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The 20 Best Games of 2016 (20-11)

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Let’s just have it said and done: 2016 was a shit year in almost every conceivable way. Divisive political stances have never been at a higher slant, the right and left are more split than ever, every news link has lead to more and more bad news, and a laundry list of our favorite celebrities have bit the dust in a ridiculous procession of what amounts to some of our favorite humans being snatched away by a very sadistic reaper.

With that said, it’s no surprise that 2016 has been a banner year for gaming. I think we all needed to escape from the harsh truths of reality just a little bit more this year, and we were not wanting for options in that regard. So, without further (depressing) ado, here are the 20 games that most kept us distracted from the encroaching apocalypse in 2016.

May 2017 offer brighter days. (Mike Worby)

Salt and Sanctuary

20) Salt and Sanctuary

In an era where we haven’t seen a truly great Castlevania game in nearly 20 years, who would have thought that the best Castlevania game to arrive in two decades wouldn’t be a Castlevania game at all, but an entirely new IP.

Marrying the dense dungeon-crawling and 2D exploration of Castlevania with the intense challenge and pitch black lore of the Dark Souls series was certainly a gamble for Ska Studios. Luckily, this was one roll of the dice that paid off in spades. Salt and Sanctuary is not just a great game, but a marvel of game design in and of itself. Any studio that can so carefully merge the worlds of two disparate series like this into an entirely new entity, one that manages to mirror its source materials while still feeling like its own beast, is certainly worthy of commendation. (Mike Worby)

19) Fire Emblem Fates

The brutality to the battlefield returns and the side you choose determines your fate. Your soldiers are ready, your swords sharpened, and your arrows are plenty. All that awaits is the decision of defense or conquest. Whatever you decide, the kingdoms of Hoshido and Nohr will change forever.

Fire Emblem: Fates brings some of the most compelling stories to the franchise, boasting three different games with three different scenarios. Birthright is seen as the best of the three for a beginner, with a much easier play through. Conquest is the most challenging, and the DLC Revelations lies somewhere in between.

The complex moralities surrounding the three games leave you with more questions than answers, participating in a tale of clashing bloodlines where the uncomfortable middle is your unfortunate situation. Conquest remains the better of the three games, with its darker shade of gray tone that uncomfortably leads you to follow the bloodthirsty King Garon, whose missions seem to punish rather than test you.

The turn-based style of battle remains its biggest strength. The game of chess absorbs you into a perfectionist’s nightmare, with one wrong move able to cost you the entire battle. This endearing style of strategy game has kept Fire Emblem alive and well for over three decades, and the intricacy of the battle leaves a devastating beauty to each critical moment. There’s no right or wrong adventure; each journey will leave you wanting more. (James Baker)

Firewatch

18) Firewatch

Firewatch distinguishes itself by immersing the player in an unlikely role. You are not put in the shoes of a powerful warrior, mystical chosen one, or space cop, but in those of a lonely, vulnerable and flawed man named Henry.

The first person adventure takes place in a National Park, far from civilization, in the 1980s. The terrain is mountainous with caves, lakes, and other natural elements peppering the landscape. The opening sequence is a character creation of sorts, where the player gets to decide, not what Henry looks like, but what kind of person he is, through a series of text-based decisions. Solitude and self-discovery are major themes throughout Firewatch, and Henry rarely comes into contact with people other than his supervisor Delilah, who Henry communicates with via radio. Conversations with Delilah push the story forward and allow for the player to make more choices that develop Henry as a character.

Moment to moment gameplay involves moving Henry from one location to another, using a map and compass, while communicating with Delilah. As a failed boy scout, I did get lost on a few occasions when trying to find my way around the small map while using the compass. By the end, the playable area will be pretty well traveled as quests have you re-treading ground.

Clocking in at around 4 hours, Firewatch is a short game, best played in a single sitting. The real core of the game is its story. The unraveling mystery kept me hooked throughout, as a Lost type mystery unfolded. Like Lost, however, Firewatch is more about the ride than the reveal as the last few moments of the game are ultimately unsatisfying and leave one too many questions unanswered.

