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I think it's safe to say that 2016 has been a year that'll be written about in the history books for all the wrong reasons. We've been faced with political madness, a slew of high-profile celebrity deaths and an unbelievable list of worldwide atrocities. Thankfully, us sad lot have had games to take our minds off the dreadful void that is reality.
I've always been a solo gamer at heart - I've gravitated towards RPGs and sprawling single-player adventures and shied away from multiplayer-centric shooters and their ilk. Games that require me to interact with other people? No thanks! But then 2016 happened, and I've found myself with a list of games that I've enjoyed for their multiplayer modes and I'm ending 2016 with a list of unfinished single-player focused games. So, without further ado, I present to you Dr. Moyles or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Multiplayer.
Campo Santo, 09/02/16 http://www.firewatchgame.com/
Okay, I still love a good single-player experience. Developed by a team of ex-Telltale developers and designed in part by Olly Moss (best known for all the movie posters you love), Firewatch hiked its way to us early in the year, and it's easily the best "walking simulator" I've played. I loath that genre name, as it does Firewatch a disservice - this is far more than just a walk in the national park.
On the surface, Firewatch comes across a visually striking hiking simulator. You play as Henry, a man who takes a job as a forest ranger following a tragedy in his personal life. His only point of contact in the park is his supervisor, Delilah, and it's your job to unravel a mystery that develops over Henry's time in the park.
The mystery falls in second to Henry and Delilah's relationship, which is crafted through dialogue choices and actions. The two voice actors behind Henry and Delilah perform wonderfully, acting with raw emotion and create a plethora of heartwarming - or cold, depending on your choices - interactions.
The ending was widely criticised, but I personally loved it - it was a refreshingly real ending amongst the many, many Hollywood endings I've experienced in games through the years, and it only helped to cement Firewatch as one of my favourite games in 2016.
Dark Souls III
FromSoftware, 24/3/16 https://www.darksouls3.com/en/
FromSoftware's latest stress-free RPG epic falls behind its 2011 forefather in my estimation, but it still stands as one of the best games of the year. Whilst many of its best bits are derivative and nostalgia-focused, there's still plenty to love about this.
From a gameplay perspective, Souls has never felt better - gone are the turgid roll-fests and slower gameplay of yesteryear, with more frenetic battles in their place. This is thanks in part to the new Weapon Arts system giving weapons more varied movesets.
I'd even go as far to say that Dark Souls III has some of the series' best boss encounters (the king with no name, anyone?), delivering up some of From's trademark frustration whilst still impressing with the spectacle of these battles. There are a few stinkers in there, but every Souls game has a few dud boss battles. And then there's the new, steaming hot lore morsels to munch on (*cough* ahem *cough*), and as a Souls fan, I can't get enough of that.
It didn't rock the boat, but it was still smooth sailing from From this year.
Monster Hunter Generations
Capcom, 15/07/16 http://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/monster-hunter-generations-3ds
It was in the summer that the multiplayer beast sunk its fangs into me, and I spent the ensuing months hunting it with friends.
Monster Hunter Generations was my first exposure to Capcom's wildly popular series, and I'm surprised it's taken me this long to play a MonHan game. Initially, I was confused - what weapon do I pick? What do all these items do? Why does everything feel clunky and slow? But then over time, thanks to a little help from my friends, Monster Hunter clicked for me.
There's nothing quite like grabbing a few mates, gearing up with your best armour and then squaring off against a vicious beast. Once you understand the intricacies of your chosen weapon, it's so satisfying to take that knowledge and smack a beastie about. Each of the monsters feel distinct enough that fighting them again and again doesn't feel like a chore. It's so much fun that I think I could spend an hour or so each week chatting about each monster (*COUGH* AHEM *COUGH) and it wouldn't get old.
Generations is a best-of game, highlighting the greatest monsters and areas the series has to offer. It's a terrific jumping on point for any new players, and it's arguably never been more accessible with its new hunting styles allowing for more options to find out exactly how you'd like to hunt. Once you've found your niche, it's hard to stop hunting.
JayMoyles' Game of the Year 2016 is... Overwatch
Blizzard, 23/05/16 https://playoverwatch.com/en-gb/
There's seconds left on the clock - if our team don't break the enemy's defences now, we've lost our chance at winning the round. I'm trudging back towards the objective, and fall immediately under enemy fire. I heal myself, but it's looking grim. Suddenly, one of my team-mates uses their ultimate ability, a boost which can be administered to anybody on the team giving them increased health and offensive power. They pick me.
