Just over a month ago I put together a list of my ‘most anticipated’ games of 2016.
It was tough. Surprisingly tough. Dark Souls III? Of course. No Man’s Sky? Yep. The Last Guardian? I have my doubts about that one…
Compared to the list I might have made in 2015, 2016 seemed a little sparse.
Here’s what I wrote. I said: “I suspect 2016 will be defined by the surprise packages, the games we don’t even know about yet.”
We’re only halfway through February and um. Holy shit was I ever right. For me personally, the games released over the past few months have been far more engaging than anything released in November/December 2015.
How weird is that? How unexpected was that?
January is typically a dry season.
What we usually get: niche games that might have gotten lost amongst the big hitters typically released during the holiday season. A couple of big games that missed the holiday window – games that needed a few more months in the oven.
When I think of typical January games I think of a game like Dying Light or Tomb Raider. Games that just need room to breathe. When I looked at the 2016 schedule it wasn’t a ‘room to breathe’ situation, it was a dead expanse of nothing.
But then. Then the surprises kept coming.
On the advice of our Editorial Assistant Hayley Williams, I decided to try an off-beat indie game called Oxenfree. It turned out to be one of the most accessible, polished, interesting games I’ve played in years. Clever dialogue, interesting story. A strong sense of mystery. Most importantly it felt intriguing. It felt authentic. For the first time in a long time I found myself playing a video game because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. I didn’t get that feeling with Fallout 4, I didn’t get that feeling with Metal Gear Solid V. It took a game like Oxenfree to resurrect that feeling in me.
Then The Witness came out.
The Witness is a funny one. I was aware of it, obviously. But The Witness hovered in that blind spot. Would it be good? Probably. Sure, I expected greatness from The Witness. What I didn’t expect was the manner in which it dominated my brain and conversation. The way it settled into my life comfortably and sort of hung around. It’s still hanging around to this day.
My wife never plays video games, but both my wife and I are playing separate games of The Witness. We’ve recently had a second child. We talk about The Witness. We take turns changing nappies and we take turns playing The Witness. We discuss the puzzles. We think about them. We have full conversations about this game and it’s really, really great.
Yesterday I spent a lot of time deleting precious family photos from my mobile phone in order to make room for photographs of Witness puzzles I was trying to solve. That says a lot about how this game has infiltrated my life.
“Do I really need *two* photos of the first time my son saw snow?”
And it continues.
This week Unravel and Firewatch came out. Last night I played The Witness as they downloaded in the background.
Unravel downloaded first.
Here’s the interesting thing about the games I’ve been playing in 2016: none of them necessarily feature violence. None of them are about punching/shooting/stabbing enemies. I can play them in front of my children.
And they’re interesting to the point where I can play them in front of my wife, who isn’t usually that interested in video games.
Oxenfree has great dialogue and a story worth watching.
The Witness has accessible puzzles.
Unravel is cute. My son is going to love it.
Firewatch is just flat out beautiful, so I’m going to get away with playing that on our TV.
All of these games work in a living room. All of these games, despite being single player experiences, work for an audience.
So what’s my point here? I guess my point is this: I expected 2016 to be a year defined by interesting, less telegraphed video game experiences and so far it’s already living up to those expectations and then some.
It’s funny, once upon a time video games had the capacity to surprise us. Then we were ushered into an era of hype and big name titles we knew about years in advance. One of the unique byproducts of games like Oxenfree and Firewatch is their capacity to catch us unawares. That’s a beautiful thing.