Firewatch is for anyone who is looking for a good story to play through in an evening with little dexterity, quick timing or puzzle solving skills needed. Sit back, relax and release your inner outdoors person. (Justinas Staskevicius)

17) XCOM 2

The biggest and most immediate change from 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown is that XCOM, as an organization, is now on the offensive. After the alien invasion was successful, XCOM has dedicated themselves to liberating the human race – at any cost.

Battles now begin in “concealment”, with the aliens unaware of XCOM’s presence, allowing clever players to mastermind devastating opening gambits. Each of the character classes was reworked to be more interesting – the Ranger class replaces the old Assault but comes with a sword and some extra stealth capabilities. The former Support class has been reworked into the drone piloting Specialist, who can deliver health or harm from anywhere on the map.

Missions are selected from a world map, though now XCOM is operating solely out of their starting continent. They can slowly expand by undermining the aliens’ plans, but each mission takes time, and the Advent – the new name for our antagonists – are developing a plan that will ensure the extinction of the human race. Desperately trying to balance the flow of resources and expansion while staying on top of the Advent’s plans is a trying, stressful thing, though it’s so packed with addictive turn-based strategy combat that it’s hard to not enjoy yourself.

The combat is back in form, utilising procedurally-generated maps to great effect. Gone is repetitive map design and predictable enemy placement; now, each mission is truly unique, meaning that no two battles play out the same way. Training a recruit from the ground-up, equipping them with the finest technology you can develop and weapon mods you’ve found and then having them brutally – and permanently – die in battle is a trying experience, though it only inspires players to try harder on their next attempt. After all, no two are ever the same. (Rowan McDonald-Nyland)

16) Furi

Furi – the boss rush game that transcends boss rush games.

Furi is so well fleshed-out as a game that calling it a ‘boss-rush’ feels almost like a criticism. Often with such games, the experience is very stripped down and focused – not so with Furi. Each new attack phase a boss goes through is akin to a new level to pass, and each boss is akin to a new zone within a game world. Add to this room for players to find their own play style and discover little tricks and techniques that trade risk for reward and you’ve got a solid, condensed experience. Add to that a polished difficulty curve as later bosses expand upon mechanics laid out by earlier ones, the range of bosses ultimately demanding a player masters the fundamentals of the combat so as to prep a player for new play-throughs, and a game length long enough to be fulfilling, yet short enough for new play-throughs not to be daunting, and you’ve got a fully-fledged game. Furi is so well made it doesn’t have to sacrifice breadth for depth as many games do, boss-rush or otherwise.

It’s worth mentioning since no one else seemed to; the game had solid visuals too. Admittedly, purely in terms of aesthetics, the boss design was horrendously inconsistent, with noh masks, the biomechanical art style, and Zen Buddhism being just a few of the influences in the melting pot. However, this isn’t a flaw of Furi’s – when you’ve got the player and their opponent hurtling at each other at Furi’s furious pace, detailed aesthetic is lost. What Furi does do amazingly well is pick its colour palettes. The player and the bosses all have clear, flat, contrasting colours that mean everything remains as visually clear as it can be amongst the chaos. The music score is also very agreeable (Liam Hevey)

titanfall2_screen_03_Origin

15) Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2 has a trope filled plot. Titanfall 2’s writing is often cringeworthy. Almost all of Titanfall 2’s characters are forgettable. This begs the question of why the game is on this list? Fortunately, the answer is simple: it recaptures the awe that came with the release of Modern Warfare back in 2007. The argument could be made that military shooters have grown stagnant over the last few years but 2016 was the year of the FPS, with Doom, Infinite Warfare and most importantly TitanFall 2 providing single player campaigns that felt fresh and imaginative. This game deserves to be here purely for its level design, offering a short and sweet tight set of levels that throw new mechanics and ideas at you every half hour. Highlights include a conveyor belt tour of a factory creating small simulation towns and a section that introduces time mechanics in one of the most satisfying levels in a shooter seen this generation.

