While I was admittedly not as active in the video game blogosphere as I wanted to be, I still managed to virtually consume a superb minutia of content that bestowed 2016 the worthy praise of being an excellent year in gaming. I unquestionably lament how I didn’t write up my anecdotal thoughts on all of these excellent pieces of entertainment, but they impressively boast a bright sheen of quality and have quickly seeped their way into the imminent list of my favourite games of the current generation. I hope my brief praise for each title will atone for the lack of coverage and rectify their notable omission from my site content. While 2016 saw the success of multiple sequels to renowned franchises, it also brought forth the rising popularity of new intellectual properties and independent video games. Intriguing titles such as Firewatch and Oxenfree, which were unfortunately a dollar short of claiming a spot on this list, offered novel variables to the gripping narrative formula that Telltale masterfully weaved through their success of the Walking Dead series. The Last Guardian finally saw the light of day after a grueling nine years in development hell, and while certain aspects felt archaic and downright awful, it was still a worthwhile experience that transcended the traditional perception of spirituality. 2016 also brought in a new entry to my favourite Xbox exclusive series, Gears of War 4 – a by the numbers sequel that simply radiates delight, serving as a polite reminder to the qualities that made the original trilogy such an innovating experience. However, each of the next ten titles transcended trivial expectations, revitalizing the formulaic nature of the old and providing closure to the stories we’ve grown with over the many years. These are the best of the best that 2016 had to offer, simply alleviating the harmonic balance between idiosyncratic personality and gameplay. If your personal pick of 2016 is notably absent from the list, there’s no need for a vendetta of any sort, this simply suggests that I didn’t have the privilege of experiencing said game or I did not enjoy it as much as you did. Now without further ado, these are my top 10 games of 2016.
10. Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 is in every way, shape or form, a prominent improvement over its Microsoft exclusive predecessor, expanding on its exquisitely addictive multiplayer component and introducing a robust single-player campaign ripe with top-notch level design and implementation. Titanfall 2’s campaign is by no means difficult, but its paced accordingly and offers a level of variance that is simply hard to compete with. Two notable gameplay segments that audaciously stand out are: a colossal factory that continuously builds a colonizing city while you parkour through the real-time building process, and an excellent time travelling segment allowing players to jump between two timelines at the push of a button, avoiding certain obstacles in one timeline and encountering specific hostiles in another. It’s all extraordinarily intense and quite the visual spectacle to behold, an arguable masterpiece in pure game design. Aside from the excellent responsive shooting and the fluid parkour movement system, Titanfall 2’s effortlessly charismatic Titan, BT-7274, controls exactly as one would expect. Playing as BT is exceptionally satisfying and instills an unparalleled sense of power and destruction, incorporating an entirely different play style from the traditional pilot combat. BT is also able to equip different Titan loadouts, each with their own sense of speed and maneuverability, and a different set of weaponry and abilities – equipment ranging from an electrifying sword and the vortex shield, allowing you stop incoming projectiles in their tracks and send them right back at the enemy. While the story is a lacklustre attempt at a summer blockbuster, BT’s charming persona and captivating relationship with his pilot, Jack Cooper, and the exceptional level design purge any shortcomings, culminating as an excellent single-player experience that the original Titanfall so desperately needed. Just like TitanFall 2’s single-player component, its multiplayer is equally as excellent, with the newly introduced Bounty Hunt satisfyingly scratching that addictive itch.
9. Final Fantasy XV
After circulating in development hell for about a decade, Final Fantasy Versus XIII – I mean XV – finally saw the light of day in 2016, a glorious statement to profusely affirm. While it may bear some slight differences to the footage we saw back in 2006, Final Fantasy XV is a resounding success in persistence and devotion, crafting an experience unlike any other Fantasy we’ve explored thus far. XV is an excellent Japanese rendition of the western RPG, encompassing many of the tried and true fundamentals that factor into the genre’s mainstream success but also harbor slight annoyances that have plagued the genre for years. The gameplay of Final Fantasy XV is exquisitely varied, addicting, and ultimately the heart of its resounding success; whether if you’re embarking on addictive monster hunts, discovering a new delicious recipe, honing in new ascension upgrades for the illustriously delightful combat, partaking in one of gaming’s most epic fishing mini-games, exploring the uncharted terrain of aesthetically varying dungeons ripe with rare goodies, or soaking in the gorgeous rays while cruising in the Regalia, there is simply no shortage of interesting tasks to partake in. While its story is slightly underwhelming and its reliance in external storytelling (via the anime “Brotherhood” and film “Kingsglaive”) is deplorably insulting, its true heart lies in the wake of its four protagonists and their realistically accessible relationships. There’s a tangible quality to their hardships and inner demons as they all struggle with palpable feelings of inferiority, purpose, guilt, loss, and brotherhood. Their realistic bickering between one another and somber heart-to-heart moments are notable highlights to, what is otherwise, a narratively drab experience. Despite its narrative shortcomings and typical repetitive gameplay loop, Final Fantasy XV is an addictive experience that might not necessarily serve elements with an innovative sense of meaning, but the sum of its parts are plentiful and exquisitely enjoyable nonetheless.
