Our little island is bustling with talented game studios, from small one man bands up to teams staffed to the nines with hundreds of developers. Every year UK developers release some of the best games in the world and this is always cause for celebration.
So, without further ado, here are The Ten best British Games of 2016.
Total War: Warhammer
Developer: Creative Assembly | Publisher: Creative Assembly| Platform: PC
As a keen Warhammer Fantasy fan, it feels like I’ve been waiting decades for a video game that captures the energetic brutality and scale of the tabletop game. In Total War: Warhammer, I finally got it.
In May I wrote an article about leading an orc clan as it swept across the badlands uniting the greenskins before harassing all of the neighbouring factions. When that became dull I aped Genghis Khan and sent an exploratory warband into the northern wastes. Everything I did was entirely in line with the behaviour of Warhammer’s orcs but I wasn’t actively roleplaying, it was born out of game systems that encourage you to play to each race's’ strengths.
Total War: Warhammer looked the part and played the part, it’s simultaneously one of the best Warhammer games and Total War games in both series.
Developer: Ubisoft Reflections | Publisher: Ubisoft | Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
We love BUD so much that Grow Up made our overall games of the year shortlist, too. While that’s a little more descriptive of what the game is, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain one element of why I enjoy the game so much. I have a young daughter and she really likes Grow Up or, to be more specific, she likes telling me what to do in Grow Up.
Her preferred activity is to grab any of the various critters inhabiting the surface of Grow Up’s planet, but sheep are the favourite, and then drag them towards water. Once we’re there, I make a few feeble protests as she gleefully tells me to drown them. Don’t worry folks: they’re robots, and I’m sure she knows that too.
This is a tiny part of Grow Up - it’s not even really the game’s focus. But it has that sandbox quality of being not just a world you play through but a world you play with, where it’s fun to do things just to see what happens. It’s all good, healthy fun anyway. Or at least it was until she insisted I start sneaking up on them…
Developer: Ghost Town Games | Publisher: Team 17 | Platform: PS4
Overcooked is like a reversal of the ‘Too many cooks in the kitchen’ idiom: the game is finely balanced so that it feels like you’re always one person short of what’s needed. Whatever recipes you’re working on, by the end of the level the pace and tension will ratchet up to gleefully manic levels.
Each level has you and your friends playing chef in a uniquely impractical kitchen. One has the kitchen carved in two by an icy river, so you have to carry ingredients over moving ice floes to get to the oven. Another has you prepping food on a pirate ship that, as the ship rolls on a wave, sees all the counter tops sliding over the deck of the ship. A third has your kitchen split over two trucks on a motorway that are rarely lined up, all your ingredients dispensed on one truck and all your ovens on the other.
A truly cracking co-op game.
Developer: CCP Newcastle | Publisher: CCP | Platform: PC, PS4
The early wave of VR titles that follow traditionally game-y styles suffer from nothing so much as slightly underwhelming the audience: when you’ve played every FPS there is going, it’s hard to be impressed by a 3D shooting range. Oculus Touch will change this but, from the earliest days, CCP and internal studio CCP Newcastle understood that a large part of VR’s wow factor was spectacle - and in some sense, bringing a dream to life.
It’s well-known that Valkyrie was born out of an early VR passion project; the idea being space dogfights in VR. Valkyrie puts you in the cockpit in sensational style, with your first minutes spent just looking around it in awe - before your craft is hurled out into space, and the action begins.
Valkyrie can be chaos, and one of the special moments it offers that few games can match is losing your orientation - and looking around to catch it in relation to a planet or a bigger ship, and righting yourself. The dogfighting itself is great thanks to the multiplayer focus, because while controls are simple the craft’s capabilities are not, and you see players executing unbelievable moves that inspire jealousy - and practice. Not just a canny good game then, but among the very best experiences on VR.
Sorcery! 4: The Crown of Kings
Developer: Inkle Studios | Publisher: Inkle Studios | Platform: PC / mobile
Inkle has been adapting Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series of choose-your-own-adventure books into video games since 2013. Each one of them has been a wonderfully lively recreation, with beautiful illustrations and witty writing creating enthralling worlds packed with wizards, strange tribes, and unsettling monsters.
2016 saw the release of the final part, The Crown of Kings, I’m not going to talk at all about the plot because you should really kick things off at the beginning of this great series. I’ll only say that it was every bit as good as the other games, and I can’t wait to see what Inkle works on next.
