2016 was a year full of surprises. There was an influx of first person shooters that breathed life into a genre that desperately needed a shot in the arm. Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian came out a week apart, two games many thought would never see the light of day. And virtual reality arrived with the first round of (fairly) expensive headsets. It was a year of innovation and a sign that the industry is still growing, still learning, and still moving forward.
So without further ado, here is my list of the 10 best games I played in 2016, in no particular order. (Some of them are in order.)
In a year chock full of surprises, DOOM was not only the most shocking, but also the most welcome. id Software defied all odds by not only releasing a great entry in one of gaming’s premiere franchises, but also managed to rewrite how we look at the first person genre as a whole. Every aspect of DOOM is about pushing you forward. You don’t have to reload your gun, you can double jump, and you regain health by punching enemies in the face. On top of that, the overall speed of movement and aiming is cranked up, imagine the highest sensitivity setting in Call of Duty being the default here. Combine that with a self-aware, brutal story that never takes itself too seriously, and DOOM accomplished what most thought was impossible.
Oh, and let’s not forget the haunting, ripping, shredding soundtrack by Mick Gordon.
It’s a rare occurrence for every aspect of a game to come together so expertly that each piece perfectly compliments one another. It’ll be interesting to see how much of an impact it leaves on the genre moving forward. (We don’t talk about the multiplayer.)
Where to even begin with HITMAN. I originally thought the idea of an episodic HITMAN game was preposterous, but it turns out that releasing a mission every month for almost a year was the perfect way to experience “a world of assassination”. This format did two things: It kept me coming back all year, and allowed every location a chance to breath.
If you were brave enough to shell out the full $60 when the first mission dropped in March, you were rewarded continuously for your risk. IO Interactive not only delivered the full six locations the season pass promised on schedule, but they also provided a continuous drip of new content to keep you revisiting old levels. Key among them were the Elusive Targets which require you to use all of your skills and environmental knowledge to find your target and execute them without being caught.
It’s also the purest HITMAN experience there is. You’re not a super soldier who can whip out a machine gun and go Rambo if something goes wrong. You’re a master assassin who must use anonymity to get close to your victims before striking in plain sight. The levels are so vast and intricate that every time you play them you find a new avenue to success. In addition, the myriad of Challenges each level features encourages you to explore different, often absurd, ways to off your targets. All this culminates in a mastery of each location that gives you access to new tools, that can then be used to make the Elusive Targets easier to foil.
The success of HITMAN hasn’t gone unnoticed. IO Interactive has already announced a second season of the game and continues to add new content to existing levels. Consider this contract accepted.
I never played Harvest Moon growing up, so the nostalgia factor of Stardew Valley is lost on me. Much to my surprise, however, you don’t have to have a reverence for those classic games to enjoy Stardew Valley. It’s hard to explain how getting up every morning, picking crops, and watering fields doesn’t constitute a farming simulator, but that’s because you’re thinking about it all wrong. We all have mundane things we do everyday, but they’re mere roadblocks to the people we meet, the places we go, and the rare earth minerals we mine.
Every part of Stardew Valley feeds into its peaceful, laid-back mantra. The towns folks are always happy to chat, the fish are always biting, and there’s always something to find in the abandoned mine. A stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city.
At any point there are half a dozen things you could be doing like searching for someone’s lost trinket or tending to your chicken coop. It never feels overwhelming because it’s all optional and there are no stakes. If you want to go on a year-long collectathon to help rebuild the community center, you can and technically “beat” the game, but you can also skip all of that. I chose to try and whoo the artsy nature lover with pretty flowers and build out my farm. It was relaxing to visit Stardew Valley, and a great escape from flashy explosions and gun fire.
The first Titanfall single-handedly rewrote the way competitive first person shooters play, and Titanfall 2 expands on everything the first one did. The ebb and flow of the original is still intact. It’s a game of cat and mouse, Pilot vs. Titan, and it changes every preconceived notion of what a multiplayer match can be.
As a Pilot, you are deadly and agile, but also fragile. You must use your speed and maneuverability to get the drop on other Pilots and stay in the blind spots of enemy Titans. Then you get your Titan, and the whole game changes. You’re a huge, lumbering target on the battlefield and you have to use your immense firepower to stay together as long as possible. Every match is a rollercoaster and every kill is satisfying because you know you out played your opponent.
Additional modes, new Titan classes, and a more robust set of unlockables make Titanfall 2‘s multiplayer more engrossing this time around. In addition, it has a “Networks” feature which allows you to build up a large group of like-minded players. You can then send out a mass-invite to all of them during matchmaking to fill in empty spots. It’s a great way to get a group of players together quickly, and to get a small XP boost if you play during the predetermined “Happy Hour” time period.
