Another year, another Danny O’Dwyer GOTY list on VideoGames.com--though the site’s new layout makes it really hard for me to find the Star Wars meme section. Anyway, here are my top 10 distractions from the dumpster fire that was 2016.
(in order of appearance)
Nobody makes games like Jonathan Blow, and it’s probably just as well because I don’t think I’d be able to subject myself to a game like The Witness more than once every couple of years. The Witness is like an exam. One you prepare for, and complete, and feel really good about yourself, and then immediately forget about and get on with your life.
Except, I’ve never completed it.
The Witness haunts me. When people talk about that game I feel like the only adult in the room without a high-school diploma. A faker. A charlatan. Whenever Jon Blow tweets I’m reminded of my island of incomplete puzzles. My island of shame. Shame Isle. Will I ever figure out what those videos were about? How many strange shapes in the horizon are yet to be discovered? Will I ever return to Shame Isle? Let’s talk in 2017.
A late entry here, based almost entirely on Brad and Dan’s adventures. What I love about this year’s Hitman is that it rewards the things people actually enjoyed about the old games; replaying levels, playing sloppily, and uncovering the puppet strings of its digital worlds. The old Hitman games tried so hard to pretend they were real places, but this Hitman seems to relish the idea that this is all just a game. The training level with its ridiculous wooden helicopter was a good early indicator. In the old games you were encouraged to be perfect. In this Hitman, you’re encouraged to have fun. To mess up, go down in a blaze of glory and start from the beginning. They made a game where replaying the levels from the start was fun again thanks to the ridiculous amount of well-written opportunities each location presents.
Uncharted 4 is the best Uncharted game. You travel the world with your brother murdering people in exotic places. It has at least five Monkey Island references, and they even have a storyline that suggests a life of ceaseless killing may be having negative effects on Nate’s marriage. It looks great, and the contextual voice acting is the best in the business. The flashback levels are clever, the epilogue is sweet, and the driving section is one of the best gaming moments of the year. If you own a PlayStation 4 and don’t have this game you deserve to be shot in the face like every other human Nathan Drake has ever met.
Doom is probably the best game I played this year, but I’m not doing a numbered list because I work FOR MYSELF NOW GODDAMMIT AND DON’T HAVE TO PRESCRIBE TO OUTDATED WAYS OF COVERING *cough* sorry.
Doom does something we all thought impossible--it evokes the feeling of the old Doom games while actively working to try and the fix their failings. The glory-kill system keeps you in the fight and removes those medipack hunts of old. The combat chess makes using all of your arsenal essential. It even has good hell levels. The multiplayer was an afterthought, but when a campaign is as solid, long, and replayable (see Arcade mode) as this I don’t think it needs anything else to justify the package. From a technical perspective this game is an incredible achievement, running at 60 on consoles and looking incredible as it does it. I love almost everything about Doom. The demon design, their animation, the gun modifications, double jump, it’s terrific self-aware tone. Doom is the best shooter we’ve had in years, and the fact that it took us all by surprise makes it even more glorious.
By the time Overwatch had come out I’d spent months playing the beta, so I’ve basically not played it since the far side of E3. Regardless, it’s one of my favorite games of the year, blending dozens of shooter styles together to make an infinitely replayable team game with a skill ceiling that’s only limited by your team’s ability to communicate. I think my favorite thing about Overwatch is that it could have been a much more dumbed down version of what it is. But Blizzard are so good at teaching the player new tricks that they just built the game they wanted and figured out how to get players up to speed later. Overwatch, unlike so many online shooters, respects the player's intelligence. Except for the loot crates. They blow.
I played Inside in one sitting while my wife read a book beside me. When the final chapter happened, my mouth was basically agape for five minutes straight. She had been peering at the screen over the top of her book this whole time, tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Do video games usually do things like this?”. I turned, stared directly into her eyes and said, “No."
I don’t care about Pokémon. I’ve never played any of the games, I’m not into weird Japanese shit, and I hate leaving the house. So on paper this weird app was never for me. But for a good two months it became the only game people were talking about outside of our tech bubble. One of the guests to our wedding in Ireland promised her mother she’d catch a rare Pokémon that was only available in Europe. For weeks there were packs of tweens walking around Oakland with their phones out. And one evening myself and a bunch of my mates got in a car and drove to our old school to catch a fucking Snorlax because it popped up on a Pokémon GPS Tracker. Good job Pokémon GO! You made the list.
Overcooked is the best couch co-op game released this year, and though myself and my wife knocked it out in a week, we enjoyed every minute. It seems perfectly designed for two people, with the initial levels retaining challenge and the ending levels getting to Tokyo Jungle co-op levels of impossibility. New mechanics were layered in at expert pace, and critically for a game of this nature, the controls felt tight and fair. Grab a friend, and fight over cutting lettuce.
It’s actually kind of sad that Titanfall 2’s campaign is such a breath of fresh air, because it walks pretty familiar territory for anyone who played a first person campaign in the mid 2000s. What I love about Titanfall 2’s campaign is that it uses the mobility in that game in ways that the multiplayer never could. The shackles came off, and it seemed like every idea the team had accumulated over their five years working on the franchise bubbled to the surface all at once. Once the campaign got going, each new chapter introduced a new bizarre twist on the gameplay that made it a joy to keep playing. The final third of the campaign is one of the best in living memory. Great job Respawn, you reminded us how good these games should be. The multiplayer was cool too.
Virtual reality doesn’t have a singular experience that deserves to get on this list, but taken as a whole it is most certainly one of the best gaming experiences of the year. It has fun, snackable games like Accounting, Job Simulator and The Lab. Visiting all my old haunts around the world in Google Maps VR gave me one of the most emotional moments of the year. My wife happily lost herself in Tilt Brush for hours at a time. And I’ll never forget the time I played paintball with a team of children in Rec Room. The Vive has been a consistent source of escapism in my household, and I look forward to using it even more next year.
Wish I played more Award: XCOM 2
Best 2015 game of 2016 Award: Rocket League
Wife’s Game of the Year Award: Banished
Best VR Game Award: Accounting
Best Open World: Watch Dogs 2
Best Beta: Battlefield 1
Most played game that didn’t make the list award: Jackbox Party Pack 3