2016 was a prick of a year. An unprecedented amount of high-profile celebrities fell victim to the grim reaper last year, with David Bowie, Prince and Carrie Fisher notable amongst these. Lesser-publicised heroes like Claudia Alexander (brilliant NASA astrophysicist who amongst other things oversaw the final days of the Galileo probe which orbited Jupiter and observed its moons) and Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird) also left this mortal coil. Not to mention that Pauline Hanson was re-voted back into Australian politics and Donald Trump won the keys to the White House.
But now that 2016 is behind us, let’s take a brief look back at the year that was from a gaming point of view. What did we learn? What didn’t we learn? Read on!
New Hardware and Mid-generation Mini-leaps
New hardware was a popular flavour throughout the year with all three big players (Sony, Xbox and Nintendo) releasing or announcing new hardware at some point in 2016. Sony were the most active player in this area releasing the PS4 Slim, the PlayStation VR and the PS4 Pro (gloriously unboxed by our friend Ryan from The Pop Culturists below). Xbox released the Xbox One S and announced Project Scorpio, the supposed ‘most powerful console ever’, while Nintendo finally formally announced the Switch, the company’s newest console aimed at both traditional couch and on-the-go gamers.
With this in mind, we learnt that traditional console generations could be a thing of the past, with both Sony and Xbox announcing mid-generation upgraded consoles. Both the PS4 and Project Scorpio signify the change occurring within the industry, with the original PS4 and Xbox One only launching just over three years ago, and instead of waiting a typical console lifespan of about six years to offer improved hardware, the rapid advancement in technology has meant that consoles can now on some level compete with PCs with both units and the Xbox One S able to deliver 4K gaming and other entertainment such as Netflix.
Both the PS4 Pro and the Scorpio make use of better components than their vanilla counterparts, giving console gamers access to better-performing consoles whilst utilising the same version of the game. There are no PS4 Pro exclusives and Xbox chieftain Phil Spencer has stated that every game released for the Project Scorpio will be compatible with its lesser-powered counterparts (Xbox One and Xbox One S). However, not everyone was impressed with the PS4 Pro’s specs with Forbes proclaiming that it was more of a ‘stop-gap measure, a system to tide us over so that Sony doesn’t have to release an actual, brand-new console any time soon’. Sony also copped a lambasting for the lack of 4K Blu-ray compatibility, however this may be Sony simply not wanting to eat into its Blu-ray player market. Another trepidation among the punters was whether the vanilla PS4 and its games would suffer as a result of the PS4 Pro existing. Our friends over at LoadScreen wrote a piece highlighting the difference in performance of Sony’s most recent first-party title, The Last Guardian, with the standard PS4 susceptible to noticeable framerate drops and sluggish performance.
PSVR is here, but does it have the legs to survive?
PlayStation VR released this past October to much fanfare. Myriads of consumers were caught up in the new tech hype wave that captures the wallets and imaginations of many who hope to be early adopters of the next big thing. While VR isn’t a new concept in the gaming market, PlayStation may have the honour of being the first company to succeed at mass-producing VR technology, at least at a somewhat affordable price.
I bought the PSVR on a whim you could say – I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the technology itself or any of the confirmed and rumoured launch titles, but the idea of being an early adopter and the potential of the survival horror genre got me to drop my $50 deposit when the October release date was first revealed. However, the internal deliberation never really ceased until the day of the unit’s actual release and looking back I think I had made my mind up when Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (my favourite series) was announced at E3.
With all that being said my PSVR has had very little use since and it is currently gathering dust on my shelf. Apart from the couple of reviews I have conducted I’ve barely used the unit, only really pulling it out when mates want to take it for a spin. I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with the serving of games we’ve seen so far, with most being short experiences. Some of these work perfectly, with Until Dawn: Rush of Blood being a classic example of a short and sweet VR experience. Robinson: The Journey was probably the only other game that had piqued my interest pre-release; the experience of walking with dinosaurs was certainly novel however the final game was nausea inducing for the first couple of hours and lacked a little depth in the gameplay. I’m not ready to label the PSVR an expensive gimmick just yet, but as of right now I cannot justify my $550 + accessories purchase. Thankfully Resident Evil VII is only a week from release, which I think is the platform’s biggest test yet. If it manages to provide an experience that is enthralling and engaging as the demo promises it to be, we could see more AAA games ship with dual compatibility in the future, or at least longer VR-tailored content.
