There were so many good games in 2016. I have to preface this bunch I present by saying I missed a lot of those good games. I’ve spent only a brief amount of time playing games like Dishonored 2, Hitman GO and The Witness. I haven’t had a chance at all to play Doom, Battlefield 1, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, Let It Die, Watch Dogs 2, the new Ratchet & Clank, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Stardew Valley, the episodic Hitman game which looks great from what I’ve seen, the “finished” version of Darkest Dungeon, Thumper, SteamWorld Heist, Hyper Light Drifter, Owlboy, Tyranny … my god the list goes on and on. There’s things I’d like to play, and so many I never will.
I still got to play a lot of great games, so I’ll start with some honorable mention shout outs.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is great and arguably the best Uncharted game. But it is another Uncharted game. I’m glad Naughty Dog is moving on. Same deal with Gears of War 4. It’s great, a lot of fun, but it’s another Gears of War game and exactly what you’d expect for the most part. I played Dark Souls III more than anything else this year, but guess what. It’s another Dark Souls game! The three year onslaught of Dark Souls II, Bloodborne and Dark Souls III has left me a bit weary. A little break would be nice.
I’d like to shout out the game I liked the least last year, Bound. It’s not that Bound is terrible, it’s just very boring, but I recognize that it tried something pretty unique, that being a … dancing platformer? Still, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. Don’t play Bound! It’s quite uninteresting.
Shout out to what I have played of Dishonored 2 – it’s more Dishonored and I’m totally good with that. I’m looking forward to being able to spend some more time with it. Also shout out to Titanfall 2. I left that game feeling a little underwhelmed, and if I’m honest a bit surprised by the heavy praise of its campaign. There were great moments, but overall I didn’t have a lot of enjoyment in the moment to moment gameplay. What I do recognize and appreciate about the game is its continual introduction of interesting new mechanics, and its simultaneous restraint in almost immediately abandoning those mechanics for new ones. I still don’t feel justified having spent $80 on the game, but it did have some very fresh ideas that I won’t deny.
There was Party Hard, my favourite stupid game of the year; it was a wonky but super fun game of strategical mass murder. You can make bears eat people, and make horses kick people to death. I loved Party Hard, totally recommend it to anyone who likes a good ridiculous game. Oh, I can’t forget Worms W.M.D., a nice throwback to the heyday of the Worms franchise: Worms 2 and Worms Armageddon. There’s The Vanishing of Ethan Carter; that one’s a couple years old but I only got to finishing it last year, it was a neat experience. Graphically marvelous as well.
And even though it came out with less than two weeks left in the year, the first episode of the third Walking Dead season, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier had a strong start.
Well, I think that’s everything I liked that didn’t make the list. Now, my favourite games of 2016.
Special mention – The Last Guardian
And I do mean special. I think The Last Guardian is a very special game. It doesn’t make “the list” part of my list, but I had to include it somehow. The reason it’s not part of the numbered list is simply that I haven’t finished it. I am glad to see the game received well by many critics; that was certainly not a sure thing. Every conversation I’ve heard about the game mentions, fairly, the camera and character control. The camera, in my opinion, isn’t as bad as many describe it; I found the character movement to be a bigger problem, what with there being two speeds, run and sneak. It’s not great. Expecting to have such issues doesn’t negate them, but for me it softened frustration, and isn’t game-breaking.
It’s such a unique game, for that reason alone it’s worth experiencing. It could easily be disliked for its problems, but no one will walk away from The Last Guardian thinking it’s something they’ve had before. It obviously bears similarities to Ico, but really is unlike anything that I’m aware of. The giant beast, Trico, is such a wonder. I’ve stared at it for minutes at a time, captivated. This game has the power to hit you like a freight train when a gentle moment occurs between Trico and the boy.
The Last Guardian was worth the wait. I always hoped to someday write that sentence.
#7 – Firewatch
Firewatch is a neat premise. You’re so and so, a guy who, maybe not running away, but is jogging away from life and its problems, and finds himself embarking upon summer in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, set to be the dude who sits in a tower and watches for fires. Ohhhhhhh, Firewatch. I get it. Everybody already knows about this game, right? Okay good.
I have some problems with the game but on the whole it was still one of my favourite experiences of 2016. For anyone who has played it you’ll know what I mean when I say that, it seems a bit much was left out of the middle of the game. Not that I want it to be longer (this is another short game, praise the sun!) but I think it could have been doled out in a way that made more sense. The first half of the game is two in game days, then there’s a brief montage-y sort of passage of time, and then it’s 75 days later. It’s sort of like “oh okay, that went differently than expected.”
