Holy hell, 2016 sucks so far. David Bowie and Alan Rickman are dead, bigotry is still ruining the world and Vanilla Coke is disappearing at an alarming rate.
However, whatever face-melting horror lay in wait for us this year, it’s good to know video games will be there. Like a faithful dog or crippling back pain, we can take comfort in the fact that games are now so comfortable in mainstream culture that not even the most offensive App Store sewer runoff can dislodge this billion-dollar business from our wallet holes.
As an added bonus, there’s a slew of video games set for release in 2016 that reflect the despair, fear and menace that January has already hinted at. That’s what excites me. To jump into horrific scenarios feet first like ripping off a band-aid, relocating a finger bone or holding an ice cube tray directly on your face. I may not be able to control Donald Trump in this terrifying year we call 2016 but you better believe I’m going to step forth into these worlds with conviction and purpose. Let’s dive in.
Remember the impact Amnesia: The Dark Descent had on PC games? The raw nerve it touched and the talk it started? That didn’t happen on consoles. Montreal developer Red Barrels filled a void when they brought their sweat-numbing journey through Mount Massive asylum over to Xbox One and PS4 in 2014.
Outlast was many people’s first taste of true horror on new generation consoles and proved to be an important, landmark experience. The sequel will feature a different setting and different characters and judging from the cross-burning teaser released in 2015, a healthy amount of insane religious zealotry. Red Barrels have stated that they will not be happy with the game until they are scared to play it themselves. I remember not being able to move at certain points in the original game so sign me up for another dose of this flavour of terror.
Released on Early Access on Steam in 2014, I’ve been playing Darkwood steadily as they add more features and head towards a 2016 completion. Yet what Polish development team Acid Wizard has achieved thus far is both disturbing and fascinating. Played from a top-down perspective, Darkwood is procedurally generated RPG set in the darkest corners of eastern European forests.
Broken houses, mysterious caverns and beasts that lurk in the dark populate this roguelike world and present a very assured adventure into a sparse gothic nightmare. One of the first actions you take is to put a dying animal out of its misery. With an axe. It is difficult to take part in and serves up the harsh tone for what is to come. Sounds like fun!
I’m one of those weirdos who actually enjoyed Hitman Absolution. Yes, I admit Blood Money still reigns supreme but I was disappointed to see so many people write off Absolution as not worth their time. Which is a shame since there was plenty of features, themes and plot twists within Absolution that were rewarding. That being said, what really got my assassin’s blood pumping was Hitman: Sniper Challenge. Released as a pre-order bonus in 2012, Sniper Challenge was a single mission on a Chicago rooftop that was bursting at the seams with replayability. Tense, brutal and compelling - just what Hitman should be.
2016’s entry into the franchise seems to have the same pinpoint violence as Sniper Challenge (and more importantly, Blood Money) and places Agent 47 into a new globe-trotting episodic saga. The murder-puzzle box that beats at the heart of these games still remains unique and there’s barely any other experiences that deliver the same amount of pure satisfaction as Hitman. This kind of experimentation, execution and unpredictability can be the most exciting thing to ever tell your friends about and hopefully I’ll have plenty of stories about strangling, stabbing and poisoning my targets. Relax, they’re probably all horrible people anyway.
What Remains Of Edith Finch
A collection of playable short stories which span different time periods and all end in death. Oh boy, now you’re speaking my language. From the people who brought us The Unfinished Swan, Edith Finch explores the generational story of a single family from a foreboding, first-person perspective. The lighting and music suggest that there will be a good helping of tragedy, dreamlike landscapes and strange mystery along the way.
Unfinished Swan was bold exercise in exploration so anything that Giant Sparrow make, I’ll happily consume. The Twilight Zone has been mentioned has an influence on their new game so you can just add that to the pile of excitement I have to discover the story of the Finch family.
Tom Clancy's The Division
Well, this the big one. A huge open-world RPG shooter set in post-viral outbreak New York City with hints of Destiny-style multiplayer and endless, brutal despair. My hype for The Division is not coming to an end any time soon and let me tell you something, if this game is not the best thing ever, I may just crawl into the nearest sewer and die. But since I’ve played it a few times, I’m already pretty confident this will be everything I want and more.
Walking through early morning Chelsea streets as dogs bark and random survivors beg for food does wonders for the atmosphere of The Division. As fear and desperation drips off every building in Manhattan, the mission is to bring order to the chaos. And if you need to deliver a little chaos yourself, so be it. The crafting, base camp maintenance and quest system seems incredibly deep and with post-launch content, The Division could last a long time. Just long enough for me to get hold of all that loot and bring some boot-heel justice to these contaminated streets.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not excited for these games simply because “Whoa, this is hardcore bruh!”. I believe expertly designed but hard to process themes in video games can be a good thing. 2016 is already looking like it will top 2015 in the realm of injustice and general insanity. So in that respect, we can at least walk through these games in the knowledge that we will survive and come out okay on the other side. Which is more that can be said for whatever desperate and fearful human beings will inflict on each other over the next twelve months.
Have fun! Video games! Huzzah!