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As a poor man, I don’t play as many games as I’d like. Nowhere near in fact. Yet in spite of that I’ve still managed, on average, a new game a month so yay for me. With 2016 mercifully almost at an end, I thought I’d have a look back over what I’ve played and select some winners in some arbitrary categories I’ve come up with on the spot. Because bollocks to preparation.

Surprise of the Year
Contenders: Doom, Final Fantasy XV
Winner: Doom

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Image from BagoGames

As much as Final Fantasy XV is a return to form, it has to be Doom. After some not unsubstantial concern before release, with an unimpressive multiplayer beta and slow looking gameplay previews, Doom turned out to be a masterpiece. Eschewing the approach of many modern FPS’s, Doom prioritised it’s single player campaign and was all the better for it. It wasn’t just a warm-up for the multiplayer a’la Call of Duty and Battlefield, but an honest-to-God story, one with plot and everything. The no-nonsense Doom Guy also had a surprising amount of depth, treating demons and allies alike (as well as robots, computer screens and machinery) with a disdain normally reserved for dog mess on the bottom of your shoe. Doom 2016 was everything that Doom 3 wasn’t. Well crafted, well balanced, engaging and above all a ton of fun.

DLC of the Year
Contenders: Destiny Rise of Iron, The Witcher 3 Blood and Wine, SWTOR Knights of the Eternal Throne
Winner: The Witcher 3 Blood and Wine
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If this had been a standalone game it would probably be up there in many writers Game of the Year lists. As a coda to what I would say is the best game of the generation so far, Blood and Wine is as perfect a conclusion as one could wish for. Moving away from the war-torn, grim locales of the main game and Heart of Stone makes it almost feel like a whole new game, so drastic is the change in tone and atmosphere. Throw in vampires, court intrigue and Geralt’s continued befuddlement at the behaviour of the locals and you’re onto a winner. Combine that with a great story, achingly pretty new locations and it’s a wonderful send off for our rugged Withcer. You couldn’t ask for more.

Most Anticipated of 2017
On paper, 2017 is already shaping up to be a stronger year than 2016. Not to say 2016 was bad, just that a lot of the stuff that achieved critical acclaim didn’t appeal to me (I’m looking at you, Overwatch and Dark Souls 3). 2017 sees Rockstar returning to the Wild West in Red Dead Redemption 2, more piss-taking shenanigans in South Park: The Fractured But Whole and Link’s return to the home console scene with Breath of the Wild.

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Image from BagoGames

But for my money the one game I can’t wait to get my hands on is Mass Effect Andromeda. I’m super excited to see where Bioware take the Mass Effect franchise. The early footage looks promising, with lots of lessons learnt from Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition. Replacing Commander Shepard will be one hell of a task, but one I trust Bioware to pull off.

Disappointment of the Year
Contenders: No Man’s Sky, Uncharted 4, Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2
Winner: Uncharted 4

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Image from BagoGames

Right, now bear with me. I loved the first three Uncharted games. Even the third one which for some reason nobody seems to like anymore. When it came to the fourth entry, it just fell flat for me. The middle third is a meandering mess. Doing repetitive nonsense in Madagascar was bad enough, but following that up with a God-awful island hopping adventure that makes the jet ski sections in the first game look good was the final straw. It may not be the headline grabbing failure that No Man’s Sky was, but as an exercise in falling short of expectation I don’t think you can look much farther.

Game of the Year
Contenders: Doom, Rise of the Tomb Raider (PC), Final Fantasy XV
Winner: Rise of the Tomb Raider

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Image from BagoGames

It came out on PC at the start of the year, it counts. In short, it has all the strengths of Uncharted 4, but with good pacing, less tedious set pieces and a more enjoyable story. If Tomb Raider 2013 was the perfect 8/10 game, this took it to the next level. Giving Lara more agency in the game helped to harken back to the classic Tomb Raider games, but without losing the sense of who this version of Lara was. She was still the same character we saw trapped on a cloudy island in the reboot, but with more knowledge and more of an edge. It suddenly didn’t seem so odd to see her gunning down mercenaries left, right and centre without batting a TressFX rendered eyelash.