They sacrifice some of what makes the game appealing– its presentation of this unspectacular job juxtaposed with the serenity of wilderness– and trade it for a more dramatic narrative that I think falls a bit short.
With that said, this game gives you two lead characters who have compelling, deeply human conversations which are the driving force behind that flawed narrative, and this part of the game mostly succeeds. I think it’s certainly worth playing if you’re a fan of increasingly non-traditional games.
More than anything else, I’m very interested in what developer Campo Santo does next, now with a bit of recognition and lot more money and resources at their disposal.
#6 – No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky is the worst game of all time and it’s a mean stupid butthead and it stole my lunch and so on and so on.
If that Black Mirror episode comes to pass, the one where dead people can essentially be rebuilt by an assembly of their online behaviors and such, then I’m fucked. I’ll be remembered as a non-person, one of the biggest trolls to have ever lived, and that makes me a bit sad that I’ll be rebuilt as such, just because I like three games that internet babies hate (there I go making fun of the internet babies again). First, Dragon Age II, then Mass Effect 3, and now No Man’s Sky. “What an awful man!” they’ll say about me. “Such a wretched non-person!”
I guess they’re right. I guess I’m the worst. I’m just being honest.
I’ll be harsh and straightforward here. If you’re among the masses who pre-ordered No Man’s Sky, and the chorus who denounced the “lies” that were sold to you, I offer this: blame yourself. I think Hello Games mismanaged the public perception of their project, and whatever responsibility they bear, I believe Sony bears just as much, and probably more. Neither company deserves any pity or understanding from consumers. But they also didn’t force anyone to pre-order the game. If millions of people could have just waited until the day of, or even the day before the game’s launch, they would have had more than enough information to realize whatever game No Man’s Sky was, it wasn’t what they hoped.
Yes, blame yourselves. Stop pre-ordering games. It’s completely pointless. If you “pre-order” it a few hours before it’s released digitally so you can download it, that’s fine. Reviews are usually out that close to a launch anyway. Otherwise, just don’t pre-order games. Even if there’s some stupid statue you want, or some coat or hat bullshit pre-order bonus. Speak with your buying habits. Wait purposely until 12:01 AM and then buy the game if that suits you. Just stop pre-ordering games. There’s no scarcity, you just don’t need to. Pre-ordering is a marketing scam that gives you nothing extra in almost every case. This also applies to collector’s editions and beyond.
Now about the game. No Man’s Sky is a fine game if you either live in a vacuum or didn’t have any sort of expectations for it. I fell in the latter camp. In fact I was pretty skeptical of it. Then when it came around I heard some pretty good things from people I share a lot of overlap with in terms of taste, so I bought it the day after it came out, and sure enough I enjoyed my time with the game. It’s not whatever you thought it was; it’s sort of just a weird, chill experience. Every solar system is basically the same, with a different number of planets and moons, but there’s not a lot of difference there. The 18 quintillion planets thing is irrelevant. It’s a survival-lite game, and it has a lot of problems. But it has cool things going for it too.
Hello Games the company is probably a lot richer than they were a year ago, so you can debate the merits of sabotaging your credibility to get rich. It will be done to no end, I’m sure. I think they should have kept this game quiet way longer than they did, not talk up a big game about its “limitless potential,” and released it without much fanfare. You can bet it would be a quirky darling if that were the case. But it’s not.
And because of that, No Man’s Sky is the worst game of all time, and Sean Murray & co. are a hated bunch, etc. It will be remembered as a no-win scenario for almost everybody. I still had a good month or so with it.
#5 – Rainbow Six: Siege
I don’t have a whole lot to say about Rainbow Six Siege other than this game is dope. Compared to past games in the series, Siege is easily the most bare bones. What it does, though, it does very well. This game entered my rotation in December, just about a year after it came out, and now I wish I’d played it sooner. Game options are limited: there’s terrorist hunt which can be played in co-op online or solo. There’s normal multiplayer, which is 5 attackers versus 5 defenders, and there’s a few single player “situations” which seem to exist to get you in-game currency which is used to unlock new operators (characters). There’s not a lot on offer, it just nails what it does and what it’s going for.
It’s the most intense destructible-terrain experience I’ve had, if that makes sense. That can make for some pretty fun moments.
