December 31, 2016

The Psycho Mantis Video Game Awards 2016

Keeping that Glass Half-Full With Video Games

Honestly, I'm already sick of people saying 2016 was a terrible year, but my god was 2016 a terrible year. Disasters seemed to keep piling on in both the personal and political realms. Artistic icons passed away, revolutions were drowned in blood, and tragedies just kept piling on for me and the people I care most about.

It's with some bitter irony, then, that I note just how amazing this year was for video games. I thought 2015 was good, but man if 2016 didn't blow it out of the water. Whether indie or AAA, action or story driven, PC or console, game developers put out some of their best work this year.

Of course, none of this makes up for the terrible things that happened. No amount of amazing video games is worth one Aleppo. But if there's anything to take from this year, it's the power of art and entertainment to help people deal with the hardest of times, and I hope this post shows that video games are continuing to prove their place as the foremost medium in both fields.

Now we just need to get rid of all of that human misery and make sure that everyone can enjoy them.

For the Record: No Fee-To-Pay

You Mei notice that one game that can be found in many, many GOTY lists is missing here. It's a game that has been a Bastion of enjoyment for me, having played it for around 300 hours now, and I doubt I'll stop anytime soon. When I played its open beta, I couldn't wait to get my Hanzo on it, and I've been enjoying its biZarya charms ever since it hit the Roadhog.

It's also a full priced game that had the gall to include microtransactions, and what's more, only allowing you to buy random lootboxes that are mostly filled with Junkrat. It's a real Reaper-off, and although it's not a pay-to-Winston system, it's scummy all the same. 

This year we are faced with the Sombra realization that ever more scummy business practices are finding their way into the premium games market. It's a fact that has affected me on both a personal and professional level. You may find it Anal, or argue that I'm going too Pharah. Still, as Reinhardt as it is, and as much as I'm Torbjörn about this decision, I can't just be Zenyatta and let it go. This is how industries Widow and die. And so, I cannot consider this game - at whose identitiy I will only very, very subtly hint - for GOTY.

Some will say this is hypocritical, since other games with DLC and season passes are featured here. However, there's no Symmetra between games with significant, well-defined expansions and those with endless, random microtransactions.

I am under no IlLucion that this will change anything in the near future, and I know it makes me look like a bit of a D.Va, but I believe everyone needs to follow their McCreed, and so, there can be no Mercy in the matter.

Of course, the same is true for any other game with similar business practices. This is an issue that may have Mankind Divided, but I have no doubt where I stand.


The Psycho Mantis "Reckless Person" Award For Worst Video Game, 2016

About a month ago, Steam Spy revealed that almost 40% of all Steam games came out this year. With the platform increasingly filled with utter garbage made by people who could only jokingly be referred to as "developers", it might seem questionable that any game with a decent budget or effort put into it could be the worst game released this year. However, reception is always relative to expectation, and there is very little to be gained from critiquing Steam's dumpster fires.

With that in mind, the worst video games released in 2016 are...

Street Fighter V

I'm not one to yell "you killed my childhood" at someone who made a bad movie or game. As far as I'm concerned, if your childhood is the sum total of the entertainment you consumed growing up, not much is lost by it being taken away. Still, Street Fighter has always had an important place in my heart. My grandmother used to watch me play SFII - even though she didn't like that it was violent and preferred it when we played Mario - and one day we even sat down to write what happens in each character's ending. That note still hangs on her fridge, last time I checked.

And so, when SFV came out, my good judgement and apprehension towards AAA gaming went out the window, and I ended up getting it on launch day. Imagine my surprise when I found out the game's story mode consisted of three incredibly easy fights for each character, and that it took upwards of 6 minutes to find a game online. Since launch, an extended story mode came out, but it's as boring as the original, and while online matches don't take quite as long to find, it's still well beyond what should be acceptable for a fighting game. 

Laughably touted as a Street Fighter for fighting game pros, Street Fighter V is barren and dim-witted, a stain on what is still my favorite fighting game franchise.


On paper, Shadwen sounds great. It's a stealth game where, just like in SUPERHOT, time only moves when you do (although in Shadwen, time completely stops instead of just passing very slowly), set in a world that looks and feels a lot like that of the first Witcher game. 

Sadly, all Shadwen does is prove once more that good ideas don't mean much on their own. The game constantly crashes, platforming (which this game has for some reason) is awkward and finicky, and the guards are practically blind, making stealth trivial and dissatisfying. 

Despite my best efforts, the game broke me pretty early on, when I was presented with a choice on whether to kill a guard or sneak past him. Or I would be, if a bug didn't force me to take a lethal approach either way. Even when, digging through the game's Steam forums, I found an exploit that allowed me to sneak by, I was still accused in the following cutscene of killing the guard. When a game gives you a choice and then ignores completely the one you took, what's the point?

