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Christopher Grant's Top 10 Games of 2016

Games Done Quick press nerd Christopher Grant hurries us through his favorite games of 2016.

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Chris Grant is the media relations manager for Games Done Quick, a charity speedrun organization. Chris has previously appeared at numerous GDQs and gaming websites to promote speedruns and show off Cool Stuff. You can often find him streaming on Twitch, or tweeting on Twitter.

10. H1Z1: King of the Kill

Alright, I’m well aware that I need to justify this game being in a top 10 list. Technically it’s not a 2016 release, but it’s an Early Access game that I’m not sure will ever fully release, so I’m tossing it into 2016. Additionally, I’m focusing more on how much fun I had with H1Z1 rather than how good the game is. This is important because H1Z1 is very bad at being a functioning game. I’ve seen cars explode for absolutely no reason, water towers stationed 300 feet in the air, and this. A great game this is not.

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But that doesn’t disqualify King of the Kill from being a fun game. The format is a permadeath battle royale with 150 players scavenging for whatever they can before shooting it out. I love the tension, especially when I survive for more than five minutes and the idea of finishing first suddenly seems plausible. The game shines when played cooperatively though, and my fives experience has varied between a sports experience, with constant calls and evolving strategy, to role playing Final Fantasy XV by cruising with my cute bois through a post-apocalyptic metro area. I’m not actually sure which is more fun, but with a good group of friends this game is pretty damn enjoyable. I just wished it was, y’know, good.

9. LISA: The Painful

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This is my favorite non-2016 game that I played in 2016. In terms of gameplay, LISA is a fairly traditional turn-based RPG with an Earthbound styled combat system, but it’s not really the gameplay that stands out in LISA, even if it is fun. What grabbed me about LISA was that it’s hilarious. The humor takes place in a man’s world, literally in a post-apocalyptic future with no women left alive, and the atmosphere is created by the dark concept of masculinity that follows. Pornography is currency, brutality is crucial for survival, oh and love still exists.

LISA isn’t just dick jokes and drug abuse though, and I was constantly forced to make decisions about the world and how I existed in it. There’s a basic risk in sleeping, and I often sacrificed party members for minimal gain. Like, I’m sorry Rooster, but you don’t do enough to justify paying mags for, so I guess this gang gets to kill you. It’s awful, pathetic, and fascinating. There’s a solid main plotline, and it’s backed up with lots of of side stories and instances, most of them helping build this terrible, terrible universe. There’s a lot more to the world, but the game does a better job at explaining it then I would.

8. Let It Die

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Let It Die is sneaking onto this list because I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m hooked as is. I mean there’s a Radical Grim Reaper that skateboards on every loading screen, how is that not an easy GotY pick? More importantly, my dog really hates the Lil’ Reaper loading icon, and watching my dog get defensive as Tubular Death rides across the screen somehow improves the gameplay. And the gameplay seems neat! I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m punching dudes and they’re exploding, and that’s good enough for me.

My one concern is that I’ll start hitting some incredibly limiting Free to Play elements. Right now I can pretty easily afford in-game elevators, but I could see those prices maxing out my meager bank pretty easily. Same with weapon research, extra lives, and all the normal goodies you’d expect to cost an arm and a leg in the Freemium universe. Dota 2 has spoiled me.

7. NO THING

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I would unironically describe NO THING as the Vaporwave A E S T H E T I C meme morphed into a video game. The game stays simple with the only controls being horizontal 90 degree turns, and the only goal is to navigate walkways to a finish line. With every turn the game’s autorun gets faster, and the challenge comes from having to navigate at high speeds. NO THING diversifies pretty creatively by introducing concepts like verticality, but the game remains consistent with its limited controls. It’s also a punishing game with little room for error--falling from the path usually means restarting a three minute level.

While the game is fun for the challenge, I also think NO THING uses gaming as an artistic medium incredibly well. There’s a text-to-speech voice that is essentially providing the player with spoken word poetry on every map. It’s hard to focus on individual lines though as the game is too difficult for that. So as you play, fail, and restart, these lines become progress markers, warning signs, and more fleshed out poems. I try to avoid “Are Games Art?” arguments, but I do think that games have trouble using their own mechanics to convey story or emotion, usually relying on traditional tools like cutscenes. NO THING manages to convey it’s message pretty thoroughly through the sum of its parts, and I think there’s some extra praise deserved for that.

6. Pokémon Moon

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I hadn’t played a Pokémon game since Pokémon Red, but Moon was able to scratch the Pocket Monster itch pretty well. Not being up to date with anything in the game made every basic discovery seem mind-blowing. I played through most of the game with a “Holy shit, what’s this?” state of mind. Like seriously, what’s up with that Pokémon that’s just a big ass rock with a nose? That dude is cool as hell. My '90s strategy of using Allakhazam to beat everyone and everything still worked, but it was still pretty neat building up my party of real life best friends Pokémon that look like they could wrestle.

My one big criticism is that I don’t care about the characters, plot, or really anything that wasn’t related to mashing my Sandshrew into every trainer I could possibly find. There are some chunks of story that just took way too long for my taste, but I feel like I’m in the minority here. I imagine if you’d been playing Pokémon games for decades, having a cohesive plot was probably a fresh breath from the usual “10-year-old is set free and no one fucking cares."

