Top 10 of 2016

List items

  • I've never played a Hitman game before the World of Assassination graced all of our lives. I didn't even buy it until mid-November, which means that my first introduction to the game was through this site- watching Brad and Dan bumble their way through various targets, elusive or not. This meant I already had a good idea of the layout of some of the maps, some good and not-so-good tactics, the general idea of the plot, and many other things. I also already knew the game was great.

    What I didn't know was that it would be even greater than even these lofty expectations would suggest. The moment I first started playing through the tutorial areas I fell in love. I sucked every last bit of content I could out of each map before moving on to the next, trying my best to replicate the episodic model despite having access to all the episodes due to coming in late. Each attempt was a pure joy, seeing what new things I could discover and giving myself specific goals so that every time I was doing something new and different even on the latest run through each map. The feat that IO Interactive achieved with this game cannot be understated. Episodic content is mostly a joke or something to be endured with most games, but with this one it made it what it was, keeping the game in its player's consciousness for far longer than would have been the case had it all released at once.

    I cannot say enough good things about this game. It is absolutely brilliant, and I am greatly looking forward to their next season of episodes.

  • The Witness is another game I came relatively late to, playing through it about a month after it was released. I had done my best to avoid hearing anything specific about it, and i'm glad I did because discovering all that this island had to offer was just incredible. The way it eases you into its mechanics, gently nudging you along and encouraging you to explore as it opens up more and more and more than you ever even thought possible for a game that only uses line puzzles. The variety of content that Jonathan Blow put into a game based entirely on this simple puzzle content is astonishing, and never once does the feeling you get when you figure out the current concept the game is presenting to you get old.

  • Just an absolutely gorgeous little adventure game. I had high expectations for this one after my time with Botanicula, and Amanita Design absolutely delivered. It's not a long game, but every single screen is crammed full of delightful art, sound, and music. The puzzles are never too complicated or even all that taxing, but this only serves to make it even more of a relaxing experience.

    The Cicada's Song will be on my playlist for a long, long time.

  • I couldn't tell you what the story of Rise of the Tomb Raider was now, 9 months after I last played it. That doesn't matter though, because what I came to that game for was the incredible gameplay of the 2013 reboot. This game delivered that in spades, while also creating a more open world and even better visual design. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a game that is just a joy to play, from simple running around exploring to ducking behind crates while returning automatic weapons fire to whoever those crazy people shooting at you are. After you finish the game there are a few reasons to go back into it, but the main draw is the Endurance Mode DLC that they released. Putting you into a map with random encounters and randomly scattered treasures to collect, all while gathering resources to keep yourself alive in the process, it is a mode that ditches the already flimsy story entirely and focuses solely on the brilliant gameplay experience.

  • I haven't gotten far into Tyranny at the time of writing this. Partly this is because I can't stop going back and trying different character creation configurations, the game's opening giving you control over how the evil overlord's armies conducted themselves during their invasion and what your role was as one of its commanders. This simple mechanic does an incredible job at making you feel a part of this world, even before you have gotten to any of the actual gameplay. The characters and factions, their goals and fears and desires are all constructed and presented organically so that even though you've only spent an hour in this setting you feel like you understand your character who has been with these people their entire life. It is an absolutely incredible opening experience, and even if the rest of the game falls flat it deserves this spot on my list just for that.

  • The atmosphere and pure sense of dread that this game creates and steeps you in for the entire time you play is incredible. It is a game about fighting against the darkness and reclaiming things for the light, but there will be danger and misery and death along the way. Your characters are pawns to be hurled at the dark, but also creatures you grow attached to and want to protect as they slowly crumble under the weight of the neuroses your actions have driven them to. The combat, while brutal, almost always seems fair even while simple mistakes or missed attacks spiral events down into a pit of insanity and defeat. And yet despite all this text describing a miserable experience, there is actually no fail condition to this game. Even if all your characters go insane or die and you run out of money to unlock new things, there will always be more souls on the next wagon into down, ready to join you on your quest no matter how foolish it may be.