People may lament that the game is only a lean 6 hours long but it uses every minute of that running time to show you something exciting, there’s no fat, it’s the perfect length to match the game’s strengths. The game took elements from Mirror’s Edge (parkour), Call of Duty (gunplay) and even sprinkled in a little Portal style magic at points. When people ask if Titanfall needed a campaign this game proved unquestionably that it indeed did, it’s surprisingly the game’s biggest selling point and no one saw that coming. Now it just needs to sell well, so what are you waiting for? (Oliver Rebbeck)

Abzu-752x430

14) Abzu

Games continue to grow bigger, more intense, more immersive, and more beautiful by the day, and ABZÛ exemplifies the last of these qualities better than most. While it may not be quite as groundbreaking as its predecessors Flower and Journey, two games from which it draws obvious and immediate inspiration, it takes the meditative non-game to new heights. It asks little more of the player than to languish in its world awhile, and as it turns out, it’s one of the best undersea game worlds ever developed. Though it is perhaps less weighty and tactile than the beautiful and oppressive ocean of Subnautica, its lightness is itself a strength, allowing players to swim (often in awe) through a largely peaceful space of abundant color and sound.

The player uses fun, fluid swimming controls to propel the diver through waters blooming with huge schools of gorgeously animated fish that swim to and fro, along with a host of other sea creatures both familiar and fascinating, and these form a simple digital ecosystem that interacts with itself and the player. Mechanically speaking, it’s really just a backdrop for the basic exploration-focused gameplay, but that does nothing to diminish its raw audiovisual power. So too with Austin Wintory’s impeccable soundtrack, which stands as one of the very best gaming has to offer.

While ABZÛ’s quiet simplicity of play may not ultimately be to everyone’s taste, it remains an incredible artistic achievement that speaks sweet words to the soul. (Michael Riser)

13) Ratchet and Clank

While 2016 had a boatload of deep, emotionally enthralling games to play, let’s not forget about the truly brilliant and immeasurably fun game that Insomniac offered earlier in the year. Ratchet and Clank is what I like to call “hearty.” It does away with the complex story lines present in many PlayStation exclusive titles, and provides an experience rich with variety and pure enjoyment. There are dozens of options when approaching a situation; whether it be fighting an enemy or upgrading a weapon. This variety helps Ratchet and Clank feel utterly limitless. Not only does the player have an absolute mountain of weapons to test out and upgrade, they also have a startlingly beautiful landscape to explore.

Ratchet and Clank is the most gorgeous looking game ever created. Case closed. It balances realism and cartoonism brilliantly. Even though Ratchet looks like a cute, cartoony alien, he still meshes perfectly with the more life-like environment. He hops between platforms, decimating everything in his path with a beautifully steady frame rate. It’s strange that this game actually looks better than the movie that it’s based off of. Looking past its seemingly insurmountable appearance, Ratchet and Clank also masters the series’ formula. It goes back to its roots and oozes simple fun as a result. It’s the kind of game that rockets the player into a wonderland of pure joy; regardless of its story, themes, or any sort of fancy pants narrative, it’s just wholly enjoyable. (Ricardo Rodriguez)

12) The Witness

Revered game designer Jonathan Blow – lead creator of iconic indie hit Braid – kicked off 2016 in a big way with his experimental puzzle game The Witness. Displacing both dialogue and a traditional video game narrative, The Witness places your unnamed character on a mysterious, uninhabited Island filled with numerous environmental panel-based puzzles. What starts out as a simplistic exercise in tracing a line from a start dot to an end dot soon intensifies as the player is let loose on the mystifying Island.

What The Witness has achieved through its fundamental game design Is staggering; the lack of a tutorial and on-screen hints is a testament to Blow’s belief in his game’s philosophy. Only through practice, correct conditioning (and a lot of patience) will the player seek solutions to the Island’s bounteous cryptic puzzles. The answer’s may not appear straight away, but after painstakingly exploring every option you perceive to be possible, eventually the solution will come – you might even kick yourself for not noticing it in the first place.

The real star of this masterpiece is the Island itself. Divided by a rich and vibrant colour palette, the different areas are designed in such a way that it’s easy to see where different puzzle-types start and end. The desert’s beating hot sun might shed some light on the solution of the solar panels scattered around the pyramids, while the shadow of a thick branch in the dense, green forest might not be as obscuring as you first thought. You will feel frustrated, you may be tempted to give up, but this is the time to walk away to a different part of the Island, it’s a time of reflection and an opportunity to discover what else the Island is hiding.

