Every year there are more games to play, but the number of available gaming hours remains more or less the same. Like always, too many games dropped right at the end of the year. This year I had the added challenge that I had a big trip right in the middle of December, cutting into those precious dollars and hours available between the start of the October gaming deluge and the end of the year. Also, at the end of the year I really started to become engrossed in Factorio, and that thing ate a lot of time.
Rather than fending off wave after wave of, “Shamus, how dare you miss out on milestone game X?”, let’s talk about a few popular games and why I didn’t play them:
Going strictly by social media / cultural impact, I imagine Overwatch will land on a lot of “Game of the Year” lists. The game came out in May, and then people basically never shut up about it. As soon as the conversation threatened to die down, Blizzard would make an addition, or a change, or an announcement, and it would re-ignite the cycle of hot-takes, speculation, hype, backlash, commentary, and memes. Blizzard is so good at this and does it so effortlessly that it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of just how deliberate it is. With nothing more than a bit of concept art and a blog post, Blizzard can create more engagement than EA can with millions of dollars of clumsy, brute-force marketing.
Having said all that, it was clear that Overwatch is not for me. Back in the day, I played Quake multiplayer capture the flag. Then I played Unreal Tournament. Then Team Fortress 2. In all cases, I was drawn more to the community than to the competitive side of things. I liked having a fixed hangout with a collection of regulars. I liked signing on in the evening and seeing the same ten or so names, along with a scattering of transient randos. It was like going to your favorite bar. It was like going to the park for a pickup game with friends. It was like… I guess it was like the community we have here on the blog. If you boot the crazy people and make everyone else feel welcome, you can make a place that feels comfortable and familiar.
But it was clear from the beginning that Overwatch wasn’t interested in this sort of thing. There’s no such thing as a fixed hangout where you can drop in and out of the fray as it suits you. If you want to play with friends, you have to organize it beforehand. If you don’t, the game is all randos, all the time. It looks gorgeous, the characters are charming, and there are lots of fun ideas, but the game is missing the only thing that ever made these games worth playing for me. So I gave it a pass.
The memes have been fun, though.
Ah yes, the other major headline-grabbing game of the year.
This game never fit with my habits and lifestyle. I only leave the house once or twice a week. Usually this is when I go for a walk. When I’m doing that, I can’t play the game because I’m walking. I can’t play at home because you can’t make meaningful progress in the game while rooted in one place. I can’t make progress when I’m out & about because I have to stop what I’m doing to play a videogame.
For me this game wasn’t Pokémon Go. It was Pokémon Stop What You’re Doing and Get Out Your Smart Phone.
I don’t want to stop here in the middle of the sidewalk with the traffic roaring by. I don’t want to stop here because the weather is unpleasant and I just want to get where I’m going. I don’t want to stop here because the sun is so bright I can barely read my smartphone. I don’t want to stop here because I’m carrying all the stuff I bought and I don’t want to hold my groceries in one hand, play a videogame with the other, while standing in the middle of the sidewalk like a self-absorbed numbskull.
It doesn’t help that I have never played a Pokémon game before, so I didn’t have a love for the game or a sense of nostalgia to lure me in. I suppose I’d be willing to make the time if the game had managed to hook me in, but the game never got over the initial hurdle of making me care. To me it was just a game that was tremendously inconvenient to play. I guess it’s a game for people who get out more than twice a week and have downtime while waiting for buses and trains that makes the game useful.
“The combat in this game is a slog, and there’s SO MUCH of it!”
Obsidian focusing on combat is like Bethesda using that stupid zoom-in face camera for all of their dialog scenes. Why are you putting such a huge focus on the one thing you’re obviously rubbish at? I might be willing to put up with slog-ish combat if the rest of the game was right, but Tyranny is a grim sad miserable world of hard choices and grim deeds, and by the end of 2016 that was the last thing I was looking for in my entertainment.
I spent most of 2016 watching the two halves of my friends and family demonize and hate each other via social media. It’s been an emotional meatgrinder, and so I’ve been trying to counter the prevailing cultural mood with my entertainment. I ditched watching Daredevil for the same reason I skipped Tyranny – I don’t want to wallow. These days I want my entertainment to be light, fluffy, and affirming. If I want grimdà¤rk conflict and moral compromise, I’ll open up my Facebook feed or Twitter.
I was pretty indifferent to the second Mafia game. I didn’t hate it, but I found it to be shallow and forgettable. So when Mafia III came out and people were saying it was heavily padded, I decided to give it a pass.
