Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The openness of PC gaming allows anyone to contribute, from modders, Twitch streamers, and two-man dev teams to the biggest game studios in the world. But with no real regulator at the helm to set and enforce standards, it also means that everyone has shared ownership of the platform, opening the door to abuse, troublemakers, and scandal.

Pour a glass of dramamine and revisit the finest flubs that graced PC gaming this year. From least-most controversial to most-most controversial, these are the stories that drew the greatest negative reaction from the PC gaming community in 2016.

Scorched Earth added a ton of new stuff: new creatures like the deathworm and the mantis, new features, over 50 new items, and the centerpiece, six desert biomes.

ARK: Scorched Earth

The pressure on Steam's Early Access program has only increased since its introduction in March 2013. Although Early Access has yielded excellent games like Darkest Dungeon, Don't Starve, Offworld Trading Company, Subnautica, Divinity: Original Sin, Infinifactory, RimWorld, and Kerbal Space Program, some PC gamers remain reluctant to buy into unfinished games and the uncertainty that the Early Access label sometimes carries.

In September, Studio Wildcard dealt a blow to Early Access' reputation when it released Scorched Earth, the first paid expansion for Ark: Survival Evolved. At $20, it was two-thirds the cost of the base game. Many fans were unhappy to see a game that was by definition unfinished getting post-release content. On the third most-popular post on the Ark subreddit ever, one fan criticized: "We paid for the developers to finish Ark: Survival Evolved, instead they took our money and made another game with it." Studio Wildcard defended its decision saying that implementing an expansion early would make the technical process easier for future expansions.

More reading: Ark: Survival Evolved dev responds to paid expansion controversyValve must take greater ownership over Steam's Early Access program

Nostalrius could accommodate as many as 11,000 concurrent players.

Nostalrius

Vanilla WoW (that is, a pre-expansion version of World of Warcraft) has remained a popular way to play the most popular MMO of all time. As Angus wrote in April, "Nostalrius is a time capsule: a beautifully nostalgic record of what a living world used to look like. It's a museum piece created by passionate fans with no official alternative." 

But it's against WoW's terms of service to operate an independent game server, even if that server takes no money from its community. In April Blizzard issued a cease-and-desist against Nostalrius, WoW's biggest vanilla server, which boasted 150,000 active players. The forecast was grim: Blizzard had shut down other vanilla servers before, and it felt unlikely that the internet petition that sprung up in response was going to reverse the action against Nostalrius.

The server owners complied, shutting down Nostalrius in April, but the fight wasn't done. Shortly after, they managed a face-to-face meeting with Blizzard to press their case for the value of vanilla WoW. "After this meeting, we can affirm that these guys WANT to have legacy WoW servers, that is for sure," wrote a Nostalrius admin.

The story continued to develop as members of the Nostalrius team, seemingly uncontent with Blizzard's lack of discussion about the issue at BlizzCon, announced their plans to bring back the server under a new banner, Elysium. Barring some change of heart by Blizzard, Elysium itself stands a decent chance of also getting shut down. But the resurrection of Nostalrius puts greater pressure on Blizzard to permit vanilla servers, lest it be embroiled in another battle with a big piece of the WoW community.

More reading: Inside the WoW server Blizzard wants to shut down

The revised victory pose.

Blizzard's buttroversy

Debate about the portrayal of videogame butts came to a head in 2016 when, in a lengthy post on the Battle.net forums, player Fipps complained about a victory pose for Tracer, Overwatch's speedy and spunky attacker.

“I have a young daughter that everyday when I wake up wants to watch the Recall trailer again," Fipps wrote. "She knows who Tracer is, and as she grows up, she can grow up alongside these characters. What I'm asking is that as you continue to add to the Overwatch cast and investment elements, you double down on your commitment to create strong female characters. You've been doing a good job so far, but shipping with a tracer pose like this undermines so much of the good you've already done.”

Blizzard agreed, and promised to amend the pose. “We want *everyone* to feel strong and heroic in our community. The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented,” game director Jeff Kaplan wrote. 

Then came criticism that Kaplan was caving to criticism, or worse 'censoring' Overwatch in response to a complaint. "We understand that not everyone will agree with our decision, and that’s okay," he wrote in a second update. "That’s what these kinds of public tests are for. This wasn’t pandering or caving, though. This was the right call from our perspective, and we think the game will be just as fun the next time you play it."

Lost in the pile of this was how civil the original critique was. "My main complaint is that there is no facet of Tracer's silly/spunky/kind personality in the pose. It's just a generic butt shot. I don't see how that's positive for the game," wrote Fipps in the original post. I continue to agree that the pose wasn't Blizzard's best. Really, the reaction to the reaction was bigger, as it fed into a wider conversation around sexualized characters, feminism, inclusiveness, player criticism and other issues in games.

More reading: Overwatch victory pose cut after fan complains that it's over-sexualized

We loved Forza Horizon 3, but not the UWP strings it's attached to.

Microsoft's UWP

Microsoft's latest courtship of PC gaming continues to be a mixture of good and bad. We loved Forza Horizon 3, liked Gears 4, and found Halo 5: Forge to be surprisingly great. But on the operating system side, things weren't all blue skies and green fields for PC gamers in 2016. 

In March, Microsoft asserted its plan to bring its biggest games to Windows through its Universal Windows Platform, a set of standards and restrictions meant to, in Microsoft's eyes, make it easier to publish applications across multiple Windows devices, improve security, and help developers write code under a more unified platform. Those modest benefits are outweighed massively by the danger of Windows becoming more of a closed platform.

