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The Best (and Not So Best) of 2016!

  2016 was indeed a year! A year that has completed, as years are wont to do thanks to things like “the linear passage of time” and “artificial demarcations created in a desperate attempt to bring order to chaos that ultimately are as ephemeral as our own turbulent existence”. While there were a lot of horrible things that happened in the year beyond celebrity deaths—the continued march of fascism, bigotry, and militarization of police for instance—there were some other things that were pretty okay. With that in mind, here is a collection of the stuff that turned out good-to-great in 2016 and also, too, a couple of boring garbage fires to accentuate the larger, terrifying garbage fire of our general reality.

  Keep in mind that this list is based on things I experienced. I will not celebrate something someone else tells me is the bee’s knees out of some sense of… I dunno… propriety? Is that the word I’m looking for?

Best Album
Infusion by Sammus

  Look, I’m bad when it comes to describing music, despite the fact that I love it. Just trust me when I say that Infusion is a fantastic album that covers a range of important topics, especially as we head into 2017. If you are interested in hip hop, social justice, struggles in academia, mental health, or just good damn music, then Infusion delivers.

  If you aren’t, then you’re just a bad person.

Best Streaming Series
Luke Cage

  With the exception of Daredevil, which is kind of dull, Netflix’s Marvel contributions are fantastic, crisscrossing thematic styles and genres and tackling social issues all while punching bad people. What’s not to love about Jessica Jones, a hard-drinking, super-powered noir detective who fights the literally personification of white male privilege? Or Luke Cage, a show a bulletproof Black badass fighting crime bosses and corrupt politicians on the streets of Harlem?

  Nearly every element of Luke Cage is executed to perfection. The story is well told and acted, and when one of the main villains was truly introduced I was agog in awe at how the creators managed the narrative coup. The action is paced out for maximum impact, and the cast of characters are vibrant and well-developed. And when it really clicks, the sets and cinematography should be treated as the ur-texts of film schools.

  The only real downside to the show is the costuming of the “final boss” so to speak—while trying to be loyal to the comic off which it’s based, it doesn’t really make the leap to screen in a way that is remotely intimidating. What culminates the show, then, is a punchup between Mike Colter in street clothes and Erik LaRay Harvey in a bad Halloween costume. However, the writing, acting, and music up to that point and afterwards is so good that, after the initial shock, you just kind of go with it.

Most Pointless Streaming Series
Mozart in the Jungle

  We are now three seasons deep into this show and I’m not sure what the hell is going on or why anyone should even care. Most of the characters are boring or unlikable, there’s no tension or sense of urgency, and the plot (so to speak) drunkenly meanders from point to point. I guess a major arc was the continuation of an orchestra strike, which ultimately just kind of… peters out. I’d call the show melodrama, but it would actually require some actual stakes for it to qualify.

  Long story short, the show somehow manages to be self-indulgent without producing anything to indulge in.

  And yet, I keep coming back to it. So… that’s something, I guess.

Most Forgettable Film
The Magnificent Seven

  Every once in a while, a film comes along that manages to be so egregiously inoffensive that it doesn’t even make you angry that you spent money on it. Despite its best efforts at being memorable, such as being a western when they barely exist anymore, The Magnificent Seven is so bland and utterly uninspiring that you, too, will have a hard time remembering that Chris Pratt's magnetism wasn't enough to save two movies this year.

Best AAA Single Player Game
DOOM

  If we’re being honest, I had very low expectations for the DOOM remake. DOOM 3 was a horrible mess of dark- and dullness that labored under the misapprehension that spiders were the pinnacle of horror. When it wasn’t running away with System Shock’s ideas, it was borrowing liberally from the worst self-serious bits of the worst Resident Evils. So when another DOOM was announced, I greeted the news with a hearty “so what”.

  Well, DOOM 2016 or however the hell I’m supposed to refer to it is absolutely amazing. It’s fast, it’s loud, it’s fun. I tried writing a full review treatment for it, but it’s such a magnificently polished experience that it really defies my normal, long-winded approach to discussing games. The story is surprisingly nuanced for a shooty-bang affair, and it’s self-aware enough to revel in how ridiculous it all is. The combat is straightforward and fast, but has enough variety to keep the arenas and waves of enemies feeling fresh. The music is a fantastic remix of old DOOM tracks without necessarily relying too heavily on nostalgia to be effective.

  The worst thing I can say about it (since I didn’t bother with the multiplayer component) is that a lot of the enemy design is kind of boring. Further, some of the earlier Mars levels become a bit uninspired, and their “destroyed” variants aren’t much better. This is especially glaring when you get to see the Hell dimension/planet/whatever and bear witness to a landscape carved from wars past. It’s an interesting use of environmental storytelling buttressed with an entirely optional lore-based account of Hell’s history.

