Here it is! After a week of ancillary end of year lists, I have finally arrived at the final one. After this goes up I will return to my usual routine (which I outlined a couple of weeks ago). But there’s some important business to attend to before that happens.
I played a lot of great games in 2016. I really enjoyed all of the games on this list, and there were tough cuts for me to make. There’s also a lot of diversity on this list when it comes to genre and size, which says a good thing about the state the industry is in. Every game in the top 10 is a game that I wrote a review for, so I’ll be posting links to them if you want to check out my more extended thoughts. And without further ado, here are my ‘Top 10 Games of 2016’
A lot of times an honorable mention goes to a game that got cut from the list at the last minute. That’s not true in this case. The Last Guardian is not a de facto number 11 on this list. It is a game that I really love but have yet to put enough time into to make a final decision on. I’m about 5 hours into the game, and it is everything I could want it to be. I love both of Ueda’s previous games, and what I’ve seen of The Last Guardian stands with both of them. But because this is a game that I feel a personal connection to, I’m trying to only play it when I have a large chunk of uninterrupted time to do so. I don’t want to rush through this game and have a lesser experience because of that. I also want to get away from the fact that this game even exists. I want to have conversations about The Last Guardian focused solely on its artistic merit. I don’t want them to be focused around whether or not the game was “worth the wait”, and I honestly don’t want them to be focused on the technical aspects of the game either. Shadow of the Colossus is a masterpiece despite being a slideshow at points, and The Last Guardian is at the very least competent on a technical level. An honorable mention could not be more honorable than this one is, and I would not be surprised if it ends up being my number one or number two game of 2016 when all is said and done.
I played through both Banner Saga games this year and really enjoyed them. The music is evocative, the setting is awesome, the story is depressing, the characters are enjoyable, the choices are brutal, the presentation is beautiful, and the combat is fun. If a game hits all of those boxes, it’s typically going to be a pretty great game. The Banner Saga 2 shows some clear improvements over its predecessor, and the main one comes in the form of the battles. The first game sort of threw you into battles for the sake of having you fight. Almost all of the battles in The Banner Saga 2 are contextualized within the narrative. Not only does this make the stakes higher, but it also allows for the environments surrounding the battlefield to be more realized. The game’s biggest flaw is that it’s the second game in a trilogy. The Banner Saga 2 ends in a way that makes me want to see what happens next, but the ending itself isn’t very satisfying. The two caravans are equally interesting, and I especially liked Rook’s character development in the game, but the story doesn’t stick the landing. I’m hoping that the final entry can do so. Review
The most surprising thing about Titanfall 2 isn’t that it’s a great game but that the singleplayer is actually the best part. Each level in the Titanfall 2 campaign is amazing in its own unique way. They each introduce either new mechanics or new level design philosophies, but none of them feel like cheap gimmicks. Everything there works well with the core Titanfall mechanics that were already so fantastic. It’s the type of fps campaign that I would like to see more of from the big names like Call of Duty and Battlefield. The multiplayer is also a lot of fun. It is not as good as the multiplayer in the original game, and this mainly comes down to map design. However, the movement and shooting both still feel really good and that goes a long way towards making up for the game’s shortcomings in other areas. I also have to give some respect to any developer willing to support their game after launch free of charge. Titanfall 2 got off to a slow start sales wise, but I hope that good word of mouth can help carry the game. It’s definitely not perfect, but there’s a lot to like here. Review
Furi is a game I hadn’t heard of until it launched. It landed on PlayStation Plus, and I figured I would download it and give it a shot. I’m glad I did because it’s a really awesome game. In short, it’s a boss rush game where I found most of the boss fights to be really good. When that’s the one thing you’re focused on you’ve kind of got to nail it, and I think The Game Bakers did in this case. Apart from the basic combat being a mechanically satisfying mix of character-action and bullet-hell, the bosses all have different concepts behind them. This may mean that if you like one style of play better you aren’t going to like a couple of the bosses, but as somebody who enjoys both genres I found satisfaction with each fight. The game also does a good job of being difficult without being too punishing. If you get the parry mechanic down (which isn’t too hard), you get a lot of chances to refill your health during fights. I also think the way the health bars work in increments is really smart. It allows you to not get entirely fucked over if you can keep reaching new phases, but it also doesn’t allow you to brute force your way through every section. Furi is a stylish game that I had fun playing through multiple times. Review
I’m still trying to figure out what it is about Bound that resonates with me so much. I can empathize with a lot of its main themes, but none of them relate to me personally. I don’t know, maybe I just like pretty things with nice music. If that’s the case, then I absolutely get why I would like Bound so much. The visuals are surreal, the music is relaxing, and the character animations are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Bound is a game that kept me engaged for the entirety of its short run time, and I felt completely satisfied when it was finished. It’s by no means the most complex game mechanically in the world, and it doesn’t have any sort of revolutionary narrative. I just simply enjoyed dancing through this surrealist world and learning more about this girl’s troubled family life. If the typical ‘art game’ is something that appeals to you personally, than I definitely suggest that you give Bound a shot. I have issues with a lot of popular games in that genre, but I think Bound absolutely nails what it is going for. Review