Among game companies, Epic Games CEO and co-founder Tim Sweeney was the most outspoken critic of UWP. In March, Sweeney labeled the initiative "a closed, Microsoft-controlled distribution and commerce monopoly," and called for others in the industry to oppose it. Sweeney didn't miss the opportunity to level more harsh words later in 2016. "Slowly, over the next five years, they will force-patch Windows 10 to make Steam progressively worse and more broken," he warned in July.

More reading:Epic CEO Tim Sweeney pummels Microsoft's UWP initiativePhil Spencer on Microsoft's PC plans: "I wouldn’t say our strategy is to unify"

CS:GO's in-game items sparked multiple scandals.

CS:GO skin gambling

The stage for 2016's skin gambling debacle was set three years earlier, when Valve rolled out cosmetic microtransactions for CS:GO. These items could be traded, sold, and bought through Steam for as much as $400—the maximum listing price on the Steam Community Market. It didn't take long for questionable, unlicensed third-party websites to realize they could use Steam bot accounts to automate item winnings and losings, and it didn't take long for dozens of flavors of skin gambling to spring up as CS:GO peaked in popularity.

The lowest point so far in a story that continues to develop, though, was the revelation that two very popular YouTubers showed themselves winning thousands of dollars of items on a site called CSGO Lotto without mentioning or indicating in any way that they were the creators of CSGO Lotto. Oops. Exposed, TmarTn offered a pitiful apology, saying that his relationship with had been "been a matter of public record since the company was first organized in December of 2015," presumably meaning that a public record existed of his co-ownership of the shady gambling website for someone else to uncover.

There's no definitive verdict on the legality of in-game item gambling at this time, but you can expect the issue to continue to be explored in 2017.

More reading:YouTuber owner of CS:GO betting site offers worst apology ever CS:GO’s controversial skin gambling, explained

A beautiful alien dinosaur that existed only as marketing.

No Man's Sky

It was a perfect, ugly storm of some of the least-appealing trends in modern gaming: unchecked hype, unfinished games, last-minute review code, bland procedural generation, and misleading marketing.

Before that, though, heavy, sincere anticipation had formed around No Man's Sky. Here was a game from a small studio with an impossible promise: 18 quintillion planets, procedurally-generated wildlife, infinite exploration. In trailers, it looked like a massive step forward for the stagnating survival genre. To help Hello Games achieve these lofty designs, it had the backing of a major publisher in Sony. And No Man's Sky was delightfully mysterious, so much so that we were still answering fundamental questions about the game a month before launch, thanks to limited access to code. At a preview event, Chris was allowed to play for less than an hour

Concerning signs came in the days before release. A significant day-one patch was on the way to fix major exploits. The PC release date itself wasn't announced until very late. A player who acquired a leaked copy of the game was able to reach the center of this allegedly near-infinite galaxy very quickly. And in a strange move, Hello Games wrote a blog warning players about the game one day before its launch on PlayStation 4. "This maybe isn’t the game you *imagined* from those trailers," wrote Sean Murray in a blog post that outlined, from his perspective, what the space game was and was not. "I expect it to be super divisive."

It was more than that. But initially, No Man's Sky became the biggest launch on Steam of 2016, hitting 212,620 concurrent players on PC. That's more than double the all-time peak of 2015 phenomenon Rocket League. In short order, the mystery unraveled. Two players, livestreaming simultaneously on launch day, could not see one another despite reaching the same location. The limitations of the game's procedural generation were revealed, as players shared screens and video of samey-looking aliens. And the hope that somewhere, cool, custom snake monsters were prowling the universe, disappeared. Players urged other players to seek refunds, and No Man's Sky's concurrent players sunk. Hello Games went quiet.

Our reviewer, Chris Livingston, recaps the rest of the saga perfectly in our lows of the year:

And then there was the reaction to the reaction: Hello Games went utterly silent for a couple of months. While I understand the reasoning—when everything you've ever said is suddenly under intense scrutiny, it makes sense to be careful saying anything else—the impenetrable silence only made matters worse, as fans felt they had been completely abandoned and ignored. At least things have gotten better recently, with new features added in the Foundation update, and the promise of more changes to come in the future.

There are lessons to be learned on all sides. Devs: keep in mind that no one ever forgets what you say during development, and while it's fine to talk about the elements you hope to put in your game, you're going to hear about it if those things aren't actually there when you release it. Plus, completely shutting off all communication with the people who have bought your game is a terrible idea. As customers, we need to remain skeptical of early E3 trailers, bullshots, pre-launch hype, and be especially cautious about pre-ordering games. And, we need to be patient. Even if developers aren't talking, they're listening, and adding new features to a game takes time.

Ultimately, it was a pleasantly chill, but underwhelming neon planet generator that became the poster child of many of the things we dislike. The lingering thought is how differently things would've gone if No Man's Sky had released in Early Access as a $20 or $30 beta.

More reading: The anatomy of hypeFive reasons game marketing can be misleading

HITMAN™

The final Hitman Elusive Target for 2016 is not a mass murderer, or an internationally-wanted thief, or even Gary Busey. In fact, he's almost entirely unremarkable. His name is Wen Ts'ai, and he's really just kind of a jerk. 

