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Games I played in 2016 - Part 2

I hope you enjoyed my previous post regarding games I enjoyed playing back in 2016. There were more than five of them however so read on as continue to cover them in Part 2 of my Games I played in 2016 series.

The latest in Capcom's long-running
fighting game franchise

Street Fighter V

Perhaps the most controversial game release of 2016 (next to No Man's Sky) could be handed to the latest in Capcom's famed fighting game franchise. When the title released in February last year it was a fighter that was very light on single player content, had noticeable issues with working servers and online play at launch, modes that were inaccessible until at a least a month after launch and other issues. Shifting the emphasis to online play is one thing but when even that has severe functionality issues out of the gate, its not a fantastic way to successfully launch the latest numbered entry in a long-running franchise.

Those things said, the core gameplay is thankfully solid as ever with strikes, throws and supers hitting heavier than they ever have. Introduced in this instalment are V-Skills and V-Triggers. Each character has these, allowing for greater variation in playstyles as they gain increased power, speed, manoeuvrability or armour when activated. Most of the returning cast have been refreshed from their former appearances, meaning the likes of Ken, Nash, Karin, Vega, Dhalsim and co feel both familiar and new at the same time. The new faces in Necali, Laura, Rashid and Fang are worthy additions and fell right at home among old favourites (and not as bland or eccentric as SFIV's new additions).

Graphically the game is great with the Unreal 4 Engine being used to bring Street Fighter into the modern age. Backgrounds are diverse and appealing, showing a variety of locales and allowing the series' famed interactivity as signs break, environments shake and your opponent gets sent through a window at the side of the stage or ends up with a hot dog standee on their head. Modern yet instantly familiar to long-term series fans.

(I'm aware reading the following paragraphs back comes across as a mini-rant but I feel it still needed to be covered. Don't worry, the general game overview returns afterwards 😉)

Although we had to wait a month or so until after release to access it, the in-game shop allows players to use Fight Money accrued through playing the game's modes to purchase alternate costumes, stages, titles and perhaps most importantly, characters. Prior to release Capcom went on record claiming that original version of Street Fighter V would be the only version players would ever need to own. All additional fighters would be unlockable using Fight Money or could be bought through PSN.

Though this is true, consider that each character costs 100,00FM. Finishing the game's easy survival mode nets you 4,000 - 5,000FM. Completing each character's story mode will get you another 4,000FM. Sounds fair, right? However these are one-time only rewards. So how do you obtain FM otherwise? Well if you play online and win, you get 50FM. Its a huge contrast and not really a viable means of building currency without grinding. You do get 1,000FM for levelling up a character but this takes longer with each level gained. So yes, you can unlock them without paying more (£4.99 each or £24.99 for the 2016 character pass if you choose that method) but Capcom has turned something that should be challenging but engaging into a slog (tut tut Capcom). In contrast Street Fighter IV let you unlock 6 of its additional playable characters by finishing arcade mode with the right characters once. The remaining 3 characters were more challenging to unlock but they could all be unlocked within 2.5-3 hours. One wonders why Capcom's approach changed so drastically between SFIV and SFV and we can only speculate why until Capcom staff explain the approach one day (maybe).

You might wonder why I bother playing Street Fighter V after explaining the above. Well the core gameplay is still very strong, at high-level play the game is quite captivating for avid players and watchers alike and as of mid-February a new character will be added to the current roster by the end of the month (Gill's assistant and ice user, Kolin), taking the existing roster up to 24 with four more characters new to the Street Fighter series on the way. Its this expanding of the roster and other features that keeps me hopeful for the game's future and that we can put its rocky launch way behind us.

Naughty Dog's latest (and perhaps final) offering in
Nathan Drake's action-filled, globetrotting adventures

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

When developer Naughty Dog announces a new title, players and fans feel a huge well of excitement. When that game is a newly numbered entry in the renowned Uncharted series, that excitement reaches levels of hysteria. Many had anticipated that Naughty Dog would be bringing the latest tale of Nathan Drake's adventures to the PS4 and we finally got it with Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

Although the cover art would lead anyone to believe the series has progressed into dark territory, Uncharted 4 is more a tale about family and leaving an adventure's life behind. After his numerous adventures escaping the likes of Shambala, cities hidden deep in searing deserts and islands filled with otherworldly creatures, here we are shown a Nathan who has hung up his pistol and various treasures in his attic for a regular job in salvage and stamping maritime permits. Nathan appears happy after retuning to normal life and living with his on-off love interest through the earlier games, Elena Fisher. Even as they sit on the couch eating dinner together, Nathan is caught drifting off into his own adventure-filled world whilst gazing at a picture of an exotic island on the apartment wall. He may have left the treasure hunting life behind but his spirit and desire for that life is ever present.

