Stuart Andrews has taken a look back on the past 12 months to see the greatest highs and lowest lows we’ve seen in the gaming industry…
Was 2016 a vintage year for gaming? It hasn’t seemed like it for much of the time, thanks to what’s felt like a reliance on sequels and second-rate remasters.
Yet there have been some fantastic moments, with some unexpectedly brilliant franchise entries and awesome indie hits, while the introduction of new consoles and VR platforms promises to reinvigorate the scene over the next 12 months.
Join us as we celebrate the highs and berate the lows of another gaming year.
2016 video game highs and lows – January
High: The Witness
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Released right at the end of gaming’s most miserable month, Jonathan Blow’s puzzle masterwork surpassed our expectations. Always a divisive figure, Blow had as many people lining up to slam The Witness as to praise it. In the end, though, its brilliance confounded the haters, transforming a series of seemingly simple puzzles into a game where the whole world was a conundrum it wanted you to learn to solve.
Low: Oculus Rift pricing revealed
The year of VR started with a bang, but there was bad news for PC gamers without deep pockets. Any hopes that the Oculus’s pioneering VR tech would be affordable should have been dashed when the system requirements came out. However, the £499 launch price left many of us with our pointers hovering over the pre-order button but unable to click. The only consolation? We were then prepared for the fact that the HTC Vive would be even more expensive.
Low: Hardware Rivals
One of the curses of the current generation is the knocking out of unnecessary, poorly conceived, badly executed multiplayer games, to be tried, found wanting and inevitably dismissed. Sony’s Hardware Rivals – an almost completely pointless motorised arena shooter – seems to sum up the whole breed in one bland crumb of craptitude.
2016 video game highs and lows – February
We all knew Superhot was a stylish shooter with a great mechanic; time only moved when you did. What we didn’t know was that it would be so intelligent, subversive and ingenious, transforming action scenes into puzzles, then leaving you pondering questions of complicity and control.
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The year hasn’t been short of imaginative, story-driven indie games, but Firewatch stays in the memory even longer than the likes of Virginia or Oxenfree. First it immersed you in its beautiful wilderness setting and whip-smart, responsive dialogue, then it hit you with a string of thrills, scares and unsettling rug-pulling moments.
One of the year’s most talked-about games and arguably destined to be its most influential.
Low: Street Fighter V at launch
OK, Capcom. You managed to deliver the bare bones of an amazing fighting game with superbly balanced gameplay and benchmark-setting visuals. Yet the launch version was little better than a beta, without half of the expected modes and with several fan-favourite characters left on the bench for future DLC. Sure, releasing unfinished games seems to be some people’s idea of the way forwards, but with Street Fighter V, Capcom, you really took the cake.
2016 video game highs and lows – March
High: The Division
We loved The Division because it seemed to mix the best bits of Gears of War and Destiny in a stunning post-pandemic New York. Ubisoft loved The Division because it broke sales records, making $330 million worldwide in the first five days and setting a new benchmark for a brand-new franchise. Later, The Division would develop a slightly toxic player base while struggling to find a compelling endgame, but for those first few weeks it was awesome.
High: Dark Souls 3
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There’s some debate over whether it’s the best Dark Souls or a little too similar to the first game, but you won’t find many players questioning the third Dark Souls’ quality, its creepy atmosphere, its visual style, its deliberately subdued storytelling or its combat. Basically, you either get and love Dark Souls or you don’t. If you do, Dark Souls 3 was utterly unmissable.
Lows: The fall of legends
March was a bad month for British game development. It was no secret that Lionhead was floundering post-Molyneaux, not helped by pressure from Microsoft to support the wider Xbox Strategy (Fable 2? Fantastic! Fable: The Journey? No thanks). All the same, it was sad to see the studio shuttered and the promising Fable Legends killed. Meanwhile, Sony’s Evolution Studios deserved better than closure, having dished out a string of brilliant driving games then persevering with the troubled DriveClub until it drove like a dream machine.
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2016 video game highs and lows – April
High: Rift vs VIVE
The first Oculus Rift units appeared in March with HTC’s Vive shipping one month later. Both of the first consumer VR kits impressed us with great launch games and VR experiences, despite the odd spot of nausea. Thanks to its room-scale VR and superior technology, Vive rapidly became the high-end headset of choice, but Rift was arguably more practical for those of us without a spare room to hand over.
Low: Quantum Break
Back when Microsoft announced the Xbox One, Remedy’s TV/game hybrid was a standard-bearer for the console’s all-in-one entertainment experience. The reality, almost two years’ later, was a solid shooter with some really annoying bits tied to several extended video cut-scenes that you could barely be bothered to watch. Did you even remember Quantum Break existed six months later? Probably not. It’s fading out of the space-time continuum as you read this.
Low: Nintendo drops the ball
April wasn’t a great month for Nintendo fans. First came the less-than-dynamic duo of Star Fox Zero and Starfox Guard. Then came the news that Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be shunted back from Christmas 2016 to 2017. Neither made you feel good about owning a Wii U.