Wen Ts'ai is a food critic with a "sadistic" attention to detail, as the briefing trailer explains, who appears to take a particular joy in lobbing devastatingly bad reviews at restaurants. Restaurateurs loathe him, and it's easy to see why: Describing his experience at one eatery, he said, "There are monkeys that drink their own effluence. They have a better experience than I did at The Singapore Food Market." 

You might think at attitude like that rates maybe a punch in the mouth, tops, but somebody, somewhere, has decided he needs to die for it, and they're paying good money to make it happen. And you, as the professional with a gun and a bar code tattooed onto your head, don't get to decide the merits of the job. Your only role is to get it done. 

The Food Critic is in play now in Bangkok, where he'll be for the next seven days. After that, he's gone for good. Details are up at hitman.com, and you can read some year-end thoughts about the game—Andy Kelly chose Hitman as his personal favorite for 2016 right here.   

PC Gamer

The outstanding Codemasters racing sim Grid is on sale at GOG (as Race Driver: Grid) for a mere $3, which while not as good a deal as the recent Humble freebie is still awfully cheap. But if you're tempted by the price, you'll want to move on it quickly, because the game is scheduled to be removed from GOG's lineup at 6 pm ET on December 31. 

GOG didn't provide a specific reason for Grid's removal, but confirmed in an email that it's being pulled because of expiring licenses. It's unfortunate, but it happens from time to time: The Fallout catalog was removed at the end of 2013, and Duke Nukem and Descent were pulled in 2015. The Fallout games have since been returned, and it's possible that Grid will eventually make a comeback too; on the other hand, Duke and Descent are still MIA, so you might not want to hold your breath. 

However it ultimately works out, the good news is that Grid owners will not be affected by the removal. It's yours to keep forever, as long as you pick it up before the deadline.   

Update: It's always a good idea to back up your stuff, but as several commenters have pointed out, Grid owners will still be able to download it from GOG after its removal from the store—it simply won't be available for purchase any longer.

PC Gamer

This won't be news to everyone, but I must admit: I myself did not know Carrie Fisher had a role in the first Dishonored game. Following the untimely passing of the actress best known for portraying Star Wars' Princess Leia earlier this week, Arkane's co-creative director Harvey Smith praised Fisher's professionalism and manner while contributing to Corvo's first adventure. 

Taking to Twitter, Smith commended the late Hollywood icon's sense of humour and openness to he and his team's creative instruction. Albeit small, Fisher's voiceover was only heard in-game over a public address system assuming you chose to assassinate the primary male propaganda officer during the mission 'Return to the Tower'.

Despite the number of Star Wars videogames which exist, the only other game which features Fisher's vocals is this year's Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Here's YouTube person newtrion undertaking Fisher's Dishonored mission: 

Thanks, Glixel.

ARK: Survival Evolved

Ark: Survival Evolved developer Studio Wildcard has clarified that the Ovis Aries—better known to the world as "sheep"—will be coming to the game in its next major update, regardless of whether or not it takes the prize for "Best Use of a Farm Animal" in the ongoing Steam Awards. The announcement was made following a wave of criticism over the original Ovis Aries reveal, which implied that the wool-bearing beasts would be added to the game only if Ark wins the award. 

"We were encouraged by Valve to rally the Community to come together and vote in the upcoming Steam Awards. We thought what better way to do this than add a modern-day farmyard animal! In our excitement, Ovis Aries was designed as a celebration of the nomination," the studio said in the "re-announcement" of the sheep. "We want to make it clear that regardless of whether Ark wins a Steam Award or not, Ovis will be making its debut in the next major Ark version update!" 

The original announcement, which has since been deleted but can be seen through the Wayback Machine, is somewhat more open to interpretation. "Head over to http://store.steampowered.com/SteamAwards/ on Thursday the 29th of December, as you’ll have the opportunity to come show your support for Ark by voting for us!" it said. "If Ark wins the award, we will ensure that our fluffy friend quickly makes its debut on the Ark in the next major version update!" 

That could be taken to mean that winning the award would spur the studio to ensure that the sheep arrive with all possible quickness, but many players read it as an all-or-nothing proposition: No prize, no sheep. A flurry of negative feedback blew in, both on and off Steam, as gamers shared their outrage over the attempted "bribery," leading Wildcard to pull the initial announcement and issue the update.   

A date for the update hasn't been announced, but voting for the Steam Awards' "Best Use of a Farm Animal" will begin later today. Ark: Survival Evolved is up against some major rural competition: Goat Simulator, Stardew Valley, Blood and Bacon, and Farming Simulator 17. 

Nuclear Throne

"Videogame music is as much a part of the discography of our lives as any other LP, and indie game music has transcended the 16-bit throwback vibe so much lately," said Patrick McDermott of Californian record label Ghost Ramp while chatting to Andy earlier this year. According to McDermott, Ghost Ramp's raison d'être is to portray game composers as artists in their own right, and as such has set out to launch videogame soundtracks on vinyl—the company's first major game-to-vinyl release being Crypt of the Necrodancer.   

Now, Vlambeer's top-down shooter-meets-roguelike Nuclear Throne is in line for similar treatment, with composer Jukio "Kozilek" Kallia's work being transformed to record-form, boasting the following ultra-cool sleeve art: 

The artwork featured above comes courtesy of Justin Chan, with vinyls being sold in both Limited and Special Editions. Full details on what each package offers can be found via the Ghost Ramp store, however expect extra goodies such as stickers, enamel pins and digital download keys. 