The Witness takes the player through an array of conflicting emotions, but this is the cost/reward of the game gradually improving the player’s understanding of how The Witness actually functions. The feeling of successfully completing a puzzle after countless, fruitless attempts is immense – the insurmountable satisfaction of The Witness should be experienced by everyone. (Craig Sharpe)

pokken tournament

11) Pokken Tournament

Pokkén Tournament borrows from plenty of old fighting game favorites – most obviously Tekken – but the inspirations reach further than Bandai Namco’s hit series touching on Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and the Dragonball series, to name a few. This isn’t to say that Pokken Tournament is just a poor man’s Tekken and void of any new ideas; in fact, it introduces its own features and systems that give it plenty of depth and plenty of replayability. The most notable innovation is the shifting field of battle, which transitions back and forth between Field Phase (a three-dimensional range of motion that gives players access to the full scope of the arena, and an over-the-shoulder point of view), and the more traditional fighting game-style Duel Phase (taking place on a 2D plane and putting a focus on things like mid-range strategy or close combat).

Think Tekken meets SoulCalibur, only featuring iconic Pokémon from both early and current generations to choose from. Almost everything about it works so incredibly well that Pokken Tournament is the only game apart from NBA 2K17 that I put more hours into this year – a game that breathes new life into a notoriously stale genre, and more than exceeded my expectations. Like Super Smash Bros., it’s easy to pick up, easy to play, and provides players a chance to battle against their friends, both online and in the same room. What more can you ask for? (Ricky D)

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What are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?

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The Nintendo Switch has quickly become the preferred platform for some of the most talented indie studios in the industry. Its pick-up-and-play form factor and Nintendo’s concerted effort to court smaller developers this generation (complete with indie-specific Directs) has resulted in a library that’s positively flourished.

Despite the eShop falling victim to some of the discoverability and shovelware issues that long plagued Steam, there have been some real standouts over the years. Since video games take quite a while to produce, there’s often speculation as to what some of the premier developers have been working on. Let’s take a look at four of the most recognized indie studios on the platform and have some fun trying to figure out what they might be up to.


Sidebar Games

It’s hard to believe that 2017’s Golf Story was Sidebar Games’ first project as a studio. The two-man team from down under balanced a delightful dose of Australian-tinged humor with clear callbacks to the Mario sports games of old to deliver one of the best Switch exclusives in 2017, bar none.

Unlike the other studios on this list, Sidebar has been extremely silent on development progress; we can only glean bits and pieces from the few interviews they’ve done. We know the game has been in development for roughly two years and that Sidebar was still in active development as of March 2019 when they put out the call for a pixel artist for their next project. There’s also a fair chance that the new game will either be Switch-exclusive or target Switch first, seeing as how Golf Story is still one of the Switch’s top 10 best-selling indie games to date as of Spring 2019. If exclusivity worked so well the first time, why not try it again?

What Can We Expect?

Whatever Sidebar is working on, it’s almost guaranteed to be single-player and story-focused. One half of the dev team, Andrew, has gone on record multiple times saying that he’s “very partial to story modes.” This also players into one of their strengths; though there was a great time to be had with Golf Story’s golf, it was all elevated by the game’s ridiculous-yet-lovable characters and wacky situational humor.

Since the team has already deconfirmed a sequel as their next project, there’s really not much to go on. While I’d personally love them to tackle something Mario Tennis-inspired next, there’s a good chance they’ll avoid sports altogether. As long as the wit found in Golf Story is alive and well, though, their core audience is sure to be interested.


Fabraz

Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is still one of the best platformers to come out in recent memory. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique, but it’s also ingrained into the platforming mechanics in inventive ways. Beyond having a look all its own and a stiff challenge for players who wanted it, however, Fabraz went the extra mile to build a fun cast of characters and even a hub world to explore outside of the main game. It was a pleasant surprise from a relatively unknown developer at the time.

