It’s time. After handing out some fun awards over the last couple days all that is left is my top games of 2016. Keep in mind that this is my personal list. This isn’t trying to list the “best” games of 2016 but rather games that really stuck with me over the course of the year. With that out of the way let’s get on to the list.
10. No Man’s Sky
Plenty can be said about No Man’s Sky and the hype it received before release. Several articles exist discussing how the game that was shown and the game that ultimately came out are fundamentally different. Developer Hello Games over-promised and under-delivered and then made it worse by poorly communicating with players after the game’s release. The game and its development cycle have rightly been criticized.
But there is something mesmerizing about this game. I have spent a couple dozen hours exploring planets, discovering lifeforms and interacting with the various intelligent aliens I meet. I still get excited every time I touch down on a new planet or jump to a new star system. Knowing that these creatures I meet or planets I discover may never be seen again adds a weight to my exploration. I feel compelled to document everything. If I don’t, this information may be lost forever. Even on the most barren, lifeless or hostile planets I keep searching.
I could easily point out all the problems I have with even its basic systems such as inventory management but that all seems secondary to me. No Man’s Sky is a peaceful experience. It’s something I can come to and unwind, wondering what exotic creatures or alien ruins I might stumble across next. Each jump into hyperspace brings with it new possibilities and I can’t wait to continue exploring.
9. Battlefield 1
I have always had a soft spot for the Battlefield series; I still have the same group of friends playing together since Battlefield 1942. The uneven quality of the franchise’s two most recent entries had left me a bit down on the prospects for Battlefield 1 but when my group decided it was a must buy I fell in line. Thankfully developer DICE delivered the best game in the series since 2011’s Battlefield 3.
Using the new setting of World War I allows the game to reevaluate every aspect of the series. For the most part the game nails the changes while still feeling like a Battlefield game. The highlight of these changes is the Operations mode. In Operations you play as an attacker or defender across multiple maps. Each operation has its own cut scenes and historical context within the war such as the Ottoman Empire defending oil fields from British invasion. Moving from battle to battle gives the multiplayer a much grander scope than before and has become the only way my crew plays. Battlefield 1 doesn’t reinvent the series but it’s a finely crafted and polished experience that I will be playing for years.
8. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
My experience with the Uncharted series to this point hasn’t been great. By the time I finally played an Uncharted game I had already been exposed to games that did the third-person shooting and climbing/parkour gameplay better. On top of that, the series had been over-hyped to the point that there was no way it could live up to it. I realized Uncharted just wasn’t going to be something for me without major changes. Taking a cue from their classic The Last of Us, Naughty Dog smartly updated the game without losing the core of the franchise.
Uncharted 4 was the first time I cared about Nathan Drake and his friends. After showing with The Last of Us how effectively they could create compelling characters Naughty Dog put this formula to work in A Thief’s End. The result is a game that has quiet moments allowing the characters to breath and develop. Rather than going from set piece to set piece there are scenes where the characters are simply walking (or driving) and talking. It may not seem like much but combined with well written dialogue it gives these characters an emotional nuance and personality that was missing from earlier games. All of this is further helped by the excellent facial animation and realistic ways the characters interact and react. The more varied combat and still awe-inspiring set pieces finally allow the series to match the vision set forth in earlier games.
Thanks to its simple controls and easy to learn mechanics Overcooked creates an atmosphere where teamwork trumps video game skill. This is a game that shines as you add more players and the beautiful chaos of everyone shouting across the room and sprinting around the kitchen has been some of my most fun moments of the year. However, as you become more familiar with each kitchen and recipe that chaos slowly fades until your team becomes a hyper-efficient machine. That moment, when you finally achieve a three-star score on a tough kitchen, gives one of the best feelings of accomplishment in any game this year.
Very few games make you feel as awesome as Superhot. It starts with a fantastic premise: a first-person shooter where time only moves when you move. It’s more puzzle game than shooter as you try to find the optimal path through each encounter. You may start off dodging a bullet, then you grab a vase and throw it at the guy shooting at you. That causes him to drop his gun which you can effortlessly grab out of the air and shoot the enemy coming up behind you. The visual style makes everything look sleek and after each level the game shows a replay of your run in real time. Watching your character dodge bullets and pull off these feats in real time makes you feel like an action star. The game wraps all of this up in an interesting story that is worth seeing and at only a few hours long it ends before the gameplay gets stale.
