It’s that time again, dear readers, to reflect back over my year of gaming. 2016 certainly had its share of blockbuster titles and surprises, as well as disappointments and outright failures. It saw two games that had been nearly a decade in development (Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian) find their way to store shelves. It saw one of the biggest hyped games, No Man’s Sky, met with controversy over not living up to Sean Murray’s initial promises. And in between the hype and some games being overrated, there was a lot of fun to be had. 2016 proved to be a great year for gamers, across multiple platforms, and 2017 looks to continue the trend, especially with Nintendo releasing its new platform, the Switch, in the first quarter of the year.
Before I get to my list, a few words on how I choose my Game of the Year. It’s a mix of both the objective and the subjective. On the objective side, I take into account how well the game is made (level design, how well the controls function, how smooth the frame rate is, etc). Subjectively it’s how fun the game is to play and how much it resonates with me. Do I care about the characters? Does it make me think about the game when I’m not playing it? It’s trying to find a balance between the two to arrange games in a list, and as always these type lists will be subjective. This year gave me a bit more trouble in finalizing things, as some late purchases turned the list I was set on prior to Christmas inside out. So, after much debate, my final twenty games will be listed below.
And before we get to that, a couple of negative “awards” and my honorable mentions:
Worst Game I played in 2016
The Final Station (4/10)
The Final Station had an interesting premise, that you as a train conductor aided the last vestiges of humanity during a zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, lackluster characters, poor controls, technical issues, and some very cheap deaths marred the whole experience. Definitely one to avoid.
Biggest Disappointment in 2016
No Man’s Sky (7/10)
It should probably come as no surprise that No Man’s Sky was a big disappointment after all the hype and showcases by Hello Games’ Sean Murray that contained things not found in the final product. Technical issues were to be expected with such a massive undertaking by a small studio, but the backlash from gamers who felt misled and then mostly left unanswered did not bode well for the highly touted Sony console exclusive. It’s not that the game didn’t have some merit. The first time you blasted off from a planet and entered space with no loading screens was quite impressive. It was just very quickly you experienced all the game had to offer, and reaching the center of the galaxy proved to be one of the biggest disappointments of all, since there was no great secret. Just another galaxy to reach the center of, and so forth. Subsequent patches have added in base building and other fixes, but it remains to be seen if this was too little too late for Hello Games.
The following list of games are ones that I thought were very good, but missed being part of my top twenty. They are, in no particular order: Abzu (9/10), Unravel (9/10), Fire Emblem Fates (9/10 for all three), Stories: The Path of Destinies (9/10), Quantum Break (8.5/10), Ratchet & Clank (8.5/10), I Am Setsuna (8.5/10), The Banner Saga (both parts received a 9/10), Firewatch (8.5/10), Overwatch (8/10), The Division (8/10), Grand Kingdom (8/10), and Telltale’s Batman (the five episodes averaged out to an 8/10).
Now we head off to my list. While the scores are noted, score alone was not always the deciding factor in where a game placed on the list. This is why some lower rated games ranked higher than those that got a higher score. It all came down to what game resonated with me the most, and that was the final factor in determining a title’s place on the list.
20. Far Cry Primal (8.5/10)
Ubisoft shook up the Far Cry formula by sending you back to caveman days, replacing machine guns and flamethrowers with bow and arrow and clubs. The world you wandered in was beautifully rendered, and once you got the Beastmaster perk it was a joy to traverse on the back of your pet sabertooth tiger.
19. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (8.5/10)
The Call of Duty continued its track to the future, taking the next logical step: giving us battles in space. The story was nicely told and the campaign was fun to play, complete with side missions undertaken with your Jackal dogfighting in space. The multiplayer was as always solid and fast paced, and the Zombies in Spaceland, with its retro 80s vibe, was a colorful and more lighthearted take on the Zombies mode done so well by fellow developer Treyarch. Pairing this on more deluxe editions with Modern Warfare Remastered didn’t hurt things, either.
18. XCOM 2 (9/10)
Picking up after XCOM: Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2 continues the series winning ways, with stellar strategic combat and base building as you level up your soldiers. It was great to see this come to consoles after it looked like it was going to be a PC exclusive.
17. Oxenfree (8.5/10)
This tale of a group of teenagers on an island dealing with some spooky goings on was a lot of fun to play and gave us a solid story and mystery to solve. Multiple endings gave incentive for multiple playthroughs, which just added to its charm.
16. Forza Horizon 3 (9.5/10)
The Forza Horizon series continues to deliver top notch racing games, and moving the series from Europe to Australia allowed for a greater range of locales and events.
15. Dead Rising 4 (8.5/10)
Frank West is back and better than ever as he returns to Willamette for an all new zombie outbreak. The weapons are crazy and fun to use, and the dialogue is often funny. With it’s Christmas music score, it’s the perfect holiday game.
14. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (9.5/10)
Adam Jensen returns for the dystopic future sequel, where augmented humans are being rounded up and placed in a vast slum city outside of Prague. The main story was engaging enough, but then interesting side quests, like hunting down a serial killer, really made this title worth your time and made it worth playing through at leas twice to experience the multiple endings.
13. Watch Dogs 2 (9/10)
This sequel gave us a new set of characters and a new setting as the fight continues against ctOS 2.0. Marcus and his DedSec crew were far more likeable than the dour Aiden Pierce, and the San Francisco Bay area setting proved to be a bit of fresh air from the gloomy Chicago locales. Driving was improved, and once you’re hacking skills were leveled up, the game opened up with plenty of options to use in how you tackled missions. A good step in the right direction for the franchise.
12. Battlefield 1 (9/10)
Eschewing the continued trend towards the future by rival franchise Call of Duty, Battlefield turned to the past, taking players into World War I. It’s clever campaign, a series of shorts with various characters entitled War Stories was a thing of brilliance, providing a variety of types of combat to engage in. The multiplayer was outstanding, especially the giant Conquest mode, which had players battling it out across several maps.
11. Inside (9.5/10)
This might just be the most bizarre platformer to come along in some time, and the makers of Limbo delivered a thought provoking game to boot with a look at a dark, dystopic future where humans are marginalized as just mindless drones. At least, that would be one interpretation. This was a game that made you say “What the hell did I just play?” and at the same time it wormed its way into your subconscious, making it hard to forget after the credits had rolled.
10. Final Fantasy XV (8/10)
The long awaited next entry in the Final Fantasy franchise finally arrived, and though it may not be the masterpiece that was hoped for, it is a fun and engaging game that puts the series back on the right track. Noctis and his friends Ignis, Gladiolus, and Prompto are likeable enough, and the quest to save the kingdom has plenty to keep fans busy for a long time.
9. Titanfall 2 (9/10)
Respawn Entertainment listened to fans of the first game and added a campaign for the sequel, and what a campaign it is. With top notch shooting, exhilarating platforming, and cleverly designed levels make this one of the best shooters to come out in recent years. Adding in a strong multiplayer, and you have a must own title for first person shooter fans.
8. Mafia III (8.5/10)
This revenge tale set in the New Orleans inspired locale of New Bordeaux is one of the best crime sagas to hit gaming outside of the GTA series. Lincoln Clay makes for a strong lead character, and helping him take his revenge is completely satisfying. Add in a great 60s soundtrack just adds to the fun in creating mayhem on the bayou.
7. Dishonored 2 (9.5/10)
The kingdom is once again threatened by an usurper, and Corvo and his daughter Emily must seek to regain the throne. While there are similarities between both characters, there are enough differences that make the game worth playing through twice, once as each character. Being stealthy is quite satisfying, but if you’d rather get bloody the myriad of ways to kill your foes are just a joy to pull off. Adding to the fun are some great, inventive levels that keep this feeling fresh and not just a retread of the first game.
6. DOOM (8/10)
What more can you say about charging through at top speed with various guns and shooting demons in the face? Added in brutal melee kills, a solid multiplayer, and a Snap Map mode that lets you build your own levels, and you’ve got hours and hours of bloody fun.
5. Gears of War 4 (9.5/10)
The series continues on a strong note, as the son of Marcus Fenix and his friends need to face a new threat. The characters are likeable, the story has some nice emotional moments, and the Horde mode is a blast to play.
4. Dark Souls III (9.5/10)
The Souls series continues with its brutal but fair ways, with a new land beset by darkness and nasties. Playing as different classes with different loadouts just gives incentive to return to die again and again.
3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (9.5/10)
Nathan Drake’s story is brought to a satisfyingly emotional and action packed close. Naughty Dog ended the series on a high note, and delivered a fun multiplayer to go along with it. A fantastic game both in terms of visuals and in gameplay.
2. Stardew Valley (9.5/10)
This little gem made the jump from PC to consoles, and has proved to be an absolute delight to play. Much more than just a farming simulator, as there are quests to be conquered, fish to be caught, ore to be mined, and townspeople to engage with. Add in a deep crafting system, a day/night cycle, and seasons just makes this a game to easily lose hours in. Each day just seems to bring more to find and learn, making this little indie one of the brightest surprises of the year.
And my GOTY for 2016 goes to-
1. The Witness (9.5/10)
Waking up on an island and completing your first puzzle is only the beginning of this fantastically designed and mind teasing game. The puzzles are at once similar and varied, unique in the way you need to complete them. As you progress farther and farther, the mysteries of the island begin to show themselves, making you only want to explore deeper into what’s going on. Solving the puzzles gives a satisfaction I haven’t felt often in gaming outside of killing a tough boss, and that satisfaction is achieved without spilling a single drop of blood. It’s a game that just blows your mind with each new set of puzzles, making you eager for more, and the puzzles stick with you after you’ve shut down your console for the night. A true gem.
So, there you have it. What were your favorite games of 2016? Sound off in the comments below, and here’s to more great gaming in 2017.
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