Best Games of 2016
Happy New Year! Now 2016 has drawn to a close we look back at the best 2016 had to offer. The votes are in, let the countdown begin.
20 Starbound PC, Mac, Linux
Ian: I put hundreds of hours into Starbound throughout its early access period and during the first few weeks of its release I put in another 70 without a single regret. It is addicting to its core. Often described as ‘Terraria in space’, this 2D crafting game is so much more. The ability to explore not just one world but a vast universe of planets and moons is mind-boggling. It even comes complete with a story, boss fights, quest lines, the power to hire crew onto your own upgradable spaceship, and more. The developers are nothing short of crowd-pleasers who have gone to infinity and beyond to create fast-paced combat, wondrous exploration, and the ability to play online with friends only works to increase the play-time tenfold. Starbound is a black-hole that will suck away hundreds of hours from a player and convert it into pure fun.
19 Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X PS4, PS Vita
Simon: Changes made to the series’ progression and song unlock process has made Diva X divisive (Diva-sive!), and you either like what they’ve done or you don’t. The placement on my list is a bit of a spoiler, but I actually find it pretty rewarding. A side effect of said changes is that the song list skews heavily toward Miku-centric songs, since she is the focus of the new direction, and that’s where the game comes up a little short; on non-Miku content. DLC hasn’t been forthcoming at all, and what the game sorely lacks right now is some extra padding to actually support its new framework, and while there’s plenty to enjoy for Miku fans it is indeed a little difficult to recommend in its current state if you were hoping for some supporting cast action. It’s easily the best playing Miku game, there should just have been much more of it. Still love it, though, you guys!
18 Abzu PS4, Xbox One, PC
Kieffer: Abzu is another great minimalist, exploration/narrative piece from the creators that made Journey. The fact that it does a good job at creating an adventure with similar emotional sequences isn’t surprising. However, diving into the ocean shows that Abzu is different from its older relative. I was frozen in awe by the environment I dived into the water. The detailed animation of the aquatic creatures swimming around and the beauty of each environment paints the ocean as a forgotten kingdom that welcomes the gazing eye. As I rode the turtles of Abzu and wander around aimlessly, I realized that while it is another Journey, it is much more of a sunken playground for the player to wander.
17 Overcooked PS4, Xbox One, PC
Ian: Anyone who knows me will know I am a massive fan of local multiplayer; especially cooperatively. Games that require multiple players to be totally in sync and incorporate swift communication are my absolute favourites because of the sheer challenge they present and heck, even a bad game played with friends is still incredibly fun. So when this indie title popped out of the oven earlier this year it was a big hit for us old school couch-coop lovers due to its tight controls, interesting mechanics, and frantic gameplay. Dashing around the brilliantly-designed stages passing ingredients, plates, and orders between each other as you race against the clock and your own ability to think straight under pressure is so damn fun. Not only that but there have already been several sets of DLC released and here’s hoping that there are more to come. Overcooked is a gem that I’ll be keeping installed just in case a friend stops by and thinks they can handle the heat.
16 The Last Guardian PS4
Ian: There’s not much more I can say about The Last Guardian that I didn’t already mention in its review. Simply put it is an incredibly touching experience with technical faults that seem to aim to ruin it. Still, the gameplay is unique in the way that it faces the lone player with what could be described as two-player platforming/puzzle challenges. Working with Trico (the incredibly lovable demon/cat/dog thing) in order to overcome these challenges rewards the player with both the helpless feeling of trying to communicate across a language barrier and the sense of companionship felt when a team works together so seamlessly that they never even had to think about it. Communication and understanding are common elements throughout the game and with each new goal reached, the stronger the bond between the player and Trico grows. That connection is the crowning achievement of The Last Guardian and one that I’ll never forget.
15 Firewatch PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux
Kieffer: With the progression of the “walking simulator” genre and other first person narratives, a lot of different methods of narrative are emerging. Audio tapes, books to read, action set pieces are all good fun, but Firewatch just wants to give you a friend on a walkie-talkie to talk to during your walk. While the main mystery ended up disappointing me slightly by the end and many people being upset about the way Henry and Delilah split paths, there is still a strength to the conversations that the player takes place in along the way. From naming “The Flapjack Fire” or working through the characters emotional blocking it all feels incredibly genuine, and that makes it all worth it.
14 Dragon Quest Builders PS4, PS Vita
Samuel: You’d think the “Minecraft mixed with something else” formula would be tired by now but it turns out making it into a JRPG really breathed new life into it. Dragon Quest Builders isn’t just about the act of building, it’s about the joy of restoration and it’s also about bringing back a creative spark to a world that lost it. Seeing a broken village with only a single person living there grow into a thriving community of people creating things just brings a warm and pleasant feeling.