2016 video game highs and lows – May
High: Three of the best
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Was May the single best month for gamers of 2016? Well, on the one hand, we had Uncharted 4, Naughty Dog’s elegiac farewell to Uncharted as a series and Nathan Drake as a hero (though we get a reprise with the upcoming Lost Legacy chapter). On the other, we had two amazing shooters: iD’s superb update of Doom and Blizzard’s barnstorming team-based effort, Overwatch. Any one of these would be a serious contender for Game of the Year, let alone Game of the Month.
Low: Homefront: The Revolution
Credit where credit’s due, Homefront: The Revolution is a more intelligent, interesting and nuanced game than the original Homefront, but given the woeful quality and moronic dialogue of the first game, that’s hardly a compliment. Boring, repetitive, technically flawed and dislikable, it left you wondering what had happened to a team that had once given us TimeSplitters. (We really should have learned from Haze.)
Low: Poor old Battleborn
You know how it is. You spend several years developing a perfectly decent, thoroughly entertaining online shooter with strong MOBA influences and a colourful cast of heroes, then bloody Blizzard comes along with much the same idea. Battleborn is actually a solid game with its own distinct identity, but players preferred Overwatch. The result? Battleborn might as well have changed its name to Overlooked.
2016 video game highs and lows – June
High: Microsoft storms E3
Despite keeping mostly schtum about PS4 Pro, Sony had a good E3. Microsoft, however, had a great one. First, it continued the good work of getting Xbox fans back on board and pushing Xbox/PC gaming synergy. Then it revealed the Xbox One S, a supercharged, slimline Xbox One with 4K HDR output and 4K Blu-ray playback. That done, it took the risky step of announcing Project Scorpio, its own mid-gen answer to the PS4 Pro and set to be the most powerful console of them all. And so began a four-month period where Xbox would outsell the previously untouchable PS4 in the US. The fight back might be temporary, but it’s certainly begun.
High: Death Standing
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By the close of 2015 Hideo Kojima was in a weird place. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain was widely regarded as one of the best games of a generation, yet fans felt it ended messily – as had his relationship with Konami. At Sony’s E3 conference, however, Kojima was back doing what we expect from him at a conference: showing something amazing, baffling, scary, strange, bewildering and leaving excited fans wondering ‘WTF?’. Two trailers down and nobody has a clue what Death Standing might be about. Everybody wants to play it, all the same.
Low: Umbrella Corps
By rights, the low point of the month should have been the disappointing Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst or the depressing Mighty No.9, but there’s a tragic element to both games that eludes Capcom’s unforgivable Resident Evil tie-in. The world didn’t need a bad online tactical shooter based on the survival horror franchise, particularly after the awful Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. It got one anyway. Life sucks.
2016 video game highs and lows – July
High: Pokemon Go
Pokemon Go is one of those games that isn’t just a gaming phenomenon but a cultural phenomenon. Like Wii Sports or Angry Birds it touches people who’d never think of themselves as gamers. Over 50 million people had downloaded it by the time it hit the UK, while Nintendo’s shares went through the roof (though it actually only owned a portion of developer Niantic). Even now you see people wandering around, phones aloft, looking for that next gym or must-have monster. For many, Pokemon Go was what they did during the summer hols.
Low: Something weird (and it don’t look good)
Funny and inventive reboot or cynical gender-swap cash-in? There’s always going to be some controversy about the 2016 Ghostbusters movie. The tie-in game? There opinions are unanimous. Ugly, tedious and actively annoying, it was one of the worst games of the year – and possibly of the decade.
2016 video game highs and lows – August
High: World of Warcraft – Legion
Over a decade on from release, World of Warcraft should be a spent force. Yet the old MMO warhorse keeps on going, and with superb expansions like Legion, who knows when it will stop? With a great new setting and some fantastic quests, Legion sometimes felt like a celebratory ‘best of.’ Even those of us who thought we’d kicked the habit came running back for more.
High: The Rio Olympics Closing Ceremony
It was the end of the world’s biggest sporting event, yet Mario still stole the show, jumping in CG form into a pipe before emerging on the stage in the form of Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe. If you needed proof how ubiquitous and loved Nintendo’s stars have become, this was it.
Low: No Man’s Sky
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We’re not going to tell you No Man’s Sky was a disaster or a cynical exercise in cashing in on hype; it’s a game formed of cosmic ambition that struggled to reach its destination. This was disappointing, but not quite as disappointing as the miserable, pitchfork-wielding, forum-clogging avalanche of hate that followed. Hello Games had created something some people buying it hadn’t liked, but you’d have thought that Sean Murray had personally slept with everybody’s spouse, girl or boyfriend before weeing in the disc slot of their PS4.