  • It's 2D Dark Souls. For all the good and the bad that comes with that statement, nothing else can better sum up this game. There are worse things a game can aspire to be, and emulating one of the best games ever made while also doing your own thing style, control, and layout-wise is laudable. There are a few missteps here and there such as some difficulty spikes and navigation difficulties, but overall Salt and Sanctuary provided a better Dark Souls experience than the actual Dark Souls game that was released this year.

  • Speaking of Dark Souls, this game also shares some similarities with what I suppose is now becoming a genre. Dropped into a mysterious world and left to explore to your own devices, with nothing but your sword and a floating... robot... orb thing? I'm not sure what that is. Nor am I sure who any of the people you talk to are, or what sort of cataclysm they are describing is, or why my character keeps coughing up blood. To call this game's story opaque would be a bit of an understatement. And yet I kept playing it, because what brought me back was the fun gameplay and the enjoyment I got out of exploring this gorgeous world. Even if I never understood what I was finding when I pulled these energy crystals out of the ground, the process of getting there was enough for me.

  • Gameplay over story seems to have been a theme of my list this year, and The Division is maybe the most emblematic of that theme. The setting of the game is interesting, taking place in a disease-outbreak ridden New York City during a terrible blizzard, but once they leave that premise and start putting in characters and factions that are shitty and never make any sense all that is left is the gameplay. Fortunately in that regard the game excels. Movement is always fluid and responsive, with the shooting feeling good no matter what weapons you use. The visual and sound design is absolutely incredible, where even if you're walking down a deserted street the abandoned vehicles, hazard warning-covered windows, and thick blanket of snow covering everything creates a sense of place and isolation that never gets old. Then far-off gunfire echoes off the buildings and down the street and you hunker down, peering into the falling snow to find out where it came from and if you were the target. I played this game entirely on my own and only rarely went into the Dark Zone, but what the game presented to me through its missions and open world was always worth coming back to even if the story was far below lackluster.

  • I thought long and hard about even including this game on my list, but I need to talk about it somewhere. In terms of the year's biggest (gaming-related) disappointments, Dark Souls 3 is absolutely the #1 spot. There was so much potential for the series coming off of Dark Souls 2, both lore-wise and mechanics-wise. Then Dark Souls 3 came out and it's just Dark Souls 1 again in the lore department, and less Dark Souls and more Bloodborne in the gameplay department. Except not the good parts of Bloodborne that let that game's faster pace work well, the bad parts where you have to always be on the offensive and attack nonstop lest you be overwhelmed... but if you want to heal you need to back off and slowly take a sip of estus instead of simply jamming a blood vial in your leg or attacking to regain health. This combination of fast enemies and slow player actions was never not frustrating, from moment one to the end, and their decision to put in so many encounters and bosses where you would be facing multiple enemies at a time exacerbate all these problems.

    And yet, I played it through three NG+ cycles. I got every single achievement. I have 113 hours played, 30 more hours than my #1 game this year. Through all the shit they piled into this game, whether in an attempt to move away from Dark Souls 2 and tell the "real" sequel to Dark Souls or through an attempt to draw in the Bloodborne crowd who wanted a faster experience, the core Dark Souls feel is still there and is still one of my favorites in gaming. Exploring these areas was as tense and exciting as it had ever been, seeing these new bosses was a thrill and so was working out their weaknesses. Finding new weapons and seeing if they are any good or worth changing my build over, and of course playing the most important game of all- Fashion Souls.

    And then they put in DLC that has a boss with three phases, and if you die on the last one you need to start from the beginning. What the fuck, From?

    Dark Souls 3, I really don't like you. Except when I did. You were sometimes a lot of fun, except for when you really, really weren't. Most of all, though, you made me glad you were the final Dark Souls game.