13 Thumper PS4, PC
Samuel: As soon as I saw this game in action I was sold on it. It’s both beautiful and discomforting at the same time. A rhythm game with absolute dedication to being intense visually, aurally and in how it plays (though towards the end maybe a little too much of the latter). At times it feels a little overwhelming, but overcoming a challenge in Thumper feels incredible, and has made it one of the most satisfying games to play in 2016.
12 Dark Souls 3 PS4, Xbox One, PC
Kieffer: Somehow after four games I am still in love with the Souls series. There isn’t much necessarily new being done in the main line, aside from the slight changes with each iteration (World design, different attacking methods, stat changes). Yet, the design logic, and narrative design behind each one grabs ahold and hooks right into me. I still can’t get over just how cool the Abyss Watchers are, and how satisfying it was to finally defeat Champion Gundyr after hours of frustration.
11 Killer Instinct – Season 3 Xbox One
Simon: Killer Instinct, along with a lot of Microsoft’s first party stuff, is still unfairly paying for the sins of early Xbox One strategy and PR. Sadly it never really did benefit significantly from its recent PC appearance, many still adamantly dismissing it on the basis of being a Windows Store and Windows 10 exclusive. People who actually surmount their weird hangups – or have none to begin with – know what’s up, however: Killer Instinct is remarkably good. Initially better than it had any business being, and then successively improved upon ever since. As season 3 concludes we have an even more diverse cast of characters with their own delightful individual gimmick and playstyle, presenting the game’s only glaring problem; everyone is fun to play and it’s legitimately difficult to choose.
10 Watch Dogs 2 PS4, Xbox One, PC
Kieffer: If someone told me a year ago that the sequel to Watch Dogs would make the top 3 games of my 2016 list I would have laughed at them. The debut game in the series had a typical narrative, plus it was dark and pessimistic, resulting in a world that was very bland in comparison to the unique mechanics. In contrast, Watch Dogs 2 is a ship going the complete opposite direction. Set in an “alternate” version of San Francisco, a hacker group by the name of Dedsec sets out to revolt against the dominant hegemony and ideology that has risen from explosion of social media. The diverse set of characters all believe in a positivity within the world, that will unite them and push back against oppressive forces. The characters create the most refreshing feeling I have felt in narrative for a long time with issues still being grounded in ethics, morals, politics, and stress, yet exuberating positive belief in fellow people. I hope more games take notes on what this game has done, because I want to see more of it.
9 The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine PS4, Xbox One, PC
Dominic: You can check why I thought The Witcher 3 was Game of the Year 2015 in our awards from last year. Everything I mentioned there rings true for Blood and Wine, as the best parts of the main game are dropped into the final expansion for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. This is an expansion that felt like expansions of old on the PC platform. This wasn’t a trash DLC thrown into a expansion pass for the sake of adding some worthless content, this was 30 hours of new stuff – bigger than most new AAA games – set in the whole new land of Toussaint with more fascinating stories, in-depth characters and a host of quality of life upgrades that make it now the best time ever to play one of the best RPGs of all time.
8 Titanfall 2 PS4, Xbox One, PC
Dominic: The inclusion of a single player component for Titanfall 2 might have been known, but who would have thought that its campaign would be as refreshing and so Nintendo-esque in design with its aim is to bring new mechanics at every chapter. Sure it’s a short experience, but the campaign is full of imaginative level design, from time warping platforming to jumping off the walls as a base is constructed in real-time in some underground factory – those are some of the spectacle highlights the campaign has to offer. This is all while having an improved multiplayer that comes loaded with class based titans to make every match a thrilling combination of agile mobility and accuracy.
7 Inside PS4, Xbox One, PC
Kieffer: Inside is the first game for a long time that made me stare at the screen once it concluded, thinking about the statements it was making and the questions being asked. It does a great job of creating an environment and narrative for the player to chase, just behind the fleeting, young boy. How it handles those two elements alone make it an incredible game. However, with the corporate gray tones, communal soma, and human experimentation there is much more to discuss about Inside than a young boys journey.
6 Superhot Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux
Simon: Superhot, like most games that I love to the degree that I love Superhot, is 50% itself, 50% you. If you are unable or unwilling to contribute those 50% that Superhot deliberately isn’t laying claim to, you probably won’t love it to the degree that I love Superhot. It requires imagination, it requires a desire for experimentation – it provides a set of simple and flexible mechanics, and stands at the ready to take your spontaneous action person whims or careful action person designs, and make you both work to have them pay off, and then make you feel total adrenaline powered euphoria when they do. In a year with some of the best first-person shooters I have ever played, Superhot, along with a mere handful of games, still exists in a special category – a special pocket dimension ahead of the normal list of normal, earthly games.
