a few specific titles this year that scratched that “itch” for me.
I was never fantastic at FPS games, and I think it goes as far back as the first Jedi Knight game that I remember playing with a PC gamepad. It wasn’t ideal at all, and once I got to college I finally started to learn the intricacies of mouse keyboard controls. I’ve gone back and forth with PC and console FPS games, and appreciate they for different reasons. I played maybe 15-20 hours total of the first game, and really liked the world they built and the movement of the characters and of course the cool giant robots, but fell off pretty quickly with the multiplayer focus and limited weapons. The wave based survival mode they added later on via DLC actually had me jump back on for a few games, but it didn’t last.
The developers made a promise that they would address the criticisms of the first game in a sequel, and they certainly succeeded. I can tell you I haven’t touched the multiplayer at all, and I’ve never been happier. The single player portion of this game alone is worth the cost of the game. The gameplay is just as good as it was in the first game, and the mechanics (both on foot and in the Titan) are utilized in unique and interesting ways throughout the campaign. I’ve already mentioned it before, but Effect and Cause, the best level in the game is something any gamer should experience. It’s really a shame to see that the game was “buried” in the glut of FPS releases, as it definitely feels better than Battlefield 1 (which I also played) and feels more inventive than the yearly Call of Duty release. You owe it to yourself to play this game.
The last “real” racing game that I spent any significant time with was Burnout Paradise, so it seems only fitting that this game hit me the way it did, since I’d call this a spiritual successor to that classic title. In addition to being drop dead gorgeous (both on Xbox One and PC) it drops you into what is essentially a racing sandbox that you can create your own fun in. I spent many an hour trying to best my friends in the time trials and score challenges, and even created a few of my own. The driving is tweaked just enough away from the extremely simulation heavy Forza “proper” titles to make it challenging enough but not bogged down by the specifics. Even crazier though is that you CAN actually get pretty deep into customization of the cars, and with Dan’s guidance I even made some tweaks to cars I’d never have done before. And i know it’s not something most people will ever use, but the ability to customize a music playlist through Microsoft’s streaming service (Groove Music) really made it feel like I was driving around Australia in an obscenely expensive car going REALLY fast. The sense of speed in this game is amazing, and created many a white knuckle moments trying to hit the max speed in a supercar. I only wish I had played this with more of my friends, as I still have fond memories of Xbox Live sessions with all of my friends in Paradise City doing donuts in the stadium and would love something similar from this game.
The game I played most in 2016 was at it’s core a “Harvest Moon” game, a series I had never had the desire to play in the past. The positive word of mouth for this game sold me on it (and Dan’s recommendation of its’ quality) and I never looked back. I spent many an hour in Terraria back when it came out and even spent some hours with the released version of Starbound this year, but when it comes down to it my happiest moments this year in gaming were the lost hours spent tending to my little farm, gifting my delicious crops & creations to my neighbors in town, and even delving into the mines and combating creatures into the late night hours.
At it’s core, it’s just a farming simulator, with your character planting crops and selling them for a profit, but it’s the extra layers added (relationships, dungeon crawling, cool equipment and collectibles) that truly kept me playing the game. If I could *just* buy a few more seeds to plant I’ll have enough money to buy some cool new thing for my farm, or have enough money to buy a unique scarecrow during one of the seasonal festivals. The progression loop was long enough to make it worthwhile and yet not quite satisfying enough to make you stop farming. I actually think I made it farther than anyone else I know in the game, actually marrying someone and getting to what most considered the “endgame” (although I never made it to the bottom of the desert dungeon). The continued support for the game and recent announcements actually has me excited to pick it back up at sometime again in 2017.