Game of the Year? Why one when you can have ten!
The problem with being a gamer is that there are always (well nearly always) new games around the corner. As per usual in the gaming yearbook, September to December is the fourth quarter release schedule from hell, and this year it's been hard on the old wallet - not just from a game release point of view but also with the acquisition of three new bits of gaming hardware to play with (An Xbox One S - yes I finally caved in, a PSVR and a PS4 Pro).
Games wise it's been a phenomenal year for new releases, but this year more than any other, I've held off from picking up new releases in release week (particularly not bothered with release day for certain games).
It's been a year when games that had seemingly been lost in development hell have finally hit shelves (Mirror's Edge Catalyst, No Mans Sky and The Last Guardian were all games that were announced as release titles for the PS4 but took a good couple of years to finally arrive). In the case of The Last Guardian, a game some 9 years in development, it's been great to finally take a look at the finished product for better or worse.
So rather than try and nominate a Game of the Year I've picked out 10 games that I've enjoyed playing the heck out of this year instead. In no particular order...
1) DiRT Rally (PS4, Codemasters).
A game that had languished in Steam Early Access for PC nerds finally made the leap to consoles, and finally gave us an off road this-gen title worthy of just about every award and plaudit it received. A real return to form for a series that once upon a time carried the endorsement of Colin McRae before eventually ending up as a hoonfest-raddled mess, clawing its way back to greatness a couple of times with the original DiRT titles - before unleashing a big and proper rally game, it shows just how fantastic the Ego engine is on PS4 and what a talented team Codies still are when it comes to putting together solid and brilliant racing games.
DiRT Rally really looked brilliant, played like a dream and also adopted a rather unusual approach for Codemasters - being the first racing game in god knows how long that wasn't just a hollow shell waiting for DLC to be bought and bolted into it.
The world is now waiting to see what Codies come up with next. There are rumours that the PSVR treatment of DiRT Rally may be waiting in the wings. Let's hope it doesn't make me want to hurl as much as DriveClub VR does.
2) Trackmania (PS4, Ubisoft)
This arrived in the same week as DiRT Rally. I was a huge fan of Trackmania on the PC and all the subsequent versions that followed (Trackmania Sunrise being a huge highlight in the early series) but the biggest frustration was that we never got a decent Trackmania title on consoles. All that changed this year when Ubisoft released Trackmania Turbo - an absolute lunatic of a racing game complete with all the hallmarks that made the series great originally (including the fantastic track designer). Tight online integration and leaderboards fused with the super-speedy ability to build and share tracks marked this a cut above the rest. Later on, a patch arrived that introduced the first VR levels for the game - and if you though it was puke-inducing enough as it was when you're rocketing through some of the zero gravity or magnetic levels, having that experience in a VR environment was almost too much for my eyeballs to bear.
Brilliant though, and one of the games this year I really need to play a lot more of.
3) Watch_Dogs 2 (PS4, Ubisoft)
The original Watch Dogs received a bit of a weird reception when it released shortly after the PS4 itself. Some wanted to know why it wasn't as pretty as the early press showings made out. Some wanted to know why the PC version was artificially hobbled. Some just got on and had a lot of fun hacking, driving and shooting in a vast open-world smart city where technology ruled all.
The sequel arrived back in early November, an entirely different beast to its predecessor, changing the tone entirely from a rather up-its-own-ass taking-itself-too-seriously game to something altogether more humorous, light hearted but also ultra cool too.
One of the first games to take advantage of the new PS4 Pro hardware, Watch_Dogs 2 is still a game I regularly dip into and enjoy and one of the best titles of the year by far.
4) Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One, Microsoft Studios)
I always swore I wouldn't bother getting an Xbox One unless there was something on it that I really wanted to play. This year, there finally was - and I must admit I caved in partially because of Forza Horizon 3 and partially because the Xbox One S has some marked improvements over the original hardware. So a double win really.
The original Forza Horizon was a fantastic game, entirely different to the sterile track and time racing of the Forza Motorsports series. Fun, involving with a huge rosta of cars and some brilliant customisation options, Forza Horizon 3 whisks you off to Australia for a ton of fun racing both on road and off.
