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Steam Charts: That's A Wrap

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s THE mosssssssst wonderful tiiiiiiiiiiiime ahaahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah I wish I had a machinegun ho ho ho ahahaha, get stuffed 2016.

1. Grand Theft Auto V

The celebrity death that hit hardest this year was Bowie. I am well aware that there is no novelty to saying this, but such was the splendour of the man’s music that it always felt so personal even when millions were listening to it. Bowie seemed like a constant. From singing along to space oddity on the way to school to in the late 80s to how embarrassing his Britpop-meets-jungle 90s comeback was, to how he looped back into credibility and importance during his post-Reality hiatus, Bowie was always around. It remains so difficult to adjust to a reality without him. The songs remain, somehow with more vitality than ever.

2. Astroneer

Always nice to see a new entry that hasn’t been advertised on bus stops. Almost inevitably, it’s a building and survival game that’s in early access, as this is what The Infinite Thirst Of Modern PC Gamers seems to demand. I’ve heard the No Man’s Sky comparisons – fair enough, as both share resource-harvesting across proc-gen worlds, though I would have words with anyone who claims this looks even faintly as pretty. (Disclaimer: I did some writing for No Man’s Sky. Please seek others’ visual comparisons between it and Astroneer if this concerns you). That aside, we’re pretty keen on Astroneer – Oor Grahamy even claims that “Astroneer is the most promising and confident base for a game of this type I’ve seen in a long time.”

3. Planet Coaster

Seems like a Christmas game somehow, doesn’t it? Or maybe I’m just saying that because I once visited Universal Studios Florida mere days before Christmas. In any case, I am totally cool with Frontier’s roller coaster builder being the PC success story of December 2016. Its innocence is a much-needed counter to all that murder.

4. H1Z1: King of the Kill

Daybreak’s battle royaley spin-off of what was initially intended to be a slice of DayZ mania makes an unexpected return to the charts because of, no surprise, a sale. It was a mere ten bucks for a chunk of last week, which created enough critical mass to bring it back. Ten months on from release, Steam reviews are still “mixed”, but jeez, what does that even mean anymore?

ALSO I only just realised this was called King Of The Kill, not King Of The Hill. Do you see what they did there?

5. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

For credibility’s sake I want to claim that the celebrity death which hit me next-hardest was Leonard Cohen, but that simply isn’t the case. I have long adored Leonard, but for years his death has seemed like something that could happen any day now. There was no shock to it, only sadness – and gratitude that, right up until almost the moment of his passing, he was still releasing superior albums. The reality is that, after Bowie, it was Victoria Wood’s passing which hit me hardest.

Another figure who had always seemed to be there, someone of boundless warmth wrapped in no less necessary world-weariness. Never the height of humour, for me, but very much the truth of it – the absurdities, big and small, of the British condition, fondness and cynicism all at once. A voice I took for granted shockingly extinguished. When I think about human society moving increasingly into darkness – fear and hate and anger and rejection – in 2016, I think too of how there don’t seem to be anything like enough warm, Woodish voices any more.

6. Just Cause 3

One of those games that I suspect is on many people’s wish-lists but they won’t commit to until the price is right. A certain sense that they already know exactly what it is, or consider its whirlwind of easy explosions somewhat throwaway, perhaps? I must admit, it’s one of those games I just play for a bit, with absolute zero intention of ever seeing all of it. It’s about the moment to moment experience, not any kind of end point. A big fat sale pushed this down to a truly bargainous $15. Now this feels like a Christmas game too – brainless but comic excess, silliness and slickness all at once. If I didn’t have a kid to entertain, I can well imagine myself playing six straight hours of this on Boxing Day.

7. Star Wars Collection

Gee, I wonder why? Massively discounted from $99 to $23 in order to cash in on Rogue One hype, this bundle of KOTORs and Jedi Knights and Force Unleasheds and Empires At War and good ol’ Republic Commando and a whole bunch more clearly presses a lot of the same nostalgia pressure points as the spectacular but soulless new movie does.

I genuinely expected Rogue One to be a triumph (AT-ATs!), free as it was from the finger-waggling prophecy wibble of the mainline movies and able to focus on outright interstellar war, but sadly it’s been edited to within an inch of its life, so it feels less like a film and more a collection of scenes stitched together. It looked great, but it was impossible to feel anything for those empty characters, their dialogue reduced to single lines of exposition clipped awkwardly out of larger conversations.

8. Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

Then it’s Alan Rickman. Another voice – and face too – that seemed ever-present, like a fact of existence rather than just one more mortal human within it. Powerfully charismatic even for his most imperious or cruel characters, and for a time a certain seal of personality and sanity in otherwise insipid blockbusters. I guess I presumed that, for the rest of my own life, I’d be able to say “well, I don’t know anything about it, but it’s got Alan Rickman in it so it’s worth a watch.”

9. Space Hulk: Deathwing

Pretty good going to scrape a place in the charts, in this month of big releases and deep discounts. This is a case in point for why many games firms don’t like early reviews: there was enough built-up anticipation for a glossy Warhammer 40,000 shooter that it was able to outweigh a complete lack of pre-release critique and even the harbinger of doom that is the last-minute release date delay.

Post-release, the response has been broadly underwhelmed (I thought singleplayer was tedious, but co-op was a good time, albeit perhaps only briefly so) and I’ll be very surprised if this is still here next week.

10. Tom Clancy’s The Division

It’s been Ubisoft’s year, but quietly so. I don’t know that they’ve smashed it out the park, but this and Rainbow Six Siege are always hanging around, always coming back, back, back. The ‘living’ shooter is a business model that can really pay off – big updates and free weekends and all that jazz ensuring a long tail that more contained games can only dream of. That said, I just bet we’ll see Watch Dogs popping back a few times next year, as mostly good word of mouth spreads, and discounts finally prompt people to take a chance on the sequel to a damp squib of a first game.

And that’s it – the last chart of 2016. I mean, there will be more data released next week, but it’s my Mum’s birthday so I’ll need to spend the day talking her through how to use Skype so her grand-daughter can sing a cracked rendition of happy birthday at her.

Back again in January. Out with the old in with the new in 2017, eh? Oh, who the hell am I kidding – another year of GTA V and CSGO it is.

Merry Venga and a merry new bus, everybody!

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