A revitalizing blast to an older era, 2016’s rendition of the 1993 classic is a fitting addition to the profound legacy and encompasses one of the greatest first person shooter campaigns in recent memory. DOOM is simply pure chaos and unadulterated fun at its finest, imbuing a gratifying sense of sadistic euphoria through gratuitous gore and violence. Its fast, arcade-y gameplay is an excellent change of pace to the methodical nature of the modern shooter, imploring a degree of frequent movement which complements the excellent level design. Stripped away are the trite staples that have established a standard for the genre, building upon the core foundation that pioneered the first person shooter. DOOM incorporates a heavy emphasis on resource scavenging – health packs replace the banal ubiquity of regenerative health -, silky smooth controls that paint a pristine picture of fluid motion and gameplay cohesion, explorative level design that transcends the very fabric of the competition, and an excellent metal soundtrack that perfectly encapsulates the brutish tone that DOOM so vibrantly emits. DOOM’s exceptional selection of weaponry is intrinsically unique, matching the idiosyncratic nature of Insomniac’s impressive arsenal; each weapon bears an inimitable feel that can be further alleviated through their respective upgrades, resulting in an elongated sense of gunplay variety. While its weak story and formulaic tendencies hold it back from being the amazing experience it so easily could’ve been, DOOM is an absolute renaissance to the shooter genre, encapsulating the golden qualities of yesteryear.
INSIDE is an ambiguous trip into a hauntingly beautiful dream, ripe with sheer mystery and uncertainty, and incorporating a profound sense of perception and interpretation. INSIDE is an exceptionally smooth puzzle platformer that is simply haunting, demented, and disturbing in the best manner possible, bearing heavy similarities to Playdead’s previous effort Limbo, while trimming the unnecessary fat to craft one of 2016’s greatest experiences. INSIDE is an intriguing experiment that never holds your hand or instructs you on how to proceed forward, instead every minute gameplay element and object placement is deliberately designed and laid out for the purpose of tutorial, teaching the player through discovery, and trial and error. Puzzles are never overly complex – always instilling a rewarding sense of gratification once completed – and boast a profoundly obtuse nature that serves the context of the dystopian world that Playdead has created. INSIDE voids the traditional sense of a narrative, instead incorporating an ambiguous perception with non-verbal tendencies, leaving majority of the events to be rendered as pure interpretation. Its bashful mystery and demented setting rival the disturbing beauty of Bioshock’s Rapture, managing to reach the same aesthetic heights with a limited monochromic colour palette. While its ambiguous nature is commendable, and the discussion created through INSIDE’s execution is a thriving one, its sense of interpretation acts as a double edged sword, leaving much of the story as an incoherent journey with no proper resolution, leaving a slight pretentious undertone. The well-crafted mystery and the macabre world are exceptional achievements that feel slightly underdeveloped due to the lack of cohesion and closure. These negative qualms do not negate from how INSIDE is a divine experience that’ll keep you mesmerized to the very end, and perhaps you will join in on the conversation as to what it was all about. Regardless of whether you like it or not, INSIDE is an experience in every meaning of the word, and one that absolutely deserves your attention.