I still say Shadwen's concept has a lot of promise. Here's hoping someone manages to capitalize on it in the future.


Never before has my utter contempt for a game been so accurately captured by a couple of screenshots.


Contrary to what this list might have you believe, I rarely go out seeking bad games. I take no joy in playing them. All they is make me bored and irritated. If I do seem gleeful when taking them down, it's only because it's the only thing I can gain from my time with them. But Bombshell really looked like one of those rare so-bad-it's-good games, a game where you can really enjoy the awfulness.

Sadly, no. If you think Bombshell can give you over-the-top action-movie stupidity, you're in for a disappointment. If anything, Bombshell is weirdly understated, with a distinct lack of audio-visual feedback that makes all the shooting and explosions feel empty and complete lacking in impact. One turret section - because apparently the year is 2009 - was so quiet that I started wondering if I'm being pranked.

When it's not trying to kill by being dull in look and feel, Bombshell tries to torture you with its humor. A cursory look at anything I've ever written will make it very clear that I have an idiot's sense of humor, and even I found Bombshell's jokes to be assaults on the very idea of humor. There actually a weapon in this game called a Maxigun - get it? Because Bombshell is a woman? For fuck's sake.

Back In 1995

Almost forgot about this one, and I haven o idea how I could! The glitches, the awful writing, the poo monsters - everything about Back In 1995 screams style over substance, trying to capture in painstaking detail the looks and controls of old survival horror games - up to and including an option to turn on CRT effect, no thank you - with no understanding of what made them great. As I wrote about its conscious attitude to some of its mechanics as "gimmicks" at the time, 

"...that could be said about practically anything in Back In 1995: it's all a gimmick. Resident Evil had turret controls because the first PlayStation didn't have dual analog sticks. Silent Hill had fog because the PlayStation wasn't powerful enough to render the large environments Team Silent wanted to use. Why does Back In 1995 do anything that it does? Just because. Just to make you think of the old horror games you liked, in the hopes that maybe you'd like it by-proxy."

I didn't, and that seems to be general consensus. With a new Resident Evil touted as a return to the series' survival-horror roots and at least one Silent Hill-throwback game planned for release in 2017, let's hope the future is a bit kinder to classic survival horror.

Worst of the Year - Knee Deep + Virginia

There are game developers who borrow heavily from film, using cinematic techniques to enhance their writing and visuals. Then there are developers who prefer to tell stories in a way that is more uniquely available to video games, including especially the metagame narratives we've seen more and more of following the success of Undertale and Pony Island. These two trends in video-game storytelling both have their merits, and the differences and interplay between them deserve a more thorough analysis than they have been given so far.

One category of games that get entirely too much attention, though, is that of games that try very hard to convince that they are something else. The foremost representatives of this category I've come across this year are Knee Deep and Virginia, the former trying to present itself as a play, the latter as a movie. Lucky for them, they are, in fact, video games; otherwise, they would be shred to pieces by any self-respecting critic in the media they try to ape.

Knee Deep has you play a reporter, and the interactivity reduces to the way you decide to write your stories. You can be "Cautious", "Edgy", or "Inflammatory", but no matter what you choose, the result will be some cringe-worthy blocks of text or dialogue. Theater prides itself on wit and depth, two qualities sorely missing from Knee Deep.

Virginia is so overflowing with pretentiousness that it actually replaces the Play Game option from the main menu with Play Feature. It is so desperate to be like a movie that it recommends that you play at 30 frames per second, as if that's going to make its terrible character models or barren environments look any better. It still gives you an aiming reticle, though, because video games.

The problem with Knee Deep and Virginia isn't in technical aptitude, although there's some real uncanny-valley stuff going on in both games. The problem is their basic design philosophy, which seems to argue that in order for video games to grow as a medium, they need to become something else. They represent a sinister trend in game design, with a massive cognitive dissonance between the way they view themselves and what they end up achieving. 

Fortunately, I believe these to be the death pangs of that trend. It's been a while since anyone went looking for gaming's Citizen Kane, and hopefully, in the future, games like Knee Deep and Virginia will be dealt with the sort of bemused scorn they deserve. We have too many good developments in video games for them to get anything else.

Also, what's with the way they drew hands in Virginia?

Jesus Christ.

Well, that's the crap out of the way. On to the good stuff!

The Psycho Mantis "Prudent Person" Award For Best Video Game, 2016

Honorable Mention - Downwell

Although a 2015 game technically, Downwell got its Android and PS3/4/Vita versions this year, allowing me to sink unthinkable amounts of time into it on various platforms. If you still haven't tried this one, I urge you to do so now. It really is one of the finest platformers ever made, brilliantly designed, beautiful and most importantly, incredibly fun.