Fabraz has been anything but complacent since Slime-san’s launch. The studio released two free content expansions, ported the game to other consoles, and even got into the publishing business. No matter their other ventures, however, the team has made sure to tease their next project every so often since the start of 2019.

What Can We Expect?

Fabraz speculated that their new game was already roughly 60% complete at the start of October. Since it only began production in December of 2018, it’s safe to assume that the next game will be relatively small in scope. It’s also likely that Fabraz’s next outing won’t be “Slime-san 2,” since the original game received such heavy content additions months after release (including an expansion literally titled “Sheeple’s Sequel.” The team certainly knows how to make magic from very limited resources, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with a bit more of a budget, a new art style, and tons more experience.


Game Atelier/FDG Entertainment

It feels like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom came out of nowhere. The team at FDG Entertainment had published indie darling Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King just the year prior and the console port of Oceanhorn before that, but there wasn’t much talk about FDG’s capabilities as a developer. As it turns out, however, Game Atelier’s choice to bring them on as a co-developer was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to Monster Boy. Five long years of development later and fans were treated to one of the best platformers in recent memory.

Though it launched on all consoles, Monster Boy famously sold eight times more on Switch than PS4 and Xbox One combined, reminiscent of the sales of Blossom Tales on Switch. Needless to say, FDG’s next title will be targeted squarely as the Nintendo community. But what could that next project be?

What Can We Expect?

A Monster Boy sequel. FDG recently celebrated their collaboration with Game Atelier on Twitter and announced that they’re collaborating once more. The commercial and critical success of Monster Boy can only lead one to believe they’re hard at work on a follow-up together. Thankfully, with such a solid base to work off of now, this one shouldn’t take nearly as long to release.


Chucklefish

Chucklefish has garnered a great deal of respect in the indie community as both a developer (Starbound, WarGroove) and frequent publisher (Stardew Valley, Timespinner, the upcoming Eastward, and others). Their eagerness to bring so many of their top-notch titles to Switch has made them one of–if not the–most lauded indie studios on the platform. If it’s coming from Chucklefish, there’s a good chance it’ll be of the highest quality.

What Can We Expect?

Witchbrook! Chucklefish announced the game way back in 2017 and instantly had both Harry Potter and Little Witch Academia fans foaming at the mouth. It’s a magical school simulation/RPG where players will attend class, learn spells, make friends, date, and work towards graduation. The company’s CEO and lead designer, Finn, has been incredibly open about the game’s development from the beginning. In fact, he made the ever-changing Witchbrook design document public in August of 2019 to give some insight into the game design and planning process.

Since there’s already so much we know about where the game’s going, this is going to be used as more of a “Hopes for Witchbrook” section. To keep it short, let’s focus on two of the game’s most make-or-break elements: dating and world-building.

Dating

One of the things many RPGs struggle with is making dating feel meaningful after the relationship starts. People love romancing in Stardew Valley, but the experience itself is really rather shallow; bring characters their favorite items, talk to them daily, experience a few touching cutscenes and voila! All that’s left is to put a ring on it and have a baby.

My hope is that in Witchbrook, the real fun starts after the relationship begins. Being able to have lunch together, go to festivals, celebrate anniversaries, plan outings, and even introduce them to the player’s in-game friends would go a long way in making the relationship feel more than a ribbon to be crossed.

World-Building

When someone asks the seminal question “What fictional world would you love to live in?” the world of Harry Potter almost always tops to list (right next to Pokémon, that is). It isn’t just because of magic itself or the emotional ties people have to the cast, but more so because of the immense amounts of personality and lore J.K. Rowling infused into the world. From the dark history of Hogwarts to the vast array of magical beasts to the establishment of Quidditch, there is a whole movie and video game series that has been created based on mere slices of the Harry Potter universe.

Naturally, it’d be silly to expect Chucklefish to achieve as much depth in an indie project as one of the most successful authors of all time did over the course of seven books, but there’s still plenty of potential. Since the game will primarily take place at the school, exploring why the school was created and how it’s changed over the years could be quite interesting. Then there’s how different populations of the world at large feel about magic, how various magical species play a part, the favorite magic-imbued pastimes of students in the world of Witchbrook, and so on. The key will be to infuse magic into every element of the world (and gameplay) as naturally as possible. And after reading through the extensive design doc, I’ve no doubt Chucklefish will be able to pull it off.