The first generation of PSVR has its flaws (such as the no HDR support), but ironing these out will be crucial to improving the technology moving forward. There is potential here, but more AAA developers and publishers need to embrace the platform otherwise its consumer appeal may be fleeting.
Fanboys are as bad as ever
2016 was another great year for fanboys to get out their sharpened keyboard pitchforks. Despite my heart bleeding more blue than green, the Sony ‘ponies’ take the award for being the shittest group of fans of 2016. Xbox fans seemed more intent on celebrating their console’s sales resurgence or the impending triumph of the Project Scorpio (such as our very own Kieran Stockton did), while Sony fans preferred to lambast anything that didn’t meet their expectations and complain that Knack was never announced as a PS Plus free game. Their treatment of IGN journalist Lucy O’Brien when she (initially) gave their precious Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End an 8.8/10 was one of the most appalling situations I have seen of recent times. After IGN’s review in progress was published online, O’Brien was subject to a torrent of abuse which included heinous sexist remarks as well as petitions towards IGN to stop her from reviewing future PS titles. First of all, mate, females are just as entitled to play and review games as males are, this archaic notion that video games is a male-dominated market (at consumer level) needs to be wiped from our thinking (recent figures show that 41% of gamers in the US are female). Secondly, O’Brien scored the game 8.8 (which would later be a 9/10), which is not a bad score at all, in fact it’s a great score and it seems that ardent Sony fans had this perception that if UC4 received anything less than a 10 it was a failure. At the end of the day, a review is nothing more than an individual’s opinion, and if you like the game then that is all that matters. But no one should be subject to abhorrent comments because their opinion differs to yours.
New review guidelines in place since the Uncharted 4 8.8 debacle (image source: Point&Clickbait)
Don’t believe the hype (but do be a decent human being)
One harsh lesson 2016 had to teach us was that buying into hype is perilous at best. It also shows that onus is not only on developers and publishers to be transparent about their product, but also on the consumer to check themselves before they wreck themselves. Case in point: No Man’s Sky. This long-awaited and overhyped title was castigated upon release for a slew of broken promises, lacklustre gameplay, an insulting ending and virtual radio silence when it came to addressing the game’s ever-growing list of issues. However, the invective treatment didn’t stop there, with the development studio’s (Hello Games) lead chief and spokesperson, Sean Murray, being subject to death threats for further delaying the game from its June 21 release date in May. Hell, even a journalist reporting on the delay received death threats! There were a myriad of unhappy Steam users who utilised the refund feature on Steam, with the sheer number of refunds causing Steam to add a disclaimer to the product’s listing page. There were also plenty of PS users attempting to refund their money as well, however due to Sony’s tougher refund laws players were less successful.
However this was merely the beginning, with a plethora of ‘fans’ taking it too far and hurling constant insults and to the team at Hello Games both directly and indirectly via the game’s infamous reddit thread which became the online stomping ground for those wishing to lay the boots into the British developer. Now I am not defending Sean Murray and his conduct, as the facts is that No Man’s Sky vastly under-delivered on what it intended to. I don’t believe it was ever his intention to deceive anyone, but he did himself no favours by dropping off the face of the Earth after the shit started to hit the fan. Whether this was an instruction given to him by Sony so that he didn’t make matters worse (because let’s be honest, Sean Murray’s reputation is shot to pieces at the moment) we’ll never know, but we know that going MIA didn’t help the situation either. Fans wanted answers, they wanted to know why Murray had said the game would include certain features, but failed to do so and they wanted answers then and there.
From the outside looking in, it appears that No Man’s Sky’s vision was simply too grand for the size of Hello Games. Whether that was a result of the team not being pressured to release the game after several delays and simply had to cut features from the base game is unknown. We know that Hello Games have promised on-going updates that will add new features such as the base building update we’ve recently received. As much as you may have been let-down with No Man’s Sky, no developer or human being should be vilified in such manner.