5 Forza Horizon 3 Xbox One, PC
Simon: Horizon is a franchise on a road trip to true perfection. It’s “not there yet”, but each iteration is light years ahead of the competition even so. A handling model borrowed from its more serious Motorsport cousin, tweaked slightly to fit all disciplines of driving and being just the right amount of forgiving, it simply feels incredible to drive. The career mode structure and the scope of the game have seen the biggest advances in this latest game, yet it doesn’t cover the same ground nor gives off the same vibes as its predecessor. It is in becoming a complement not only to Forza Motorsport, but also to Horizon 2, that it feels like such a success, and it promises an exciting future of going to new places as well. Between its glistering summery self and its recent Blizzard Mountain expansion, it is probably the vacationest video game franchise of all time. Cancel your flight; visit Horizon.
Dominic: Adventurous, beautiful, stimulating, and a bloody great time, that’s what the people at Playground Games has created when building on top of the first two Forza Horizon games to crafted one hell of a racer in Forza Horizon 3. The team has taken the idea of driving a car of choice, doing all the custom body work, modifications and art, then taking it around for a dream drive in the open world of the holiday brochure pampered Australian setting to utmost gratification. Not interesting in all that car technical stuff? Then just bask in the sheer joy of driving fast through the outback, drifting around tight corners in the local rainforest, getting dirty in a wet trip to the beach to race against speed boats, doing a spot of drag racing on the tarmac strips of the skyscraper city, or even downhill racing on icy cold mountains of the recently release blizzard expansion. This is a racing game with so much to give, with options to cater for arcade or sim-like fans to play alone or with friends, and with so much variety packed in its vehicles, events and locations, Forza Horizon 3 is built for pure fun, an absolutely amazing racing game that goes above its genre. This isn’t simply one of the greatest racers ever, but is one of the best video games of the current generation.
4 Final Fantasy XV PS4
Ian: Like many Final Fantasy fans I waited almost 10 years to see this title finally released. I can still remember how excited I was the first time I saw the all new action-based combat system, that the original teasers boasted, in action. It certainly took a while but the expectations of fast-paced Kingdom-Hearts-esque battles against enormous, godly summons set in beautiful environments weren’t just met but blown out of the water. Not only are they a spectacle but it has been a while since I’ve played a game where the actual combat mechanics haven’t only got my heart racing but have genuinely made me smile, which FFXV did constantly by incorporating the teamwork of the protagonist’s three companions into the mix. Nothing in 2016 was more satisfying than warping your way through a battlefield in order to take advantage of a ‘link attack’ with an ally only to have them share a little banter and fist bump each other afterwards, as a sign of solidarity and awesomeness.
In fact, the entire theme of Final Fantasy XV is about brotherhood – a powerful friendship, which is also presented outside of battle; in the story. And whilst the story sometimes lacks depth, as do the side-missions, it’s still an emotional and, above all else, fun ride. Some may berate it because of its flaws, especially when it comes to obviously rushed sections of the game, but that didn’t stop me from laughing, crying, and having a damn good time fighting side-by-side with my friends. It’s clear that Square Enix put a lot of heart into the game and if they learn from their mistakes the next Final Fantasy will have the potential to be not just be a great experience, but a timeless classic.
3 Doom PS4, Xbox One, PC
Simon: When id showed off the new Doom, having scrapped the long in development Call of Duty-esque version of its flagship franchise, it came across as a little cobbled together in a lot of media coverage. One line from an interview video lent it context for me, however, when they referred to its combat arenas as “skate parks”. Not since Cliff Bleszinski described Gears of War as a top-down Bionic Commando had I felt so confident that a game is being made by people who understand video games. And Doom, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a game of stringed together skate park-esque combat arenas, where your own thinking-on-your-feet monkey business was put into absolute focus. I could go on and on about how smart the final game really is. Doom’s only shortcoming in my eyes is its slight reluctance to totally commit to its occasional sense of giddy heavy metal self, which is more charismatic and endearing than the generic sci fi shooter motif it often defaults back to. Doom 2 yeah?
Dominic: If you had asked me (and probably most people) if Doom would be a contender for game of the year after seeing the snippet of the campaign revealed at E3, it’s development delays, and the multiplayer focused promotion, then I would have said no. It’s amazing what a bad promotional campaign can do for a game’s initial impression, but Doom turned out to be incredible. id Software managed to blend the old with the new to bring a fine balance between having the pure fast action the series is known for, but throwing in some modern mechanics to let us know that this is Doom… in 2016…and feeling fresh in the genre. It’s single player portion is a pristine example of level design, incorporating well crafted platforming, which isn’t easy in the first-person view, while the Doom guy uses his agile movement and double jumping skills that add much to the combat’s tight, brutal mechanics that forces players to constantly get in the enemies’ faces to rip and tear them, rather than crouch behind cover and pop out to snipe at the demon spawn of hell. This is a game for the 80s/90s action fan that wants nothing more than to rave in sheer joy of stopping hell’s invasion, and while that might sound shallow, Doom has complexity built under it to achieve the modernise take on old-school action, and my god, does Doom want you to bask in that idea to the fullest. Oh, and the soundtrack is outstanding.