Shipping in May of 2017, the Nuclear Throne vinyl costs either $40 or $50, depending on whether you vouch for its Limited or Special Edition. Preorders are available now if that's your thing. 

XCOM® 2

Our Game of the Year awards get more difficult to pick every year. With approximately 38% of all Steam games released this year alone, playing them all is impossible, but we do our best to review a cross-section of releases we think will both appeal to our audience and represent the majority of quickly multiplying corners throughout all genres in PC gaming. Last year, we cut off the list at scores above 80%, but because there were so many games that made the cut, we’ve upped our standards to 84%. These games were reviewed by many different people with varying perspectives, but all according to our reviews policy. As such, try not to sweat it when scores don’t correlate across the board. And if a favorite game is missing, swing by our reviews page to find it or let us know in the comments. 

Dishonored 2

Release date: Nov 11, 2016 ▪ Developer: Arkane ▪ Our review (93%)

Despite some technical troubles—which are steadily being patched out—Dishonored 2 is one of our favorite games of the year. It's no secret that we're big fans of systems-driven games at PC Gamer, and we've celebrated Metal Gear Solid 5 and the new Hitman thoroughly for that reason. Dishonored 2 is another for the list, even better than its predecessor and one of the best stealth/action games we've played.

Football Manager 2017

Release date: Nov 3, 2016 ▪ Developer: Sports Interactive ▪ Our review (85%)If you’ve ever played Football Manager, then you already know what to expect in the latest version. It’s a refinement that makes important information easier to access so you spend more time living the stories of your teams instead of processing dense screens of statistics, but it doesn’t entirely upend the formula. Why would it? Football Manager 2017 is the best entry in a well established series, so far unparalleled. If you want to manage some football, Football Manager 2017 is the way to go. 

Hitman: The Complete First Season

Release date: Many ▪ Developer: IO Interactive ▪ Our review (84%)

We were all a little surprised when we found out the new Hitman would be episodic, but as Phil says in his review of the full first season, pulling back on Absolution's story focus was a boon. While there's still a story, what's at the heart of new Hitman is "a standalone series of sandbox murder playgrounds," as Phil put it. Blood Money fans should be pleased.

Titanfall 2

Release date: Oct 28, 2016 ▪ Developer: Respawn ▪ Our review (91%) 

With the addition of a single-player campaign and no season pass to divide the community, Titanfall 2 sheds two common complaints about the original—and also does what it does fantastically. "If this were a game from the late nineties or early noughties, we'd likely look back at the mission 'Effect and Cause' as one of the greats of the genre," wrote Chris in his review. The multiplayer is better than before as well, but there's one worry—Titanfall 2's population could suffer from its proximity to Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Let's hope it doesn't.

Battlefield 1

Release date: Oct 21, 2016 ▪ Developer: DICE ▪ Our review (89%) 

The leap back in time to WWI had good results, as Battlefield 1's focus on infantry combat pairs well with more meaningful planes and tanks, and its finicky guns slow things down a little, giving us more time to move and more pride in our good shots. The campaign is enjoyable too, which hasn't quite been the case in a Battlefield game for some time.

Civilization 6

Release date: Oct 21, 2016 ▪ Developer: Firaxis ▪ Our review (93%)

There's of course room for improvement, but Civilization 6 is nevertheless the "ultimate digital board game," as we put it in our review. It's the most  transformative version of Civ so far, changing the rules of city-management and tweaking just about everything else. And Civ 6 will only get better with expansions and user-made additions—even though the mod tools aren't out yet, the modders are already at work.

Sunless Sea: Zubmariner

Release date: Oct 11, 2016 ▪ Developer: Failbetter Games ▪ Our review (90%)In any Lovecraftian narrative, the descent always gives way to more unspeakable madness and horror, which is exactly what Zubmariner accomplishes. As an expansion to the oceanic exploration text adventuring of Sunless Sea, it sends the player beneath the waves and on the path to unraveling the mysteries of the flooded world. As scary as it is, there’s nothing spooky about more of an already excellent thing.

Forza Horizon 3

Release date: Sep 27, 2016 ▪ Developer:  Playground Games  ▪ Our review (92%)

One of the best racing games on PC, with a huge open world Australian playground (that's also full of irritating personalities) and over 350 gorgeous cars. As it's published by Microsoft Studios, Forza Horizon 3 is only available on the Windows Store—but at least Chris managed a smooth 60 fps, and didn't have many technical issues despite the Universal Windows Platform's rocky start.

World of Warcraft: Legion

Release date: Aug 30, 2016 ▪ Developer:  Blizzard  ▪ Our review (90%) 

Legion had a lot of work to do after the disappointing Warlords of Draenor, but even before all its pieces are in place, it succeeds. The quest writing, new order halls, and improved class identity are all high points. "For the first time, I don't just feel like I'm playing a druid—I am a druid," wrote Steven in his review.

N++

Release date: Aug 25, 2016 ▪ Developer: Metanet Software ▪ Our review (92%)

A refined action platformer with tricky, floaty jumps, 1,125 levels and a level editor—so there's no risk of being left wanting. Shaun has played over 300 hours of the original PS4 version, and put another 20 into this new PC release. "In some ways N++ feels like the end of the action platformer, like an exhaustive final document, a catalogue of its emotional highs and lows," he wrote in his review. It's safe to say he liked it a bit.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Release date: Aug 23, 2016 ▪ Developer: Eidos Montreal ▪ Our review (88%)

Andy wasn't super impressed by the story, but Mankind Divided's detailed vision of a future Prague, new augmentations, and level design earned it high marks. "Everywhere you look there are sentry turrets, security bots, criss-crossed laser tripwires, and patrolling guards," Andy wrote. "Getting inside, stealing the particular item you’re looking for, and escaping unseen was hugely satisfying."