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Mass Effect 3 is my favourite game of all time. I think about this far more than is perhaps normal, or indeed healthy, but with Mass Effect Andromeda in the news I can’t help it. Sadly it seems that this love isn’t shared by the majority of Mass Effect fans. Indeed, the third game is often seen as the weakest, in no small part to it’s controversial ending (more on that later).

I decided to play through the Mass Effect trilogy again earlier this year for the first time since 2012. Mass Effect 3 was my favourite at the time, but I wondered if perhaps I just got caught up in the excitement of the new. Playing through first two games again I was constantly looking forward to the third, but I couldn’t shift the feeling that perhaps I’d made a terrible mistake. Everybody and their Mum said Mass Effect 2 was the best, hands down. Playing through it I could certainly see their point. The story and gameplay were all top notch and a vast improvement over it’s predecessor. Yet something was off. I didn’t like the new crew. Sure, Mordin was great and Garrus and Tali were there from the first game, but the rest? Weaker versions of better characters. When I got to the third game that just confirmed it, it was like getting the band back together.

What set Mass Effect apart from any other series was interacting with your crew. I don’t just mean romancing them and getting up to some hanky-panky in your quarters either. Learning their life story and forming bonds was perhaps more important than whatever Reaper threat was going on in the main plot. Hell, in Mass Effect 3 those weaker characters from 2, though not part of your crew, now have stories that are interesting and humanising. Rescuing Jack and her students, dealing with Miranda’s asshole Dad, Legion’s sacrifice for the greater good, Grunt proving himself as both a leader and a Krogan. These are all missions that needed to take place in the context of Mass Effect 3, when straits are at their direst. When you throw in the Citadel DLC, which is one of the finest bits of DLC to ever be released, you’ve got a game chock full of great character moments.

Most of the criticism is reserved for the ending. I can see why, especially in the vanilla version the game released with. There’s very little resolution to your journey, the galaxy you’ve fought so hard to save seems fucked regardless of whatever choice you make and your crew just seems to abandon you. When I played through it I was pissed off as well. It felt like a betrayal of what the series was based on. Luckily most, if not all, of my criticisms were rectified when Bioware released the Extended Cut DLC. It’s a complaint that no longer holds any weight for me. Sadly no DLC patched out those damned dream sequences. It may be my favourite game, but it’s not flawless.

I see Mass Effect 3 as being a bit like Lost. Both are held up as cautionary tales of how not to do an ending, but that’s missing the point. The destination wasn’t half as important as the journey.

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You go onto a gaming website of your choice and look up the upcoming releases for silly season. You look at your bank balance. That feeling of crushing resignation hits and you realise you can’t afford all the pretty things. But there is a bright side! Not only do you save a few quid, but odds are a large number of upcoming releases will be buggy as hell, if not more broken than a plate at a Greek wedding. So, based on nothing more than track record, development history and my admittedly flimsy understanding of betting, what are the odds of that game you really want being broke?