Broken or incomplete games
This brings us to our next topic of discussion, and that is that so many AAA games continue to launch either unfinished or as a broken hot mess. We’ve all read about the disastrous launch of Assassin’s Creed Unity, the on-going issues that have plagued Halo: The Master Chief Collection and the shocking PC port of Batman: Arkham Knight, but for whatever reasons, developers and publishers still don’t get it; they continue releasing games that simply aren’t ready for retail and digital shelves. One of the biggest examples of a game being severely underdone on launch was Dambuster Studios and Deep Silver’s Homefront: The Revolution, which released on May 20, 2016 and was torn to shreds by the majority of critics for a multitude of issues such as frequent framerate drops, outdated visuals and gameplay freezing during saves. Most of the issues were the same issues that players noticed during the game’s beta, however, it seems that Deep Silver were adamant to release on May 20 (a decision that Deep Silver now regret) despite the title needing more time. As a result the game was butchered by critics and consumers, and although Dambuster have done a good job patching the game to an acceptable level, the damage had already been done.
Mafia III was another example of another high-profile AAA game broken at launch. Releasing on October 7, the game which was praised for its story, but was criticised for its cornucopia of technical issues and bugs, especially on PC. The recently released Watch Dogs 2 launched with its multiplayer mode broken, earlier in the year Street Fighter V shipped without an arcade mode and Ubisoft’s The Division has been plagued by issues since its release. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided had multiple issues with its PC release and let’s not forget the aforementioned No Man’s Sky and its launch issues.
There are more afflicted titles than what I have listed but you get the gist. It seems that publishers are employing a release-now-patch-later mentality these days, and I am not talking about your typical day one patch, I mean the constant patches that attempt to address a game’s lingering issues. It’s gotten to the point where broken or half-baked game releases are so common that we are surprised when a game has no major technical issues. For the amount of games that are delayed to allow extra time to ‘further polish and quality test’, there are a staggering amount of games that still cannot get it right on launch. We don’t expect games to be devoid of bugs or glitches (in fact some can be quite humorous), it’s when they affect the overall game and its quality and fun. I hope that in 2017, developers and publishers are a lot more stringent during their QC testing and we see more games releasing in their envisioned state.
Game sales are down
It’s no secret that video game sales at retail level have decreased significantly this year, especially big AAA games towards the end of the year. There are several theories floating around such as more and more gamers are purchasing their games on digital stores like PSN or Steam, AAA blockbusters are releasing in waves, meaning some games – and Titanfall 2 is a great recent example – simply get overlooked for other titles. People are also being more conservative with their finances, and most consumers have switched on that you don’t need to buy a game day one if there’s a fair chance you’re just going to place it nicely among your increasing backlog (I have yet to adapt this ethos unfortunately).
More often than not games are discounted not long after their release and especially during the holiday shopping season (Black Friday, Boxing Day sales etc.). Last year in Australia we saw an unprecedented amount of high-profile games be heavily discounted with Target going gangbusters on a couple times, notably when they discounted a bunch of new releases and most recently when they discounted The Last Guardian to $39 less than a month after its release.
But was it all that bad?
Absolutely not. Controversies aside, 2016 was actually a great year for gamers. Naughty Dog continued their domination with the release of Uncharted 4 (which was good enough to make even resident hater Kieran Stockton a believer) and a sneaky announcement at PSX of a sequel to last generation’s undisputed gem The Last of Us. The brilliant DOOM reboot released and reinvigorated the ailing single-player FPS genre. Overwatch took the world by storm and spawned a whole new trend of searching for Tracer porn on PornHub. Two games that were thought to have gone the way of the dinosaur finally saw the light of day in 2016 and miraculously were pretty good despite their decade-long development cycles (we’re talking about Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian for those playing at home). Furthermore, if you’re the sort of person to take pleasure in other people’s misfortunes then Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare sales are down by a very large margin.
So whether you’re a male, female or apache helicopter, there was something for everyone in 2016. Moving forward we’ve got big titles coming up as well as unknown quantities in the form of the Nintendo Switch and Xbox Scorpio. Or humanity as we know it might be consumed in Trump’s holy apocalyptic nuclear fire. Thanks a lot 2016.