Tuesday, 27 December 2016

My 2016 in Gaming

Right, so I don't have the habit of being all that up-to-date on the most recent games, partially because I feel the "buy on release" attitude is somewhat responsible for the pre-order bonus madness that keeps getting further out of hand, but mostly because being like 2 years behind is simply more friendly on my wallet. Basically doing some "Best of 2016" is out of the question because I haven't played enough from 2016. Instead I'm just going over a couple (I intended 5 but I wanted both Tomb Raiders) of the more memorable stuff I played and actually bloody finished during this horrible, horrible year. In chronological order.

(Allowing myself to recycle some of my Tweets about these games from the previous year and expand on them. Win.)

My 2016 in Gaming
From someone perpetually years behind on pop culture.

1. Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster

Released: Jan 19, 2016
Played: Jan, 2016

Resident Evil Zero (2002) for the GameCube was actually the first Resident Evil game I ever played. As such I have some pretty fond memories of it but I never actually finished it. I decided to remedy that with the HD Remaster that was released early 2016. For a lot of longtime fans Zero was the point when the classic Resident Evil gameplay style was becoming old and tired, a problem I didn't really have since I barely played any of the others (I think I stopped halfway Jill's story in Resident Evil: Deadly Silence and the only other similar game I played was Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare). Most of my knowledge of Resident Evil's storyline actually comes from the Chronicles games on Wii and spending too much time on the Resident Evil wikia.

The new models are nice but they seem less expressive.
I'd say if you liked Resident Evil Zero (or want to play it at all), the HD Remaster is a good version of it. Plus it has quite a few more costumes (some unfortunately are locked behind DLC) that you can switch at any time, unlike the original where you first had to finish the game and could then only change them during the train segment. They even included an extra mode after the main game where you play the game as Albert Wesker and evil Rebecca Chambers.

Resident Evil Zero's premise always struck me as being just an inch away from being a romance/erotic novel set during the downfall of society. It's like "she's an inexperienced member of an elite police unit trapped in the zombie apocalypse with a dangerous criminal who also happens to be a total hunk". Unfortunately the interesting character dynamic of police member Rebecca Chambers and convicted murderer Billy Coen having to team up is undermined by the fact that after the first 15 minutes it becomes obvious Coen is a decent guy and shown to be innocent long before the game is even halfway done (hence, on top of the game now being 14 years old, I don't consider this much of a spoiler).

2. Final Fantasy X HD Remaster

Released: May 15, 2015
Played: April, 2016

Back in April I bought a PS4 (like a week before the new models would get announced, because of course) with the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster. I had already finished the story of FFX twice years ago on PS2, but this time I wanted to go in with the purpose of finally beating those Dark Aeons in the post-game that always gave me so much trouble.
Ultimately I ended up not just beating all the Dark Aeons, but also dodging the 200 lightning bolts required to complete Lulu's Celestial Weapon, completing the Chocobo race challenges, defeating all the post-game bosses, completing the sphere grid for every character and getting the platinum trophy. So that worked out better than I expected.

One thing I liked about Final Fantasy X where a lot of the other more recent Final Fantasies lost me is that Tidus is himself a stranger in the world of Spira. This allows the player to be eased into the world rather than us having to endure a massive plot dump like in XII or XIII.
However doing it like this also opened the story up to a situation where the entire party looks like massive dicks in how they treated Tidus when the big plot twist of Yuna's eventual fate is revealed. "We weren't keeping it a secret, it was just too hard to say"? You mean that at no point during your journey you could just take Tidus aside for a minute and explain to him what was going on? Instead you gave him massive amounts of guilt over what a jerk he unintentionally was. Nice.

I also realized how impossible it is to explain the story of Final Fantasy X to someone not familiar with the series. My best attempt boiled down to: "So this girl has to sacrifice herself to save the world from a huge monster who is the father of a guy who doesn't really exist. So a dude who is actually dead goes to a city that's not real to get the guy because his monster dad no longer wants to destroy stuff".
Alternatively: "A bunch of deities and resurrected dead guys think religion is stupid and poof a guy into existence to prove that point".

I also wrote this guide on how to fill up your Blitzball team with female members if you're into that: Vicsor's Opinion: Guide: Final Fantasy X - A Female Blitzball Team

3. Life Is Strange

Released: Jan 22, 2016
Played: April, 2016

Life Is Strange is a game I didn't expect like, but I bought it anyway because it was fairly cheap and I still wanted to support Dontnod Entertainment (I loved Remember Me despite its rough edges). Turns out I actually did end up liking it once I actually started playing. Unfortunately the final episode being largely cut-and-pasted from the earlier episodes and a limited payoff of all your choices made during the game hinder it somewhat, but it was still a powerful experience with a gameplay style that I hope modern adventure games take notice of (except more puzzles please).