  1. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5
    I remember loving this franchise as a kid and it pains me to see the lack of love and attention this latest instalment seems to be getting. Virtually zero promotion and covering up the sub-par graphics with cel-shading reek of a developer not being at all confident in their product. It’s lazy, it’s uninspired and points to a game that will be a disaster.
    Broken likelihood: 1/4
  2. Minecraft Story Mode: Episode One
    Reaction to Telltale’s games have been decidedly mixed since it reinvigorated the episodic genre with the first season of The Walking Dead. In large part this is down the their continued use of Telltale Tool, a game engine developed in 2004 and saddled with more and more expectations as technology has progressed. This has led to bugs galore, with the strength of the writing saving a lot of blushes. I can’t see that changing with Minecraft.
    Broken likelihood: 3/1
  3. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
    There isn’t a chance this won’t be broken. Considering the utter mess that was Unity and their insistence on Assassin’s Creed being an annual franchise, there’s more chance of me beating up Dwayne Johnson. I’d bet my entire life savings on this game having, at the very least, horrendous frame rate issues and texture pop-in. More likely we’ll see more game breaking bugs a’la Unity. I simply don’t have the faith in Ubisoft to prove me wrong.
    Broken likelihood: Evens
  4. Halo 5: Guardians
    If you’d asked me a year ago I’d have said there’s no way this would be broken. With 343 Industries taking over the Halo franchise and releasing a remastered Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 4 to high praise and very few, if any, bugs. Then came the Master Chief Collection and things went tits up. Yet I can’t help but feel that Halo 5 will be largely issue free. Without the pressures of an annual release cycle and learning from the mistakes made with the MCC, I think it might actually be all right.
    Broken likelihood: 10/1
  5. Call of Duty: Black Ops III
    Treyarch have a pretty good handle on Call of Duty and if the beta for BLOPS III is anything to go by that run will continue. COD may have a few problems as a franchise (though those seem to be being addressed more this generation) but stability isn’t really one of them. Even Ghosts was fairly bug free.
    Broken likelihood: 20/1
  6. Fallout 4
    Like a dodgy takeaway at 2am, bugs are guaranteed with a Bethesda game. By the very nature of it’s scope it’s inevitable that problems will occur. The real question is will they be game breaking like they were on the Playstation 3 releases of Fallout 3, New Vegas (admittedly that was Obsidian, but still) and the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I hope not, but the track record isn’t great.
    Broken likelihood: 6/1
  7. Star Wars: Battlefront
    Battlefront’s an odd duck. It’s being developed by an experienced studio and with a massive licence behind it, tying it to arguably the biggest film of the year. Yet DICE’s development of Battlefield 4 was plagued by problems and their collaboration of Hardline with Visceral was a disaster. That being said, I think the power of the franchise will see it through. I can’t see Disney allowing EA to tarnish, no matter how slightly, their crowning jewel. Bob Iger would blow his nut.
    Broken likelihood: 10/1
  8. Rise of the Tomb Raider
    Another one to add to the pile where the chances of game breaking bugs are slim, but not impossible. As with any game that tries to increase the scope there’s always a risk of bringing in unexpected variables that mess with the engine. Yet short of an Arkham Knight style fiasco I can’t see anything game breaking. Bugs yes, but that’ll be the extent of it.
    Broken likelihood: 15/1
  9. Just Cause 3
    I get the feeling that if there’s significant problems with this that it might just add to the fun. It’s a silly sandbox designed for having fun in and so long as the game doesn’t crash silly bugs might just add to that. Sure there’ll be torrents of boiled piss for people not being able to have the fun they want, but I can already see the YouTube videos of people exploiting them.
    Broken likelihood: 12/1
  10. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
    The final entry on this list I can see going one of two ways. One way is that it’ll be fine. Perhaps with a disappointing single player but with a multiplayer to write home about. The other is that it’ll be plagued with matchmaking issues and server problems in the run up to Christmas. The pre-release buzz is positive so if Ubisoft can keep the server’s ticking over in theory it should be fine. But that’s relying on Ubisoft which is never a good place to be.
    Broken likelihood: 9/1

It’ll be interesting to see how wrong my wild conjecture is come Christmas time. With any luck I’ll be completely wrong and none of these games will be broken at all. Yet with the range of games on offer and with the developers involved I think there’s more chance of Christmas being cancelled.

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It may look like something from some dystopian future with everybody having screens attached to their faces, yet virtual reality headsets seem to be the future for gaming. Every major company and their Mum seems to be developing or investing in the technology, but is it a guaranteed success? Simply put, no. In spite of all the money being poured into it, it’s still a gamble with no certainty it’ll be little more than a niche interest. But if companies do want to make it a mainstream feature, here are five things developers need to do to make virtual reality a hit.

1. Be cheap.
Peripherals have a fairly terrible history of success. From the Nintendo Power Glove to Kinect, bringing out add-ons to existing consoles has rarely been a recipe for success. The main stumbling block to a lot of these has been price. If someone has already spent £350 on a console and then has to spend another £100+ to get a fancy extra, most people won’t bother. If VR is to succeed, it has to be cheap. Any more than £75 and it’ll be consigned to a niche market.