6. Battlefield 1
Battlefield 1 is the most fun I’ve had with the franchise since Bad Company 2 back in 2010. Its deliberate decision to return to its roots with the palpable Great War is an audacious one, as the competition is clearly shooting for stars with its futuristic sci-fi persona, but Battlefield 1 most certainly benefited from this change in scenery, resulting in one of the most revitalizing experiences for the traditional online shooter. While the core fundamentals of the Battlefield franchise have remained in tact with Battlefield 1, its vignette approach to both narrative and character is an intriguingly impressive element, as these bite-sized experiences offer more emotional depth and variance than anything DICE has dished out from a single player perspective. Battlefield has always prided itself in its ability to deliver an experience that perfectly encapsulates the bombastic nature of a real war and Battlefield 1 is further testament to their legacy. While Bad Company, Battlefield 3, and Battlefield 4 can warrant their success through their contemporary setting and weaponry of destruction, The Great War is a minutia of moments in history that offer a more tangible experience, one of emotional discourse, that lends a palpable and accessible nature to the frame of Battlefield 1. While the title is purely inspired by the events of the Great War – its heavy emphasis on automatic weaponry is a little dubious – its meticulous attention to detail and undoubtable respect to the source material eliminate any immersion breaking qualities that would’ve plagued the experience and/or misrepresent the inspiration. Battlefield 1 is a breath of fresh air for the franchise, and while one could argue that its Great War setting merely serves as a different coat of paint, its emotionally captivating vignettes, massively bombastic online war battles, and excellent gameplay variance alleviate the doubt of pessimists who simply cannot fathom the idea of Battlefield 1 as a new beginning for the franchise.
5. Darkest Dungeon
Darkest Dungeon is a rogue-like, turn-based dungeon crawler that appropriately focuses and emphasizes on the player’s tactical and strategic ability as opposed to the reflex based nature of traditional rouge-likes. It’s an excellent collage of micromanagement that not only relies on the player’s devotion and precipitous decision making, but expects it. Darkest Dungeon is all about making the most out of a bad situation and is simply a masochistic experience from time to time, but its rewarding satisfaction and addictive qualities mirror the fundamentals of FromSoftware’s success with the Souls series. Aside from the excellent position centric, turn-based combat, Darkest Dungeon boasts a minutia of different idiosyncratic elements that paint a novel portrait for the tried and true genre. Not only is managing each hero’s health and hunger a demanding task, but players are to also monitor each hero’s stress level, which in turn can result in disastrous affliction or buoyant virtue when their resolve is tested. Afflicted heroes will act abashedly, refusing support from a healer, causing additional stress to the other party members, masochistically damage themselves, pass on their turn, simply perform a random move before you get the chance to select one, or die from an imminent heart attack. Virtuous heroes are the polar opposite of the afflicted mess, they can provide stat buffs to not only themselves but to the rest of the party, automatically heal themselves, reduce the stress of the entire party, and void the possibility of biting the dust via a heart attack. The only thing that will carry over between quests is each hero’s stress level, so afflicted hero must seek out solace to remove their affliction and decrease their stress level. However, they will be unable to embark on the next quest as these transcending procedures require a one week in-game time lapse. Everything is intricately laid out with purpose, and determining how to manage your party and resources efficiently is deliberately up to you. Leveling and upgrading can be an arduous process as characters (along with all their respective upgrades and time you put into their transcendence) can and will die frequently, and Darkest Dungeon’s permadeath system will require you to level up that respective class from scratch. It’ a very unique and intriguing system that simply enforces an additional layer of depth to a classic genre.
Game of the year for most, Overwatch is an exceptional foray into the trite online shooter genre, reinvigorating the formulaic rudiments and establishing a concrete spot as one of the most innovative shooters of recent memory, flaunting an unparalleled sense of personality, addiction, and cooperation. Not only does each hero play notably different from others in their respective class – an exceptionally nice touch in diversity and longevity – but each colourful character has their own unique collage of idiosyncrasies, providing a surprising amount of character depth to a title with little to no story in the traditional sense. Its MOBA inspired elements are clear as day – adding a significant dash of complexity to each personality and their respective gameplay – and transition surprisingly well into the core structure of the competitive shooter. Whether if it’s D.va’s offensive edge as a mecha tank, Lucio’s intricate beat changes as a support healer, or Tracer’s elaborate ability to teleport and reverse time, each character is incredibly unique and are simply at the heart of Overwatch’s success and legacy. While it’s an undoubtable shame that Blizzard’s new intellectual property features no single player component – as the exceptional world and character building evident in their animated shorts provide are a minute taste of the wonderful stories waiting to be told – Blizzard should be commended for their constant persistence and post-release support. On top of the residual tweaks and refinements, Blizzard has implemented numerous seasonal events (ripe with new cosmetic unlockables for your favourite characters), added two additional heroes to the impressive initial roster of 21, and incorporated a bevy of new maps and game types to ensure the core experience maintains its established sundry nature. Blizzard has crafted more than just a simple game with Overwatch, it’s a platform with tremendously strong legs to rest on for the years to come and a phenomenon that will stay alive for a very, very long time.