Not too long after our reintroduction to Nathan and Elena does Drake's long-lost brother, Sam Drake, turn up. Looking like a mix between Luke Perry and Bruce Springsteen, Nathan is both surprised and overjoyed at his brother's appearance, leading them to have an hours long catch-up on the pier (players even get to choose which adventure Nathan (they) enjoyed the most in the previous games at this point). It is not long however before talk turns to another adventure for untold riches. Nathan quickly informs Sam that he has left that life behind and is quite happy with his life the way it is. Sam manages to convince Drake to go on a journey to retrieve the treasure of famed pirate Henry Avery, causing Nathan to lie to Elena that he has a short salvage contract in Malaysia. Thus begins the wild adventure of Uncharted 4.

Perhaps wild is an understatement given the nature of Naughty Dog's flagship series. Taking in a variety of locations including Italy, the Scottish Highlands, Madagascar and many exotic  islands, Uncharted 4 feels like Nathan's biggest adventure yet. As players progress through the game on the trail for Avery's long-lost treasure they cross paths with long-term career criminal and treasure seeker Rafe Adler and PMC and mercenary leader, Nadine Ross. Making the journey slightly less treacherous (and a little more charming) is the return of Victor Sullivan, the wisened and cigar-chewing mentor to Drake. They allow for interesting dynamics as characters show their history together and their liking (or severe disliking) of each other.

Being a numbered Uncharted entry you can expect tight, responsive gunplay and highly-engaging set pieces galore and Uncharted 4 does not disappoint. I will try to not go into huge amounts of detail here but the game's set pieces do a great job of challenging some of the series' best to date. They make great use of the locations which vary significantly to each other. Additionally each location is fantastically realised, bursting with colour that adds to a fantastic sense of immersion. Drake has also added a grappling hook to his existing arsenal. This allows Nathan to scale hard to reach areas, traverse and swing across gaps between cliffs and drag heavy crates/containers around. It allows for some creative usage in the game that I won't spoil for you here (yet might fulfil that itch you have to be Indiana Jones after all).

Multiplayer is present and although I haven't spent a great deal of time with this so far it appears to be more robust than its ever been. Players can build up points through in-game kills which can be used on helpers that can sway the path to victory in your direction. There are also AOE relics that can be used similarly to really mess up your opponent's team. Regular play of multiplayer also provides a variety of unlocks that allows players to customise their appearance, loadouts and taunts (because taking selfies over your enemy's dead corpse is a classy thing to do).

I had a superb time with Uncharted 4. Nathan's final foray into the world of treasure hunting is as exciting, wonderful, dangerous and riveting as you would expect it to be. That it looks this gorgeous from a technical and artistic point of view only helps in making the adventure even greater. You are really missing out if you don't play this on the PS4 and if this truly is Drake's final outing, well that's fine with me.

NOTE: It was announced at the December 2016 Playstation Experience that the spin-off Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is on the way featuring Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross seemingly teaming up. Naughty Dog handles strong female characters well so hopes are high for this being something great. Hopefully we will hear of a set release date soon.