The indie scene on the Switch is thriving more than ever. New talented developers are making the platform their home every day, and those who’ve already proved themselves are hard at work on their next premium experience. The next wave of releases from these studios can’t come soon enough.

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‘Death Stranding’: And Now for Something Completely Different

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Death Stranding Slow Connectivity

Video gaming as a medium has often been perceived as little more than a toy. Even with Nintendo pushing the NES as a part of the home and more than just a toy– a strategy they’d adopt again for the Wii– there are still many who see games as toys, rather than an expression of an art form. It makes perfect sense, though. If there’s one thing modern video game culture has pushed front and center this past decade, it’s instant satisfaction. As big-budget games embrace homogeneity, the medium’s priorities have shifted from capitalizing on its inherent interactivity to making sure gamers are never bored with their $60 toy. Reggie Fils-Aime famously said “If it’s not fun, why bother?” for a reason, but when every big-budget game is paced the same, structured the same, and plays the same, where’s the fun to be found? 

About Death Stranding…

It’s far too early to even assume what kind of impact Death Stranding will have on the medium & industry (if any), but as one of the last big budgets games to release in 2019, Hideo Kojima’s first crack at the “strand game genre” is a nice note to cap the decade off on– one that serves as an almost necessary palette cleanser as the medium heads into the 2020s. Death Stranding offers audiences a chance to breathe, to look at themselves in the mirror, and to reconnect. Not just with the world and others, but with a medium built on interactivity. 

Hideo Kojima is often criticized for his cutscene ratio, to the point where it’s not unusual to see critics suggest he just make a film, but the fact of the matter is that most games do need a story. Not just that, video games have the potential to present a story better than any other medium. Readers and viewers can place themselves in the shoes of their protagonists, but a game makes the player become the protagonist. How we control our characters, how we play, how we interact with a virtual world– all this is a reflection of ourselves, one that only the gaming medium can offer. 

Not that it often does, at least not meaningfully. Modern developers are afraid to lose consumer interest, and the increasing shift towards the “games as a service” model has ensured that gameplay loops are simple to pick up, simple to get into, and simple to stay into. Games are something to be played with– toys. And there’s immense value in that. Video games can be a fantastic way to reduce stress & clear one’s thoughts regardless of how they’re designed, but such an approach means that the average gamer is going to be accustomed to gameplay loops that are structurally derivative of one another. 

On the flip side, there are the games that prioritize narrative too much, or simply devalue their own gameplay with extraneous content. From Hideo Kojima’s own gameography, this is a mistake he clearly made with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Even from this decade, it can be argued that what little importance Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain placed on the story ended up hurting it in the long run because it distracted from the core gameplay loop. There’s a reason so many developers follow similar game structures and build off similar foundations: they’re reliable, they get the job done, and it does result in great games. Both The Last of Us and God of War (2018) are clear examples of how mechanically homogenous & predictable games have gradually become this past decade, but they’re still great games.

Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time.

Death Stranding is most comparable to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and perhaps The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but really only on the most surface of levels. Death Stranding has AAA backing, but it has the creativity and ingenuity of a modern indie. While AAA developers have lined up for uniformity, the indie half of the medium has arguably never been better. Those who grew up alongside video games are now developing their own, calling back to and even evolving forgotten genres. All the while, AAA games only move closer to the Disneyfication of movie production– hit all the key demographics, make it “accessible” for everyone, and make sure there are no real ideals or beliefs. No need to upset potential consumers, right? 

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Death Stranding was backed by Sony and developed by a massive development team, but Hideo Kojima’s direction is far more in-line with the modern indie scene than that of his AAA cohorts. Death Stranding is one of the slowest AAA titles to release in quite a long time. It’s slow to start, slow to pick up, and even the core gameplay loop is slow. It takes hours before players get their first vehicle, and even longer before they finally get a weapon. Death Stranding saves its actual core gameplay loop for so late in the experience that it’s not unreasonable to suggest the game sees an entire genre shift halfway through. But that’s missing the point. Death Stranding’s “genre shift” is only going to feel so for those who don’t want to engage with the first half’s crawl– those who just want to play with a toy. 

