2016 was a long year. Longer then most actually, being a leap year with an extra day. Which helped since we needed the extra time catch up with all the happenings that that took place in gaming this Year.
Virtual Reality Gains Momentum
Playstation VR debuted later in the year did spice things up a bit. It was cheaper then both of its competitors, and crucially required only a Playstation 4 console to work with. Despite lower fidelity, the PS VR had the distinct advantage of interesting exclusives like Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham VR and Resident Evil 7 (for 1 year). While none of these VR sets are officially available in India, Mobile headsets like Samsung’s Gear VR are already making a splash. Newer graphic cards with better performance/₹ ratio will make VR more accessible.
Development hell, where beloved and long awaited games and movies go to die. Occasionally a shambling zombie like Duke Nukem Forever would come and fall way below fan’s Expectation. 2016, however had no less than 3 games come out of development hell with (mostly) flying colors. Final Fantasy XV, was in development for so long that it has its own damned Wikipedia article. Despite bearing scars of lengthy incubation it was still a stellar game. The Last Guardian came a decade after its spiritual predecessor, Shadow of the Colossus. As we found it[link review?], it is a worthy bearer of Team Ico/gen DESIGN name.
Doom while not as ardently awaited as the other two, had a fair amount of trials and tribulations during development. A gritty shooter in the mold of COD’s and battlefield that dominated the late 2000s was initially being developed. This version was derided as Call of Doom, essentially scrapped and the Doom as we know and love today came into being, 12 years after Doom 3.
Console Performance Upgrades
The Eight generation of console were severely underspecced. Gone were custom exotic architectures like the PS3’s Cell processor that were expensive and power hungry. In were X86 processors as used in most Pcs, offering low power consumption, cheaper productions and easier game development. Games hit a speed bump though, with graphical downgrades and inconsistent frame rates plaguing even illustrious titles like The Witcher 3.
Both Microsoft and Sony announced High performance versions of their consoles this year. Sony announced and launched the Playstation Pro, featuring a much faster GPU. Microsoft preempted Sony’s announcement but offered nothing tangible. We only know that Project Scorpio would have 6 Teraflops of computing power and offer only the highest quality pixels.
Consoles have always had revisions that slimmed them down – this remains true with PS4 slim and the Xbox One S. The significant performance bump in the same generation is an interesting twist – how the game makers balance 4 different versions just for the major consoles remains to be seen. And the relatively alien Nintendo Switch that joins them soon. Speaking of Nintendo..
Pokemania And Mobile (Phone) Mario
Nintendo has been in the doldrums since the Wii’s initial blitz. Wii Us middling performance meant third party developer soon abandoned it. Already lacking in performance, Nintendo’s archaic online features meant that only Nintendo enthusiast wanted it. The 3DS is still the best selling portable console, but the category itself faces grave threat from Smartphones and Tablets.
What Nintendo still possess are some of the most valuable and loved gaming IPs. And in 2016, Nintendo finally took to smartphones, and the masses went mad. Pokemon Go leaped from gamers onto the mainstream consciousness. Jokes, Memes, debates, outdoor excursions were just some of the things it gave rise to. Pokemon Go became a cultural phenomenon, and Nintendo Share prices soared as investor’s realized Nintendo’s lasting appeal, and then fell back when they realized that Pokemon Go wasn’t really a Nintendo game. Nintendo’s smartphone adventures continued as Super Mario Run was announced at the iPhone 7 Keynote. Nintendo’s honey moon period now seems to be over, with Mario Run receiving mixed reviews, and Pokemon Go’s initial hype all but faded.
(More on Nintendo in our Platform spotlight)
Shady Shenanigans Continue
Malpractices, lies and screwing over customers is nothing new in the gaming industry, and 2016 wasn’t different in this matter. It did us all new things to get pissed about though. Deus Ex Mankind Divided: reminded us that microtransactions/pay 2 win DLC shouldn’t be there in a full priced games, particularly microtransactions that evaporate after one use. Deus Ex got most of the heat, but microtransactions, in one form or another made their way in to other games like Gears of War 4 and Titanfall 2.
Counter Strike streamers were then caught enticing their viewers with rare in game items to website they ran. Essentially targeting the gambling urges of their viewers, many of them under aged.
Bethesda too, clouded information by announcing end to early review copies. With most game reviews taking multiple days, many customers are now left in the dark about potential issues during launch week period of games.
There was one thing though, that overshadowed each one of these..
No Man’s Sky
Irrespective of whether you merely dislike it or hate it, it was very difficult for most gamers to ignore No mans Sky. It came with the longest hypetrain in years, baffled people, and then went AWOL. It excreted two content updates months later, but most had given up on it already.
No Man’s Sky promised the literal sky with its procedural universe and hype spewing mouth of its creator Sean Murray. Getting the publicity any indie developer would kill for, it was shown all over the place – including Colbert’s Show. Sony’s big bucks and incessant lying drove up expectations and pre-orders. Doubts were few, but always there. Why was an Indie game charging full price (why shouldn’t it). Why were concrete details lacking. Why were there no advanced review copies (see Bethesda?). Launch day arrived and the shit storm that had been brewing for months finally unleashed itself. YouTubers couldn’t see each other, where was the multiplayer that had been promised. Or for that matter the other thousand things that were shown or hinted at. A cryptic (in hindsight, idiotic) tweet later, there was an absolute an utter silence. Not even Denial – though a hilarious “hacked” tweet did show up.
The blow back started, with near universal bashing in user reviews. Demand for refunds and allegation of false advertising were thrown about. Even Sony executives publicly admonished Hello Games in typically stern Japanese Way.
In an alternative, procedurally generated (ha ha) universe, No Man Sky would have been a average or below average indie game. In this world, it became the symbol for every wrong trend in gaming right now – misleading information, overcharging for content, lying, pitfalls of pre-ordering and the ferocity of hype driven gamers.
First person shooters have been the dominant segment in hardcore gaming for years. And for years shooters followed the mold of Infinity ward’s seminal Call of Duty: Modern warfare. The same formula was regurgitated – contemporary or near future setting. Gritty, realistic element and a grounded storyline. Short, linear campaigns with bombastic set pieces. Drab grays and smoke dominated the visual landscapes. Shooters like Splatoon did shake things up a bit, failed to scale the sale charts thanks to being a Wii U exclusive.
The COD – Battlefield hegemony held strong, with counter strike and Team Fortress 2 supplanting them on the PC. 2016 finally showed that tide was turning, with a number of shooters cropping with diverse approach to the shooters formula.
Overwatch has to be the pick of the bunch, with its colorful cast with unique skills. It isn’t a revolutionary approach, but it was polished and well done and continues to dominate in the shooting Genre
Doom, brought a different element back in focus – the single player campaign. Instead of rationalizing, it ridiculed the fact that a single human can perform demonic genocide. Enemies dropping ammo was nothing new, but busting them open like candy wrappers was novel. Screw logic, here is a chainsaw.
For Battlefield 1, DICE abandoned the modern shooter to go all the way back to World War 1, which had never been explored by a major shooter before. Titanfall 2, the most ‘conventional’ of the bunch too was lauded for its movement mechanics and excellent campaign.