ASW's long-running fighting game franchise returns
with aplomb in GGXrd: Revelator

Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator

Not one to believe in succinct titles, developer Arc System Works' latest entry in the ongoing weapons-based fighting game series Guilty Gear Xrd, subtitled Revelator, sees the fighter return to the PS3/PS4. Joining the existing roster are returning characters Johnny, a shades-wearing pirate dressed like a cowboy who practises the iaidō style of swordsmanship, and Jam, a Chinese restaurant waitress with heavy overtones of kung-fu and Bruce Lee). New faces introduced in GGXrd: Rev include Jack-O, a mask-wearing female with a serious case of split personality and a living ball and chain attached to her leg. Raven can be unlocked in-game and as per his namesake carries the crow motif in both his appearance and moveset. He also has a sado-masochistic streak with a longing for pain. Kum Haehyun is a DLC character that sees a tuner (as the game refers to them) inhabit a mechanical fighter that looks ever so slightly like Gouken from Street Fighter IV. Additionally, due to a popularity poll conducted by ASW, Dizzy was later added to the roster as a playable character (and was free to download for the first week of release). Its nice to have some of my old favourites return to the roster finally (I enjoy using both Johnny and Jam and I don't mind playing as Dizzy from time to time either) and the new characters feel like they fit quite nicely into the existing roster.

New additions and returning faces join the fray 
in Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator

As is the trend with ASW console releases, GGXrd: Rev has a cinematic story that continues the narrative of its predecessor, GGXrd: SIGN. For this players are encouraged to grab a hot drink, sit back, absorb the story and lore as Sol, Ky and company unveil a scheme by The Universal Will, a being who has a penchant for human genocide and Mexican Day of the Dead face paint. It makes for an interesting, exciting and at times heartfelt chapter in the Guilty Gear narrative, allowing characters we know and love to grow, change and put everything on the line to protect what's important to them and the world. Familiar faces also show up which may please those anticipating the return of their favourite character (the recently announced GGXrd: Rev 2 will see 'business ninja' Answer join the cast and long-time favourite, the pink-haired one-armed samurai Baiken finally make a return). Slowly and surely ASW is doing a great job of pleasing long-term fans, adding new and interesting faces to the expanding roster.

Standard modes such as Arcade, Survival, M.O.M (methods of mayhem), Training and Online are all present. The online component is robust, allowing players to walk as their small avatar around a virtual arcade, take a seat at a cabinet and wait for a competitor to join them in battle. Its nice to see the online work as although its done simply, the lobby system feels more interactive than the static fighters of other major fighters. Players can also go fishing which allows them to use currency earned in-game to potentially obtain titles, avatars, unlockables from the Revelator's gallery and even character poses for the Diorama Mode. Additionally there is a gallery mode containing various pieces of game art, voice samples, tracks from older Guilty Gear games, character colours and the character Raven all waiting to be unlocked. The great thing here is that earning the game's currency is not a drawn-out affair, meaning you will be able to obtain the parts you want from Gallery Mode within a reasonable amount of playtime with minimal grinding.

Overall GGXrd: Revelator makes for a comprehensive and content-rich package. After the initial release of SIGN which reintroduced players to the world of Guilty Gear, Revelator steps things up with an increased roster, additional mechanics and the promise of more to come soon. I'm looking forward to what ASW will do with the series in the future.

Game Director Hidetaki Miyazaki's latest in the dark-fantasy
RPG genre. Are you prepared to die once more?

Dark Souls III

I've already covered one 3rd-person action RPG from developers From Software in the first part of this piece already. That they released another title in a similar mould that I managed to play last Summer sings to the strength of the renowned developer.

The latest in the famed Souls series, Dark Souls III saw the original director of Demon's Souls/Dark Souls, Hidetaki Miyazaki, return to lead this entry in the right direction. And this he did quite superbly. This time around players will take their personalised avatar through the world of Lothric, another profoundly Gothic-laden land that may trigger memories for those familiar with the lands of the original Dark Souls. This journey will see players take on the Lords of Cinder in the Abyss Watchers, Yhorm the Giant, Aldrich, Devourer of Gods and brothers Lothric and Lorian (lords of cinder who were tasked with linking the fire for this generation but shirked their responsibility to live in quiet solitude). As you progress through Dark Souls III it is your task to defeat these Lords of Cinder, sending them back to their graves and collecting their ashes to progress to the game's end goal. If explaining it sounds epic, playing Dark Souls III is much more so. Whether it be the encounters, the boss battles or admiring the scenery of the castles, manors, forests, catacombs, caves and more, Dark Souls III  is as a much a love letter to those who have played the earlier games (specifically Dark Souls) as it is a fantastic action RPG experience.