I do wish it had a campaign with the intricate planning of the first three R6 games, but I can’t complain about what Siege does. I wasn’t a fan of the two Vegas games, which actually seem pretty popular, but they weren’t for me. Siege recalls the solid methodical gameplay of Raven Shield, which is my favourite in the series, and a lot of others’. If you’re looking for a slow, tactical shooter that recalls the old Rainbow Six or SWAT series I think you’d do well to have a look at Siege. It’s just about the polar opposite of Call of Duty and Battlefield, which I imagine appeals to many folks out there.
It’s a solid number two in my Year of the Different Shooter.
#4 – Oxenfree
Oxenfree, like Firewatch, is a game I appreciate more in concept than execution. This is a way of saying I’m very interested in what Night School Studio and Campo Santo will do next. Having said that, I like Oxenfree a lot. It seems to have made waves last year, but if you’re unfamiliar it goes something like this. A group of teenagers ferry off to an uninhabited island town for their annual Gettin’ Drunk Bash, and then things get science fiction-y and weird.
The premise is fine, if a bit ordinary, but the hook is a new type of conversation system that plays out quite naturally. It seems to have a few quirks which need to be worked out– sometimes characters cut each other off when I don’t think they were supposed to– but for the most part it works well. That’s most of what Oxenfree throws at you. Conversations are pretty much always happening as you trek around the island, always separated from at least one group member, often more, while mysteries build and answers are doled out at a pretty satisfying pace.
Oxenfree probably could’ve had a lot more padding but I’m glad it was kept to a relatively short game. Short enough that I played through it three times. Multiple playthroughs are incentivized here, and it’s not to keep you around long enough to buy hats; some details of the game actually change in subtle ways if you play it again, and that’s all I’ll say. This is one of the ideas that I’d really love to see expanded upon, not necessarily in a sequel to Oxenfree (which it does not need), though I’d be happy with a sequel, a spiritual sequel, or just an iteration on the ideas and mechanics.
I think Oxenfree is really worth spending time with, and strongly recommend it to anyone who loves a good mystery, or science fiction, or silly-teenage-drama-with-sinister-undertones kind of stuff. I also appreciate a good short game these days, and Oxenfree delivers in that regard.
#3 – Overwatch
Hooray for Overwatch, am I right?! I don’t know how Blizzard does it, but they do it almost every time.
I played Overwatch like a madman when it came out in the spring, devoting the most time to a multiplayer shooter since the first Modern Warfare. This surprised me. I didn’t follow the development of Overwatch, nor really knew anything about the scrapped game from which many of its assets come. So it surprised the hell out of me when it showed up, and boy was it a pleasant surprise. Unlike the first shooter on my list, Overwatch is super easy to talk about! It is the online shooter for people who never liked an online shooter. Overwatch is smart in so many ways. It focuses solely on positivity (there’s no death count, or any kind of “this is how you suck!” tracking), it rewards and encourages teamwork, and best of all is that you don’t really have to be very good at these kinds of games to have a lot of fun.
Overwatch succeeds at making support-type characters not just fun to play, but making them truly impactful to a match’s outcome. No one character in the game is a solitary force; they rely on each other. I’d actually say more of the characters than not are closer to offering a support role. Even the hated Bastion can’t do it all alone.
Six versus six matches seem to be just right, and the combination of possible team variations makes for constantly fresh and fun situations. The variety of characters is also impressive – and I haven’t played in a few months either so I’ve missed a few new ones that were introduced. Even with what I’m saying, on paper Overwatch just sounds like flowery praise heaped on any old shooting game that claims to have something new. Overwatch doesn’t necessarily feel new, it just feels better. Let’s call it Team Fortress 3, how about that? Actually, let’s not. Overwatch is way better than every Team Fortress game. No pretension, all fun and heart.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the roster (which now is I think somewhere between 21-23 characters) isn’t comprised of 22 white dudes. Blizzard clearly made an effort to include a diverse roster of characters made up of many ages and backgrounds. You can call that pandering, but I wouldn’t. People like to see themselves in the art and entertainment they enjoy. This is a good thing.
It’s really all positive. There’s barely a learning curve, you can just mute annoying people and don’t really need to talk to anyone to coordinate, though I suppose if you did it would be that much more fun. I don’t really know if there are pockets of toxicity like in, say, a MOBA, but jerks will always infiltrate everything to a degree. If there are jerks playing Overwatch please don’t let them deter you. It’s a great game.