Honorable Mention - Slain: Back From Hell

Slain is a game I was really excited for when trailers first came out. A retro, heavy-metal swords-and-sorcery platformer sounds right up my alley. When it came out, however, it got a very cold reception due to a very basic combat system, a lot of missing audio cues, and an all-around shoddy presentation and feel. Disappointed, I decided to forget about the game.

Luckily, Slain fell into the hands of a much better team, and Slain: Back From Hell was released as an apology to those who were so disappointed in the end product. The result is a game that, while not revolutionary in any way, is a whole bunch of fun and, by all accounts, is far better than the original.

It's bad practice to give awards to games that patched out problems after release, which is why Back From Hell shouldn't be considered for GOTY. However, it gets a mention because it is a positive counter to that commonly misused Shigeru Miyamoto quote about delayed games: here we have a game that was bad, but won't be bad forever. Here's hoping the people who got it that way will get to make a new game from the ground up. Whether it'll be a Slain 2 or an entirely new game, they certainly deserve credit for the respect they have shown their audience and the medium.

Also, the dialogues between the protagonist and the crone are amazing.


Firewatch has the distinction of being the first walking simulator I truly enjoyed. To this day, when I think about it, I remember its lovely art style, the quiet ambience of the wind and water, the animals you see along the way, and how good it feels to just move around the world and take in its beauty. While some of its trickery is apparent and jarring - like when two distant characters are represented by stick figures and the game thought we wouldn't notice - it just works so well most of the time that these issues are easy to forgive. 

I only played Firewatch once so far, which is unfortunate. This is one walking simulator where your choices actually have an effect on the story, and the developers even included dialogue for a set of choices few players are likely to take up, where you simply ignore dialogue options altogether. The silent exploration leaves so much space for you to think about what's going on and what you want to say and do next, and it never feels like you're railroaded into treating characters a specific way just because the game wants you to. Plus I liked the ending, so there. 

Oh, and you can play with turtles!

Many turtles.

I only ever found one, though.


I wasn't massively impressed by Dark Souls III. In general, I find the Dark Souls games are the least enjoyable of the Soulsborne games, and while III is probably the best of the trilogy, it doesn't even approach the level of quality of Bloodborne. I also didn't like how it referenced the first game - to me, a lot of the fun of playing From's games is in trying to make sense of the alien world I have been put into, and when I know so much of the world already, that sense is completely gone. And so, sadly, Dark Souls III isn't one of my favorite games of the year, but thanks to DarkMaus, it's not even my favorite Souls-like game of the year. 

DarkMaus' premise is simple: a top-down adventure game with a Dark Souls-style combat system where you play a mouse. However, the devil is in the details here, and what DarkMaus truly succeeds in is in creating the sort of bleak world atmosphere that is integral to the series that it's aping. There's secret areas, madness, brutality, cruelty, betrayal - all the arcane mystery and danger that make these games stick with players so much. 

And it even has a dodge system that isn't a broken mess, so that's nice.

Uncharted 4

This one was not expected. I hated Uncharted 3, and am one of the few people on the planet who found The Last of Us very meh, because I'm not a sucker for hype I just didn't think it was mechanically all that interesting.

However, Uncharted 4 is legit. It's a loud, dumb action game, but it has real soul to it. It is finally a Naughty Dog game with interesting characters and an actual point to make, a story about siblings - which I'm always a sucker for - and the way they balance their desire to make each other happy with their own happiness. And while I didn't much care for the actual shoot-outs, I really liked the platforming sections, which is surprising because that's hands-down what I hated the most about 3. I also think the multiplayer must've been pretty good in those first few weeks before it completely died.

Uncharted 4 is so good that it's pretty high on my list of games from this year I want to replay. Naughty Dog finally made a game I love, and I couldn't be happier.


5 minutes in, I was gearing up to hate Oxenfree, with its typical cast of obnoxious douchebag teenagers you're supposed to want to see dead. Not too long afterwards, though, Oxenfree got its hooks in me. The characters became more interesting, the atmosphere got truly dark, and I got more and more interested in uncovering the story beyond the funny radio noises. 

Horror is at its best when it is accentuated by silliness, and Oxenfree uses this in its favor with great proficiency. Humor is used to great effect, endearing characters to you and making the moments where you have to make tough decisions about them all the more effective. If you were turned off by the first few scenes of the game, I urge you to reconsider - there's depth to this game, even if it comes off as initally as typical horror schlock.


2016 saw a whole bunch of games released whose point was to completely shatter the fouth wall, to the point where this risked becoming an annoyingly-overused concept for a while. Pony Island, Calendula and SUPERHOT all had uncooperative menu screens and creepy texts trying to get in your head. 

