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Vinny Caravella's Top 10 Games of 2016

The Year of the Monkey is coming to a close, so let's go bananas and make some lists!

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Vincent "Vinny" Caravella's primary hobbies include electronics, woodworking, mechanical watch repair, coin collecting, and hobbying. In his primary time he plays video games, fights about the importance of a strong narrative hook, and talks trash about 480p never being a proper video format. He currently resides in New Jersey with his wife and two young children. He also wishes he had a dog.

For many, including myself, 2016 was a challenging year. Cancer took my cousin, intolerance and aggression seemed to surge towards us like a vindictive tide, and the loss of leaders, mentors, and icons seemed relentless. There are real dangers in the world, the world we are are ultimately responsible for building and shaping for ourselves and successive generations. But while it felt like the untimely end of many things, it was also a year of beginnings. Perhaps 2016 is the year your kid was born. It was the year you got that new career. The year you met someone special. And, if we zoom in even further on the map of our life to look at each turn, stop, and yield we'd see a lot of those familiar landmarks along the road are our favorite games from the year. If you're reading this then you're probably like me, and this hobby runs parallel with your life, and certain games can be a welcome rest stop, scenic overlook, or even destination on our metaphorical road. And, though all of our lives scatter off in a billion different directions, in this community, within our little universe within a much greater one, I feel comforted being able to talk and write to you about experiences we can share and celebrate... even if I'm right about them and you're wrong.

10. Gemini: Heroes Reborn

This game is pretty great. You get to run around using Psi-Ops-like telekinesis powers to infiltrate a base but...BUT... you also can travel in time. At will, you can rip open a portal to the past, step through, run around, and return at will. You can also bring objects and enemies through time as well. Which, if you take the time to think about it, is terribly disturbing. The whole thing is fairly short, but executes really well on its set of tricks.

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9 and a half. Virginia

While the actual narrative in Virginia might veer hard left, to the point of going completely off the rails, there is a style and confidence in the way it's told that impressed me. The way the completely non-verbal gameplay is scored and literally edited using smash, match, and and jump cuts really struck a chord with me. Where some saw limited interactions, I found them focused. Where others thought the cinematic cuts were jarring, I found them brilliant and novel. Where folks thought the story ventured into the absurd, well, I was right there with them. It was a game I wanted to talk about immediately upon completion, and like it or not, it elicits a reaction.

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9. Firewatch

Firewatch unfolds its narrative in a more traditional manner than Virginia. In that way, it may take fewer chances, but it also hits the mark more often. It's a modern point-and-click adventure game, and that is right in my wheelhouse. The character development hit home for me even if I thought some of the contrivances used to get there didn't. There were holes in the story I felt I could walk through, but by the end I was moved and thoroughly enjoyed the journey the developer Campo Santo had taken me on.

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8. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

I'm a fan of the Uncharted series. I think they are some of the most astounding technical achievements we've seen. It's just amazing what Naughty Dog can do with the PlayStation hardware. Now, that's all well and good, but it's the narrative work that really keeps me coming back. I think Uncharted 4 rivals Uncharted 2 in terms of the storytelling. Moving the story away from the treasure hunting and focusing on the relationships and motivations for the characters was a welcomed change. Yeah we were looking for treasure, but the treasure was inside of us the whole time... or something like that. I don't know. I do know I laughed, I cried, and I slaughtered my way to an extremely satisfying ending for old Drake and his crew.

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7. Event[0]

Melt Wizard. I grew up playing text adventure games in the vein of Zork and the Questprobe games. In Event[0] you use a keyboard to interface with an A.I., dubbed Kaizen-85, as you explore... well, you explore a derelict space station. I know, I know, but the A.I. is actually really good, and seems to respond and develop its personality based on what you type and how you respond to it. It's really impressive when it all works, which is more often than not, and I just want more!

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6. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

You've Played: 181 hours. That's what steam is telling me. I must have left it running at work or something. Even still, I played a lot of Witcher 3 this year, and developer CD Projekt Red continued into 2016 with the fantastic Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions. I had The Witcher 3 on my list at number 10 last year and I knew I'd really dig into it this year. Promise kept.

