It’s been a rough year, but one thing has stuck with me throughout: video games. So this is me metaphorically raising a glass to some of my highlights of the year, for being there for me when I needed them.
Let us start how the year did, with The Witness, a puzzle game that I got lost in for a week at the end of January whilst suffering from a heavy cold and had me seeing grid puzzles in my sleep. Over the course of the year I poked and prodded at the remaining areas of the game (you only need 7 of the 11 complete to access the final area and “finish” the game) and recently finally completed the hidden challenge mode, a race against the clock encompassing one of the best uses of music I’ve experienced in games. It forces you to change the way you play, and whereas before taking time to assess a puzzle and it eventually clicking felt great, now you get infuriated because it took you that long. The Witness is a game that thrives on its self confidence. It is a such a wonderfully pure puzzler, one of that plays with it’s own rules but in a way that only makes finally getting the answer feel all the sweeter.
Not unlike game number two, Dark Souls 3. I loved Bloodborne last year, but didn’t really enjoy Dark Souls 2. 3 felt like it look the story focus it needed from its predecessor, there’s definitely a more accessible basic plot to it than the previous entries, and its slight change of focus made me feel like my character mattered more in that world than previous Souls games. Still, the thing I really took from Dark Souls 3 was that sometimes it’s okay to ask for help, and whilst I very much made a point of pushing through Bloodborne alone, in this new game I was happy to constantly ask for help when I was stuck. Be it discussing weapon and spec options at work with friends or summoning help for boss fights, for a game that is so bleak and which is designed to make you feel so helpless, my month spent in that world felt wonderfully full of friends.
Move into May and we have the reverse of that, and probably my personal Game Of The Year Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, a game designed to make you feel like the world is your oyster. It’s the realisation of the my dream in the late nineties of a game that would look and play like a film and make me feel like I was Indiana Jones. Swinging from ruins, shooting people in the head, maybe fall down a cliff but get back up, carry on and beat the bad guys. It is also one of the best written stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to play through. Naughty Dog really stepped up their game (pun fully intended) with the series’ final entry. Every character is perfectly realised (some of the best voice acting and motion capture work ever is on display here, and not just within video games), their motivations explained and their stories all given satisfying conclusions. The ending is so perfect, and it is great to see such a great series go out on such a high.
Onto summer, and Overwatch. I’ve never really been into competitive shooters, so it says a lot in the game’s favour that we are at the end of the year and I am still playing it every few days. I love ot because it makes you feel important. It makes you aware of team composition without it being via morons on the internet yelling at you. It sets out the strengths and weaknesses of each character so well, and it makes anyone feel like irrelevant of the style they fancy playing they can play an important role, and perhaps more importantly, that they need their team. Overwatch doesn’t work if people don’t work together, so be it playing with random match ups or with good friends, the level of unspoken understanding of your role in the team is wonderful. I always feel like my friends have my back if I’m having an off night, and if they’re having an off night it only spurs me on to encourage them. So thank you to for getting me through a rough summer, and (perhaps more importantly) thank you to anyone I joined forces with.
The last few months of the year have felt like a massive blur, both in life and in my time with games. I’ve been dipping in and out of so many things that I’ve probably not given anything the chance to stick. However, my year is closing with my wrapping up The Last Guardian, and the closer I get to finishing it (at time of writing I’m not quite done, but I don’t think I’m miles off) the more I think it is the perfect year closer. Not unlike The Witness, The Last Guardian is an easy game to get lost in. It is making no effort to connect with the world outside, it is simply telling its story on its own terms, and that is just what I need right now. Technical hitches aside it is a beautifully presented game made up of simple enough but rarely repetitive environmental puzzles the tell a simple story. The most important thing here is that despite you playing a tiny character in this clearly massive world, your story feels important. Perhaps it is not important to the rest of that world, but it is important to you and to your new friend Trico (if you aren’t aware Trico is a sort of giant cat/bird/dog hybrid).
I guess that brings me to the end of the year. 2016 has been rough year, but it was also the year I finally poured myself into my favourite medium and explored so much stuff I’d never had the chance to before. Video games pulled me through this year: The Witness made me feel smart, Dark Souls made me feel like I could achieve anything, The Last Guardian made my story feel significant despite being small, and Uncharted 4 just made me feel a lot of things across the board, but all those games (plus stacks of others) helped me to either engage or escape when I needed to.
To get outside of my own head for a closing thought; games in general addressed a lot of things this year. Mafia III addressed race heavily in a triple A title, The Witcher 3’s expansion repeatedly and hilariously attacked neckbeards in its approach to chivalry and Inside had some seriously impressive ideas about the nature of control and proved gaming can be a fascinating tool for making your point. I could go on, but for me I end 2016 secure in the knowledge that this thing that helps me deal with whatever I’ve got on is more important and more valid than ever.