This week, the annual Top 5 lists.
What a year it's been. Explosive elections, more celebrity deaths than a terrorist bombing at a drug rehab clinic and a slew of game releases that ran the entire spectrum of awful, bland and grudgingly okay. Hence the annual top and bottom five, joined once again, after last year's show-stopping... well... show-prolonging debut by the mediocre five, which to my mind is far more representative of the industry anyway.
You'll find neither Call of Duty nor Battlefield on any of these lists, if only because it's getting too obvious. I could repeat that Call of Duty is crushingly mediocre, but I could more profitably use the time to smack myself on the forehead with the flat edge of a trowel.
I have a rule to never allow into the top five a sequel that's only good because it's more of a thing I liked before, which is why you'll note a mysterious absence of Dark Souls III on this list. However, I'd hate to miss an opportunity to remind everyone that Dark Souls rules, so I'm giving 5th best spot to Salt and Sanctuary for reminding me of it. It's Dark Souls, but 2D, and therefore much easier to push through a gap under a door.
On the Bland Games List, meanwhile, more of the same sequels can come in, make themselves at home, settle into their favourite armchair and bore the grandkids to death as much as they want. So step up, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was Deus Ex, but not as interesting or clever. And the developers of Mankind Divided apparently decided that what was bringing down its predecessor was that too much stuff happened in it.
[Boos and jeers]
I suppose the fact that the very first game I reviewed went straight into the bottom five should have been read as a bad omen for the year, more so than that fucking gorilla anyway. Devil's Third was monumentally stupid and apparently designed by a schizophrenic with vibrators for thumbs, but it shall only skate at the edges of the bottom five for at least being weird enough to briefly distract one from, say, a recent bereavement or loss of limb.
After Titanfall 1 dared to show its face on the full-price bin with no proper story campaign, the fact that Titanfall 2's story campaign turned out actually surprisingly good somehow becomes all the more damning. Why'd you hide that light under a bushel, Titanfall 1? We've already got clunky multiplayer shooters up the arse, but the pile of decent narrative gameplay experiences barely reaches the ends of our bum hairs.
Normally the bland games list is a place for the games that pushed no boats out and wallow in the basically functional like a toddler in a fully-loaded nappy, but Quantum Break did innovate by hybridising a game with a linear TV show. So not so much pushing the boat out as dragging it up the beach and turning it over to project shitty Syfy Channel originals over the hull. I'd advise Remedy to just make films if that's all they're interested in, but I have a feeling they'd be kind of shit.
Fourth worst is the first of two entries today that I like to collectively call "Nintendo's prolonged public suicide". But you know, I've slightly mellowed to Metroid Prime: Federation Force of late. They just wanted to try something new, right? Make a game that isn't atmospheric like Metroid Prime, explorative like Metroid Prime or helmed by the strong protagonist of Metroid Prime, but call it Metroid Prime anyway. That's innovative I suppose, in the sense that the atomic bomb had some innovative ideas about civic restructuring.
An interesting loophole in my no-lazy-sequels-to-games-I-already-like rule is that it doesn't apply to blatant rip-offs of games I already like, especially if it's a bit better than the game I already like. I'm talking about Stardew Valley. It's all the mind-numbing workaday, let's tentatively call it "fun", of Harvest Moon, but bigger and on Steam. There's never been a better time to stand behind a cow and make highly suspicious thrusting motions.
The second Nintendo game on the lists only made it to third blandest, as the worst games list requires that I get at least slightly worked up, and the donut of my interest in Paper Mario games can only get heartlessly stamped on once or twice before all the jam has been squirted out. That's what you are, Paper Mario: Color Splash: you are the last, pathetic dribble that oozes from my once squirty donut.
I always thought games lay on a straight line spectrum: good games at the bellend, bad games at the pubes and merely boring games in the veiny shaft. But it turns out sometimes boring can go so far that it comes out from the shaft and curves around to the pubes like a scrotum of ennui. Basically what I'm saying is that The Division is a phenomenally tedious ball sack, so unending and vast that if pressed against the face it could euthanise a vegetative spouse.
But let's get away from puerile cock metaphors and discuss a game about waving your long thing around so that it smacks into scantly dressed women. Furi, by no means a huge game, but big enough to do everything it needed to do. Full marks for the quirky and compelling characters, for challenging, varied boss fights and for pragmatically cutting out the usual bullshit that goes in between boss fights. No marks for spelling, though.
Sometimes I feel like doing a Top Five Most Ubisoft-y Sandbox Games as well, because if I were less restrained, it and the bland games list might end up interchangeable. But I decided I'd keep to one, and that one is Far Cry Primal, this year's exemplar of Ubisoft sandbox blandness, now that The Division has moved to big leagues. Reveal the terrain, collect bollocks and invade strongholds. Then, for change of pace, invade the terrain, reveal your bollocks and collect someone to hold you strongly.
VR is still in its experimental phase, and like CD-ROMs in the 90s, that means breaking new ground in terribleness. And CD-ROMs didn't make you physically ill, unless you wired the spinning mechanism to your chair by mistake. But Batman: Arkham VR is a rare kind of terrible, even disregarding that. Thirty bucks for a Batman experience equivalent to gluing Batman comic panels to your spectacles and locking yourself in a portaloo.
So let's give Doom the best game trophy and give myself the England Cricket Team Award for totally unsurprising results. But it was a generally shitty year, as George Michael fans will attest. And I'm not as enthused about Doom as I was with Undertale. I couldn't see myself sulkily ending a friendship with someone because they weren't moved to tears when the Doom marine snapped off the Cyberdemon's left horn and shoved it up his Icon of Sin.
Oh, how the internal debate raged to whether this belonged in the worst or blandest list, but in the end no passionate hatred can be sustained for a game in which you can spend ten minutes pruning a giant pillar of rock with your colourful piss stream and not be entirely sure of how you profited from the venture. No Man's Sky? More like No Game! "That wasn't your strongest attempt at wordplay, Yahtz." No worries, I'll just patch something better in later!
But it takes something special to top the worst games list. Bugs, bad design and awful story are but single ineptitudes. When the game was obviously a bad idea at the concept stage, its eventual release requires a perfect sequence of bad decisions, or what physicists call a "cockup cascade". Homefront: The Revolution started with the idea of making a sequel to a wish-fulfilment-for-assholes modern shooter, and the resultant cockup cascade was like watching a Chihuahua in a dog wheelchair trying to descend a spiral staircase.
- Survived another year: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Inside didn't make it into any list because unlike The Game Awards I have heard of more than one indie game
- Place your bets now on the 2017 body count