Chloe Price, to whom the concept of self-preservation
is completely alien
Unlike a lot of fans I didn't feel that much of a connection with Chloe Price though. A lot of Chloe's problems just stem from very poor choices on her part. Most of the time the friendship between Max and Chloe seemed toxic at best, at times even abusive towards Max. A lot of choices involving Chloe usually boiled down to a choice between 'Do the right thing and piss off Chloe' or 'Do the wrong thing to appease Chloe'. Instead of this deep connection, it felt more like I was weighing the collective good against the anti-social whims of a troubled teenager who could fly into rage at the drop of a hat. I did feel a strong connection to Max herself though, who I really wanted to hug for going through this hell of a week. Yeah, if you know about the endings, you can guess which one I went with...

No amount of context can save this terrible, terrible line.

Some of the dialogue gets viciously mocked on social media, and true enough there's quite a bit of cringe-worthy slang in the way these people talk. Overall most of it isn't that bad in context though and the characters themselves mock each other for it enough that it becomes a bit of a running joke. Except Max commenting on plasma and the delicacy thereof, that line cannot possibly be salvaged. Second was dropping "I swear to dog" in dead serious conversation in episode 3. 

I also wrote something about Victoria Chase's character: Vicsor's Opinion: Life Is Strange - Victoria Chase

4-1. Tomb Raider 2013 - Definitive Edition

Released: Jan 31, 2014
Played: Aug, 2016

I always had mixed feelings about the most recent Tomb Raider reboot. On its own it was a pretty good game but it never clicked as being worthy of the title "Tomb Raider", which made it jarring for me because the game insisted on flashing a Tomb Raider logo on screen every 5 seconds. However because I had recently picked up archery as a hobby and Not!Lara's main weapon is a bow, I decided to give the game another chance with its Definitive version on PS4.

Turned out I was pleasantly surprised. The game itself was still the same of course, but an update to Not!Lara's character model at least meant she now resembled someone I could buy as being an inexperienced Lara Croft. That actually made a world of difference for me. Also to mitigate the visual effects the torture porn nature of the game has on Lara, I stuck her in the competitive archery suit for the duration of the game which meant all those horrible cuts and bruises she accumulates are gone.

So yes, my experience with the Tomb Raider reboot went from being annoyed with it a few years back to it being massively improved simply because the character model now actually made me believe I was playing as a version of Lara Croft.

4-2. Rise of the Tomb Raider

Released: Oct 11, 2016
Played: Nov, 2016

I liked Rise of the Tomb Raider from the start because, unlike its predecessor, it didn't feel as ashamed to be Tomb Raider and actually made an effort to reintroduce elements from the Tomb Raider lore. The previous game drastically altered Lara Croft's backstory by removing the plane crash in the Himalayas (which I feel would be like removing Bruce Wayne's parents getting shot in the alley from his backstory). In this game it turns out there was a plane crash in the Himalayas, it's just that Lara's mother was on it rather than she herself, which motivated Richard Croft's obsession with myths of eternal life, which in turn motivated Lara.
We learn this information in the reintroduction of Croft Manor, whereas the previous game didn't even want to acknowledge Lara's nobility. Croft Manor is also filled to the brim with references to the previous games, even implying Lara will at some point be searching for Tomb Raider II's Temple of Xian. Now if in the next game it turns out Jacqueline Natla is responsible for Trinity, that would be absolutely fantastic.

There were still quite a few things I didn't like that much though. The writing of the Tomb Raider reboots is kinda odd. Their stories aren't necessarily all that straightforward, but the plot twists they use are cliches themselves, meaning you can easily predict where the story is going whenever a new plot element is introduced.
Then there's the RPG-like upgrade system for both Lara's skillset and her weapons, which doesn't really seem to matter all that much since basic headshots are completely lethal from the beginning and helmets aren't that difficult to overcome anyway. Also I'm still missing some of the more advanced acrobatics that exited the series after Tomb Raider Underworld.
Still, I feel Rise of the Tomb Raider redeemed the reboot series. Especially since the 20th Anniversary Edition included a bunch of costumes from the Core Design games (oddly missing is Legend era Lara though).

I also had way too much fun shooting bottles out of the sky with the bow.

It's technically an achievement but you can easily do it with a shotgun. I just learned to do it with the bow because that way it actually felt like an achievement. That sure was an hour of my life well spent!

5. Year Walk

Released: March 6, 2014
Played: Dec, 2016

I actually played and finished Year Walk just a few days ago on Christmas eve after the family dinner and before going to bed, which seemed appropriate since Christmas was historically one of the times a year when year walking took place. I mainly just got it because I wanted to know what the deal was with the horse in a suit that was featured in the promotional screenshots. Turns out there was actually an interesting experience behind the weird horse.

Yes, this. What is up with this?
Year Walk is a pretty short game that can easily be finished in like a single evening (I'm at 3.6 hours for 100% completion). Now it's already a very atmospheric puzzle game by itself, but the ending and alternate reality game-like post game is what pushes it over the edge into being a memorable experience (since it's also a big deal, I won't spoil it here). Basically while you are playing the game itself, the story takes a backseat and is only given proper context in the secret ending. Just be sure to keep a notebook on hand because the puzzles actually require some thought and expect you to be paying attention.

Anyway, those are some of the more memorable games I actually finished during the last year. Now if you'd like to hear my opinions on games actually released in 2016 that weren't rereleases, I will see you again in about 2 to 5 years!

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