2016 was a great year for video games. It may not go down in the history books as the most memorable year in the industry, but it was a solid year for bitg AAA and indie games alike. As always, my tastes often align with games with amazing a story and characters. For the sake of transparency, I feel the obligation to point out that, to me, gameplay always takes a back seat to narrative, before diving headfirst into last year’s lineup. Without further ado, below is a subjective list of my personal top ten picks of video games in 2016:
10. XCOM 2
XCOM 2 is a pretty standard sequel. With 2K Games publishing, and Firaxis developing, they didn’t feel obligated to reinvent the wheel that drove the first game and I think that works in its favor. However, there are some major refinements to what is already there, and with the addition of destructible environments, the game feels new enough to not feel like a retread of the original. XCOM is easily one of the hardest games I have ever played, which forced me to lower the difficulty to easy, for the first time in my gaming career. XCOM 2 is no different.
Now I excuse myself from this gamer sin by reminding you all that I am usually not a fan of the strategy RPG genre…but this series is so good. Build up your base, manage resources, send soldiers to their permanent deaths on away missions, upgrade gear and weaponry using stolen Intel, this game is stuffed to the brim with activities that will ensure that each play through feels different than the last.
Walking simulators and linear narrative experiences have become all the rage in the industry over the last few years. Games like Firewatch are top echelon examples of this genre. Campo Santo developed and produced a scenery is always captivating. However, the final smidgen of immersion is thanks to this game’s amazing musical score. The big achievement, are the characters in this game. Delilah and Henry are so lifelike that they are unforgettable.
I still think about the brilliant performances of Cissy Jones (Delilah) and Rich Sommer (Henry) that even a year later I catch myself thinking of their interactions. The sense of mystery permeates through the entire run-time, and while the big reveal did come off as critically polarizing, I felt it was the perfect way to resolve the narrative.
8. Mafia 3
The gameplay loop of Mafia 3 is very apparent early on in the experience. This turned many off, but those who stuck with it experienced next level story telling that transcends average game narratives. I thought the mechanics of the game were good enough to warrant its repetitive nature, but there is certainly a case to be made against that I am sure. By the time the credits rolled, I was completely fulfilled by the characters and narrative.
The story is so paramount in the personal success of this game for me, that i found it incredible easy to overlook its shortcomings. Also, if era based license music is your bag, this game does to the 60’s what GTA: Vice City did to capturing the music of the 80’s. Developers Hanger 13 did a fantastic job of capturing what it feels like to be in late 60’s New Orleans. Check out my review here.
7. Fire Emblem: Fates
Handheld games are woefully underappreciated these days. Fire Emblem: Fates is a shining example of the quality Nintendo still puts out on its mobile systems. Intelligent Systems and Nintendo SPD really stepped it up from the last entry, Fire Emblem Awakening. The game has you managing relationships with characters, dealing with perma-death of said characters, and trying to pair them up properly to create the best children to help you in your quest.
You have 3 completely different stories to choose from, and each story represents your character on different sides of the same war. The run time is packed with cheeky humor, a very interesting tale about war, and some feel good character moments. Also the tactical RPG mechanics are above and beyond the others in the genre. If you own a 3DS, you should be playing this game. There should be a law.
6. Forza Horizon 3
Nobody warned me that I was going to be getting the best racing game of all time this year. Racing games always act as the perfect pallet cleansers for the bigger Triple A games that flood the market, so I try and pick up one racing game annually. I am a big Forza fan, and usually enjoy the simulation entries in the series more. Well there is a new love in town, and it is Forza Horizon 3. Playground Games has made trekking across the Australian landscape as beautiful as it is exhilarating.
The sacrifice of true simulation controls are for the better as these tracks often lead you through dense forests, and varied environments are more fun to traverse with the more forgiving controls. The cars still feel amazing to drive, each with their own varied feel. The amount of vehicles and customization to choose from are staggering and the freedoms each race offers ensure you will have a tailored event to every race you want to participate in. This is a masterclass racer that deserves all the praise it is getting.
5. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided reels in the big story moments to create a much more subtle and low key narrative. While the first game focused itself on more wide reaching conspiracies that could affect the world, this game was more about trying to investigate a singular terrorist attack. Now as the mystery unfolds you will see the larger conspiracies begin to showcase themselves but the story never feels as large scale as Human Revolution. This is by no means a bad thing. Edios Montreal made sure the world felt more fleshed out and detailed as you explored the HUB areas, picking up missions, items, and intel.
