DOOM, Inside, Firewatch, Michonne, The Talos Principle
Many games don’t emerge from development hell. The ones that do usually bear marks of their traumatic creation, scars and signs of their difficult birth. No one expected id Software to successfully resurrect Doom and make it relevant again. Doom 3 was by no means a bad game but many would agree that it didn’t really stay true to the essence of the series. Following that up with years of troubled development and more recently an underwhelming multiplayer beta ahead of launch certainly didn’t give any reason to be hopeful.
And yet in spite of all this, DOOM is a triumphant return in practically every regard. At it’s core it is a smartly designed run and gun shooter, a backlash against not only the cover-centric stop & start gameplay its contemporaries aim for but also against their stringent linearity. DOOM is a game of masterfully brisk and elegant shooting mechanics punctuated by periods of satisfying exploration, all delivered with a wonderfully self-mocking tone. Its art is ripped right from the greatest hits of metal album covers and screams self awareness while its heavy and filthy guitar laden electro hybrid soundtrack by the supremely talented Mick Gordon is the perfect accompaniment to the blistering action. Very rarely do games look, feel, and sound this good.
Overall, it’s a brilliant blending of the old and new resulting in one of the finest shooters in many years. DOOM is back and may it never leave us again. 5/5
I can’t say I enjoyed Playdead’s previous title Limbo back in 2010. I really wanted to like it but the moment to moment gameplay simply didn’t strike a chord with me and I found it to be quite dull, in spite of its obvious visual splendour. Unfortunately, this experience was to be repeated with Inside, very much a spiritual successor to Limbo.
It suffers from the same sets of issues, namely rote puzzle design and minimalist to the point of nonexistent storytelling. But it also exhibits many of the same strengths with utterly outstanding artistic design and a well realised foreboding and downright oppressive atmosphere. This actually frustrated me because throughout I found myself wishing that I could explore this space in a different game with another approach to storytelling and environmental interaction. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate subtlety in narratives but there needs to be something of substance to latch onto first. With Limbo, I just don’t think there’s anything there. 2/5
Gorgeous artistic direction combined with a great soundtrack from Chris Remo and some believably engrossing character interactions in Firewatch made for one of my favourite narratives of the year. It reminded me of Gone Home in the way that it plays with player expectations as to what most video game stories tend to amount to but then subverts those expectations for the better. Something about the way it’s put together feels very confident and mature.
This is a great spin on the form of the modern adventure game that I hope to see riffed on by more developers. 4/5
The Walking Dead: Michonne
And in stark contrast we have Telltale’s take on fan favourite Michonne in this three part miniseries. Many have grown tired of Telltale’s formula but I find myself largely still enjoying it. Of course there’s plenty the studio could do better but at this point I’ve come to accept their games for what they are. A one off miniseries approach is a certainly a welcome change up but it doesn’t really result in any big changes in the game itself apart from perhaps having a quickened pace.
The problem with Michonne is that it simply isn’t a particularly engaging tale. After two seasons of The Walking Dead and the 400 Days spin off, it’s becoming harder to find this post apocalypse engaging, especially when you consider the developer’s other recent releases. (Namely the superb Tales from the Borderlands and a fresh take on Batman.) I sincerely hope the impending third season of the main series doesn’t suffer from a similar problem.
Still, this isn’t bad by means it’s just somewhat stale and if you’re seeking another dose of zombie action from a relatively reliable bunch of storytellers, it’s worth your time. 3/5
The Talos Principle
What a tremendously unique experience. I can’t say I’ve played anything quite like The Talos Principle because I don’t think anything else quite like it exists. True, at its heart it’s an environmental puzzler using concepts that have been found in other games but the way all of this is dressed up and presented is magnificent. The game is thick with mystery and philosophical pondering but never in a way that comes across as pretentious or plodding. And perhaps most importantly, none of this ever gets in the way of the puzzling. There’s a very profound sense of gravitas in each environment and conversation, hugely elevated thanks to Damjan Mravunac’s mournful yet beautiful original score, that makes the entire thing feel meaningful in a way that games almost never are.
It’s a remarkably intelligent and fulfilling journey and one of the most memorable I’ve had the pleasure of embarking on in any game, 2016 or not. 5/5