F1 2016

Release date: Aug 18, 2016 ▪ Developer:  Codemasters ▪ Our review (87%) 

After last year's disappointment F1 2016 deserved some skepticism, but Codemasters came through—F1 2016 is "the most well-featured, authentic recreation of Formula One ever created, and it’s a genuinely good PC port," wrote reviewer Sam White. Better physics, better AI, and new details hoist it above the series' previous missteps.

Overcooked

Release date: Aug 3, 2016 ▪ Developer: Ghost Town Games ▪ Our review (86%)If you need to test your friendships, Overcooked is the game for you. A top down co-op cooking game, Overcooked places up to four players in crazy kitchens and throws an endless series of dishes their way. Getting a high score requires close, coordinated teamwork, but the moment communication breaks down, things can get messy. Tom calls it, “the perfect balance of chaos that can be conquered with skill,” and “hands down one of the best couch party games ever made.” Overcooked is a guaranteed recipe for fun. And disaster. And absolute despair. If you have the company, don’t miss it. 

Abzu

Release date: Aug 2, 2016 ▪ Developer: Giant Squid ▪ Our review (88%)James calls Abzu “an expertly directed psychedelic marine tour without a single UI or text prompt telling you where to go or what to do, purely driven by curiosity.” You control a diver and explore big, colorful underwater scenes, interacting with a wide assortment of sea life while unraveling a quiet story with an environmental message. Accompanied by an inspiring score from Austin Wintory, Abzu is an easy emotional journey to recommend.

Starbound

Release date: Jul 22, 2016 ▪ Developer: Chucklefish ▪ Our review (84%)According to Chris, Starbound is the charming and deep space exploration sandbox we were promised during its prolonged Early Access phase. It’s not perfect, lacking in combat systems and it’s still pretty cryptic, but “Starbound is otherwise a great pleasure, full of verve and laden with seemingly endless diversions and self-directed projects that you can lose yourself in for hours or days at a time.”

Lovely Planet Arcade

Release date: Jul 22, 2016 ▪ Developer: Quicktequila ▪ Our review (84%)

The follow-up to the great Lovely Planet, Lovely Planet Arcade strips the Y-axis from its precision, small-level shooting, meaning you can't look up and down. It's very different from its predecessor, but the essence of what makes it fun is still there: "the thrill of executing prescriptive shooting challenges with nearly zero room for error," as James put it in his review. 

Furi

Release date: Jul 5, 2016 ▪ Developer: The Game Bakers ▪ Our review (86%)

Furi has "a ludicrous premise, strenuous combat, loud neon synth jams, and saturated color palette"—but also restraint, says James. A series of bullet-hell hack n' slash boss fights train you in simple combat techniques:  slash, parry, shoot, and dash. Some bugs and difficulty spikes held it back a little, but Furi is still one of our favorite surprise hits of the year.

Hearts of Iron 4

Release date: June 6, 2016 ▪ Developer: Paradox ▪ Our review (88%)

You’ll find some cracks in the simulation, but how could there not be a few holes in such a sweeping, complicated scenario? Hearts of Iron 4 is “a beautiful, thrilling wargame” that presents the entire globe as it was at the outbreak of World War 2—and everything that happens from there is up to you and the AI.

“The AI may not always be sensible, and maybe combat doesn't always seem quite historically accurate,” wrote Rob in our review, “but then, you might be playing a version of World War 2 where Italy broke away from Germany to create a new Roman Empire with Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union was plunged into civil war and Stalin was deposed by 1942.” 

Overwatch

Release date: May 24, 2016 ▪ Developer: Blizzard ▪ Our review (88%)

A great team shooter that emphasizes positioning, teamwork and tactics over agility and marksmanship, but still leaves room for players to grow in the latter department. There are still character tweaks to be made to ensure they’re continuously viable and fun and all create interesting dynamics, but it’s the sort of game you could tweak forever. Overwatch can't replace Team Fortress 2 for us, but it’s certainly recaptured the experience of getting a bunch of friends together for night-long sessions of the current top shooter. Competitive mode is out now, and we’re keen to earn some golden guns.

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine

Release date: May 31, 2016 ▪ Developer: CD Projekt RED ▪ Our review (94%)

With Geralt's journey into the sun-drenched vintner lands of Toussaint, CD Projekt RED capstones an RPG masterpiece, defining a standard for interactive storytelling. The Witcher 3's Blood and Wine expansion follows Hearts of Stone in adding new gear and combat abilities as well as stitching together small yet eventful scenarios into a greater web of intrigue. The wonderfully paced narrative of an ostensibly routine whodunit set in Toussaint's fairytale countryside reflects what makes The Witcher games so great: a politically divided world, superb dialogue, and distinctly memorable characters. 

Total War: Warhammer

Release date: May 24, 2016 ▪ Developer: Creative Assembly ▪ Our review (86%)

The Total War series and the Warhammer franchise share a love for massive armies crashing into each other on an epic battlefield, but the latter also includes wizards with fire for hair and smelly sentient fungus. That results in more distinctly characterized armies in Total War: Warhammer emphasized by the Warhammer universe’s magic spells and flying units—all added strategy layered on the Total War pedigree of positional and tactical superiority.