2016 video game highs and lows – September
High: PS4 Pro revealed
Sony hadn’t exactly kept schtum about its mid-generation PS4 upgrade, revealing details to journalists and developers, but at September’s PlayStation meeting it finally unveiled the PS4 Pro. A smart design, adding a lot of extra power without a lot of extra cost, it’s ushered in a new era of mainstream 4K gaming, even if that doesn’t involve a lot of native 4K games. The real test going forward is whether Sony and its partners can make sub-4K look enough like the real deal that we don’t care, or make titles as magnificent as Horizon: Zero Dawn seem even more so. Fingers crossed.
High: Mario meets iPhone
We all knew Nintendo was getting serious about mobile gaming, but it still came as a shock to see Mario running on an iPhone screen. It was an even bigger shock to see him doing so at Apple’s iPhone 7 launch event, where his appearance in the form of Super Mario Run added some much-needed excitement to a less-than-spellbinding presentation. Nintendo might be betting its future on the Switch, but it’s finally reaching out to other platforms.
High: Forza Horizon 3
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We wondered how Microsoft could follow Forza Horizon 2 and Forza Motorsport 6, but Forza Horizon 3 made it look effortless. Sure the graphics were amazing and the handling sublime, but what makes the spin-off series so special is the way Playground Games combines petrolhead enthusiasm, thrills and a real sense of fun. Despite the continuing renaissance of Codemasters, this was the year’s best racing game.
High: PES 2017
For the last two years Pro Evolution Soccer has threatened to beat FIFA, only to lose out on technicalities and polish. Finally this year Konami did it, producing the definitive footie game of the current console generation. This wasn’t a bad year for FIFA, with a great career mode and more entertaining gameplay, but PES 2017 was faster, smarter, more balanced and more fun, not to mention the most beautiful version of the beautiful game.
2016 video game highs and lows – October
High: Nintendo Switch announced
We knew Nintendo’s next console – codenamed NX – was coming, and that it would somehow straddle both the home and handheld lines. Yet the Nintendo Switch still surprised us with its ingenious clip-in, clip-out controllers and home docking station, promising the same gaming experience wherever you go. Some fans muttered gloomily about its horsepower, bemoaning the fact that Nintendo wasn’t going head-to-head with the PS4 and Xbox One. The rest of us are busy marvelling at the idea of playing Zelda on your telly, then taking it with you to carry on playing while you’re on the train.
High: EA’s Double Whammy
Did EA make a catastrophic error putting out Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 at the same time? Maybe, but within one month it gave us the two best shooters of the autumn. One gave us epic WWI multiplayer plus the most convincing single-player Battlefield since Bad Company 2. The other gave us excellent team-based action and a surprisingly imaginative campaign. Titanfall 2 deserved better sales. Both deserve a place in any FPS-fan’s game collection.
High: PSVR launched
Oculus and HTC gave us our first taste of VR, but it took Sony to bring it to the mainstream. PlayStation VR was affordable, accessible and actually worth having, with a line-up of experiences that felt like previews from the future. This was VR for everyone, built for the living room, not the gaming den.
2016 video game highs and lows – November
High: Happy Returns
This November, like any other, was sequel-heavy, but the best and biggest sequels did more than dish out another helping. Pokemon Sun and Moon renewed and revitalised the franchise, while capitalising on the success of Pokemon Go. No wonder it was Nintendo’s fastest selling game ever in the US and Europe. Dishonored 2 did nothing to disgrace its much-loved predecessor, through strong characters, great atmosphere and simple awesome level design. Last but not least, Final Fantasy XV gave us the Final Fantasy we didn’t know we wanted; one that played fast and loose with the JRPG rulebook but made the genre fresh and fun all over again. All are massive highpoints.
Low: End of the Wii U
After several denials, Nintendo finally admitted defeat and built its last US and European Wii Us. Misunderstood at the start of its short lifespan, poorly supported at the end, the console still had a spectacular purple period, with games of the quality of Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Rayman Legends, Super Mario Maker, Bayonetta 2 and Splatoon. It’s sad to see it go, though with less than 14 million sold, not all that surprising.
Low: Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare isn’t a bad Call of Duty or an awful FPS, but its reception shows all the signs of potentially fatal franchise fatigue and disconnection with the fans. The launch video – victim of a mass downvote campaign – didn’t help, while even those impressed with the solid single-player weren’t so dazzled by the stale multiplayer. There’s always space for another Call of Duty, but next year’s needs to be really, really good.
2016 video game highs and lows – December
High and Low: The Last Guardian
With over 10 years of troubled development across two consoles, Fumito Ueda’s follow-up to Shadow of the Colossus and Ico always had its work cut out. In some respects it’s disappointing, even infuriating, reliant on a CPU-controlled beast who seems hellbent on doing anything but whatever it is you need it to do. The fact that it’s been outsold by the dumb Dead Rising 4 is really quite depressing. Yet The Last Guardian can also be unforgettable, unworldly and downright magical in a way that so few recent games have even tried to be.