Later I heard that – assuming you can overlook the padding – it can sometimes be a pretty smart and nuanced game by the standards of the genre. Sadly, by that point in the year it was too late for me to embark on some 50-hour open-world monster.
It’s the Ubisoft problem: We took something good and made it last longer through aggressive padding. Except, the padding is so overwhelming that it’s no longer something good. It’s something predictable, repetitive, and routine.
The game launched with all sorts of technical problems. I decided to wait until they were sorted out in a patch before I gave the game a chance. While I was waiting for the patch, Titanfall 2 went on sale. So my Dishonored 2 time budget wound up spent on that instead.
I hear it’s pretty good, but it’ll have to wait for 2017.
Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a magnificent game that blends management with creative building, and gives you all of that in the context of a fun and gorgeous little game where you can build and ride your own rollercoasters. So I was crushed to hear that the latest entry in the series is butts.
But then I was un-crushed to discover that a new franchise has come along and taken up the torch. Planet Coaster is reportedly the game RCTW should have been. Mumbles played it, and the whole thing looks really appealing.
This one came too late in the year for me. I hope I can get to this in 2017.
Final Fantasy XV
I think I’m done with Final Fantasy at this point. I know I did a big writeup on Final Fantasy X earlier this year, but the series has evolved into something that no longer interests me. People keep saying that XV is good, but every single thing I see regarding the game is repulsive to me.
The product placement is exactly the kind of immersion-shattering cringe-worthy bullshit that I don’t want to see in games. The “all dudes” thing is off-putting, since I feel like I get my dose of dudes from other media. Final Fantasy is where I go to see teams made up of boys, girls, bunny people, cat people, old people, and giant stuffed animals. The last thing I want is four dudes in black.
Maybe the game really is good like people claim, but it’s done a rubbish job of selling itself to me.
Again, this was a bit too much videogame for me to take on in December. I’m a pretty casual fan of the series, so I didn’t feel a pressing need to make sure I played this at launch.
Master Of Orion
You, too, MOO? You’re going to join in the silly trend of dropping the sequel number and pretending you’re the first game in the series? Has anyone thought this through?
Like Rollercoaster Tycoon, this is yet another long-dormant series that’s trying to recapture the glory days while also bringing the franchise in line with current trends and expectations. Based on the pre-release buzz and that one trailer, this thing looked awful.
But now it has a “Mostly Positive” rating on Steam. Maybe those trailers were rubbish and the game is good. Or maybe the whelps on Steam have never seen a proper 4X game before and don’t have anything to compare it to. I’m not sure if I want to roll the dice with this one or not.
Look, I just want one of the first two games in this series – which to be clear, is THE GREATEST 4X GAME EVER MADE – with the interface modernized. I don’t need lavishly produced cutscenes, high-resolution ship models, voice acting, animated characters, a story mode, social media integration, built-in streaming support, worldwide leaderboards, achievements, twee little animations for mundane actions, in-game chat, multiplayer, a mobile tie-in that lets me command my troops on the go, real time with pause, a character builder so I can design my leader, supporting characters, first-person mode, controller support, VR mode, Tress FX, microtransactions, a celebrity cameo for the tutorial, a tutorial, or any of the stupid bullshit developers will assume we want because they were children when the original came out and they don’t understand what made it fun.
I just want a version of the game that doesn’t need DOSBox to run and can make use of modern displays.
Batman: The Telltale Series
I have a review copy of this one, and I still couldn’t make time for it. I’ve still got Tales from the Borderlands, Walking Dead Season 2, and Wolf Among Us sitting in my Steam library that I meant to play and never did. I’m not sure why I have such a hard time getting into Telltale games. I don’t dislike them. It’s just that when I sit down to play a game, they never seem to be at the top of the list of stuff I’d like to do.
The Terrible New Thing
Fidget spinners are ruining education! We need to... oh, never mind the fad is over. This is not the first time we've had a dumb moral panic.
Two minutes of fun at the expense of a badly-run theme park.
Shamus Plays LOTRO
As someone who loves Tolkein lore and despises silly MMO quests, this game left me deeply conflicted.
Final Fantasy X
A game about the ghost of an underwater football player who travels through time to save the world from a tick that controls kaiju satan. Really.
Do It Again, Stupid
One of the highest-rated games of all time has some of the least interesting gameplay.