Duskers

Release date: May 18, 2016 ▪ Developer: Misfits Attic ▪ Our review (86%)

Piloting drones through abstract maps of derelict spaceships might not sound tense, but Duskers can be nightmarish. “Frantically typing commands into the console when things suddenly go sideways makes me feel like I’m really huddled in a darkened dropship, alone, desperately trying to save my drones and by extension myself,” said Chris Livingston in his review. Watch out for aliens.

Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster

Release date: May 12, 2016 ▪ Developer: Square Enix ▪ Our review (85%)In the last few years, Square Enix started plugging the gaps missing in the Final Fantasy series availability on PC, with varying degrees of commitment. Not every port has been stellar, but X and X-2 HD both function pretty well, albeit not particularly well with a mouse and keyboard. They’re among the more divisive entries in the series and haven’t aged perfectly, but looking back, Sam still thinks, “Spira is a wonderful world that’s well worth exploring, and X and X-2’s different approaches to combat systems are both deep and exciting.”

Doom

Release date: May 12, 2016 ▪ Developer: id Software ▪ Our review (88%)

Doom's reverence of a primordial aspect of FPS design—killing—borders on comical exaggeration with its fountains of demon blood and a main character who communicates by punching things. That fittingly fuels fast and fun combat indulging the nostalgia of id's run-and-gun lineage without smothering its metal brutality. Doom's first major update since launch adds a Photo mode for screenshots and ups the classic feel with an optional center-aligned weapon model. 

Offworld Trading Company

Release date: Apr 28, 2016 ▪ Developer: Mohawk Games ▪ Our review (88%)Imagine an intro to marketing class, streamlined and condensed into a sweet, chewy bubblegum format—and set on Mars. That’s Offworld Trading Company, a strategy and management sim where you take control of a business dedicated to supplying new human colonies. Matt praises the unknowable depth and feedback in his review, stating ‘There’s a simple, tactile joy of seeing every a nudge of the finger explode into a flourish of numbers, but a deep and lasting satisfaction from knowing every profit was carefully engineered.”

Duelyst

Release date: April 27, 2016 ▪ Developer: Counterplay ▪ Our review (84%)

Hearthstone blazed a path by making digital card games popular on PC, and many competitors have followed in the years since. But none of them have broken so far away from the pack as Duelyst. It’s a tactics game and a CCG mixed into one, wrapped up with some of the best pixel art animations and character design of any game all year. It’s easy to pick up, but the addition of movement to largely traditional card game mechanics give it an amazing amount of depth that has kept it as one of our favorite card games all year. 

The Banner Saga 2

Release date: April 19, 2016 ▪ Developer: Stoic ▪ Our review (86%)

We loved the original, and the sequel is even better. The Banner Saga 2 is a weighty tale of survival, and a brutal strategy challenge. Some interface issues carry over from the first game, but as our reviewer put it: “Yes, there’s still room for improvement, but this is a smart, worthy sequel: denser, richer, more complex and yet more intimate. Even if you’ll feel in dire need of a stiff drink once this second act draws to its devastating close.”

Dark Souls 3

Release date: April 11, 2016 ▪ Developer: FromSoftware ▪ Our review (94%)

James calls Dark Souls 3 “the most focused, potent game in the series” in his review. It has diverse and numerous enemies, masterful combat and world design, and a dense, mysterious story to every inch of stone. Most importantly, it’s not good simply because it’s hard

Chronos

Release date: Mar 28, 2016 ▪ Developer: Gunfire Games ▪ Our review (84%)VR is still lacking a deep, directed experience that begs to be played in the steadily growing medium, but Chronos might be the closest we’ll get for a while. It’s a full blown action adventure, taking cues from The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls with punishing 3rd person sword-and-board combat and winding monolithic level design. It also makes clever use of VR in ways that can’t be replicated on a monitor, but they’re best experienced firsthand. Wes is dying for more, saying, “It’s a rare thing for me to be halfway through a game and already excited to play a sequel.” Let’s hope Oculus moves enough headsets to make it happen.

Samorost 3

Release date: March 24, 2016 ▪ Developer: Amanita Design ▪ Our review (87%)

The greatest work so far from Czech indie studio Amanita Design. It’s a point-and-click adventure, but puzzles aren’t as important here as imagery, metaphor, and surreal weirdness. “They're also so surreal that when I did something right, it was sometimes impossible to tell exactly what I did, or why it was right,” said Andy Chalk in our review. “I crept up behind a glowing, golden gazelle, leapt upon its back, and went for a wild ride along the side of a mountain.” 

Out of the Park Baseball 17

Release date: Mar 22, 2016 ▪ Developer: Out of the Park Developments ▪ Our review (89%)There’s no baseball management sim that comes close to the batting average of Out of the Park Baseball, and while it may not feel like a complete reinvention of the series, it’s still the best in the business. In our review, Ben says, “A wealth of up-to-date licences and attribute ratings make OOTP 17 an essential purchase for the devoted player, while newcomers will swiftly grasp, and love, its relentless brilliance.” 

Day of the Tentacle Remastered

Release date: March 21, 2016 ▪ Developer: Double Fine  ▪ Our review (87%)

Day of the Tentacle is great. Day of the Tentacle Remastered is that great game, remastered, and is also great. It holds up over 20 years later, and the modernization gives us an appealing opportunity to take another trip through time. “You can still play your old copy in DOSBox or ScummVM, of course,” noted Andy in our review, “but if you want a more streamlined, modern experience, with some fascinating insight into how the game was made, the remaster is worth investing in.” 

