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2016: A year in review

2016 was a strange year for video games. Recent memory is dominated by a handful of high quality blockbusters that failed to excite people. But let’s not forget earlier this year, when a handful of superb blockbusters definitely did excite people. And I’m not just talking about Street Fighter, either (don’t @ me).

In researching 2016, I was surprised to find it jam-packed with video game stuff. Lots of things happened. Lots of people left developers. Lots of people joined developers. Some developers closed down. Some developers sprang into life. Lots and lots and lots of video games came out, mostly on Valve’s ever-bulging Steam. Most were crap. Some were good. But in the pursuit of some kind of meaning, some kind of trend, I was left frustrated. Video games continue to be very good, even though 2016, at its close, feels a little less groundbreaking than I’d liked it to have been.

January, typically a quiet month for video games, saw a number of high-profile developers move on. Marc Laidlaw, lead writer of the Half-Life series, retired from Valve. The move was seen as further evidence, not that it’s needed at this point, that Half-Life 3 is just not happening. Then we learnt Leslie Benzies, long-time leader of Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar North, had left the company after a 16-month sabbatical. He later sued Take-Two for $150m in a move that’s already aired a basket full of dirty laundry. Will the parties settle? I kind of hope not.

The high-profile exits continued: David Gaider, lead writer of Dragon Age, left BioWare after 17 years. And then Bungie announced that Pete Parsons had replaced Harold Ryan as the company’s president – a suggestion, perhaps, that the gargantuan developer of Destiny had suffered a difficult 2015 and change was afoot.

Amid the high-profile departures, a high-profile arrival years in the making. Eurogamer editor Oli Welsh loved The Witness, declaring it “big, beautiful and rewarding”. Jonathan Blow’s brilliant puzzle game got 2016 off to a wonderful start. In many ways, it was downhill from there.

Street Fighter 5, a game that frustrated the hell out of me because the brilliance of its gameplay was lost in the din caused by its catastrophic launch, came out in February. Capcom only had itself to blame, of course, and it’s still battling to get Street Fighter 5 to where it needs to be to be considered a success (the developers took 10 months to put in a proper anti-rage quit system). It was the first of a number of 2016 video game launches that would go less than smoothly.