Player actions and movement are once again governed by your stamina meter. This determines whether you can attack, defend, roll out of danger, handle heavy blows and more. Players would do well to assure their stamina meter is not easily emptied lest they become staggered, opening them up for a critical strike by the enemy. You can land these on the opponent too and nothing is more satisfying than knocking a huge knight's shield aside, then pinning him to the ground with a thrust to the stomach. There is still a level of danger with each encounter and this makes for an exciting experience, even if it all goes wrong and you end up dying.

And die you will. Firmly a series staple at this point, dying in Dark Souls III is part of the game's whole ecosystem and is not really something to lament and dislike. Akin to the previous titles, players are given a chance to reach the point you last perished and retrieve your collected souls. If you are killed before then you lose your souls for good. Given they are used as a means of levelling up and in-game currency it is of course important to stay alive in order to retain them for general use. They can be accrued again however by slaying enemies, bosses and found on bodies of the fallen around Lothric. Its this risk/reward style of play that makes Dark Souls III so captivating with you having to often consider if you should venture beyond the current bonfire when your current soul count is in the 200,000 range or more (only the very recently released Nioh may rival this for tangible tension in-game).

There is a unique kind of appeal in a title where you genuinely do not know what is around the next corner or dark, lonely corridor. It its this feeling of mystery that contributes to Dark Souls III feeling like a grand adventure where you unearth the secrets and horrors of the land, facing bosses that are as mesmerising as they are vicious and none feeling lacklustre in their presentation (the Dancer of the Boreal Valley, the Abyss Watchers and Yhorm the Giant being personal highlights). The game also has optional bosses to uncover which offers a substantial level of challenge for the seasoned Dark Souls player.

I haven't had the opportunity to try the game's DLC as of yet (one part was released last October and the second part sees release in late March). The regular release of Dark Souls III provides a highly immersive and engaging experience with or without said DLC and whether you are a returning fan or a newcomer to the series, traversing the dangerous and sometimes captivating world of Lothric will most certainly be worth your time.

Link's latest 3DS adventure
in the world of Hyrule

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

I'd heard this game was good for a long time. Touted as a follow-up to the original A Link to the Past released on the SNES, this 3DS-specific Zelda title carries many of the hallmarks of the former classic. Therefore we see a top-down Zelda game that brings back many of the familiar locations too, from Hyrule Castle to Kakariko Village, the Lost Woods, Lake Hylia and Death Mountain, many of the areas are given a facelift to fit the 3DS' capabilities. We are also treated to a new tale that sees wizard Yuga turn princess Zelda into into a painting before kidnapping her. During the same encounter Link is also turned into a 2D version of himself.

The Legend of Zelda's hero Link,
both in 3D and his Picasso-esque 2D self

Although at first alarming, Link soon finds this can be used to his advantage as it allows him to not only blend into and traverse walls in the various houses, castles and dungeons he enters but also slip between cracks in those walls and sometimes even through portals (I swear sometimes the villains in Zelda games just want Link to reach them so they can have another fight). It allows for some very inventive use of Link's new abilities within the game's dungeons. Additionally, the adding 3D has allowed the developers to be just as creative with the game's puzzles as Link uses his items to traverse the various locations in new and interesting ways for a Zelda title.

The graphical style of the game is very fitting for the 3DS with everything looking great and functional for this entry in the Zelda franchise. Characters are once again small versions of themselves which might disappoint fans of adult Link from the likes of Twilight Princess and other Zelda titles but its something that can be easily adjusted to within a little amount of playtime. The soundtrack is great and recalls the classic Zelda theme together with a selection of old and newly orchestrated tracks. It all contributes to a very high-quality entry in the long-running series and if your question is "should I play this?" I would ask if you have every played a Zelda title and enjoyed it? If the answer is yes, go and play A Link Between Worlds. You won't be wasting your time.

That's my second round-up of games I got to play in 2016 that left a lasting impression on me. Have you played any of those mentioned? If so, what did you think? If you have any comments, add them below. Alternatively you can share them on Facebook, Twitter or your social media network of choice. Thanks for reading and look forward to the final Part 3 where I cover the likes of team hero shooter Overwatch, bizarre courtroom title Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies and the latest in SNK's long-running fighting game franchise, The King of Fighters XIV.

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