The story itself serves as a stepping stone to set up a much larger narrative that is sure to come in either DLC or the next main entry to the series. The characters, specifically the antagonists, can be archetypal at times but they never fall short of interesting. Adam Jensen never felt better to control, and this will be one of the few games from this year that I will go back and replay as I missed many of the completely missable side missions.
By the time Inside wraps up you will be left with so many questions that you will have to do a little research on yourself to fully understand. While some hate the post credits homework assignment, I loved it. Working towards understanding a complex and cerebral story in a visual medium is why video game narratives work so well. Collectively, fans worked together to pull in the major themes and ideas to cultivate quite the amazing answer to what it is you are exactly experiencing at the end of the game.
Inside’s aesthetics are simple but somehow always manage to be impressive. Developer Playdead uses light puzzle mechanics that are a welcomed feature and are challenging enough to make you feel smart when you complete them, but not overly hard and time consuming to the point of frustration. Come for the gameplay, stay for the graphics, leave with a wonderfully complex narrative. It is easily the most atmospheric game of the year. Check out my review here.
3. Quantum Break
Boy howdy what a polarizing game. This is a hard experience to gauge as it seems like a 50/50 split on people who enjoyed it and people who just did not like it. Remedy Entertainment, the developers, had the idea of having a game that is part playable video game, and part TV show, was bold and innovative, and for me it totally paid off. The TV section could have come off corny and boring, but they were everything but. The actors nailed their perceptive roles and the production value was high. I eagerly awaited the next episode at the end of every playable act.
The gameplay itself is some of Remedy’s finest. The shooting controls are tight, and they work brilliantly with the time manipulation mechanics. I feel powerful in this game, while never sacrificing the challenge. I think this is one of the most well performed games on the block, and the story is an incredible time traveling tale, that rivals even some of the best movies of the same subject.
2. Final Fantasy XV
This game had every right to be bad, but ten years in the making, it comes out the other side a not only playable but fantastic Final Fantasy game. The game is equal parts something old and something new. It always feels like Final Fantasy but the new combat mechanics are such a welcomed addition. After all, a complete overhaul of mechanics is the modus operandi of Final Fantasy, always exchanging a materia system, for a gambit system, never using the same mechanics more than once.
While the story is not present enough, and character motivations are hardly, if ever clear, I never felt robbed of the story or experience. Enough was there to deliver the big and small moments, and it created an interesting journey that has a very rewarding destination. This was the first Final Fantasy, I ever beat only to immediately start a new game over again. The adventure was addicting enough to make up for its noticeable shortcomings. Hajime Tabata and his team at Square Enix Business Division 2, finally brought us the Final Fantasy game we’ve been waiting for.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Never in my life have I seen revisionist history work so quickly. This game came out to dropped jaws, near perfect scores, and collective praise across gamers and critics alike. Fast forward a few short months, and people deem this game a disappointment, forgettable, and long in the tooth. Well, you’re all wrong, I am sorry to say.
The game IS objectively a technical masterpiece. Uncharted 4 DOES have some of the best performances and voice acting in the whole industry. You WILL experience one of the best original scores of the year. Uncharted 4 delivers stand out moments in both action and character in a way that Michael Bay wishes he could recapture. These are all undebatable things in my eyes, and not only does it deserve to be my personal number one, but it deserves the right to be called Game of the Year 2016. No other game comes close to deserving such praise. Niel Druckmann,and his team at Naughty Dog has created a near perfect experience, and it deserves your attention if you are a PlayStation 4 owner.
So there ya have it, a full year in review of the totally subjective best games of 2016. There are so many Indie games I wish i could further represent here. Games like Oxenfree, Virginia, Abzu, Stories: The Path of Destiny, Salt and Sanctuary, and I am Setsuna, are beautiful, narrative driven experiences that deserve a place on this list, and surely your absolute attention.
Plenty of big Triple A games did not make it either, but are worth the call out. Games like Doom, Titanfall 2, and Dark Souls 3 are also unmissable entries in their franchises. We were far from lacking as gamer’s this year. How did this year fair for you? Anything you felt I missed or overlooked? If there is one thing you could take away from this year, what would you say it is? For me I noticed a very obvious turn in the use of original scores in games. This has easily been one of the best years for the industry in terms of music. Share your list down below in the comments! Let’s chat about last year!