2016 was a good year for gaming for me. I started making lists and making a real effort to work through my backlog before purchasing or starting new games, and as a result made a pretty good dent in things. Inspired by a friend’s post about games he liked in 2016 I thought I’d review some of what I played this year too.
Excellent Puzzle Games
Early in the year I finally succumbed to pressure and got Mini Metro, which is excellent. Games start off very relaxed and zen-like (props to the soundtrack), and then get crazy. A good set of achievements will keep you playing the levels, as will daily challenges. And they nailed the graphics, with an abstract look that feels like you’re drawing a metro map, with different colors appropriate to each city.
The Hexcells series scratched the Minesweeper itch for me. Like that game, you’re deciding whether each cell (on a hex grid) is blank or part of the pattern, using numeric clues from around the grid. Unlike that game, you should never have to guess, and there are clues that apply to whole lines or areas of cells. The first game in the series is fairly straightforward, the second ramps the difficulty up quite sharply, and the third finds a nice middle ground (as well as adding randomly generated levels for replay value after you finish the designed ones).
Moving into the first-person-puzzle space, I played two expansions for other games: Talos Principle: Gehenna, and Portal Stories: Mel. Of the two, Talos Principle is by far better; Portal Stories is good if you just want more Portal puzzles (and it’s free), but I didn’t feel it was as strong as the main two games in the series. Talos Principle in contrast, along with the new puzzles, gives you a whole new protagonist, as well as a whole community of people that you interact with through a BBS style system. And of course there are more philosophical questions about the nature of art, death, and forgiveness. Highly recommended.
After picking up a Steam Controller over the holidays last year, Rebel Galaxy was one of the first games I bought to play with it. I loved the Escape Velocity series when I was growing up, and this hits all the same notes, just in a pseudo-3D space: trading, piracy, buying bigger and bigger ships, upgrading your equipment, and blasting some aliens. This one is better with a controller, but even without one, it’s lots of fun.
A Steam sale also got me to indulge in some more nostalgia when I picked up the Homeworld Remastered Collection. My game was always HW2, so I didn’t mind that the remaster uses the HW2 engine for both games, but it’s something to be aware of if HW1 was your favorite. Few other games capture the grandeur and beauty of space like these do. These games are still beautiful, and Kharak is still burning (no, you have something in your eye).
Turn-based and/or Tactical
As part of my quest to clean up my backlog, I finished Mark of the Ninja and Transistor this year. I think Bastion was overall slightly stronger than Transistor, but the soundtrack, aesthetic, and cool pause-and-plan control scheme are more than enough to recommend Transistor; and I’m looking forward to more from Supergiant in the form of Pyre. Mark of the Ninja is a great 2D stealth game, and unlike other stealth games you never have to guess where you’re hidden and visible, where the guards are looking, etc. If you enjoy Splinter Cell, Thief, etc, and want to see how that could translate to a 2D platforming style, you’ll enjoy this. I have more from Klei on deck for this year too with Invisible, Inc.
On the RPG front there was Shadowrun: Hong Kong, the final game of the Shadowrun trilogy. My ranking order would probably go Shadowun: Dragonfall, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, Shadowrun, but those first two are very close. The changes to the matrix gameplay in this third game are welcome, but sometimes also annoying. Otherwise, the supporting characters are well developed as usual, and the side missions do an excellent job of immersing you into the cyberpunk world of Hong Kong and the triads. The end missions come a little bit out of nowhere, which is why I rated Dragonfall higher, but the main storyline is still quite good.
This year I’ve already finished Firewatch, and am working my way through the original Mass Effect trilogy. XCOM 2 is also in progress, and once I finish Pillars of Eternity there are a few other RPGs in the list.