Of course, just wanting something simple and immediately engaging to play is fair enough. For working adults with limited time to play a game, in particular, but not every game is going to resonate with everyone, even if a game like Death Stranding is designed for anyone. Death Stranding seems inaccessible & foreign in a generation where every big genre release plays like the last, but between a myriad of difficulty options and an online system designed to make the player’s life easier– one that works & works well– Death Stranding takes the medium’s interactivity to its next logical step: connectivity. Real connectivity, though. A connection that goes beyond playing against or with someone for a few minutes. 

In Death Stranding, players can leave a tangible mark on, and in, the world. Players can build structures for others, share with others, and just do something as simple as “liking” others. Those opening hours are incredibly valuable as– without the means to kill or fight back– players are forced to interact with the game world on a deeper level beyond combat. Death Stranding takes its time developing its gameplay loop, drip-feeding weapons, and concepts. Even the online component opens itself slowly, forcing players to understand what it means to be alone before they can forge real connections– with the world, others, or themselves. 

This is what Hideo Kojima understands better than the majority of modern AAA developers: games can connect a feeling directly to the player. Death Stranding’s best moments (as any should be) stem from gameplay. Kojima’s storytelling is engaging as ever, but it exists to bolster the gameplay– as does the slow pacing, as does the aggressive enemy AI, as does locking out weapons for hours on end– everything in Death Stranding is ultimately in service of connecting players to Sam in a way that feels genuinely meaningful. Through Sam, audiences can observe an America that’s in ruins, but one that society is rebuilding.

As Sam reconnects America, opportunities arise to finish bridges for others, leave supplies in remote areas, or just warn of dangers ahead. It’s very Dark Souls-esque in nature, but with a gameplay loop that minimizes traditional action, Death Stranding is the rare AAA game that’s bold enough to embrace the medium and everything it represents, for better or worse. A video game interacts with an audience in a way that books and film can’t. Controlling an avatar is an intimate act and reflects us better than most might realize. Death Stranding recognizes this fact, turns its back on modern gaming mainstays, and attempts to reconnect the medium together. 

Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity. 

AAA gaming and the indie scene shouldn’t be divided. A gameplay loop doesn’t need instant satisfaction to be engaging. Story and gameplay shouldn’t feel disconnected. Standard online multiplayer can be more rewarding when PvP elements are tossed to the wayside or even just outright ignored. Death Stranding resembles the average AAA title in many respects, but it allows itself to be eclectic, off-putting, & sincerely unfiltered– in regards to politics, human nature, video games themselves. Only time will tell if “strand games” will take off, but keep in mind that the stealth genre didn’t exist when the hit “action” game Metal Gear released for the MSX2 in 1987. As Death Stranding makes abundantly clear, everything changes with time. 

The 2010s have not been a bad decade for the medium, far from it. The past ten years have seen truly legendary consoles and games come out of the woodwork, but it’s impossible to deny the shift that occurred (and had been occurring) in AAA game development– one that’s driven the medium far away from meaningful interactivity, where flavor of the month games long to be played for all eternity, like Toy Story-esque monstrosities given form. Death Stranding is a slow game, but the longer path walked only presents an opportunity to reconnect oneself to the heart of gaming: interactivity. 

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From Escape to Inspiration: How Video Games Promote Creativity

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Escape

The stresses of everyday life are often enough to put heavy strain on even the sharpest and most durable of minds. No one is immune to the pressures of work, school, or even the personal struggles that weigh down on everyone. Now more than ever, with advancements in technology and the increased prominence of fantastical immersion, video games have become more of an escape for people of all ages.

No longer are video games considered the medium for children looking to “waste time.” Rather, these virtual worlds have transformed into an integral part of how a grand portion of the globe’s population interacts with each other. Moreover, video games offer a much-needed respite from one’s struggles, drawing people into a fictitious realm in which they journey with a hero on their adventures in a compelling fable, or compete with other players worldwide.