If someone asked me to pick the best online multiplayer shooter of all time, my pick would now be Overwatch. I think it’s that good. I sure said Overwatch a lot just now. Overwatch!
#2 – Elite: Dangerous
Space: it’s a whole lotta nothin’. Or at least a whole lot of empty. Elite: Dangerous captures that pretty darn well. I was familiar with this game only in name until investing in an Xbox One this past summer. I wasn’t even aware of the long-running series that began in 1984 with Elite, which is surprising since after looking it up I came to realize it was considered a classic. A classic unknown to me.
Elite: Dangerous is sort of my dream game. Two of my first loves on the computer were TIE Fighter and Wing Commander IV, the latter especially. I can’t tell you how much of 1996 I spent playing that game. Let’s just say, a lot of it. If WC IV was more or less a scripted action game, this is the complete opposite, a slow burn enormous space sandbox of total freedom. Well, not total, but close. You still need to earn money to be able to do things, but there are plenty of ways to do that.
Trading, mining, pirating, bounty hunting, exploring – this space simulator with so much potential existed right under my nose for well over a year, and I had no idea. Thankfully I listened to some people talking about the game, thought this sounds awesome, and took the plunge. Learning how to play Elite: Dangerous (which is a hell of a thing) seems like the best consolation prize in the universe; for having that sad feeling deep inside of me that I would never truly understand the coolness that I knew was EVE Online. I think I prefer this consolation prize, actually.
My effusive praise is, of course, very subjective. This game would undoubtedly bore the vast majority of people who play video games. I’ve always had a knack for immersing myself into vast worlds like that of Elite’s. And immerse yourself you must. There’s no obvious carrot on a stick here, no through line or end point. But if you’re someone who doesn’t necessarily need those things; if you can make your own fun, in a way, then boy would I say jump head first into this game.
That’s not to say it’s a bare canvas; there is plenty of flavour and and life going on. Although it doesn’t affect the moment to moment gameplay in any major way, there is a lot of political history going on in this game. There are, I believe, 10 political leaders with whom you can align, different advantages and drawbacks to each. Large swaths of systems are controlled by the different factions (Federation, Empire, Alliance, and Independents) and it affects everything from the profitability of trading to who’s shooting at who.
While I think the experience for a lot of players may never involve any sort of intentional combat, the game seems to be incredibly well thought out and deep in that regard. The video below is a fine illustration of that; a long dogfight between two clearly experienced pilots makes for a really interesting watch, and a small taste of the sort of scenarios that can occur.
It’s apparent that a great deal of care went into building the galaxy (our galaxy) of Elite: Dangerous; a game which I’d say is all journey and no destination, and that’s just fine with me.
#1 – Inside
Inside stands far and away alone at the top of my list in 2016.
I like the way that Playdead went about every aspect of releasing Inside. Shortly before release they said yeah we’ve been making the thing, it’s almost done. And then they were like here it is. Way, way, way, way, way more of that, please. I feel strongly about this game for many reasons; for what I want, Inside beats the hell out of everything else this year. Everything else is late, unsure of itself, self-conscious about looks; worried about length and size. Will they come back to me? other games wonder. Look at the thing I’m doing. Look at what I have! I’ve got the best words! (Sorry)
Nah, says Inside. Inside doesn’t care. Get in, get out.
Okay I’ll stop talking about Inside like a weirdo.
But really, you get in and you get out. It’s probably three or four hours depending on if you get stuck, but that didn’t happen to me for more than five minutes at any point. Inside is one of the most straightforward and deliberate games I’ve ever played. Everything you see serves its purpose then gets out of the way. Every set piece fits with the ones adjacent to it (that’s a rather clunky description, but easily communicable), the flow from scene to scene is incredibly effective.
From the very second that you’re dropped into the game you just keep pushing and pushing forward. I think the rhythm and pacing of Inside is a candidate for the best ever in a video game. It’s a challenge to describe, particularly without sounding stupid or potentially over-explaining one aspect. If you thought Limbo was good (I don’t really, anymore), well, Inside makes that game look like a hot piece of garbage sitting atop garbage mountain nestled at the peak of garbage island. Inside is literally and figuratively, quantifiably sixty-six billion times better than Limbo. It’s pretty impressive!
No map packs. No DLC. No season pass. No hats. Just game. You play the game, and the game says “That was the game. Thanks. Goodbye.”
Inside is kind of this perfect, wordless monolith; a brilliant work of art.
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