However, to me, IMSCARED stands above all those other games in successfully playing on the player's fears, to the point where I actually don't want to say any more about it. Just go play it. It's dirt cheap, scary as hell, and amazing. It got to me on a basic, almost technical level, but I can't say more without ruining something so just Go. Get. It.

Kathy Rain

Grant us eyes, grant us eyes!

Kathy Rain's Android version was released on a week when I was suffering some serious leg pain, to the point where I had to stay in bed. Good thing, too, because once I picked it up, I couldn't stop. 

Kathy Rain is a retro point-and-click game, of the kind that has been having a bit of a renaissance lately, no doubt due in part to Jay Tholen's excellent Dropsy. Rain is a college student and a budding detective who one day finds out that her long-estranged grandfather has died. After his funeral, she reconnects with her grandmother and starts to investigate the mysterious circumstances of his death.

Point-and-click puzzle games are notorious for their obtuse, moon-logic puzzles, which is why I was so pleasantly surprised by Kathy Rain. The puzzles are challenging, but upon finding out the solution, you never feel like you lucked out or just combined items until something worked. Despite there being a bit too much going back and forth between places to my taste, it always feels like there's a logic to the solutions, even when it isn't necessarily apparent. The result is that the process of coming up with a solution is so enjoyable that you're never frustrated by being stuck, something very few puzzle games manage to accomplish.

Aside from solving puzzles to progress through the story, Kathy Rain also gives the player the chance to connect the dots between the many plot threads in the game, exploring themes of corruption, insanity, abuse, friendship and family, among others. It's a beautifully crafted story, with many touching and funny moments, with an ending that's effective in a way that I unfortunately can't say more about without spoiling it. Suffice to say, it's one of the most satisfying stories I've seen in a while.

So I really hope that sequel baiting ending was legit, because I'd play the shit out of a Kathy Rain 2.

1979 Revolution: Black Friday

There's very little I can say about 1979 Revolution that I haven't already said in my review, but I believe this part sums things up quite well:

"Banalities are never in short supply when one tries to discuss the popular uprisings of the past: "revolutions devour their own children", "violence begets violence", "absolute power corrupts absolutely" - such platitudes are often all people feel the need to say about events that have had enough books written about them to fill up a library. When they take place in a Middle-Eastern country, the racist idea that Muslims, left to their own devices, can only replace a pro-Western dictatorial regime with an even worse, Islamic regime, is all the more tempting to those whose understanding of the region has been heavily colored by post-9/11 Islamophobia...

With such heavy subject matter to tackle, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday's triumph in interactive storytelling is all the more significant. By having the player character take an active role in the revolution as well as exposing players to its social, cultural and political backdrop, it can be said with no hyperbole that it has won an important place in video game history."

Unforutnately, I believe recent events make this statement all the more pertinent.

Best of the Year - DOOM

No surprises here. After years of grey military shooters, the king is back. DOOM manages to take the level design of the first Doom and the fast paced shooting galleries of the Doom II and mix them up into something that isn't exactly like either of those games, but instead a new, superior product. I've written about the brilliance of DOOM's mechanics, the way they complement each other and contribute to the game's sheer adrenaline rush of a pace; slightly better known gaming media people have spoken about the genius way it characterizes its protagonist; but what's truly amazing about DOOM is that none of that analysis is really that necessary. 

Don't get me wrong, it's fun to analyze DOOM as much as any great game. But a lot of media becomes better or worse upon reflection. But DOOM's qualities are so obvious and distinctive that it seems so much easier to let it speak for itself. A lot of game design is concerned with having the player realize how to play the game without telling them explicitly how to do so, and in that sense, DOOM is a masterpiece of game design. It is by no means easy - on Nightmare difficulty, it's quite a challenge - but the difficulty always encourages adjustment rather than repetition. 
DOOM could have easily been a very bleak game, constantly trying to shock players with the sheer horror and misery of hell. There is some of that in the game, of course; but it also knows how to be colorful, almost cartoony, respectful of its past without having any of what it does feel like gratuitous fan-service.

It's also such a beautiful game. I mean, look at this flower jar.
That flower jar...
A lot of people complained about the multiplayer, but I actually like it quite a lot. I have put more time into certain team-based, objective-driven games that shall remain nameless, but as far as mindless run-around-shooting games, this is the sort of multiplayer mode I've always wanted. It's fast and tactical, the complete opposite of Call of Duty's hope-you-see-the-other-guy-first style, and most importantly, you can turn into a demon - including, after some recent updates, a Cacodemon. 

You can be a Cacodemon, people. 

How could this ever not by GOTY?


Well, that's it for 2016. It's December 31st, and it's time for my yearly tradition of playing Metal Gear Solid alone in my apartment and wondering why no one likes me SEE YA'LL NEXT YEAR! 

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