Superhot

Release date: Feb 25, 2016 ▪ Developer: Superhot Team ▪ Our review (84%)

Time moves when you move in Superhot, a shooter distilling its mechanics into a polygonal portrayal of bullet-time. It doesn't take long to complete, but clearing a level without dying in a single hit is a challenging demand of mental forethought echoing the zen-like state of FPS professionals. A VR version of Superhot for the Oculus Rift is in the works, so you can make those Matrix moves in your living room without looking too ridiculous (or maybe not).

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Release date: Feb 18, 2016 ▪ Developer: Spike Chunsoft ▪ Our review (86%)

As a visual novel, Danganronpa's length is matched only by the ridiculousness of its premise. That 15 of Japan's most gifted students could get trapped into playing a murderous game of "Guess Who?" by a mechanical bear is certainly a very anime concept. But through that goofy setup, Danganronpa takes a dark turn and displays a real gift for taking absurd characters and making them endearing—which makes it all the more gut-wrenching when they inevitably die. There's a reason that in our review, Andy said, "the story is so compelling that I barely noticed that all I was doing was clicking through lines of dialogue." 

Firewatch

Release date: Feb 9, 2016 ▪ Developer: Campo Santo ▪ Our review (85%)

Great dialogue, excellent voice performances, a minimal soundtrack, and some beautiful visuals brought real life to this first-person adventure game. Set in Wyoming, you play the glum and haunted Henry who is spending a secluded summer as a firewatchman. While the conclusion of the story doesn’t live up to the compelling setup, the believable relationship between Henry and Delilah, another park ranger, more than make up for it.

XCOM 2

Release date: Feb 4, 2016 ▪ Developer: Firaxis ▪ Our review (94%)

Sid Meier once described a game as a "series of interesting decisions." And in our review, Tom said that "XCOM 2 is the purest expression of that ethos that Firaxis has yet produced." From the moment you first take up arms against your alien oppressors, XCOM 2 hits you with a relentless barrage of choices so jaw-clenchingly difficult you're going to need a cigarette after each one. The lives you sacrifice for the greater good will be etched in your mind, and the temptation to reload an old save will be overwhelming. If you can resist and embrace consequence, XCOM 2 will transform you into a grizzled commander through the fires of conflict.

The Witness

Release date: Jan 26, 2016 ▪ Developer: Thekla, Inc. ▪ Our review (89%)

The Witness is brilliant in its simplicity. It speaks in a language without words, but uses shape and form to impart philosophical ideas that will change the way you see its world. Repetition is a stern yet fair teacher, and engaging with that silent discourse as a student begins to unravel the relationship entirely. But The Witness can also feel frustratingly vague. As Edwin said in our review, "what it ultimately seeks to offer is a vantage point, a perspective on life's mysteries, rather than answers." But even if you don't like the answer, The Witness proves questions are worth asking.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

Release date: Jan 20, 2016 ▪ Developer: Blackbird ▪ Our review (90%)

To take Homeworld and put it on the ground seems “almost sacrilegious,” wrote Rob Zacny in our review. But it works. “It's not only a terrific RTS that sets itself apart from the rest of the genre's recent games,” he said, “but it's also an excellent Homeworld game that reinvents the series while also recapturing its magic.” Deserts of Kharak is both approachable—less about production, more about tactics—and another example of all the life still flowing through the RTS genre.

Darkest Dungeon

Release date: Jan 19, 2016 ▪ Developer: Red Hook Studios ▪ Our review (88%)

Darkest Dungeon is cruel, probably too cruel. It's a dungeon crawler that doesn't deal in stats and loot alone but also trades on the mental well-being of the heroes you send into its festering crypts. But these heroes don't return stronger for their troubles; they come back battered and broken, a liability you're much better off dismissing. Beneath all that doom and gloom is an innovative take on turn-based RPGs that weaves the positioning of party members with an unconventional class system, that inspires experimentation despite the constant dread of what will happen if you fail.

The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human

Release date: Jan 19, 2016 ▪ Developer: YCJY ▪ Our review (90%)

Our reviewer loved how Aquatic Adventure “fast-forwards through the Metroidvania template, stripping it down to its most essential parts: exploration, atmosphere, and player growth”. It’s an underwater take on the classic genre, where you putter around gorgeous pixel-art environments, collecting upgrades, taking out challenging bosses, and try to decipher how earth’s oceanic apocalypse came about. You also get to swim out of a giant sea worm’s ass, a necessary experience. 

Pony Island

Release date: Jan 4, 2016 ▪ Developer: Daniel Mullins ▪ Our review (91%)

Pony Island is so dependent on its little self-referential gimmicks that it’s hard to explain without giving it all away. In a sense, and because there’s a pun to be made, that makes it a one-trick pony, but it does a great trick. One of its pranks near the end of the game is so devious we won’t likely forget it soon. If you like Undertale or The Stanley Parable, you’ll probably enjoy Pony Island. 

POSTAL

2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Running With Scissors' dark, surreal and divisive isometric shooter Postal—which is why the developer has now released its source code to the public.  