But that’s not all…
In a surprising twist, Respawn Entertainment decided to include a single player campaign to compliment the multiplayer. The campaign is short in length, but full of interesting twists and turns. It works as a great introduction to the different Titan types that you unlock in multiplayer, but also includes some very original ideas at various points in the story. One level in particular is jaw dropping in its originally and execution. It’s something that must be experienced first hand, the same way that the gravity gun in Half-Life 2 was before physics were a thing.
The inclusion of a truly inspired single player campaign and a full-featured multiplayer suite make Titanfall 2 an absolute must-play game.
Many of us have relationships with people we’ve never met in person. The Internet has allowed people to communicate from across the globe, and perhaps we take it for granted. For Henry, the main character of Firewatch, the only human contact he has is with the disembodied voice of his supervisor, Delilah. The relationship that forms between the two is intimate, but only as intimate as a long distance relationship can be.
Campo Santo took the simple concept of conversation and put it front in center in Firewatch. By setting it in the beautiful, vast Wyoming wilderness you felt Henry’s isolation and loneliness. The conversations with Delilah became just as important to you as they did for him. While the whole experience lasts only a few hours, it’s truly unlike anything else available today.
You can check out my review if you are looking for more information, or better yet pick up a copy and experience it for yourself!
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider made its way to Steam in early 2016. A master-class work by Crystal Dynamics meant that the game pushed PCs to their limits, while also maintaining smooth framerates. The original blend of exploration, upgrade mechanics, and tightly-scripted story sequences pushed forward a genre that had traditionally been very linear. Much like the 2013 reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider continued to put Lara Croft and her signature spelunking front and center, while evolving the gameplay in new and interesting directions.
Kicking off the “2016 First Person Shooter Showcase” was SUPER HOT. More-or-less the opposite of DOOM and Titanfall 2, SUPER HOT is all about slowly planning your every move. Time only moves when you do in SUPER HOT, so every step you take is precious. When you stand still your enemies freeze in place, bullets are suspended in mid-air, and this gives you time to survey the area and plan your next move. It could take you 30 seconds to grab a gun from an enemy’s hand, shoot him in the head with it, then throw it at the guy behind him. However, at the end of every level you are treated to a realtime replay of all your actions, so that sequence could have actually unfolded in 5 seconds.
Featuring sterile, stark-white environments with red, featureless enemies that shatter to pieces when you kill them, the visual presentation is just as striking at the gameplay. Combine that with an odd “command prompt” style menu interface that paints a story about underground hacking gone awry, and SUPER HOT‘s only real crime is it’s length. It truly is an amazing twist on first person shooters, and one that almost feels more like a strategy game than a shooting gallery.
Ratchet & Clank
Insomniac Games kept the 3D platformer alive last generation with Ratchet & Clank, and kicked it off this generation with a pseudo remake of the PlayStation 2 original. Essentially a movie tie in game, Ratchet & Clank (2016) satisfied on multiple fronts. It was an amazing showcase for the power of the PlayStation 4, providing a level of fidelity truly rivaling those of Pixar. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the different between the pre-rendered cutscenes and those borrowed from the theatrical film. Combine that with tight platforming, chaotic combat, and the series’ trademark humor, and you get one of the most fun, beautiful, and charming experiences of the year.
This year saw a handful of remasters, chief among them was The BioShock Collection, featuring remasters of all three BioShock games. To this day, the original BioShock is one of the most impressive works of modern fiction. An expert blend of setting, narrative, and atmosphere. The underwater city of Rapture is a living, breathing world that is just as much a character as the crazed, Atom-fueled splicers that run the dark corridors. Part horror game, part first person shooter, part RPG. It is a statement on the follies of Capitalism, the free market, and class-based societies, and there is no excuse not to play BioShock.
Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar’s story of cowboys and comeuppance rounds out my list this year. It seems fitting that I revisited this classic with the highly anticipated, and long awaited, sequel looming on the horizon. The years have been surprisingly kind to the tumbleweeds and prairies of Red Dead Redemption. Best-in-class characterization, narrative, and setting came together to make something quite special. John Marston’s tale is perfectly backed by an amazing score that can capture the tense heat of a firefight, while also slowing down when it’s time to take in a sweeping vista. Red Dead Redemption is lightening in a bottle, and here’s hoping the sequel can recapture even half the magic the original did.
With 2016 over and 2017 warming up, I feel like John Marston taking his fist steps into Mexico. A whole new fortier is laid out before me, what treasures will I find? So as we start a brand new year in gaming, enjoy the “Welcome to Mexico” scene from Red Dead Redemption, and take a moment to ponder new horizons.