The only Doom game I have ever played is Doom 3 and I didn’t finish it. I don’t have any idea how a Doom game should look or feel. What I do know is that Doom is one of the best single-player shooters I have ever played.
In a lot of ways Doom is the antithesis of the modern Call of Duty inspired shooters that dominate the market (and sales charts) today. Why have a sprint button when you can just run at blazing fast speed the entire time? Instead of carrying just two weapons how about carrying everything from a pistol and assault rifle to a rocket launcher and minigun. Who needs regenerating health when you can just punch demons and have them drop health? It is a frantic game where you are constantly moving around each arena, with little to no cover to be found standing still is a quick way to die. The enemies all behave differently and the game smartly throws them at you in different combinations forcing you to vary tactics for almost every encounter. For someone who had no interest in the series before this game has made me interested in checking out the originals.
4. Titanfall 2
Respawn Entertainment should have never been doubted. After Titanfall shipped as a multiplayer only affair there was some concern that the single-player campaign in Titanfall 2 would be tacked on as an afterthought: a marketing bullet point to counter some of the criticism of the first game. However, Respawn Entertainment employs many former members of the team that created the seminal campaign in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and that experience was made evident in Titanfall 2.
Every level of the campaign seems designed to make your jaw drop and reflect on how awesome that thing you just did is. Whether its wall running through a manufacturing facility as platforms move and shift under you or jumping back and forth through time to flank enemies the game throws one exciting sequence after another at you. It kept me from putting the controller down just so I could see what amazing thing I was going to be doing next. Add in an improved version of the already stellar multiplayer from the first game and this is the total package for any shooter fan.
3. Picross 3D: Round 2
I spent a ton of time playing Picross 3D: Round 2 this year. Whenever I could spare a few minutes I would try to get through at least one puzzle. I would play it on the couch while my wife watched TV or in bed before falling asleep. The methodical approach to puzzle solving and short time commitment made it perfect when I needed a minute to clear my head or focus on something else. It was my comfort food: a game I could always go back to no matter what mood I was in and find fun. That alone is enough to get it on this list but coupled with smart gameplay tweaks and fantastic puzzles it rockets toward the top.
There might not be a more polished game released in 2016 than Overwatch. Every aspect from character designs to level layouts feels like they were crafted down to the smallest detail. The abilities and weapons all feel good and the interactions between characters and abilities always makes sense, even when they can be unexpected. It’s hard to come out of a moment and not feel like you can understand exactly what happened and why, especially if you see a replay.
The game also takes a huge turn from most multiplayer shooters by focusing on the positives and gives everyone a chance to find the play style they enjoy. Whether you want to provide support and healing, leap into the fray and soak up damage as a tank or dish out punishment as an assault there should be one or two characters that fit your style. After each match the game gives shout outs to players for things like healing and damage blocked instead of just showing you a leaderboard of kills and deaths. It creates the perfect form of positive reinforcement, even after a loss I can look at that and be happy with how I performed and ready to jump into another round. It even gives each player their own individual highlight reel after every game. For a genre often defined by the unforgiving (and oftentimes toxic) nature of its communities Overwatch reminds you that this is all just for fun.
Rarely does a game leave me speechless, desperately trying to process what just happened. Limbo, Playdead’s predecessor to Inside was one such game. Inside builds upon the themes and mechanics of Limbo while also forging its own identity. It’s a game that follows a clear artistic vision and executes on it at every level. From environmental design to animation, it all feels connected and cohesive. Without a single piece of dialogue, codex entry or audio log it manages to build and develop a unique world. Every moment of the game feels curated and important. There isn’t any filler.
While many games would struggle to build a world with such a minimalistic approach, Inside flourishes. Its ambiguity doesn’t leave you frustrated but instead makes your mind start to try and rationalize the story and fill in the blanks on your own. The secret ending of the game only adds to these questions and presents one of the more surprising twists in any game from recent memory.
I can’t recommend the game enough. Inside, much like Limbo, isn’t just one of the most powerful experiences of 2016; it’s going to be looked upon as one of the classic games from this era.