Christian Elverdam is the creative director at IO Interactive, makers of this year's breakout episodic hit, Hitman. If you would like to watch him give assassination tips to Brad and Dan, that is something you can watch right here.
This time of year there is that usual flurry of lists of the top games of 2016. From many perspectives, different attempts are made at boiling down the wealth of offerings into a succinct, objective list. And 2016 was a great year for games, which makes that endeavor almost impossible.
So I chose another approach. First of all, I’m not going to talk about our game where I probably put in the most hours…! But the games I’ve listed here are very subjective (as you will see) and many of them are not even from 2016. So how does that make sense? I always found that a great game can come your way and be your personal game of the year for that reason, that was the year you played it or some times where you replayed it. Great games last more than a calendar year.
So in alphabetical order here are some of the games that stick out in particular as I look back on this year:
When I think of Civilization I think of Zen. It’s a slow-burn flow, where one turn takes the next until you wake up hours later and realise you need to eat. It’s newest installment has every indication of being as addictive as Civilization V. I expect to spend more countless hours pondering barbarian threats, worrying about the restless Aztecs to the east, that look with hungry eyes on the same lands that I would claim. Firaxis show a consistent mastery of the formula. They figured out what works and they stick to it, and that can be refreshing in its own right.
I grew up playing a lot of games with my dad. I still vividly recall the day he came home with a Commodore 64 and two cartridges. That was the beginning of a lifelong, shared passion for games. We still play to this day and most often throughout 2016 that meant playing co-op in what I hold as one of the best WWII-era RTS games ever made. We have been playing the series on-and-off for a decade now, but it had a major resurgence this year, in part because Relic and the community is doing a marvelous job keeping the game alive with constant updates. If you are into tactics and coop boot up a skirmish match with your friends and take on the computer together, it is an easy recommendation.
Again, not strictly 2016, but I got into it this year. It’s been a long while since played a proper racing game. I used to play them more frequently almost a decade ago, but this year I discovered just how much I missed the thrill of a good, no nonsense race. Adrenaline, reflexes, skill. It's very well crafted. It feels great, and you feel like you can truly get better at it in a very satisfying way. It was one of the bigger surprises for me that I would be racing this year, and it again underlines how many games, from so many diverse genres there we can choose from.
There is much to say, and much that should not be said about this game. I highly recommend checking it out without too much foreknowledge. Jump in with an open mind and it will take you on a journey you will not soon forget. It represents game artisanship on the highest level. On all fronts. Play it. Period.
It is also exciting to see a fellow Danish studio come out so strong this year. Our small country is merely 5.5 million people so I feel that between IO Interactive and Playdead we managed to hit way above our weight this year. The wonderful part of it is that we only managed to do so by attracting people from more than thirty different countries, working together across different languages, cultures, and disciplines. It is a constant reminder of how much we can accomplish when our focus is on what we can do together, not on what sets us apart.
You have to hand it to Blizzard. They are just unbelievably good at perfecting a genre. Overwatch is an incredibly polished, well-playing fun-machine. I have spent my share of time in Team Fortress 2, which to me is the main inspiration for Overwatch, but Blizzard managed to add elements associated with MOBAs to the mix and crafted a game that feels very familiar, yet completely its own. If you are into team-based multiplayer FPS action, in my mind this is the got-to game at the moment. It strikes an almost perfect balance between classic FPS virtues (like good aiming and fast reflexes) versus your ability to think as tactically with your character skills, and ever so importantly to think as a team.
Panzer Corps (Tablet Version)
Part of my job involves a fair amount of traveling, often long flights across the Atlantic. I have come to associate flying with tablet gaming and this year I got into Panzer Corps. It is a throwback to an older series of turn based strategy games that I recall playing on the PC many years ago. And it is brought to the tablet with an uncompromising will to make a relatively complex strategy game that is still highly enjoyable with touch controls. It has the aforementioned slow-burn flow, where one decision takes other. As my Desert Rats work tirelessly to liberate North Africa I am suddenly reminded by the cabin crew that we are about to land.
Plants vs. Zombies (1 or 2) (Tablet)
So, I mentioned playing together with my dad. And while that is still rare in this day and age, what is much more common is to play games with your kids. And in 2016 there were many great games to get into and they also took up quite a lot of my time and made for some quite remarkable experiences. One of the games that was played this year was Plants vs. Zombies (both 1 and 2). It combines humor and simplicity with an ever deeper layer of complexity. It has been perfect for our kids, since it creates some super-intense moments, while at the same time teaches you to think a few minutes ahead. It may seem simple, but buying a Wall-nut that apparently does nothing and then understanding that it helps protect your other plants is a profound learning. On the side, it also set off a small math revolution, since all of a sudden it became really interesting for the kids to figure out what plants you could get for 200 sun, and what they would add to the table. If you have kids the right age, I think this game makes for some wonderfully geeky gamer conversation.
In a similar vein, Pokémon GO set the world on fire this year. And for good reason. Alternate reality games are certainly nothing new, but Pokémon GO made it mainstream. It meant long walks with the kids, and even as the cold Scandinavian weather put somewhat of a stop to the exploration, the game made for some profound conversations on those walks. Like “What is reality--is the Pokémon on the street real? What world are we in? What is a game avatar?” Seen through the eyes of children you get great questions like that and I do not think the answers are straightforward either. At the same time, it was a great way to talk about phones as computers in your hand, where people (or companies) can track where you are in the world. Which can be sinister or convenient (or both) depending on your point of view, but a good topic to talk about nonetheless.
When many say 2016 was a great year for gaming, I think Titanfall 2 is great example. There were so many well-crafted games that you would be hard pressed to spend the time that they truly deserve, if you got to play them at all. I had many great games that came and went too fast: Uncharted 4, Dishonored 2, Dark Souls III, Battlefield 1, Final Fantasy XV are just a handful of examples (there are many more). I mention Titanfall 2 because it is such a well-crafted game, that I think it got lost in the mayhem of great games coming out. If you did not already, pick it up and give it a spin. It plays amazing and has some outstanding moments.
Toca Lab (or pick any game by Toca Boca)
Swedish Toca Boca make games for kids for the tablets, and as I mentioned before, we spent a lot of time playing together. It would feel wrong not to mention their series of games. It feels like the organic food of the app store, if that makes any sense. Solid, friendly games with no hidden agendas, made for kids but enjoyable for grown-ups as well. Specifically, Toca Lab and its wonderful periodic table of funky creatures you can discover stood out, but as I said I would recommend most if not all of their games. Depending on interest, you can hardly go wrong.
So there it is. My personal and awfully subjective list. 2016 was great year for gaming, and whether you discover an old classic or play the game of the month I am sure 2017 will be as well. It was nice to get a moment to reflect, to look back on the year that passed measured in game-time, in game experiences. When you look back on 2016, what would your list look like?