2016 was a weird year. Disastrous political forces made computer games feel a bit . . . pointless. Why waste my time writing about them instead of more important things? Maybe that's why escapism matters so much though.
At the same time, I found myself feeling more disconnected than ever from mainstream games. At E3, I saw the hyperbolous business speak and games about white men shooting foreigners and just felt cold.
Luckily, there are so many good games available, if you just look. I've picked a favourite of the year, which I will try to put into words and no doubt fail, but first some
Daniel Mullins Games, 04/01/2016, www.pony-island.com
Released right at the start of the year, it would be all too easy to forget this game ever happened. Do so at your own risk! Pony Island was smart, funny, creepy and clever in spades. It played with the format of what games could be, it toyed with the player in incredibly clever ways and it used the PC format generally, and Steam in particular, really smartly. It's only short, and a second playthrough could never recapture the experience, but it is a game anyone whose into all this computer game rubbish should play.
Game Freak, 23/11/2016, http://www.pokemon-sunmoon.com/en-us/
I've played, and loved, every generation of Pokémon game. Even so, I'll be the first to admit they had their faults. The visuals and game design were decades behind the curve and the formula was getting repetitive. Sun and Moon address these problems head-on, dragging Pokémon into the 21st century. While the pacing is wonky, when this game is at its best, it is great. It also finally solves the age-old problem that despite everything the character's said, treating your Pokémon like numbers and machines was absolutely the way to win. My review is coming soon.
Respawn Interactive, 28/10/2016, https://www.titanfall.com/en_gb/
At the start of this piece, I said I was bored of games about a man shooting people. It turns out, I was just bored of shit ones. Titanfall 2 is dynamic, inventive, exciting and addictive through the entire runtime of its singleplayer campaign and infinitely more time in multiplayer. The dismal sales figures are nothing short of a travesty. I was a breath away from making it my game of the year, and for me to feel that way about an FPS is something pretty special. My review can be found here.
And now the main event:
Luke Summerhayes' Game of the Year 2016
Ladykiller in a Bind
Love Conquers All Games, 10/10/2016, http://ladykillerinabind.com/
You'd be forgiven for thinking I made Ladykiller in a Bind my game of the year just for existing. In a world where videogames and television glorify violence but are squeamish about showing any act of love; a world where homosexuality is rarer in films and games than extraterrestrial inter-species romance; a world where most mainstream representation of kink and BDSM is either played for laughs or mishandled with a deeply uncomfortable attitude to consent and mutual benefit; in such a world, a game like Ladykiller making any kind of splash is a victory. Thankfully, it's also brilliant.
You play as The Beast, an 18-year-old lesbian who is disguised as her twin brother to take his place on a cruise ship. The player must carefully manoeuvre through social situations, avoiding filling the suspicion bar and revealing their identity while also convincing people to vote for your victory in the week-long game to decide who leaves with 5 million dollars.
The game is a text adventure, with players choosing who to spend time with for the morning, afternoon, evening and night of each day of the cruise. In each encounter, dialogue and action options are available at key points in the conversation and the crux of the experienceis choosing a course of action that will make people want to offer their support without revealing your identity to them.
Through mere text and still images, a cast of excellent characters is painted. The writing is funny, intelligent and human throughout. Innuendo mixes with deep character work mixes with Metal Gear references while the player gets to know a boat full of beautiful anime women.
And you can have sex with them.
Sex scenes in Ladykiller in a Bind are wonderful. Emotionally charged writing presents a number of dynamics from different points of view: submission, dominance, experience and inexperience are all brought to life with characters of various looks.
Obviously, this is fantasy. Women who initially think you're a man are more than happy to have lesbian relationships, and bondage scenarios are played out in ways that some might consider dangerous or unfair. This is a fantasy though. As I'm sure I won't be the only person to pay homage to games that go out of their way to give players justification to shoot lots of men, I won't begrudge this game coming up with excuses for a lady to be tied up and fingered.
Obviously, Ladykiller's sex scenes are very hot, but they're also insightful. I'm a man, and gintendo has thus far been written entirely by men. This game explores many facets of sexuality from a female, gay point of view which I hope would be an enriching experience for any male who likes ladies.
Flirtation, desire and consent are concepts which are explored, as well as the particulars of pleasure and desire. I enjoyed my time with this game but I also think I came out of it with a better understanding of a half of Earth's population whose life I'll never experience, no matter how many times I play Monster Hunter, Mass Effect or Dark Souls as a redhead named Lilly.
Graphics: 10 Gorgeous character art is reminiscent of classic Cing games and backdrops drip with elegant detail.
Sound: 7 Music is inoffensive though mostly forgettable. Sound effects and voice acting are mostly avoided, though this might be for the best given the strength and nuance of the writing.
Gameplay: 8 While interaction is no more than any other graphic novels, the set-up creates interesting dynamics which render every decision exciting.
Longevity: 10 Multiple routes through not just the game, but each scene, flesh out characters and allow for a huge array of potential encounters.
Sexiness: 9 The dialogue, the characters and the sex acts themselves are all pitched juuust right. Loses a point because it's a bit weird whenever you remember that the framing device means you're relaying all this to your own twin brother.
Progressiveness: 10 An indie-developed game about having lesbian sex on a boat.