I think it can be safely said that 2016 was a good year for games. While it didn’t have the amazing highs of 2015, like The Witcher 3 or Arkham Knight or Fallout 4, it had more variety, and a more sustained output of good games. And while 2016 had three huge sandboxes, this year had a bit more diversity in its big releases. We had great narrative-driven games (I refuse to use the term ‘walking simulator’), quite a few innovative shooters, and even some big platformers. Anyway, enough babbling, here are my top 5 games of 2016
I’m sorry, please don’t hurt me! I’m just not that big a multiplayer guy, so this game, while really fun, just didn’t do that much for me. I like the character designs and gameplay, but beyond that there’s just not much here for me. The world and characters are boring, and I just can’t take them seriously when they’re all stereotypes. But it’s also the only multiplayer FPS I really go back to, and the gameplay is so good. But it’s also got microtransactions that are really annoying. But the skins are so good! So… yeah, this is the best I can do. Sorry, Overwatch. I only love parts of you in small doses.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
I wanted to love this game so much more than I do. The combat is perfect. It’s the best third-person shooter I’ve ever played, keeping you constantly moving, employing challenging enemies, and keeping ammo scarce enough that you need to use all your weapons. And its movement system is very good, its enemies varied, and its weapons fun to use. But it’s tombs are really easy, and more importantly, its story a complete retread of the 2013 reboot. Lara is once again looking for some ancient relic that proves the existence of the soul, and once again she’s completely ignorant of what genre she occupies. The game feels like it’s just too scared to take Lara into new territories, and so we have this game that, narrative-wise, is just stagnant. It doesn’t help that if you want to know why Sam’s best friend isn’t around, you have to read the tie-in comic. Really, I just refuse to give Rise of the Tomb Raider a spot in the top five because it didn’t do any rising. It just showed, did the work, did parts well, and left.
5. Deux Ex: Mankind Divided
While Mankind Divided is the only game on this list that I haven’t finished, from what I have played (28 hours), it’s a very, very well put together game, and one of the few sandbox games that knows how to use the genre to its advantage. With the perfect balance of content for its sandbox size and great level design, Mankind Divided is a sandbox as fulfilling as The Witcher 3. There’s a decent sized world with minimal filler content; the side quests feel like they actually serve to further inform the story or world build. Exploration is encouraged, without ever feeling too distracting. The gameplay encourages exploration and doing things your own way, while still feeling focused, with a set goal. The story is hit-or-miss, with way too much jargon and organisation names thrown around the place, but the anti-augment prejudice is a nice follow-up on the story of Human Revolution, if not as original and interesting. And while it suffers from some jerky presentation (lip syncing apparently took the day off… and took good animation along for the ride), it’s tolerable given that this is a sandbox game Deux Ex: Mankind Divided is an excellent sandbox game
No, I’m not starting it with the meme. No. I refuse… Okay, fine. It’s one of the most innovative shooters I’ve played in years. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would’ve been for the devs if this game couldn’t live up to that? Well, we’ll never know, because Superhot absolutely does. It has a unique approach to FPS gameplay, as your character is basically Hawkeye with permanent bullet time, able to not only shoot weapons but throw them to disarm enemies and block bullets. And this mechanic really feels innovative while still familiar. And the game introduces new mechanics and techniques at an excellent pace, along with some rewards that really do feel worth it. Usually, arena modes and time trials are throwaway, but when your combat is this fun, it’s actually really exciting to unlock unique challenges. And the presentation is just excellent, with a minimalist art style that works incredibly well for giving you feedback in what could otherwise be a messy game. The one sticking point is the story, which seems to care more about being as edgy and abstract as possible in its delivery, while not caring about what the actual story is. But that’s easily overlooked when Superhot is legitimately one of the most innovative shooters I’ve played in years.
This is how you update an old franchise. While Castlevania just ditched all its history, Doom decided that, “hey, gamers could probably use a Doom right now.” Combining the fast, frenetic gameplay of old with just enough modern level design and gameplay elements (executions), Doom manages to breathe new life into the venerable franchise. Embracing its roots as an real action game, Doom is the most metal game you’ll ever play, tearing demons apart with your bare hands, searching for ammo and health as you cycle through an incredible assortment of weapons, while an awesome soundtrack plays in the background. Doom just knows how to be fun, and everything about it just screams good design, from the versatile weapons, to the amount of ammo you’re given, to the level designs, everything in Doom works to deliver one of the best FPS experiences in years.
I’m a huge fan of Austin Wintory, so when I heard he was composing for ABZÛ, obviously I had to buy it. And finish it that day. Because it’s great. ABZÛ can be considered a sort of spiritual successor to Journey, using the same minimalist approach to storytelling while also having a similar story overall. But its execution is simply superb, managing to tell a charming story of science vs. nature without a single line of dialogue, just using music, visuals and recurring motifs to play with your expectations. The game is beautiful on every level, and while short, has some of the most memorable moments of 2016.
Firewatch could probably make this list on its dialogue alone. The game is just so well-written that I want to shove it in the faces of 90% of writers who seem to have never casually joked with anyone. But beyond that, Firewatch is just an excellent game. It has a beautiful aesthetic that’s just pretty enough to look exotic, but not enough to clash with the realistic story. The setting and story feel unique, as we follow Henry and how he deals with the grief of learning his wife has early-onset dementia. You get to decide how Henry deals with it, and your choices actually feel significant to his character and his relationship with fellow fire lookout Delilah. The story is great, though it soon takes some weird turns into conspiracy nonsense that, although managing to make you feel paranoid, distracts from the story of Henry’s grief. Yes, there’s an obvious connection about how people move on from grief, but it gets a bit silly. However, the great dialogue really helps to ground the characters in the plot, even as it starts losing itself. And the delivery is just on point, and you really get attached Delilah, who’s only ever a voice on the radio. And between dialogue choices, there’s just enough traditional gameplay that you still feel engaged. While I have mixed feelings about its ending, Firewatch is an otherwise remarkable game, and hopefully the first of many from Campo Santo.