"It was in September, 1997—over 19 years ago (we’ll round that out to 20, for marketing reasons)—when us humble folk from Running With Scissors unleashed our Robotron-inspired isometric shooter POSTAL to the unsuspecting public at large," says Running With Scissors via a blog post on its site. "It was an instant hit, grabbing the attention of gamers, parents and politicians across the country, and we’ve been supporting and updating it ever since. But now, (almost) 20 years later, we are entrusting our fans with the future of our game, by releasing its source code to the public. Consider it a belated Christmas present."

Earlier this year, an HD remake of the original—Postal: Redux—launched to much success, something RWS describe as an "especially big step" for the studio in preserving the '97 game's legacy. Last year, the devs teased the idea of making the original open source but only in the event someone ported it to Sega's beleaguered Dreamcast console. 

This hasn't yet been achieved, however is now possible should any pioneering players wish to do so. 

Running With Scissors' post continues: "It’s definitely been a wild ride for us all, and POSTAL means a lot to us – it’s our baby… But now we’re ready to hand the future of ‘the little shooter that could’ to the public at large. People have been asking, and we have been promising this for years now, but today we are proud to announce that the source code for POSTAL is officially released to the public on Bitbucket, under the GPL2 license. 

"Everyone now has ‘under the hood’ access, to see what makes POSTAL tick, and anyone with the time and skills can now tweak/change/update/modify anything in the game at all! And hey, if anyone feels the urge to port the game to other platforms (The Dreamcast, for example *wink* *wink*), then they absolutely can!"

Running With Scissors' post in full, as well as instructions for accessing Postal's source code, can be found this way.

Rising Storm 2: Vietnam

The PC Gamer Weekender 2017 is shaping up quite nicely, wouldn't you agree? This week alone, we've revealed Failbetter Games will be in attendance to talk Sunless Skies and that the incoming "FTL-meets-Sunless Sea" Abandon Ship will get its first public demonstration at the UK's only event dedicated solely to PC gaming. Now, we can announce Tripwire Interactive will return, bringing with it Rising Storm 2: Vietnam and Killing Floor: Incursion.   

The first Rising Storm captured our coveted Multiplayer Game of the Year award back in 2013, and Tyler enjoyed his hands-on time with an early build of the sequel in August. That looks a little like this: 

Killing Floor: Incursion, on the other hand, transports the hectic blast 'em up world of KF to virtual reality—with Incursion being developed for Oculus Touch. Here's its latest trailer:

Besides Tripwire Interactive, Microsoft is set to make its PC Gamer Weekender debut next year, bringing with it Halo Wars 2—in particular its Blitz Firefight mode—while Torn Banner and Koch will be there with Mirage: Arcane Warfare and Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 respectively. 

Both the Sega and Bandai Namco Entertainment Zones are also set to return for 2017—which means you'll have the chance to get your hands on the likes of Sega's Motorsport Manager, Dawn of War 3, Tekken 7, Little Nightmares and many more. 

This is of course far from the full list and there are more games to be announced in the coming weeks and months here, via the PC Gamer Weekender website, and on the PC Gamer Weekender Twitter feed

Join us for The PC Gamer Weekender Played On Omen by HP on February 18-19, 2017 at Olympia London. Tickets can be found over here

The Stanley Parable

The acclaimed first-person exploration game The Stanley Parable has been out for a few years now, and so you might think that its days of being updated are well behind it. But you'd be wrong. In a post at galactic-cafe.com, co-creator Davey Wreden explained that a bizarre black monolith that appears at the conclusion of an equally bizarre mini-game that nobody was actually supposed to complete isn't meant to be there. And he feels pretty bad about the whole thing. 

"Somewhere in the making of Stanley Parable, someone had the idea that it would be really funny if there was a mini-game that you had to play that was really tedious and not at all fun, and that the game should ask you to play it for 4 hours. Thus the Baby Game was born: a game in which the baby crawls from right to left into the fire, and you press a button to delay the baby’s death by a few seconds, over and over, for 4 hours," Wreden explained. 

Naturally, the developers assumed that nobody would actually do this, but on the off-chance that someone might be so persistent Wreden slapped a brief message about "the essence of divine art" at the end of the thing and called it a day. And of course people did do it, and saw the message, and also that black monolith, which lends the whole thing an air of vaguely sinister mystery. But the monolith is a bug: It is, in fact, the remains of a sliding door that got past the testers because nobody bothered to test it. 

It's not the presence of the monolith that's the problem, though, but that it's covering up some of the text in the Baby Game message: that, and the fact that, in retrospect, it all feels a little "cheap" to get a 95-word message in exchange for four hours of clicking a button. "I guess if I had watched someone play it ahead of time I would have tried to go back and do something to make the ending feel more substantial. But like I said, we never really assumed anyone would actually do it, so I never bothered to put myself in the shoes of someone who might play it to completion," he wrote. "Years later I still feel weird about it." 

Since it's too late to make the payoff more meaningful, Wreden said the least he can do is make it legible. Hopefully. "That’s the reward we intended people to get, so dammit that’s what they’re gonna get," he continued. "The update we’re pushing today will remove the monolith and make all the text legible... I believe. I have not tested it." 

In lieu of spending four hours keeping a baby from crawling into a fire, you can read the full message, sans monolith, below. 

Fear me, Mortal. I am the essence of divine art.Others but you cannot read this text.Know that when you die, I will personally carry your spirit across the River Blxwxn, into my garden built within the emotions of a flower.There we will live together, we will dance and eat and sin and you will do improv comedy based on suggestions from me for all eternity.This is your reward for your work here today.Now. Live your normal human existence. Await me in the life that follows this one. 

...

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