2016 was… not ideal. But there was plenty of good stuff to enjoy and maybe distract. Might as well celebrate them. So, top ten games, plus a few honourable mentions.
Here we go:
No Man’s Sky: The best horizon and exploring sim this year. Seeing ships above a planet, or even just a rising moon above a sunset is still incredible.
Stardew Valley: One of the most serene games of the year, a farming game that’s insidiously compelling. You can’t leave now. Tomorrow is the day to harvest your carrots. And then you need to go talk to the person you want to marry. Don’t just walk away. Your dog will be sad.
Near Death: Perfectly atmospheric, this game truly captures a solitary and horrifyingly tough experience in being trapped in a ruined arctic research base as a blizzard rolls in. Plus, one of my favourite endings of the year in any game.
Number 10: X-Com 2
X-Com 2 was an example of changing one theme in a franchise can regenerate a game completely. The setting of hidden and outmatched revolution against alien overlords gave a new angle to tackle the game from, with the procedurally generated levels helping the feeling of a constantly changing fight. The ticking countdown surrounding the game was decried by some, but it gave the whole game a sense of urgency that made each decision feel like it mattered so much more. Problematically, the game had a difficulty that was less like a curve and more like a sheer wall, but a couple of failed attempts to learn the basics is basically par for the course for X-Com. Built in modding support from day one meant that this is one you can replay for hours at a time.
Also one part of the male English speaking voice packs is a Northern Irish guy. It is weird and awesome.
Number 9: Virginia
There have been plenty of games which have tried to utilise visual techniques from film and TV. In 2016, we had Virginia. Evoking the themes and style of David Lynch productions, players were presented a tale of small town mysteries, disappearances and investigator drama. With the decision made to include no dialogue, the game lends itself well to multiple interpretations, with some truly excellent cinematic styled sequences that definitely earn the game a place on this chart. Check out the review for more.
Number 8: Civilisation VI
Following on the very well regarded final form of Civilisation V’s Gods and Kings expansion, Civilisation VI had a mountain to climb. It took a pretty good crack at it. The decision to spread out city development over multiple tiles gives a whole new range of strategic decisions in the early and mid game. In addition splitting social and technological trees, and then offering objective based shortcuts to individual discoveries gives new and old players a new framework to play the game through. And while I love the traits system for the AI leaders, the fact that they’re so horribly broken on launch means this game can’t be any higher on the list. Good, but not great yet.
Number 7: Superhot
Less a first person shooter, and more a puzzle game. Superhot stands out in a year full of meta puzzle games. Clear a stage by taking out all the enemies, with time only moving when you do. A simple graphical style with smooth animations, plus an instantly understandable gameplay system makes for an incredibly fun game. Even better, there’s a long lasting challenge system built into the game to extend it far beyond the campaign. Near constantly on sale now, it’s a fantastic brain teaser for a few hours.
Number 6: Inside
Very few games get atmosphere right the way that Inside does. Haunting, oppressive and upsettingly well realised. This game has some of the best animations of the year. The way in which the player character moves around the world and just generally interacts is incredible. As the game goes on and the count of hideously grotesque challenges rise, the player truly feels the closing grasp of the totalitarian state. It’s a fascinating experience. Then the super easily spoiled ending sequence happens and this game goes from good, to great. For more: Review
If only this game hadn’t had those frustrating mermaid moments, it would be so much higher on the list.
Number 5: Battlefield 1
After the competent but bland experiences of Battlefield 3 and 4, DICE choosing to return to a historical setting provides the variety and freshness to refresh the series. The campaigns are a fascinating take on traditional WW1 narratives, with short sequences providing a viewpoint on almost every aspect of the war. As well as some fun action moments, the campaigns finally nail the balance of being interesting whilst teaching players about the online play. With this base to build players up from, the traditional game modes of conquest and rush are well regarded. My personal favourite new feature however is Operations mode. I’ve always preferred narrative multiplayer and every single time I play an Operations session, i’ve had that experience.
Desperate last ditch defences. Combined arms counterattacks as my tank covers infantry. Watching the arc of artillery shells as gas blooms and whistles sound for bayonet charges. Not only did DICE somehow manage to convince players to give up their high-powered machine guns and jet planes, they made this game feel even better than the future. For more: Review
Number 4: Firewatch
Slow, meaningful and human. That’s how I describe Firewatch. With an astonishingly simple but effective opening, Firewatch is a couple of hours spent just casually experiencing the story of Henry as he takes up a summer job watching for fires in a national park. With only a voice on your radio to keep you company, investigate the goings on in the park and discover a growing mystery. With the slow pace of the game’s progression encouraging the player to take their time and explore, the player can just experience the beautiful realisation of a middle American national park. This game feels real in the way that the best films feel real, combining meaningful dialogue, excellent direction and gorgeous stylistic choices.
Number 3: Pokemon Sun and Moon
Team Skull alone earn a place this high on the ranking, but Pokemon Sun and Moon deserve all the praise they’ve gotten. A modern update to the Pokemon Franchise that builds on everything The Pokemon Company have learned from 8 generations. As such, every simplification and good design choice has been built on to make for a game that is incredibly open to anyone, but can be mastered by many just as easily. The decision to change up the general story dynamics adds freshness to the formula, even if the mechanics aren’t actually that new. Plus, fantastic writing and a bunch of great new pokemon are just the cherry on the cake. Sun and Moon are the best pokemon games. Easily.
Number 2: Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 gets a special award for the best player notification of 2016. Press middle mouse button to Time Travel. That still amazes me. Every level of Titanfall 2’s single-player campaign is tightly designed around the gameplay mechanics. Chief among them, the movement. Wall running and tricks in this game are easy, yet consistently satisfying. After only a few minutes, you feel like a bolt of lightning. The Titan fighting feels fluid and fresh, somehow simple and challenging at the same time. Manage your abilities, check your surroundings and Move. Titanfall 2 makes movement of all types into an art form that constantly elevates the player’s experience.
While the player character protagonist is boring, the game more than makes up for it with BT, your companion mech. Easily one of my new favourite robots in any media with his natural feeling development of a relationship with the protagonist. Rarely does a partnership with a robot feel quite so natural.
As for multiplayer? This is game that is criminally under rated.
After a few rounds of learning maps, anyone can be calling Titans, bounding around maps or using the single greatest grappling hook feature since Just Cause. Seriously. The Grappling Hook in this game could have carried a franchise by itself. It had a tough time on launch, but support has been promised in the long term and it’s already got a fiercely loyal playerbase.
Number 1: Overwatch
I have over 48 hours logged in Overwatch. For some perspective on that, the average match lasts five minutes. And the game came out in April. Overwatch is a near perfect game. More importantly, it is fun.
Taking all of the best things from Mobas in terms of hero selection, map balance and more, no game has captured my imagination and demanded my attention more. Two teams of six heroes compete to complete opposing objectives in a fast paced first person shooter. A balanced mix of hero types means there’s a role for every player to take up, regardless of skill level.
With the game being equally as fun playing with a team of friends as playing solo on public servers, there’s almost no negative. Almost.
My only complaint is that the game refuses to just tell the story in game through anything more than hints and sprays. Instead, a multimedia campaign of animations and comics are fuelling a fanbase that is utterly devoted to the characters of this game. It’s a great story, I would just like to be told it within the game.
And speaking of fans, Blizzard has been fantastic with their community engagement (Sombra ARG notwithstanding), listening to the concerns of fans and making their game as inclusive as possible, while addressing their early mistakes.
All in all, with a constantly evolving cast of characters, maps and game modes, starting from a game that was already fantastic, it’s hard to think of anything else that could be my game of the year.