I launch into action, killing two enemies with shotgun blasts. An explosion rockets me into the air, but I use my ultimate ability, a whirling minigun designed to push enemies away whilst dealing massive damage. I kill one foe in mid-air, and pin another against the wall to finish him off. I slay a fifth before finally falling to the last remaining enemy, but we've won the battle. I've never experienced a moment like this in a single player game, or in any other multiplayer game before. For twenty seconds, I felt like I was untouchable, and it meant so much more than in any single-player game because I was helping real people succeed and overcoming other real people. It's moments like this that's cemented Overwatch as my game of the year.
I've never been a huge fan of multiplayer shooters. They've always felt lifeless and inevitably frustrating. Playing as identikit soldiers and being gunned down in two seconds by some grey blur sprinting past with a submachine gun has never appealed to me. It's not because I'm bad at multiplayer shooters - I was pretty good at Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare back in the day - but it's more down to how these games are presented. They've become formulaic over the years, with the same gamemodes, the same levelling structure, and the same body armour clad marines duking it out.
Enter Overwatch. Now, it's not like Overwatch is a revolutionary game or anything. Class-based team multiplayer shooters have been around for years, with Team Fortress 2 being arguably the most successful example of the genre. But Blizzard have created something pretty damn special with Overwatch - it's a shooter brimming with character and colour.
Overwatch is a six versus six class-based team shooter, with each character having their own distinct abilities alongside an ultimate ability which is designed to turn the tide of a battle. It would be easy to have each character presented as a bland soldier with the title "Sniper", or "Tank", or "Healer", but each Overwatch character feels distinct and most importantly, fun!
The traditional tank is a hulking German titan who bellows as he charges into battle and references David Hasselhoff on a whim. Another tank is a Korean teenage girl who was chosen to pilot a state-of-the-art mech because she is really good at Starcraft 2. Even the traditional sniper comes across as more interesting than a marine in a gilly-suit - she's an ice-cold French assassin dripping with sultry menace ("personne n'échappe à mon regarde", she'll drawl as she activates her ultimate ability) who swings around the battlefield with a grappling hook. As a player who normally values story and character over gameplay, it's given me a reason to care about the characters I'm playing as.
Story and character mean very little to your normal fans of multiplayer shooters, so it's a good thing that the game actually plays well then! The clip I linked at the start of this piece is only one example of how fast-paced Overwatch's battles can be. It's chaotic brilliance - whether it's trying to hold together a defence as a cyborg ninja is cutting down your healer and an angry German is rocketing towards you or cursing at a Chinese ice devil as she shoots an icicle into your frozen carcass, Overwatch delivers countless brilliant moments.
There's a character for all playstyles to enjoy. Like your Call of Duties and your Battlefields? Try Soldier 76, a run-and-gun traditional soldier (his ultimate ability is, amusingly, an aimbot). Like going off by yourself and getting behind a team and ripping them to shreds? Try Reaper, a teleporting shotgun wielding wraith. And if you'd rather support your team than go on a murderous rampage, there's a multitude of support characters designed exactly for that.
Blizzard are constantly balancing the game to ensure no character feels particularly overpowered and are releasing fresh content on a regular basis (a Christmas update pack with new festive skins launched earlier this month) to keep the playerbase coming back for more. It could result in Overwatch being my 2017 Game of the Year, as Blizzard are making sure there'll always be something new to enjoy.
If multiplayer shooters have never been your thing, give Overwatch a try. It feels fresh enough to entice newer players to the genre whilst never deviating far from what keeps the core audience interested. I'm expecting to have many more moments like in the linked video in 2017, and hopefully I'll see you there to share in those moments.
Graphics: 8 Competent and colourful, replete with well-crafted environments and memorable character designs.
Sound: 8 There's no tracks that you'll be humming after a session of Overwatch, but the sound design is incredible. Listen with headphones and you'll be able to hear the thumping footsteps of an approaching enemy or the distant yell of an enemy.
Gameplay: 10 Fast paced and rewarding. Your attacks feel forceful, and the maps are well designed - there's always multiple ways to attack an objective.
Longevity: 9 Your mileage may vary, natch, but with Blizzard delivering regular updates, this is one you'll stick with for a while.
Satisfaction: 10 I've not felt anything like the rush of hitting Reaper's ultimate on an unsuspecting team.
Desire to kill Mei: 10 Freeze me one more time. I dare you.
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