  For what could be written off as just another loud, dopey shooter, it just keeps coming back to one, simple truth:

  DOOM is rad.

  Also, when I purchased the game, I literally requested, “One DOOM, please,” which still amuses me to no end.

Honorable Mention
Dark Souls III

  It took Salt and Sanctuary, an indie 2D homage to Dark Souls, to get me to really appreciate some of the underlying mechanics and spinoff Bloodborne to get a feel for the chess-like combat, but Dark Souls III is a deeply enjoyable game. Aesthetically, it is overall better than a large portion of DOOM’s enemy and environment design, but what makes it a runner-up is its aggressively hands-off approach to storytelling. I’ve written about this in regards to Bloodborne, and Dark Souls III does very little to rectify what I feel makes the entire experience feel like you’re running around a gorgeous but merely skin-deep world.

  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a plot there, but it relies so heavily on implication and flavor text that it doesn’t really accomplish much.

  So, objectively, DOOM is the superior game.

  Don’t @ me.

Most Pointless AAA Experience
Resident Evil 7 Teaser

  I will openly admit to being excited at the prospect of a Resident Evil that was planning on departing from the clusterfuck that was Resident Evil 6. The screenshots that I saw also looked like it was somewhat like P.T., the Silent Hills teaser that I was never able to play because Konami sucks.

  What I got instead of an interesting experience was walking around a dirty house, a bullshit extension of the “guy with a camera glued to his face” narrative device, and not much else.

  Look, from what I’ve seen, Capcom’s big shakeup to the RE formula to be a combination of Alien: Isolation and Outlast (let’s not kid ourselves of the similarity between RE7 and Outlast 2’s evil rural residents). And while those aren’t bad games to st… be inspired by, we kind of already have those games. And they don’t have any of the claptrap that Resident Evil has been dragging around with it for eleventy billion games. I’d say it’s time to retire the series, but that idea went out the door when psychic zombie leeches were transmitting the T-Virus to a train or some shit.

Best Multiplayer Game
Dead by Daylight

  I will admit that I do not normally play multiplayer-only games, what with my tragic shortage of friends. At the same time, there are some really, truly great ideas in the category that constantly intrigue me just enough to make me re-evaluate whether or not to take the plunge. The biggest development that has made me want to give it a whirl is the idea of asymmetric gameplay, where two teams with vastly different skillsets duke it out.

  2016 marks the year where I finally yanked off the bandage and tried out multiplayer in the form of Dead by Daylight, a horror game where you are either on a team of survivors or a killer in the vein of 80s slasher villains (or, in the case of one expansion, literally Michael Meyers). The game is a logical extension of the formula that made Alien: Isolation great, where the squishy humans are largely unable to defend themselves against a supernatural threat that just wants to sacrifice some mortals on meat hooks to a mysterious, malevolent entity (called, coincidentally enough, The Entity). The big difference is that instead of an AI that tries to (and can pretty reliably) anticipate your evasions of it, there’s a human on the other end.

  The game runs into the same problem that anything that relies on human agency has (killers camping hooked victims rather than playing the game, survivors disconnecting rather than dying, general pissiness when someone loses, etc.), but for the most part people playing the games are friendly and willing to provide a weighty challenge. Bugs present themselves here and there (the Nurse killer (that is, the killer who is a nurse) in particular has problems), but even then the game is a deeply terrifying and enjoyable experience.

Best Indie Single Player Game
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander

  Even wonder what it would be like to be a part of Star Trek’s Starfleet while somehow also being aware of how expendable your redshirts are? Well, do I have a fun little indie game for you! Halcyon 6 follows the adventures of the neophyte commander of the New Terran Federation after the old one is completely destroyed by spacefaring monsters. From there, you’ll engage with sometimes-hostile, sometimes-pleasant aliens (including off-brand Ferengi, Klingons, and the Borg), explore the titular Halcyon 6 starbase, build ships, and have pretty nifty space battles. You’ll also repel the Chruul (the aforementioned spacefaring monster) and build up your old resource operations before you launch a bunch of missiles and lasers at a giant face creature. All in all, it’s a good time!

  The game does have a few rough edges, including frequent attempts at humor that miss more often than they hit and a final boss with a difficulty curve so weirdly severe it’ll require a realignment of the tactics that saw you smear all challenges up to that point. Sometimes quests won’t progress or you’ll be swamped by a ton of requests at once, each one capable of derailing your campaign should you ignore them. The development team is working on these issues and also seeking to provide additional content for the foreseeable future, so there’s a good chance that this will be one of those games that keeps on giving!

  Overall, it’s a very charming game with classic Final Fantasy-esque combat and an element of strategy that doesn’t require a PhD in Economics to navigate. That’s what I call a win!

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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