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5. Inside

The presentation and complete push-start-to-roll-credits experience of Inside is top notch. There's a bleakness and menace to the world that seems to exist without ever knowing the whys and hows of it. Am I running away from or towards something? Is anyone actually in control here? The whole game kept pushing me to see what was on the next screen. There was a sense of perverse excitement as I felt like I was seeing things I shouldn't, that I was going to uncover some grotesque Soylent Green-esque plot. By the end of the game, I still wasn't sure if I had made more sense of their world, but I was definitely fully invested in it.

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4. Overwatch

I had mostly ignored Overwatch leading up to release. Just wasn't on my radar, like most competitive shooters, if that's even what the kids are calling them these days. That is not my arena. I'm fairly terrible at them, I don't enjoy the hyper-competitive nature of the space, and my lack of skill makes the spawn-die-spawn loop frustrating and boring. Then I actually played Overwatch. I was immediately pulled in by the characters (I'm still the guy who likes stories in games), but more even more I was attracted to the "highlight the positives" nature of the experience.

Overwatch didn't broadcast my K/D ratio. It didn't remind me how poorly I was doing each time I pushed tab. It gave me interesting options to play support roles. It was smart and humble about making ability cheat sheets a key press away. When a match was over, I would somehow find myself ranked up there with other players for blocking damage, healing, or holding a point. I felt useful, and I felt like I could be of value to a team. Now, I'm not saying it's the first game to do all these things. Team Fortress 2 definitely injected personality into its characters, but there is a very deliberate push in Overwatch towards teamwork that resonates and actually works for me. I'm not great at the game, don't get me wrong, but it makes we want to be.

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3. Superhot

I know I've wanted this game for a long time. I've wanted the game where you pick apart the bad guys with surgical precision using your preternatural skills. It's the action highlight reel you build as you play. At its core it's really a puzzle game where you have to plan one badass move after the next. Hit enemy A. Steal gun. Shoot enemy B. Throw gun into enemy C. It's every last fight in an action movie, where the hero just can't miss.

Superhot gets almost all of it right. From the action to the style, it all works. The entire escapade is couched in an over-the-top virtual-cyber-future that is both nonsense and perfect. All this, and a novel time mechanic that, frankly, I'm surprised hasn't been completely exploited yet in our video game timeline. Superhot is just rad.

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2. Hitman

Oh boy. Where to start. I've played a decent amount of the previous hitman games and have enjoyed them, but not like this one. This is just clockwork chaos. Or it's pure calculated science. Or it's axe throwing, balcony hanging, A.I. exploiting, I-can't-believe-that-worked nonsense.

My favorite parts of Hitman are just winging it. I love that they (optionally) will give you a guided tour of places of interest. It's a great way to introduce a map, but I just really love jumping in, getting my hands dirty, and getting out. Usually, the less silent the better. I think that's where the game really shines for me. It takes some of that Sleeping Dogs chaos factor and institutionalizes it. It even rewards it in some cases. I've spent time just seeing if I can clear every guard off of a map because that seemed kind of nuts. There's something to knowing that things can go sideways so quickly, and that risk reward is intoxicating in this game.

Alright, then there's all the little side stuff. All the ambient touches like conversations that happen between NPCs, or that happen directly to you. Everyone is kind of an idiot, but also self-aware? It's weird, but it works. It's like everyone lives in world where everyone is honest, and you're the only person that would dare tell a lie. It's a pure chaos simulator, and I love it.

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1. Doom

Pay your admission. Get on the ride. Don't get off until it's done. That's how I felt with Doom. The action is intense and satisfying, and the addition of being able to recover health or ammo through melee kills added a great combat puzzle element to the whole thing.

Then there's the part where Doom guy just wants to fight demons. I mean, that's his thing and it's great, but when you set him in a world that is trying to rationalize and scientifically exploit Hell, well, hilarity ensues. The interactions between you and the rest of the world are fantastically silly, but clever enough to avoid eye-rolling. I mean, his motivations make perfect sense. Stop Hell, but oddly the antagonist's agenda also makes sense. Exploit Hell. It's a great backdrop as you "rip and tear" your way through some decently varied environments. Even the platforming feels pretty good.

I'm not the biggest original Doom fan. I mean, I was there, I enjoyed it, but I didn't think much of trying to continue the franchise. This just blew me away and I'm still trying to figure the magic trick out. I've heard there's multiplayer in there somewhere, but I wasn't ever interested in that part. Usually I feel pretty cheated on shooter campaigns because I skip the multiplayer but have to buy the whole package anyway but in the case of Doom, I'm ready to throw down for more.

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