2016 wasn’t a fine year in many respects, but for video games, it was exceptional. Here’s a quick list of 2016 (and slightly earlier) games, not yet reviewed by us Fraudsters, that you shouldn’t pass up.
Tower of Guns
A first-person shooter where you run around procedurally generated levels shooting guns at, well, other guns. Every play-through is short and unique because of the pseudo-randomized level design, and the game rewards your perseverance with regular perks that change how the game plays. Good for a few hours of in-the-flow entertainment, if you like shooting at things.
The video game medium and comedy are difficult to pair well. It’s not a great match for verbal jokes or visual gags, because the player can simply walk away. Anything with a long setup usually falls flat. But Jazzpunk works in the Robin Williams sense, throwing a lot at you all the time and cumulatively winning you over with its humour. Ostensibly, you are a spy or something who wanders around a weird alternate reality history, but mostly the story puts you in the world in order to throw some often funny shit at you. Doesn’t overstay its welcome and is a great palate cleanser from all the violence normally in video games.
Dishonored [sic] 1 & 2
I’m a big fan of games that allow you to play the way you want to play. And by giving players options, games can make the player consider things that would otherwise go unnoticed. City guards work for the bad guys. You have the option to kill them or simply subdue them. Just because they work for bad people, does that mean they are bad people? These two games invite those sorts of questions, and allow for you to approach (or avoid) violence as you see fit, as you sneak or rampage through an interesting world (note: the story is lousy, but the storytelling in the world design is first-class). These options are really refreshing in a medium that usually gives you the pretense of choice without any actual choices, if you want to progress in the game. I found the systems and gameplay a little more broken in the second game, although the world was so much more interesting.
If you have played more video games than just Mario and Tetris, you have probably heard of this series. This is a modern version of what the old games did well: move really fast (so fast that other games now feel painfully slow), shoot some demons, go to hell, shoot some more demons. Gleefully violent and excellently designed in its balance between challenge and power for the player. Sick of the world today? Go shoot some demons in DOOM.
I admire any art that tries new techniques, even if ultimately there are problems with it. Virginia is an extremely linear game, almost as linear as a movie or television show, that tells a Twin Peaks-esque story about a small town, federal agents, and a missing person. The game takes some interesting chances: while it’s scored (and beautifully so, with a great real orchestra), it’s otherwise silent, relying on visuals and body language to communicate information; it frequently uses jump-cuts, like a movie, to jar the player, moving quickly from one scene to the next; and, like I mentioned, it greatly constrains the player’s options in order to convey a specific story. Not all the choices work, especially in how it generates some confusion with the finale, but I admire the game for being unlike anything else I’ve played in a while.
Ah, clockwork worlds. Like Dishonored, this game hands you a vast array of options with which you can accomplish your goals. Unlike Dishonored, that goal is always to murder some unsuspecting computer-controlled automaton. In each level of the game, there are dozens of ways to complete the mission, hordes of people walking around or going about their lives, uniforms to disguise yourself with and cans of spaghetti to knock people out, and so on. It never feels like reality, but there is a consistency to how the AI acts that makes the game satisfying when you outsmart it. And because unexpected things emerge from these simple AI rules, like a guard walking in on you while you’re whacking his employer, it’s frequently funny, goofy, and dumb in the good way. Finally, they’re adding new missions all the time, with timers that expire and limitations that allow you to play it only once; for a few days, you had the option to track down Gary Busey, and at Christmas the Home Alone villains were your targets. Lots of fun.
A story-driven adventure game with some weird, larger-than-reality elements. The teenagers don’t feel much like teenagers to me, but the conversations they have, and the dialogue options you have, make the game branch off in some interesting ways. Ultimately the game world’s logic doesn’t make a lot of sense, i.e. why the larger-than-reality things work as they do sometimes but not others, but it’s compelling at least at the human level. A good way to spend a few hours.
A short, relaxing game where you run around, bringing a simple world to life. There are no fail states and no enemies; you simply run and jump because it feels good. Only about an hour’s worth of play, but I felt good for having played it.
Time only moves when you do. Stylized villains attack you but their bullets are frozen in midair if you’re not moving. This leads to some Matrix-level dodging and fighting that, at the end, is presented in real-time to show you how much of a badass you are. There’s also an interesting meta-game aspect to it that’s better experienced than described. Stylish, fun, and unique. Really fun. Glad the game isn’t too long, though, considering it’s limited in what it does.
Don’t worry. I didn’t play these games all at once. I have a life, you know.