5. Brigador

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Mechs. Big Mechs. Little Mechs. Floating Mechs. Really-Tall-Eye-of-Sauron-Mechs. Brigador has it all. I’m about halfway through this list and I’ve realized most of my Hot Game picks involve learning the game’s systems as a means of enjoyment, and Brigador exemplifies this quality. Piloting a mech is as difficult as one would expect, but the possibilities from good gameplay are astounding. Like I am still bad at piloting this isometric mech game, but when I get into a ruckus and come out unscathed, I feel like all the Gundams and Gokus in the world combined. There’s a ton of variation between the different mechs, weapons, movement systems, and both the story campaign and freelance missions are pretty fun to run through, with the many options giving both replayability and multiple approaches to the same mission. I prefer the safer, bulkier mechs, but there’s definitely a play style that supports piloting vehicles that are about as tall as a normal human.

I think what surprised me the most about Brigador was how fleshed out the lore and universe was. There’s an audio book that’s about eight hours long, and in-game every mech, weapon, pilot, region, and weapon is well-described. There’s even lore files presented as purchasable intel if you want to know why every civilian wears a yellow raincoat, or what your own organization actually is. Add in a fantastic soundtrack, neat art, and a pretty phenomenally detailed world, and I’m pretty into Brigador.

4. Dark Souls III

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Dark Souls III feels like a game I don’t need to describe. If you’re reading this you probably know what it is, and overall it was a pretty great Souls game, poise memes notwithstanding. I had fun, I killed every boss, PvP’d by grabbing dual swords and screaming out the word “anime”, and had a jolly good time. No real complaints besides how poorly the PC version was optimized, and I’d recommend a play-through if you like Souls games.

That said, as much as I liked this game, I was more done with it than I’ve ever been with a souls game. I speedran Bloodborne and Dark Souls II, PVP’d like crazy in Demon’s Souls, and goofed around a whole lot with multiple runs in Dark Souls. Dark Souls III I finished, closed the game, and then never picked up again. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the game either (far from it), but maybe I’m just burnt out on the series. I don’t think it’s the death of Souls games for me, but I don’t think I’ll be too excited for the same old formula until something really changes.

3. Deadbolt

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Deadbolt cracked me up at first--the art, the movement, even the fonts used were incredibly similar to Hopoo’s other game, Risk of Rain. It’s a far call from the space Roguelite though, and only the surface of Deadbolt matches the Risk of Rain aesthetic. Instead of A Weird Planet, Deadbolt takes place in a grimy crime-ridden limbo, with normal horror monstrosities like zombies and vampires joining gangs and running nightclubs. Instead of a Roguelite, Deadbolt is a strategy game at its core, and ends up playing like a kickass Gunpoint Miami. Most levels are about careful planning and diving into the game’s mechanics, but sometimes all hell breaks loose and the action is still incredibly solid. It feels good when things go right, and it feels great when things go wrong.

Like Risk of Rain, the music is insanely good and feels more thematically fitted this time around. Tracks shift from moody Grim Reapin’ Tunes to Sexy Vampire Electronica pretty seamlessly. Chris Christodoulou produced the music for both Risk of Rain and Deadbolt, and I can safely say he’s one of my favorite indie game composers now. Setting is pretty important in DEADBOLT, as one of the game’s hooks is the need to learn what the hell is actually going on, and I think the music completes a unique fantasy package that I could do with more of.

2. World of Warcraft: Legion

Goblins are real and they’re my best friends.

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I usually come back for every WoW expansion, play for a month, then bail when the excitement of exploration and leveling fades. Legion has managed to grasp me for a few months though, and I’ve even been raiding somewhat seriously--something I haven’t done since killing Brutallus in The Burning Crusade. This expansion has really focused on adding more stuff to do - more quests, more dailies, more PvP, just a whole lot more WoW.

You beat a dungeon? Cool, beat it again except all the enemies launch fire at you and the bosses are dealing double damage. You got some hot loot? Great, but you can get loot that’s straight-up fire if you kill the same boss but now your tank is going to stop getting healed. Legion is still very much WoW, but it’s like the WoWiest WoW I’ve ever played, refined to be much more consistently engaging instead of solely focused on getting random loot or grinding out good vibes from an in-game faction.

Also, Arcane Mages are the best wizards.

1. Furi

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My personal GotY wasn’t even a question despite how much time I’ve spent playing Legion these past few months. Furi is a twin-stick, boss rush, action bullet hell, and it’s slick. Most of the bosses are a struggle to defeat and often take around ten minutes on a first playthrough, but these long engagements just make that final hit feel so good. The dynamics of each fight evolve pretty thoroughly, and a smug boss in the first minute of a fight might be desperately struggling for a hit in the last 30 seconds. These cool fights are made exceptional by very tight controls and a ridiculously good soundtrack that matches well with every fight. I’d gladly have listened to the Furi soundtrack without ever having played the game. There’s a bit of filler when walking in between bosses, but I honestly didn’t mind since it gave me a chance to appreciate the beautiful artstyle and enjoy the light lore.

I didn’t learn too many speedruns in the first half of 2016, only picking up LISA and Not a Hero, but Furi was a game that I played through once, then beat it again the next day, and again the day after. The controls felt tight enough where I didn’t mind putting in hours in attempts to refine my strategies against single bosses, and I still feel a little for some of the story elements during a speedrun. This is by and far my favorite game of 2016, and I don’t know when I’ll be putting it down.