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Moving Forward by Looking Back: 2016 in Video Games

/ Jan 19th, 2016 No Comments

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

A new year has dawned and the previous year has faded into memory. As we enter into 2016 with optimism and hype, it is important to look back on the year prior. Not only for comparative reasons–will 2016 be better than 2015 with more realized games or will it be the Great Pumpkin–but also to see what has been built.

Video games largely build upon the foundation of the past. There is no modernity with antiquity. The scope of the industry is quite large, but by looking at the smaller parts we can piece it together. So, is 2016 shaping up to be better or worse for Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo? For that matter, what is it going to be like for gamers?

The Sleepy Champ

Sony’s PlayStation 4 is the big man on campus, especially after another strong holiday season. It is the clear front runner in this latest console cycle. The other two are going to have to settle for second and third. Sadly, Sony seemingly suffered from champion syndrome by acting lazy and coasting through game releases. 2015 was a largely mixed bag for the PlayStation 4. It continued to enjoy a healthy string of boutique and smaller console exclusives, indie support, and better-performing ports of third-party games.

Where it faltered was in its first-party releases. The clear crown jewel of Sony’s release catalog last year was Bloodborne. The difficult gothic action game resonated heavily with gamers, garnering a ton of accolades. Though the game was a critical success and grew a dedicated fan base, it stumbled to gain traction throughout the year commercially.

Until Dawn was an admirable horror-adventure game that nailed the B-movie theme, but wasn’t enough to make up for the long periods of non-exclusive releases. Before we get into the major failure of PS4 in 2015, Sony didn’t push as hard for remasters as others, but it did put a lot of stock in God of War III: Remastered and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, which was misguided.

The biggest pitfall for Sony in 2016 was The Order: 1886. What should have been the linchpin to the PS4 lineup turned out to be a major disappointment that even Watch Dogs felt bad for. It is a testament to the momentum the PlayStation 4 gained after its successful 2013 launch that the rather weak showing in 2015 didn’t slow sales, but rather made it even stronger.

The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian has taken a lot of detours but 2016 looks to be the year it finally arrives.

2016 hasn’t even gotten into full swing, but Sony’s early lineup is incredibly strong with the first half headed by Street Fighter V, Ratchet & Clank, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The strong indie support the PlayStation 4 has enjoyed in prior years shows no signs of stopping with the long-awaited No Man’s Sky poised to release this year.

This year sees many PS4 exclusives from third-party publishers and developers that will only help strengthen the console, like Square-Enix’s Nier: Automata and the highly anticipated Persona 5 from Atlus. Sony’s own efforts for the rest of the year should prove exciting too if Gravity Rush 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last Guardian can secure concrete release dates. 2016 may indeed be the time we witness true greatness.

Broke and Hungry

After the surprising success of the PS4 launch, Microsoft’s Xbox One has been forced to settle for second place. In the years following its launch, the Xbox One has made up some ground by releasing some solid games, unbundling the Kinect, dropping its price, and a great Games with Gold selection. Microsoft also bet big on its preview program and limited backwards compatibility of Xbox 360 games on Xbox One, which was a double-edged sword because your average consumer has no idea about it or what games are backwards compatible.

Quantum Break

Quantum Break is a unique and exciting tile for the Xbox One.

2015 was a mixed bag of sorts for the Xbox One. On one hand, it had a surprisingly exciting showing at E3. On the other hand, its 2015 offerings were a bit underwhelming in comparison. The biggest critical success is the timed exclusive Rise of the Tomb Raider, which vastly improved on the formula laid out by the Tomb Raider reboot and delivered top-notch cinematic action.

Microsoft’s gamble on remasters was more successful than Sony’s with strong showings by Rare Replay and Gears of War Ultimate. Then there is Halo 5: Guardians, which was a commercial success but lacked the critical praise the series has been used to. But despite a rather good lineup of games, much of what makes an Xbox One worth owning won’t show until this year.

Gears of War 4

Gears of War 4 will make you bro out on your Xbone.

The Xbox One is in a fortunate position to have an extremely strong 2016. While Quantum Break is the only exclusive currently on the books for the system, it is one of the more unique games coming out this year. While much of the Xbox One’s lineup is in flux (Scalebound won’t be seen until 2017), it has the potential to be incredible with Below, Crackdown, Fable Legends, Halo Wars 2, ReCore, Sea of Thieves, and Gears of War 4 all potentially on track for a 2016 release. It may be wise to scoop up an Xbox One soon.

Dead in the Water

Sadly, the Wii U has struggled since it launched back in 2012, which is a shame because it is a good console with a fantastic library. After an amazing 2014, it was nearly impossible for Nintendo to offer a similar lineup for 2015. Yet it did an admirable job releasing a lot of strong first-party releases for the whole family. Games like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, Mario Party 10, Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash may not have huge sway with the hardcore crowd, but they comprise a solid general audience lineup.

Nintendo didn’t forget about the core gamers with the release of three of the year’s best games in Xenoblade Chronicles X, Splatoon, and Super Mario Maker. The company also published Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, and the regrettable Devil’s Third, which only made the Wii U’s 2015 even more intriguing.

Obviously when discussing the Wii U in 2016, we have to address the elephant in the room. Nintendo plans to release its latest console, NX (still just a code name), sometime this year. While not meant to be a direct successor to the Wii U, it won’t do the older console any favors.

It is sad because the Wii U’s 2016 looked bright with an interesting early year lineup in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Nintendo is one of the few companies that does a stunning remaster), Pokkén Tournament, and Star Fox Zero. What other games that might come out for the Wii U later in the year, none will matter nearly as much as the potentially groundbreaking open-world The Legend of Zelda for Wii U.

The Legend of Zelda Wii U

The Legend of Zelda for Wii U is poised to make the Wii U’s 2016 memorable.

No matter how good previous years have been or how good its 2016 could be, the Wii U is likely dead in the water thanks to the NX. It is truly a shame because the Wii U has the best library available of any console currently available and was finally hitting its development stride. Now we’ll have to put up with another likely half-baked Nintendo console launch.

Given the overwhelming amount of delays occurring in 2015, much of 2016 is uncertain, especially with a huge amount of delays occurring before it even started. With so many promising games lacking concrete release dates, even speculation lacks a bit of punch. That said, the prospects for each company look bright. If a third of what is promised can make it to a tangible release in 2016 then it’ll be a banner year with plenty of games and a new console. All we have to do is hope against the Murphy’s Law of video game development happening.

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Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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