2. Third party support.
So you’ve got your shiny new toy, now you need something to play on it. Inevitably first party support will be there, but it’s the third party games that determines which console does best. It’ll be the same with VR. Games like Adrift will be ideal, as would something like No Man’s Sky. Slightly slower paced, first person and interactive experiences with pick-up-and-play appeal. Perfect.

3. Tailor made games.
In addition to developer support, the games need to suit the format. Just porting over Call of Duty isn’t enough. Games need to work with the VR headset to make it an experience. A frantic first person shooter like COD will most likely lead to you throwing up over your cat. Games like Kitchen, the tech demo for Morpheus, showcases that perfectly. Terrifying and designed exclusively for VR, it demonstrates what VR is capable of when designers know what they’re doing with the tech they’ve got.

4. Comfort.
Most VR headsets look like something used at Guantanamo Bay. If you’re to spend hours with a TV screen strapped to your face it needs to not only be comfortable, but cool. I get hot enough wearing headphones, these headsets need to be so energy efficient that they’d make an environmentalist blush. Plus, as a bespectacled man, if I can’t wear it over my glasses comfortably and without damaging them then there’s no way in hell I’d buy it.

5. Link it with your TV.
Much like when Andrew McCarthy shagged Rob Lowe’s Mum in Class, television on your games console has become an awkward subject of late. Nobody wants to talk about it and it leaves everyone feeling a bit dirty. Mainly it’s because people with games consoles play them for games and watching tele through your XBox or PS4 adds nothing to the experience. However, imagine watching the football with an Oculus and feeling as though you’re in the crowd. Or watching the latest Attenborough documentary with the Morpheus and feeling as though you’re in the jungle. It’d be magical.

VR is a technology with bags on potential. Companies are putting enough money into it to make it live up to that, but the consumer support needs to be there. I worry that if they launch it as a cynical cash grab without the thought put into it, both its potential and all that cash will be wasted.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that going into the third instalment of a trilogy without engaging with the previous two parts is a bad idea. Yet here I am, playing both The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Dragon Age Inquisition after only brief encounters with their predecessors.

I’d managed to complete Dragon Age Origins and did about a quarter of The Witcher, whilst I skipped both franchises second games completely. I can’t say either experience left me inclined to trying their sequels. However, with the slow start to this console cycle and their rave reviews, I decided to give them a chance. Understandably this has left me playing catch up with the lore. What’s surprised me most is that in spite of having played less of The Witcher series, it’s the one in which I’ve had the most success in getting to grips with.

Normally, the move to appeal to more of a mass market would be seen as jumping the shark, a phrase which itself did a Fonz about 10 years ago. CD Project Red have managed to avoid that pitfall. It still feels like Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones, but in a version in which you could skip the rubbish bits like The Two Towers or Game of Thrones season two and not feel utterly lost. I don’t feel as though I’ve missed out. The world is still vibrant, but in an approachable way. A way in which I’m not overloaded with information and left to fend for myself. In contrast, Dragon Age Inquisition is like trying to eat a pack of Ryvita. It’s dry and fairly bland, in need of something to liven it up and give it some flavour. Had I enjoyed Origins and played Dragon Age 2, perhaps that would have come from there.

This isn’t to say Inquisition is a bad game. It’s achingly pretty and the interaction with your team mates is as good as you’d expect from a Bioware game. Where it really shines is in the metagame. Making the Inquisition a force to be reckoned with is reminiscent of building your forces in Mass Effect 3. It feels like you can affect the world in a very real way, more so than Geralt can on his own in Wild Hunt.

But where The Witcher 3 succeeds is it not only draws you in, it also feels like much more of a next-gen game. Sure, Inquisition looks pretty, but like Origins it can still feel like something Bioware did on their day off. The combat is laborious, the quests uninspired, mediocre characters and an unremarkable plot. These aren’t points which I feel apply to The Witcher 3. Take, for instance, The Bloody Baron. By all accounts an utter bastard, yet by the end of his quest chain I was pitying him more than any other character in a video game in years.