2 Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End PS4
Dominic: After an impressive run of Uncharted games on the PS3, Naughty Dog had to make a strong follow-up to the trilogy with what they described as Nathan Drake’s final adventure. With Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End they did craft what is arguably one of the most gorgeous and spotlessly animated titles, but unlike the constant bombardment of set pieces that came with Uncharted 3, A Thief’s End blends the trilogy together to bring a fair balance of climbing, shooting and actually being able to sneak past people without handicap, and all these mechanics feel the best they have been in the series. It’s something crafted with a maturity only a developer gains from working on a franchise for 10+ years to build a cast of colourful characters that we have genuinely grown to be fond off over this time span. It’s this experience that makes Naughty Dog a master of the cinematic story driven craft, delivering an engrossing story about marriage, commitment, friendship and addiction, all while globe-trotting to beautiful vistas of the world. Naughty Dog said goodbye to Nathan Drake and the gang in the most rewarding way, bringing a tearful goodbye to one of gaming’s best guys.
Simon: I don’t particularly care for “just one more go, oof, I’m so old” setups to stories, and I was really worried that I’d just find Uncharted 4 to be a prolonged bummer. I didn’t want them to pull Drake back into action after a nice resolution at the end of Uncharted 3, just to have a lot of dark crap happen to him and make him look upset on the cover. What Uncharted needed to do – and I didn’t fully realise this until I actually played it – was to not just feel like an ending, but a beginning, middle and end, with that end beautifully bookending the franchise as well. Uncharted 4 is secretly also an incredible game – best in the franchise in fact – made to feel less so by being the fourth game and too often suffering from a sense of aural and visual déjà vu. In an alternate reality where Uncharted 2 wasn’t all linear scripted spectacle, this was the freeform make-your-own-spectacle sequel that would have blown my mind. This journey is absolutely worth it, however, and feels like the new definitive video game telling of a character’s life’s work, picking the mantle off the Ezio trilogy of Assassin’s Creed games. Tremendously satisfying and fulfilling, and honestly better on every level than anyone could’ve possibly hoped for.
1 Overwatch PS4, Xbox One, PC
Simon: Overwatch made me realise that I’ve taken Blizzard for granted my entire life. “They’re those guys that make Diablo. That seems easy, you just make Diablo! Just look at Diablo and make that – how hard can that be? And World of Warcraft! Those people play ONE GAME, how hard can it be to please people that don’t even really try other games and see how good a game could be?” Welllll. Turns out Blizzard are just terrifyingly good at making games. Unlike most companies that study player behaviour patterns and use that data to approach game design as an engineering puzzle, Blizzard manage to infuse their solutions to common pitfalls with a sense of excitement, enthusiasm and charm. Overwatch is like a welcoming hug, but not at the expense of its integrity as a shooter. Its accessibility is not an everybody-wins-no-matter-what mentality, but a philosophy about how to surface feedback and appeal to different playstyles, strengths and desires – between individuals or simply your day to day mood. It’s a master class, quite frankly.
Kieffer: For someone who doesn’t play Blizzard games it is funny that my Battle.Net client was launched more times than Steam in 2016. Since the open beta earlier in the year Overwatch has taken more of my time than I would like to admit. I like other multiplayer shooters, but Overwatch has all of the elements to keep me coming back. Each of the classes are designed around a character with a story, quirks, and relationships to all the other characters. With the numerous game modes and positivity, it always feels like there is room for me to improve within my grasp. Plus each of the game’s intricacies keep revealing themselves the more I play. One more round? I doubt I will be holding myself to that.
Dominic: Blizzard shines once again as it takes another genre and steals the show. While Overwatch might not be doing anything innovative (which you don’t have to be to be amazing), what it does do is jam this multiplayer shooter with a stylish design and a beautiful collection of varied characters that play differently due to the hero skills available to each one. Blizzard has managed so much personality with the characters and their banter (just look at all the fan art), taking an idea that Team Fortress 2 had and turning it up to 11. Anyone who has played it will easily be able to throw some character lines at you, but Blizzard has done this masterfully to keep you alerted to the action on the field. Hear “Ryuu ga waga teki wo kurau?” Then you get the hell away as Hanzo’s giant dragon comes raiding through the walls. Or better yet, “Heroes never die!” as your Mercy healer resurrects your team mates to continue the fight at the choke point. Its audio design is phenomenal. Blend all that with its charm combined with its fantastic, hectic gameplay and masterful map design that it’s easy to see why people keep coming back to Overwatch, and why I can overlook it for only include two modes of play – payload and capture point – to be the shooter that anyone can enjoy.