Whiile 2016 has been a real downer in many ways, the more I think about it, it’s been an exceptional year in the realm of video games. As I put together the list of games I played this year, I had a hard time deciding which ones were truly the best. Of course, in the end we always have to make a choice, so here’s my finalized Top 10 Video Games of the year. (Sorry Dark Souls 3, you just missed it)
10: Gears of War 4
With one glaring exception, the Gears games have always been stellar, and this one continues the tradition. The new characters aren’t quite as memorable as the original squad, but they’re still an entertaining lineup, and the way the original team is reintroduced throughout the story is handled exceptionally. Grand set pieces and a few quieter moments round out an entertaining campaign, even if the ending is quite abrupt.
Horde mode is still fun as ever, with interesting new class based gameplay mechanics, though I would prefer the progression not be reliant upon blind box draws. The multiplayer is disappointing, but then again it always has been, so no news there. All this comes together to secure its place at the tail end of my list.
Doom almost didn’t make it on this list, though through no fault of its own. Somehow I just didn’t get around to playing this game until about a week ago. Let me just say, it would have been a travesty if I had not finally experienced this delightful adventure. Doom has a special place in my heart, as it does with so many people who grew up playing games in the last decades of the 20th century, and it’s been sorely missed for so long, even if you’re one of those people that liked Doom 3.
With so many other old franchises being brought back in the worst way possible (looking at you, Duke), we were all a little nervous that Doom would be humiliated in the modern era, and the multiplayer beta they ran did nothing to assuage our fears. While the multiplayer is still a weird, shiny, demon infested Halo knockoff, the single player campaign in Doom is one of the best made things in any game in a long time.
The crashing metal soundtrack is utilized perfectly to accentuate the white knuckle fights against hordes of the denizens of Hell, and even without any spoken dialogue, the character of the Doom Marine is fleshed out greatly through actions alone. If you haven’t played this game, please, PLEASE, do so as soon as you can. Avoid the multiplayer, though. Blegh.
8: The Witness
It’s been 8 years since Jonathan Blow released his beloved Braid, but his second masterpiece was well worth the wait. At first blush The Witness is one of the purest puzzle games released in a long time, as even though you walk through the gorgeous island in first person, all the obvious gameplay is confined to the flat panel screens scattered throughout the various environments.
As well designed as these puzzles are, the true nature of the island only presents itself when you pay attention to the greater world and fine the same kinds of puzzles hidden in the rivers and shadows of the island. I wasn’t a big fan of two of the main puzzle sections, but the game was still immensely satisfying, as it never does spell out any of it’s puzzle rules, you just have to figured out what the different symbols mean through trial and error and pattern recognition. If you find yourself with some free afternoons and feel like giving your brain a workout, this is the game for you.
7: Final Fantasy 15
Final Fantasy 15 was released in 2016. It actually came out. Considering this game started life as Final Fantasy Versus 13, first showed in 2006, we’ve been waiting a long time to see if Square Enix could finally make a new entry into the series that lives up to our memories of the old ones. Well, they did it. Final Fantasy 15 isn’t quite as good as whatever your favorite entry may be *cough*8*cough* but it is an entertaining romp, and definitely better than the games that actually came of the Fabula Nova Crystallis project it originally spawned from.
Having gone through 10 years of development, Final Fantasy 15 does seem like they included any idea that popped into their heads, as the sheer variety of things to do in this game is a little staggering for a JRPG. The four friends are more or less anime stereotypes you’ve seen before, but there are enough added elements to their personalities and back stories to make it worth seeing their adventure through to the end. I also still find it hilarious that they camp using all branded Coleman gear, for some reason. It just gets me.
6: Battlefield 1
While it does still have some annoying little bugs, Battlefield 1 seems to have had the most stable launch of any of Dice’s wartime simulators. The change over to having tanks and planes be an actual class you spawn as instead of the old way of having them just waiting for you in your base really changes the flow of combat, and oddly enough it feels like people are far more likely to wait for their team mates to load up in their rolling death machine instead of just taking off all alone like they used to.
Not every gun feels great, but there’s a large enough variety that each class has at least one option you’re likely to be comfortable with. The battlepacks are another example of the disappointing trend of blind boxes in recent releases, one of my least favorite models for microtransactions, but almost none of the camo unlocks are that good anyway, so I’m not too worried about it. As long as you have a group of friends to play with, this is one of the most entertaining online shooters in a while, though I personally enjoy it much less when I’m on there matchmaking by myself.
5: Uncharted 4
Naughty Dog has always done a great job with the story and character writing in their Uncharted series, and out of all of them, this entry may be the best one yet. The facial capture tech they’re using these days really lets their actors shine through, and as usual the Nolan North led cast delivers.
