Gaming Respawn’s Game of the Year 2016 – Part 1

Happy holidays everyone, this year has been huge for gaming. We’ve seen a lot of blockbuster games over the course of the year, and luckily we have had the pleasure to review the majority of them. Some of these games came out of the blue, and some we have been waiting years for with great anticipation, so we at Gaming Respawn have decided to do our yearly Game of the Year feature where a few of us will pick our personal Game of the Year and give the reasoning behind it. Enjoy!

 

Kane Newell – Dark Souls III

2016 has had its ups and downs with regards to gaming. Titles such as Uncharted 4, Overwatch and Inside received high critical acclaim, and long awaited games like Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian finally got released, whereas the overhyped No Man’s Sky and The Division failed to impress the masses. There’s only one game I will look back on in 2017 and plan to replay, and that’s my Game of the Year: Dark Souls III.

Dark Souls III captivated me from start to finish like no other game this year, and although the game suffers from a few design flaws, it can be overlooked because of how refreshing and different the gaming experience was. Dark Souls III is a tough game, and sometimes your worst enemy isn’t the game itself or a hard as nails boss, it’s usually yourself. Trying to overcome that hurdle is one of the most satisfying moments I’ve had with a game this year.

Dark Souls III may very well be the last in the series, and if that’s the case, it will be very saddening. The lore within the game is incredible, with hundreds of secrets to unravel and a huge world to explore and conquer. The game is testing and will get on your last nerve, but it’s always fair as you must learn from your own mistakes and try again. Combat is brutal and satisfying with tons of options and variety. Its atmosphere when playing alone is haunting, but within moments you can set it up to play co-op or invade other players’ worlds. Replay value is at a high here with New Game + which increases the difficulty even further.

Dark Souls III is the perfect all-round game that doesn’t hold your hand, and you reap the rewards after finishing because of it. For all this and more, Dark Souls III is a clear winner for my Game of the Year.

 

Daniel Garcia-Montes – Dishonored 2

Dishonored 2 easily wins out as my GOTY this year, but that’s largely because most of the other games I played this year weren’t all that great. When the competition includes the likes of Samurai Warriors 4: Empires, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan, and the simply god-awful Ghostbusters, a game like Dishonored 2 would simply be the natural choice for my GOTY (Aragami did come close though, but not close enough). I’m also removing Darksiders: Warmastered Edition from the equation since that’s a re-release of an older game (plus, the game had annoying technical issues). I’m sure there were other games released this year that I would have enjoyed more than Dishonored 2 had I played them. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End comes to mind, but I was very unfortunate in not getting a chance to play that game. Watch Dogs 2 was another game that might have been able to compete with Dishonored 2, but I feel that’s a game I’d rather buy after it gets cheaper. That’s not to say Dishonored 2 isn’t a really good game by its own right, but to me it was a bit too similar to the first Dishonored, and it came just short of blowing me away. But again, it was a great game, and I highly recommend it to fans of the first game.

 

Daire Behan – Final Fantasy XV

I’ve made it clear before that Square-Enix’s nearly 30-year-old Final Fantasy series has come far from impressing me in recent years, namely after the train-wreck that was Final Fantasy XIII and the Fabula Nova Crystallis. Final Fantasy XV certainly didn’t tick all the right boxes either, at least in the Episode -DUSCAE- demo in 2015. That is, until the Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event in March of this year (I’ll watch any show hosted by Kinda Funny). The following pre-release material certainly gave me hope for the game, and after watching the Brotherhood anime and Kingsglaive movie, I was certainly intrigued and admittedly hyped for the game. However, there was still a lingering air of uncertainty that didn’t leave me until the clock struck midnight on November 29th, 2016.

Having played and seen so much of this one game over such a long time-span, I was amazed that I found myself enjoying Final Fantasy XV as much as I did. What should’ve been a recipe for disaster (insert Ignis meme here, internet) turned out to be the blend of an enthralling world and loveable characters that I’ve long missed from this series. All of what makes Final Fantasy so great is present: incredible combat, an interesting world to traverse, great characters and an enticing story that will have you on the edge of your seat while simultaneously holding back tears.

While I do wish some more important characters, namely the villain and love-interest, had gotten some more growth (and I think the story relies on the pre-release media a bit more than it should), I’m now back in the game for a second playthrough with the recently added New Game + mode and am falling in love all over again. With the promise of more story-based DLC diving even deeper into this brilliant cast, it seems like I’ll be coming back to my game of 2016 long into the new year.

 

Alec Hawley – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

In retrospect, it seems obvious that Uncharted 4 was fantastic, it’s the product of a wealthy studio full of dedicated individuals that’s pretty much given carte blanche by Sony to create something amazing, to create the games that will sell its console. Back in the first few months of 2016 though, there were serious worries about the final instalment of the generation-defining franchise. Series stalwart Amy Hennig, the head writer and creative director for Uncharted 1, 2 and 3 and the woman who, more than anyone, decided what Nathan Drake was, had left Naughty Dog in 2014, along with Uncharted 3’s game director, Justin Richmond. In their absence, The Last of Us duo Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley took over the project, and no one was quite sure to what extent the series was about to step away from its matinee blockbuster roots for something darker, grittier and less fun.

Upon release, all such doubts were quashed, while retaining the bravura setpieces and OMG moments, Uncharted 4 was a richer, more mature, more compelling experience than ever before. Picking up Drake’s story years after his previous triumphs, indeed at a point where he’d given up treasure hunting and settled down with long-term love interest Elena, enabled a reflective tone that humanised Drake like never before. This time his motivation was not fame and glory but helping his presumed dead brother, a complicated family tie that forces Drake to make tough decisions and reflect on both the man he is and the man he wants to be. It’s difficult to know for certain, but it’s tempting to think that those high-profile departures were a blessing in disguise, that the infusion of new blood was exactly what was needed for the series to fulfil its true potential, for the game to grow up alongside its audience.

In tandem with its emotional development, Uncharted 4 also reworked the series’ trademark mechanics, introducing larger levels than ever before and a new open-ended approach to enemy encounters, with stealth being a viable option for the first time. The inclusion of a grappling hook made traversal a more involved, more exciting process than ever before, and drivable vehicles were included, a first for the Uncharted series. All this was then given the trademark Naughty Dog polish, with the result that everything just worked, producing a seamless adventure that was never slowed down by bugs or showed up the technical limitations of the PS4.

For Game of the Year then, nothing comes close, Uncharted 4 would earn that accolade in almost any year, it excels in every area and is a masterpiece of game design, writing, acting and storytelling. It belongs in that elite band of games that show the potential of the form, one of those titles that you can point to and say “look, this shows what video games can be”. Consequently, it’s not only Game of the Year, but one of the best games of all time.