XCOM: Enemy Unknown welcomed a lot of new people into the long-running series (including myself), and XCOM 2 told a lot of those people to fuck off. This game is brutally difficult in a way that I never thought its predecessor was. The mission timers are the biggest reason for this, not allowing the turtling strategy that myself and plenty of others exploited in Enemy Unknown. It also made me use a lot of different soldiers because my main guys kept getting injured. Thankfully, the improved skill trees helped differentiate them a little more. To stop beating around the bush and cut to the chase; I got a game over at one point during XCOM 2… on normal difficulty. I played a hundred hours of Enemy Unknown on multiple difficulties and never got anywhere close to losing. XCOM 2 may be a cruel mistress, but losing my colonels is the only way I can feel anymore. Review
Videogame endings are notoriously horrible. And franchise endings? First of all, I’m not sure that those even exist, and if they did I’m sure they wouldn’t be very good. Uncharted 4 is an achievement in this regard. Naughty Dog did what other developers are afraid or not allowed to do and called it quits on the ‘Face of PlayStation’. And they sent Nathan Drake out with a bang. The action is much improved from the previous games, and I found the pacing to be a nice break from the norm. The personal stories of Nate and his friends and family, the typical narrative of trying to beat Rafe to the treasure, and the background tale of Henry Avery and the lost colony of Libertalia are all super well told and engaging. And while this has become a given by now, the visual design and performances in this Naughty Dog game are pretty damn good. I don’t want Naughty Dog to ever make another game starring Nathan Drake, and I’m a bit nervous about The Lost Legacy. Uncharted 4 was the send-off this series and this character deserved after nine years of mass murder. Review
Overwatch was nowhere on my radar when the year started. I’ve never been a big Blizzard fan or a big Team Fortress fan. But I decided to try one of the open betas that ran, and I was super impressed. I immediately got what all the talk was about. A lot has been made about how different the characters personalities are, and I think that’s great. However, I’m super impressed at what they have done on a mechanical level. They put out a game with over twenty characters, and all of them are fun to play (except Symmetra). What makes them fun is that everything works the way you think it should work. The example I like to use for this is Reinhardt’s charge. That’s sort of a weird thing to include in a shooter. It has to pull the camera out in to third person for one player, make another player feel like they’re caught and being pushed, and make all of this look reasonable to the other players in the game. The fact that they managed to pull this off in a first person shooter is kind of remarkable. A lot of comparisons to Team Fortress have been made and rightfully so, but those games don’t have anything nearly as crazy as that. Everything from the visual design to the audio design makes a chaotic match readable from a first person perspective. That’s something that deserves more recognition than it probably gets. Review
Hitman has absolutely no right to be as good as it is. A franchise that was on the ropes in terms of both quality and sales mixed with a business model that was both irregular and changed at the last second was a recipe for disaster. However, the developers at IO Interactive somehow managed to pull it off. Not only is Hitman a great game, but it makes a case for an entire model of distribution better than any other game has. Using the episodic model to continuously release complex levels with a ton of built-in replayability is such a good idea that it’s surprising nobody thought about it sooner. In any other Hitman game I would have played through each level once then put it on the shelf. But in this game I’m trying to go for level 20 mastery on each one. It helps that most of the levels are incredibly well designed with a bunch of fun and absolutely absurd ways to kill targets. The always stressful elusive targets are another stroke of genius, showing Agent 47 just doing his regular job without all the global conspiracy stuff surrounding it. The all or nothing approach to them has led to some of my most triumphant and my most devastating moments playing a game this year. Review
DOOM is not a game I expected to be so high on this list or on this list at all at the start of the year. I figured that even if it turned out to be a good game that it wouldn’t be one that spoke to me personally. Boy was I wrong. A lot of people are calling DOOM a great revival of the old Id games, and they’re not entirely wrong. However, what DOOM does that’s new to the genre is what really puts it ahead for me. The combat system that rewards not only movement but being in the middle of the battle brings new life to a genre that has been stale for a while now. The glory kills and gore nests do a great job at naturally putting the player in this situation. The aspects of which enemies to focus on and on which ones to use which weapons are fantastic too. It really is one of the most rewarding combat loops I’ve ever experienced in a game, and it’s what makes DOOM great. It’s not the only good thing about DOOM though. The story has a self-awareness that I can’t help but smile at, specifically the “Testament of the Doomslayer” tablets that you find. DOOM is one of the best first person shooter campaigns ever made, and I have no idea how Id plans on topping it in the inevitable sequel. As the saying goes ‘Rip and Tear’. Review
The Witness is the best game of 2016. This is everything that modern puzzle games should strive to be. Taking a mechanic that’s not only simple but is also a completely original concept and expanding it to create an entire island worth of puzzles is remarkable. Learning new ways to interact with the puzzles as you go feels like learning a new language. The concepts are simple at first, but they are expanded upon and layered over each other in ways that really cause you to think. I’ll put it this way; The Witness is the only game that made me cut out paper tetris pieces this year. But one of the great things about The Witness is that the difficulty never made me frustrated because of the open world design. The fact that I could give up and go to another part of the island was a big part of what kept me going through that game and not giving up when I got stuck. And that’s not even mentioning the “+ puzzles” which make you look at the world in a whole other way. Oh, and that’s another thing. The world is gorgeous. The Witness is an incredible game from top to bottom. It’s not just the game of the year, but it’s also the game of the generation so far. Review