Before we begin, let's get one thing straight: Final Fantasy VI is great.
The Final Fantasy series is one I’ve only ever observed from a distance, mostly because it just seemed daunting to tackle. There are so many, which one should I play? And they’re so long, how will I ever find the time? Fortunately, Brad and Jason solved the first problem by highly lauding FF6 during the Quick Look of World of Final Fantasy and I solved the second by utilizing my prized Game Boy Micro to play in 30 minute chunks before falling asleep.
I’m glad these stars aligned, because I'm having a great time. My expectations of a long-winded, nonsensical story paired with infuriating random battles and obtuse quests were almost entirely wrong. The story is fantastical yet clearly told and the characters are charming. The quests are clever and varied, and I’ve so far only had to consult a FAQ once (the tried-and-true method of “talk to everyone, open everything” works pretty much all the time). And while random battles are frequent, most are easy to breeze through and the tougher ones are often a fun challenge. It’s apparent that a lot of care went into FF6, and it’s usually games like those that stand the test of time.
Event is (stop me if you've heard this one before) a first-person adventure game set on a deserted spaceship, but it quickly becomes apparent that this game is going for something a little different. Most of your time is spent conversing with the ship’s onboard artificial intelligence by typing into in-game terminals. The crazy thing is, you talk to this computer in English, not code. What’s even crazier is that it works. Admittedly, it’s not perfect. It’s often reminiscent of simple chat bots like Dr. Sbaitso, and most attempts to deviate from the conversation result in a generic response.
The game seems to understand its shortcomings, however, and I found that it never overstayed its welcome in any one activity. As soon as I got tired of talking, I was treated to some good ol' walking around puzzle solving. When the conversation stuff clicks, though, it’s scary. When I was worried the computer was angry with me, I found myself using calming language, so as not to upset it. You know, maybe I should book another appointment with Dr. Sbaitso...
I’ve been looking for a good scuba diving game for a long time, and I feel like I’ve finally found it in Abzû. Everything from the way light bends underwater, to the hyper accurate animation of the sea life, serves to remind me just how much I love the ocean. Not only are the game’s visuals beautiful, but Abzû’s music blends so well with what you’re experiencing in the game you’d swear it was some kind of magic. The game’s simple story is well told, and includes a twist I didn’t see coming. It is both high praise and a heavy burden for a game to bear a reputation like “underwater Journey,” but I’d say Abzû shoulders it well.
8. Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 is dinner at a fancy restaurant. Every time you think “you know, I could really use a--” it is placed in front of you for you to devour. And it’s delicious. Just when you think you’re full of the wall-running étouffée, a heaping plate of lock-on missile alfredo slides right in. I never even touched the multiplayer (too spicy), but I left satisfied nonetheless.
The world of Inside may be a colossal bummer, but boy is it nice to look at. Watching the environments scroll by--each locale dropping hints about what’s really going on in this world--was the force that drove me through the game in one sitting (a rarity for me). The puzzles are cleverly integrated into the heavy and oppressive environment, often uncomfortably so, causing me to cringe as I pulled a lever or pressed a switch. The game’s mysteries never really get fully explained, and I like that. The ending of the game leaves similar emotional holes that feel better to leave unfilled.
Blizzard is well-known for its ability to polish a game to a blinding shine. And while Overwatch is an impressive demonstration that this uncanny ability can even be applied to genres Blizzard has never explored before, the game’s true strength lies not during the gameplay but after. The positive-only reinforcement doled out to all players in the postgame report seems like a small touch, but it’s indicative of just how thoroughly Blizzard contemplated not just the game itself, but the people playing it, and why we play the games we do. As we sometimes forget, we play games to have fun, and Overwatch is a blast.
5. The Witness
Imparting a sense of wonder is a feat made increasingly difficult as the gaming audience gets harder and harder to impress. That The Witness even comes close to evoking the feelings I had playing Myst as a kid is impressive. The world the game creates is simultaneously impossible and starkly real, giving weight to the strangeness you encounter like the doors in rock faces and people who have been turned to stone. I am content to never finish The Witness because I already feel like I've gotten something valuable from it: the realization that there’s still a childlike sense of awe left in me. Thanks, The Witness, for suggesting that I’m not an emotionless husk.
Hitman strikes me as a game where the developers finally got to make what was locked in their minds all along. Everything about its design clicks with a confidence you’d expect from years of lovingly working on a franchise. All the mechanics play so smoothly together that the translation from “thought in my head” to “flawless execution” happens almost instantly. And even if my master plan doesn’t work out (usually a result of my own impatience), I never feel stuck or like the game is holding me back. Instead, the game says “you got yourself into this mess. Here are some tools. Let’s see if you can get out of it.”
I should also mention that I find myself doing all the side challenges on each level before moving on, and I NEVER do that. Instead of seeing them as tasks to do begrudgingly, I consider them opportunities to further hone myself into a multifaceted, nimble killing machine... who throws wrenches at people.
On the surface, Picross is almost too simple a game: remove blocks using basic logic to reveal a crude shape. I’m still not sure I understand why this task is so incredibly alluring, but I CAN’T. STOP. Perhaps it’s the drip-feed of figuring out each micro-puzzle in “should this block be here?” Perhaps it’s the sense of accomplishment after spending thirty minutes on one puzzle and making it through without any mistakes. Perhaps it is the deceptively simple premise itself that challenges you, saying “oh, you think this is easy? Prove it.” Picross is a mystery to me, one I can’t tear myself away from.
If I had my own Game of the Year awards, there would definitely be a “Multiplayer Game That I Played a Lot During the Holidays and Everyone Had Fun Despite the Fact That Not Everyone Was an Adept Player of Video Games” category. If such a thing existed, Overcooked would proudly join the ranks of Jackbox Party Pack and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. No game this year made me laugh harder.
Doom manages to find a balance between evoking the past and creating something that feels fresh in 2016, and does so with conviction, like a man not walking across a tightrope, but sprinting. The result is a game that inhabits that golden realm where the game becomes an extension of you. Where you stop thinking about what the game wants you to do and start using it as a tool to enact your own will. Doom is flow, embodied.
I also can't quite believe how much I like the Doom marine. Not because I don't think we'd get along, but because he's an actual character. A character that doesn't have any lines. I don't care who you are, getting an audience to care about a character that communicates exclusively in punching science equipment is a monumental achievement. Combine that with some gorgeous visuals and a rippin’ soundtrack and you’ve got yourself quite a video game.