Action – DOOM
The best kind of reboot. id Software took the core mechanics that made the original so captivating and reworked them using 23 years of evolution.
The most important feature has to be the health system. Almost every modern shooter uses regenerative health. This slows battles down to a war of attrition. The best strategy becomes popping out to trade damage and hiding until your health magically grows back.
DOOM doesn’t play like that. Health comes to those who take it. You can hide from the slow and powerful projectiles (more on that later) but you won’t be raising that health bar until you do something proactive.
This creates tense duels between you and the enemy. An enemy that has the power to kill you but also contains the best way to heal you. This forces the player to charge in like a jousting knight hoping to land the glory kill before the demon lands their own deathblow.
The projectiles are also much different than the current meta. Modern shooters tend to use hitscan weapons that travel too fast to dodge. This is realistic of course, but favors hiding behind cover and a working at a slower pace.
In DOOM you will see the projectiles before they hit you. This promotes constant movement and allows you to dodge and deal damage at the same time with the proper coordination. I love this.
Top these water-tight mechanics off with gorgeous renderings of the hellish Mars landscape and our choice for Music of the Year, and you have the best new shooter in a long time.
Best Narrative – Uncharted 4
Naughty Dog makes incredible games and Uncharted 4 is the latest example. For Nathan Drake’s final chapter, ND traded in a few of their usual epic set-pieces from previous games (trains, planes, and cruise ships) for their most mature story yet.
We play a Drake settled down with a marriage and mundane job. He’s happy enough but his astute wife senses his yearning for more. I’m sure just about anyone can relate to the “what if?” questions and daydreams of a more exciting life.
Of course circumstance thrusts him back into the old ways for one more adventure but what truly impressed me was how the consequences of Drake’s decisions were handled (other than the usual disregard for mass-henchmen-murder of course).
Drake is no longer the independent adventurer concerned only with his next treasure. He’s pulled between responsibilities, obligations, and his own selfish desires. These conflicting forces come together with a satisfying thud and sparks fly. Drake and co. now have real feelings that are tested in the face of a fortune just out of reach.
This is all portrayed magnificently by ND’s unmatched performance capture and stellar visuals. The gameplay is the same great formula from 2 and 3 with the usual dynamite pacing and intuition.
I expected great popcorn fun from Uncharted 4, but walked away with a much deeper impact instead.
Best Level Design – Dishonored 2
Dishonored 2 hums along with the complex precision of its clockwork theme. At the heart of its satisfying systems is a masterclass of level design.
The stealth and combat options work so well because routes are intuitively placed in a way that promotes and rewards exploration and experimentation. The Bioshock-quality environmental storytelling is so effective because these incredibly playable levels also feel alive and bursting with character. Hunting for power-ups is a welcome diversion because…you get the point.
The epic scale of the cities stands magnificently as you pull in on a tiny skiff and their depths are revealed as nooks and crannies beg to be discovered. Those previously mentioned upgrades provide the perfect motivation to cover nearly every inch.
The mansion levels are a deeper form of stealth sandbox, providing multi-tiered opportunities for your best Batman impression. I’ve gushed this much without mentioning the two show-stopper levels that I wouldn’t dare spoil.
Those are my picks, how about yours?