Developer: Frontier Developments | Publisher: Frontier Developments | Platform: PC, Xbox One
Elite: Dangerous was an odd one when it launched. It was vast and its dark reaches were promising but its mechanisms were too clear. Its procedurally generated missions didn’t give it infinite depth, it gave the game a veneer of shallowness. That’s changed radically in the last two years, with each expansion adding systems that let you see what was already in the game in a new clarity. Planetary landings and changes to exploration mean that now every stellar body is something to be explored, rather than being a very beautiful backdrop to your flights.
Also in the last year there seems to have been tipping point for the community, where, almost like EVE, out of the deepening systems is emerging room for player behaviour to shape the game in ways the designers could hope for but can’t force.
To get a real sense of what Elite is now, read Lewis Packwood’s stellar article on one of gaming’s stranger communities.
Grand Theft Auto Online
Developer: Rockstar Games | Publisher: 2K | Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rockstar’s big strategy shift with GTA V was a response to how people played GTA IV - some of them never stopped. While IV’s online offering was impressive V moved everything to a new level, with the singleplayer game coming to seem almost irrelevant after long enough in the Los Santos wilds, not least because the update schedule is incredibly content-rich and consistent.
Every few months there are new modes, new cars, new tweaks to how you can do tiny things in the game, a constant stream of shiny things to toy around with. Los Santos itself is energised by this, with every return visit feeling somehow like returning to a city you once knew a few years on.
Grand Theft Auto V is a fantastic game anyway, but GTA Online shows a new kind of Rockstar at work - disciplined, responsive to players, and determined to maintain interest in their work for as long as possible. Other open-world developers should be very afraid.
Developer: Frontier Developments | Publisher: Frontier Developments | Platform: PC
There have been theme park simulators before but they’ve always focused on the management aspect, encouraging you to build the perfect labyrinth of rides, stalls, and toilets to maximise the cash extracted from guests. I don’t want to belittle this side of the genre: I love rinsing people in management games. Planet Coaster does that, but that’s only half of this game.
Frontier Developments has put just as much care and attention into developing a suite of tools and building blocks that let players with a creative bent create the stylised, personal, and unique theme parks. If you look through the communities that have shot up around this game – on its forums, Reddit, and Steam – you can find meticulously detailed creations, all differentiated from one another by the designers’ style.
2016 saw this wonderful game release but I think it’s 2017 when we’ll really see it come to life.
Developer: Michael Brough | Publisher: Michael Brough | Platform: iOS
This minimalist wonder comes from Michael Brough, the creator of 868-HACK, and focuses on squeezing everything it can from a few mechanics. You choose from various characters that have their own kinks, then play through a series of rooms with randomised layouts and enemies - each floor tile has a symbol, and each room has stars.
Depending on how you engage enemies and where, you can whoosh through while powering up your character’s weapons, or make bad decisions and end up scraping through, desperately going from star-to-star for the little health top-ups. Imbroglio doesn’t feel quite like a roguelike but it is absolutely the essence of roguelike, a few simple-but-deep mechanics which combine in endlessly surprising ways on each playthrough.
No Man’s Sky
Developer: Hello Games | Publisher: Hello Games | Platform: PC, PS4
This is here because, of all games released this year globally, No Man’s Sky had a true vision behind it. And it should be recognised for both this ambition, and the reality, even if it’s impossible to ignore the backlash.
I am unusual in that No Man’s Sky was exactly what I expected. I’m familiar with procedurally-generated games, and particularly the few 3D examples. From the moment this was announced I knew it would contain multitudes, but it would be impossible to have a consistent level of quality.
Sure enough No Man’s Sky has peaks and troughs. You’ll land on some planets and wonder why you bothered, traipsing back to the ship with nothing but a handful of carbon. You’ll get lost on others, and frustrated, and those who find the moment-to-moment experience less than engaging have a point.
But this is an exploration game and this is the nature of exploration. There’s so much negativity around No Man’s Sky that the genuinely amazing stuff it does has been all-but-forgotten. That first time you take off and blast through the planet’s atmosphere into space. Descending to a new and unknown planet, and breaking through the cloud layer to see a paradisal beach fringed by mountains, giant creatures grazing slowly along the fringes.
I covered Hello Games’ first title, Joe Danger. It was a fun 2D racer built around stuntman obstacle courses, and was demoed to me by the studio’s four founders. Eight years later the team numbers 16, and what that small band of developers tried to create is staggering. No Man’s Sky may have fallen short of the personal imaginations of many gamers, and mistakes were made both in-game and without, but the final product was a damned good try - and continues to be substantially updated.
The studio continues to be a target for abuse, its people and their motivations grossly mischaracterised, and No Man’s Sky does not deserve this level of acrimony. No other developer has made a game like this either, because most of them will never try. We are all in the gutter but, at least in Guildford, some of us are looking at the stars.