3. Ratchet & Clank
Arguably being Insomniac’s best series in their renowned repertoire, Ratchet & Clank has always exuded a profound sense of charm and personality, never failing to put a gleeful smile on my face. Insomniac’s remake of the PlayStation 2 original is an endearing package that encapsulates and reinvigorates the idiosyncratic charm that made the iconic duo so popular to begin with. Ratchet & Clank weaves a splendid balance of that exquisite comical charm and addictive gameplay, pacing the overall experience accordingly by subsequently filling its core structure with diverse segments. The chaotically bombastic Ratchet segments are alleviated by a robust arsenal of idiosyncratic weaponry, simplistic yet enjoyable ship combat, and explorative side objectives that ooze reward and satisfaction. The pace is appropriately slowed down through the melodic and meticulous Clank segments as they provide a heavier emphasis on puzzle solving. With a visually stunning aesthetic that rivals the animating quality of Pixar Animation, a diverse and fluctuating gameplay experience that exemplifies its addictive sense of reward and longevity, and a heartwarming narrative on the friendship of the titular duo, Ratchet & Clank on PS4 is a must play for gamers of all ages and is arguably the best game that Insomniac has ever dished out.
2. Dark Souls III
While I am by no means an expert or an intransigent fan of the Souls series, as I’ve never played either of the original two Dark Souls or their spiritual predecessor Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls III follows the visceral and arcade-y footsteps of 2015’s Bloodborne, crafting a more accessible and relatively more enjoyable experience that gratifyingly challenges the perception of traditionalists, while catering to novices such as myself. Miyazaki’s third and possible final entry into FromSoftware’s flagship series acts as an impressive send off to one of the most rewarding experiences that modern gaming has to offer. While I prefer the gothic Victorian setting of the H.P Lovecraft inspired Bloodborne, to the decrypted medieval fantasy of the Dark Souls series, the latter admittedly contains a sense of visual diversity that the stagnantly ominous Bloodborne failed to achieve. Dark Souls III is an exceptional modern capsulation of the traditional Metroidvania, an ode to elapsed fundamentals of game design, imploring a euphoric sense of discovery and memorization, in regards to the world design and enemy placement and movement patterns. A specific area where Dark Souls III transcends its predecessors is in its combat design and diversity. Dark Souls III is a far more fluid and visceral experience in regards to its combat design, bearing conspicuous similarities to Bloodborne, and provides an intriguing amount of weapon and equipment diversity that caters to multiple different playstyles. Its design is punishing by nature but never unfair, imploring a sense of skill and learning that is seldom found in modern video game design. While it falls marginally short of surpassing Bloodborne, my first foray into the renowned Souls series, Dark Souls III is an intricate experience that profoundly removes the safety padding that has plagued the modern realm of gaming, crafting a rewarding experience for those who wish to delve into its difficult complexities.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the culmination of Naughty Dog’s impeccable efforts throughout their vast history and a perfect example of this year’s aforementioned cohesion as its intricate development and gameplay are immaculately paced, with neither side overstaying its welcome. It’s the perfect footnote to such a well written and well directed series that emits an inevitable sense of bittersweet delight and euphoric melancholy. Plucking the best elements from its respective series and the masterful The Last of Us, Uncharted 4 quickly became the pinnacle of the modern cinematic video game. Trading in its ubiquitous bombastic nature for a more somber approach of tranquility, Uncharted 4 is an experience that reminds us to appreciate the smaller moments of any occurrence, implementing a heavier emphasis on character development and dynamic relationships. While its notable shortage of epic set pieces imbues a slight sensation of disappointment, these somber replacements of character interaction serve the narrative more appropriately and provide more insight into these well-written humans that we’ve grown to love. The Last of Us’ influence on Nathan Drake’s final adventure is visible even to the naked eye. Its keen focus on exploration and environmental storytelling provide an additional layer of context and introduces a novel form of interaction to the exceptional writing. It’s an exceptional masterpiece and an absolute treasure of a video game. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a profound testimony as to why Naughty Dog is one of the best, if not the best, developer of today.
So those are my favourite games of 2016! What were some of your favourites? Please let me know in the comments below! Hope to talk to you all more this coming year! Cheers everyone!