Jon’s Remarkable Games of 2016

This year’s been a long, strange ride: I got married. Worked in an ad agency. My country elected a former reality star to the highest office in the land, but somehow didn’t choose Brett Michaels. Princess Leia died of a massive coronary. So it’s fitting that the first game I want to single out is all about taking long, strange rides into the Finnish countryside in an uninspected 70s import.

Garage life.

My Summer Car

My Summer Car’s ability to recreate the harrowing minutiae of backyard and driveway mechanics is a miracle in and of itself. It portrays something so specific and nuanced, that it’s hard not to picture the game’s creator on his back, reattaching a corroded exhaust to his own car as the sun sets on him. You’re not saving the world here. There is no evil overlord intent on taking over the tiny lake community you blast through in your sweet ride. No. You’re struggling to get the air-fuel mixture right and cussing out your car when the thermostat gauge gets pegged in the red. Those are the stakes of this universe.

The game isn’t flawless. It’s an early access Unity title. You and your car’s parts often clip through the world, or spring violently into the air. It’s possible to launch your car onto your roof by bumping it too hard with a container of brake fluid. I don’t think there needs to necessarily be a bladder meter, and two buttons dedicated to cursing and flipping people off seems a bit much.

But in spite of this, or perhaps because of these design choices, My Summer Car stands head and shoulders above the morass of half-assed survival games flooding Steam’s Top Sellers charts. And I feel like every time I spend $20 on a smaller title like My Summer Car, with its specific vision, purity of design, and blind ambition, I’m sticking it to brainless murder/pillage simulators like Ark: Survival Evolved.

Man. Fuck Ark: Survival Evolved.

And we'll make the dome pay for it.

Rust

On the subject of pillage/murder simulators, I fell into a horrible death grip with Rust earlier this year. From April to May, I got caught up in the happenings on the New York 2 Small server. I carved out a meager existence for myself and one of my neighbors along the coast, away from the huge player fortresses and the machinations of the dominant clan on the server.

I successfully locked a would-be home invader in my home, befriended a guy with a pumpkin on his head, and built a pret-ty sweet base if I do say so myself. My in-game knowledge grew and I was able to survive longer than I ever had before. I felt like the main character in Island of the Blue Dolphins, if she shared the island with people screaming ‘nigger’ and ‘cuck’ incessantly over voice chat. It was a weird personal growth experience in a game I’ve owned for years, but never played for any real length of time.

But inevitably, I started to resemble a Howard Hughes caricature. Exploration became dangerous for fear of losing my gear. My base became more about keeping people out and killing people lurking in the shadows. I began to dread leaving my home. The dominant clan built a wall around one of the key resource hubs and then abruptly left. Disorder reigned in the resulting power vacuum. My part of the island became swamped with penis and swastika banners. My last moments in Rust were spent dismantling my base’s defenses, leaving the server’s unwashed masses to partake of my C4 charges, rocket launcher, and armory.

I’ve never been so invested in an online game before, and I’m not sure I want to be ever again. Really, the best part of my Rust digital fever dream was freeing myself from its clutches and drowning my bald, big-hipped avatar in the ocean.

Diablo 3

What does it say about my brain’s neural connections that I feel a Pavlovian urge to hop on a loot-grind treadmill at least once a year? Nothing good. For the first time since seriously playing Diablo 3 at release, I started a Season Character and completed the Season’s milestones.

Man, does Blizzard know how to dole out that warm, fuzzy sense of achievement or what? Hitting clearly marked goals every day or two gave me just enough incentive to boot up that Blizzard client every night after work. While I was there for World of Warcraft’s launch in 04’, I didn’t really hit my peak involvement with the Blizzard progression model until Wrath of the Lich King. Daily quests, badges, rep grinding, it all came together for me in a way that Vanilla WoW and Burning Crusade didn’t, resulting in hundreds more hours of /played time on my account.

This year’s foray back into Diablo gave me just the right amount of artificial achievement without requiring me to sacrifice my Tuesday and Thursday nights to the pitiless gods of raid scheduling.

While I dabbled with Grim Dawn and Path of Exile earlier this year, neither one felt as good to play as Diablo. Blizzard managed to polish the turd that was the game’s initial release, resulting in silky smooth gameplay with just the right amount of complexity and gear progression.

Watch Dogs 2

Similar to the recurring urge to acquire loot is the drive to set out into a vast open world with nothing more than skinny jeans and chiptune band pins to become its demigod conqueror.

Watch Dogs 2 is the brighter, louder, funner successor to the overly dour and dark Watch_Dogs. Gone is the quasi-psychopathic vigilante, replaced instead by a playful cast of hack-all-the-things 20-somethings spouting off movie references and leetspeak. I never played Watch_Dogs and now I never need to.

This game effortlessly walks the razor thin line of “my kind of stupid.” Want to 3D print an assault rifle? Go for it man. Want to turbo-charge a car with digital boost that somehow uses the processing power of your social media followers? Done. The game makes no apologies for its insane vision of guerilla hackers and it doesn’t have to.

I’ve been a sucker for Ubisoft’s open world format since the first Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry 2. And while I haven’t been completely faithful to their product line (I’m looking at you, AC3 and Far Cry Primal), I have a weak spot for their go anywhere, climb everything formula. Watch Dogs 2 delivers it in a bright neon orange package wrapped in a Matrix-code ribbon.

Stray Observations

  • While everyone else was obsessing over Pokemon Go, I got really into Assassin’s Creed Black Flag’s companion app. Keep them shipping lanes open, fam.
  • Putting even 10 hours into No Man’s Sky was almost as demoralizing an experience as dealing with so-called humans in Rust.
  • I still need to finish Witcher 3’s DLC storylines.
  • GTA Online is actually pretty fun, but if I wanted to be constantly reminded about how poor I am in comparison to others, I’d just read through the incoming administration’s economic appointees.
  • The Witness needs to be discussed in its own post; it’d be criminal to relegate it here.
  • Fuck Ark: Survival Evolved.

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