My hope is that Dragon Age will realise its potential the more I play it. It certainly has the capacity to be brilliant. Just building up the inquisition and consolidating your power is enough of a hook to ensure I continue. Yet so far, it’s The Witcher that’s the apple of my eye.

I finally finished Mass Effect 3 at around three o’clock this morning and I’ve never felt this conflicted over a game before. On one hand, you have this utterly amazing game 99% of the time that’s a vast improvement over the previous two instalments. Unfortunately, it’s that 1% right at the very end that puts a massive damper on what could easily have been one of the best games ever made.

Before getting to the ending, I think it’s important to go into more depth on just how excellent the game is besides. So much is improved upon and refined. The way in which you explore the galaxy and collect resources (in this case War Assets, salvage and fuel) is easily the best of the trilogy. Gone is the repetitive Mako missions and tedious planet scanning. Instead, you scan the system and outrun Reapers who detect and chase after you. Perhaps the best thing about the War Assets is that they give even the most mundane side-quests a sense of weight and importance that they didn’t have before. It actually feels like you’re making a difference.

The weapon customisation makes a welcome return as well. Though not as extensive as in Mass Effect 1, it’s a system that works better. You get upgrades but you aren’t left with the older versions of those upgrades, it replaces them. You also have a weight limit, restricting the weapons you can take with you on missions, meaning you have to think about your equipment, rather than just give yourself the most powerful weapons.

I’m also rather fond of the soundtrack for the game. As disappointing as the departure of Jack Wall is and the fact that Clint Mansell is only responsible for two tracks, Sam Hulick. Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan do a great job on the rest of the score, though I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t have been nice to see what Mansell could have done if given a free-reign.

As for the gameplay, that’s been upgraded nicely. I was worried when playing the demo that it had become clunkier, but I found myself pleasantly surprised at how fluid it felt in the final product. It’s not changed all that much from Mass Effect 2, but I didn’t think it really needed to; they’ve just improved on a winning formula.

The highlight of the game for me is the character moments. There are lots of them littered throughout the game and the emotions they generate can leave you crying or laughing. The new characters are also done very well. James Vega, contrary to my earlier expectations, is actually a decent character. Secondary characters like Cortez, your shuttle pilot, and Samantha Traynor, the replacement for Kelly Chambers, are great additions with a good deal of depth to them. Plus, they finally have crew interaction on the Normandy, either by commlink or by visiting them in their quarters. It adds an extra dimension to life aboard the Normandy where people aren’t separate but do in fact talk to each other, in some cases even forming relationships together.

Really, this game would be damned near perfect if not for the ending. Now, I’m not going to be like some people and say that it ruined the game for me. I cannot stress enough how fantastic the game is prior to the last fifteen minutes. It just makes no sense and there’s a real lack of closure, a quite literal deus ex machina plot device and plot holes you could fly the Citadel through. It’s incredibly lazy writing on Bioware’s behalf and I can’t believe that it was okayed by management. It’s not even that it’s a sad or tragic ending. I could deal with that. Instead, you’re left remarkably unfulfilled and with a very bitter taste in your mouth.

What is so disappointing is that it’s such a lost opportunity. If the ending had been done that bit better then Bioware could pat themselves on the back for creating probably the best video game trilogy ever made. Now, with the fan backlash generated by the ending, they’re left in a difficult place. Do they release some DLC to alter the ending to provide something more palatable for fans à la Fallout 3? Personally, I think that’s what they were planning from the beginning. The ending is left highly ambiguous and gives ample scope to be able to retcon. Of course this will generate backlash from those who liked the ending as well as from those who hated it, seeing it as profiteering from fan anger as I’d be amazed if it was free.

Ultimately, Mass Effect 3 goes from the sublime to the ridiculous at a rapid pace of knots. Does it deserve the merciless bashing it’s getting across the internet and the precipitously small user scores on the likes of Metacritic? No. Is it as good as it could be? Definitely not.