Whatever one’s reasons for playing, video games are an outlet through which gamers alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and a myriad of other emotions, giving rise to joy and relaxation alongside a sense of accomplishment. This escape provides users with an opportunity to not only temporarily get away from whatever troubles them, but also inspires them and promotes creativity.

Inspiration

The old ways of acquiring inspiration (books, role models, school, friends and colleagues, etc.) are still tried and true. However, just as humans have evolved over millennia, so, too, have the means of stimulus and influence. Alongside these traditional sources of encouragement comes video games—visual, interactive stories and competitions that stimulate one’s mind and get hearts pumping and adrenaline rushing.

From betrayal to romance, the most traditional storytelling tropes have been plucked from novels and cinema to create these immersive, interactive worlds. Video games offer lessons in commitment, dedication, persistence, and so much more. Repeatedly, fans see their favorite heroes get knocked down, and then those same fans take control of those heroes and take them through the journey of picking themselves back up.

Assassin’s Creed II has players take control of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, even after they witness half the character’s family murdered before their very eyes. They join Ezio on his journey to avenge his family and develop into someone who refuses to give up, who uses ingenuity to learn and expand his own horizons to accomplish his goals—a tale of hope for anyone struggling to bounce back after trauma and tragedy.

Furthermore, from a technical standpoint, the advancement of video games in terms of how much they have evolved over the years is enough to inspire any aspiring video game developer. Taking one look at the beautiful worlds companies like Ubisoft, Bethesda, Square Enix, 343 Industries, and so many more create does wonders to convincing a plethora of gamers to learn how to code or write a compelling story.

Despite previous misconceptions that video games only give people a space in which to waste time, this hobby (or often profession, if one considers the earnings of the top eSports competitors) has shifted opinions to a more curious perspective. It’s difficult to ignore something so popular that promotes so much creativity.

Creativity

Initially, video games were a mere medium of entertainment. Simple games like Pong did little to foster the mental acuity of their users. However, since the 1980s, video games have surpassed their meager, albeit fun, precursors. Solving puzzles, exploring vast geographies, and overcoming challenging obstacles are just some of the facets of modern video games that force players to think a little deeper about the game’s objectives.

Sometimes, the direct path isn’t the answer, and video games teach players how to come up with alternative solutions to their problems. For example, titles like 2018’s Kingdom Come: Deliverance or 2001’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic give gamers the ability to choose how to complete certain missions, forcing them to deal with different consequences depending on the choices they make. Not all problems are easy, and video games can help equip players with the tools they will need to think about multiple possible solutions to a challenge.

Beyond ruminating about alternative solutions, the creativity avid gamers develop through video games will help them in other ways, such as their ability to think critically about certain concepts and form their own perspectives on complicated situations. Is the Dragonborn character gamers control in Skyrim defined only as the Dragonborn, or does that character bring more to the table than being a slayer who can communicate with mighty, scaly, winged lizards?

Video games keep fans’ minds churning with ideas for their own stories, whether those tales are reflections of their own lives or the inspiration for elements of their own literary or cinematic endeavors. Fans often draw courage from the heroes in their favorite titles, looking to them to help them out of a rut or learn how to deal with their own troubles. 

Whether learning how to use a little more diplomacy to negotiate through a bad situation or finding the gumption to learn martial arts to stay in shape or for self-defense, much of gamers’ motivation can be traced back to the inspiration they garnered from the heroes they see in all forms of media, and video games are no exception.

Evolution

Just as humans have to crawl before they walk, video games had to start small and gain traction before the world was ready to advance them to their current state. No longer are these virtual, interactive worlds a backdrop that people use to merely pass the time. Rather, they are the catalyst for courage, inspiration, creativity, and entertainment.

While video games have come a long way since the early days of Pong, they have still only progressed to a state of adolescence. Technology is advancing at a more rapid rate than ever before, and companies are no longer limiting themselves in terms of what they can achieve with one of the fastest-growing, financially prosperous, emotionally charged industries the world has ever seen. 

Dylan Warman

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