The game looks stunning, and though it still might feel a bit on the light side due to there being a lot of incoming DLC due, it's still worth taking a look at. Subsequently bought Forza Horizon 2 which is also fantastic, both games proving that arcade style racing really can work well and shouldn't be passed off in favour of track racing stuff.
5) Sunset Overdrive (Xbox One, Insomniac Games)
Again, another brilliant Xbox One exclusive that was worth picking up with the console (mostly because by the time I got round to getting an Xbox One, the game had dropped to less than a tenner in price).
Sunset Overdrive is a balls-out post-apocalyptic shooter with a great sense of humour, awesome levelling and perks, and some fantastic characters and a big open world to play in.
The game has some stunning art direction and the Xbox One S seems to make the whole experience a lot cleaner and smoother to play.
Special mention to the respawn moves which are glorious bits of animation in their own right. Shame I missed the boat with the multiplayer (not really) but it's a fab single player game regardless.
6) Battlefield One (PS4, EA)
I'd been ignoring this one but when I found out that it had a really decent single player campaign I figured "What the hell!" and grabbed a copy. Battlefield One takes place across the war-torn landscape of Europe and beyond in World War 1. Stretching a single player campaign over the personas of several soldiers who fought and died in the war, it's a fantastic and chaotic showcase for the Frostbite 2 engine and also the PS4 Pro which really does make the whole thing prettier and smoother than ever before.
I suck at the online multiplayer stuff though, seemingly emptying clip after clip into enemies only to be pinged with a single shot for an insta-death. So not much has changed in that respect, that was my memory of most of the other Battlefield games too!
7) The Last Guardian (PS4, Studio Japan)
9 years in development, apparently never to be released (according to one useless dolt over at Eurogamer) and yet my copy sits at home in the drive of my PS4 Pro, and I've finally got to meet Trico - the hugely impressive gigantic cat beast thing that is the scene-stealer in the game.
Moaners have rounded on the game, stating that the frame drops (which are barely detectable on PS4 pro hardware), clipping and questionable creature AI and behaviour all add up to a frustrating game that looks wholly out of place against its modern counterparts. I couldn't disagree more. It's fantastic, involving, emotional and looks stunning to me.
8) No Mans Sky (PS4, Hello Games)
Another game savaged by gamers and critics on release, then suddenly everyone fell back in love with it after the Foundation update added base building and a creative mode to the mix. No Mans Sky was always a hugely ambitious project, taking its lead from procedurally generated games like Elite but expanding on that with an amazing looking universe filled with wonders, and tons of opportunities to explore. It's one of those games you swear you're going to stick on for ten minutes or so, and find yourself still there hours later.
9) Skate 3 (Xbox One, EA)
Cheated a bit with this one, sorry! Yes it's old, yes it was an Xbox 360 Game but it finally hit the Backwards Compatibility list back at the end of November and I still can't understand how it never had a this-gen sequel (well, aside from Black Box Studios going the way of the dodo - and everyone measuring the success of Skateboard games against the pathetic sales of the last couple of Tony Hawks games).
Skate 3 still has tons of weird framerate issues, and the BC version also adds a metric ton of graphical anomalies to the mix but you can still do all the things you could in the original, tricking away to your hearts delight while sending silly clips of yourself rocketing to YouTube for all to enjoy.
I really do want to hear Skate 4 announced in 2017. I'd buy that on day of release for sure.
10) Overwatch (PS4, Activision)
Why on earth would I buy a game like this? One word: Butts. Overwatch's roster of characters all feel like they belong in a side-scrolling fighting game with a huge diverse mix of abilities. Everyone will swiftly find a favourite and the more you work with one or two 'specials', the more you'll enjoy the overall experience. I find it a bit odd that kids play this a lot (most online games seem to be populated by squeaky voiced little dudes and dudettes that sound younger than my daughter). A fabulous twitch shooter that really pours on the charm, and plays like a dream.