As unbelievable as it originally seemed when they showed Nathan Drake would be dealing with his heretofore unmentioned brother, they actually worked the character into the story in a convincing and emotionally effective way.
My favorite part of the writing is and always has been Nathan’s relationship with Elena, as it’s easily the most believable romantic relationship in games, or even in fiction, I’ve seen. The reveal in the postgame section also just made me happy inside, though I won’t spoil it here, but the successful balance of well written story and tight gameplay means you should probably go play this one for yourself if you haven’t yet.
Firewatch is the first game released by Sean Vanaman’s team over at Campo Santo, and as a person who normally cares about the story over other parts of a game, I have to say they did an amazing job with this one. With all the fantastical adventures we go on in games from year to year, it’s nice to experience a story grounded in reality, focused on believable human characters just living their lives from day to day.
Henry, the character you play as, has some serious issues he’s dealing with that are slowly revealed to you through the course of your interactions with (supposedly) the only other person around, your supervisor Delilah, who you only ever speak to through your walkie talkie. The mysteries that present themselves go along with more mundane events (like finding a fun pet turtle) to create an immersive look into the life of a man running away from life’s problems in the late 80s.
3: Salt and Sanctuary
I never really got into any of Ska Studio’s other releases, like the Dishwasher: Dead Samurai or Charlie Murder, but when I heard they were making a 2D game in the spirit of the Dark Souls franchise, I was intrigued to say the least.
The art style and animation is decidedly Ska Studios, so as always it looks great. Their experience creating fluid, intuitive combat lends itself well to this endeavor, and the different weapon types all feel great in their own unique way. The overall design is most reminiscent of the first Dark Souls, as after traversing across their world through dozens of unique environments you find secret doors and pathways that connect them together with earlier parts of the game, allowing you to quickly get to any area you need to be in. The boss fights are mostly well made, presenting a real challenge without feeling cheap, just like the best of the Souls games.
While almost every aspect of this game can easily be traced back to an influence from the Souls series, Ska put enough of their own stamp on it to make it stand out on its own as a great game, well worth your time if you’ve even enjoyed this type of game.
Look, we all know Blizzard makes great games. Since they’ve had World of Warcraft earning them the GDP of a small nation for the past 12 years, they can take all the time and all the risks they want with any other games they put out, even scrapping projects they’ve worked on for years if they decide it’s just not worth putting out, as they did in 2014 with project Titan, an MMO they had reportedly been working on since 2007.
After that the team was moved over to work on a new project, which would come out 2 years later as Overwatch, Blizzard’s first new IP since 1998 and one of the best team based multiplayer shootersever released. Taking queues from dozens of other successfully titles from throughout the years, Blizzard distilled everything down until they had a pure, unadulterated good time of a game.
The visual design, character design, the feel of the controls, and the sheer variety of character weapons and abilities, not to mention how well they are balanced, come together to give players an experience that they can keep enjoying for hopefully years to come, especially if Blizzard continues their constant stream of new characters, maps, and modes coming as they have been since the release. This is the only instance where I don’t really mind the blind boxes, as so much content is provided for free, and the stuff you get out of the boxes is irrelevant to gameplay, but much of it is still super cool.
1: Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 feels amazing. That’s the only way I can really describe playing this game. With practice and a little natural talent and luck, you can learn to pull off amazing feats in most first person shooters. In Titanfall 2, however, from the very first moment you feel like a complete badass. You can run and jump in the air, then hit your jump jets to change direction towards a building to run along the wall, throwing a ninja star that explodes into a localized black hole, jumping off the wall into a window, knee sliding through the room while blowing enemies away with an automatic shotgun, then calling down your giant robot on top of an enemy, crushing them in the process, before jumping into your giant walking death machine and proceeding to vaporize enemies with a giant laser beam shooting out of its torso.
The tools at your disposal, along with some of the smoothest controls ever in a game, allow you to always feel like the most powerful space soldier ever. The campaign has some of its own unique ways to allow you to feel awesome, with 2 standing out above all others. One early mission has you utilizing a personalized time travel device, jumping back and forth between two different times, with the soldiers in the past helpless to deal with your timehopping ways as, from their point of view, you disappear at random, materializing behind them and punching them across the room.
However, my favorite sequence is near the end of the campaign. You and your robot buddy have run into serious trouble, and his body actually has ceased to function. In this emergency case, the machine ejects the SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) kit, which has the AI core, a knife, and the Smart Pistol, a gun that automatically targets headshots against enemies. You proceed to run through a long series of corridors using this ridiculous gun to decimate dozens of enemies in the most satisfying FPS sequence I have played in years.
In all fairness, I am likely to keep playing Overwatch longer than any of these other games, but Titanfall 2 is just put together so perfectly, I had to give it the number 1 spot for this year. If you haven’t played it, you need to play it.
Do it. Do it now.