Matt's Top 10 Games of 2016

Two days before the end of 2016 I've finally finished my annual list of my favourite ten games of the last twelve months. It's been a good one! Well, it's actually been a terrible one, but the games have been pretty ok!

As ever, there are a hundred 'honourable mentions' that I wish I could've squeezed in but got knocked out at the last minute. Some worth shouting about include the year's greatest fighting games Pokkén Tournament and The King of Fighters XIV. Dark Souls 3 is another incredible Dark Souls game that was easily my number 11 game. I adored playing through Firewatch earlier in the year and, while I still stand by the fact that it's really a pale imitation of what made the first game incredible, I actually ended up quite liking Titanfall 2. Some of the other big hitters like Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty Infinite Warfare surprised me this year with really solid entries. And, my forever love, Monster Hunter Generations finally got a UK release and is as brilliant as ever. But on with the Top 10!

As ever, no ports, remakes, re-releases, re-masters etc. Only games getting their debut in 2016. So no Rise of the Tomb Raider (see last year's list for that!), no Gravity Rush, no Resident Evil 4, no Bioshock, no Gone Home (my favourite game of 2013!), no Skyrim (my favourite game of 2011!) ETC ETC ETC.

List items

  • It's been a banner year for puzzle games (with games like Stephen's Sausage Roll and Picross 3D Round 2 bothering all sorts of best of lists this season) but The Witness has managed to climb not only to the top of my favourite puzzle games list, but is also sitting very happily in my favourite games ever list. It's a phenomenal game. To describe the game in simple terms is to make it sound mundane (you're on an island and have to solve some amount of 600 'line puzzles') but to tell much more can give everything away. Jonathan Blow (creator of 2008's indie darling Braid) has created a fascinating world to explore that is as dense as it is beautiful. Puzzles are liberally spread across the island in various zones. You can walk in any direction and tackle the puzzles in (mostly) any order you want. But, while the gameplay loop of solving the line puzzles is very satisfying, the real magic of The Witness is how it teaches you the skills you need to solve the puzzles. Learning is truly half the game and how Blow and team has fashioned this learning process with no tutorials, no cutscenes and absolutely no text is truly masterful in execution. No other game in 2016 had me screaming at my TV in joy nearly as much as The Witness did. It's an essential experience.

  • 2016's Hitman is the number one example of 'games as a service' being viable. It's a game that released each of it's six 'levels' separately in monthly chunks and has put out regular small content updates consistently since it's initial launch in March to keep players engaged in the game over a span of literal months. But ignoring the boring business model chat, Hitman is still the absolute best Hitman game to date. It's chocked full of INCREDIBLE missions, challenges, fun side objectives and community created content. I've been playing Hitman since March and I don't feel like I've rung everything out of even half of the missions yet. Even without the regular content updates (the latest update added a free Christmas mission... you have to find and take out two thieves 'Harry' and 'Marv' in Paris) the game would feel huge. There are six destinations (story missions?) in the game but each mission has literally hundreds of ways of tackling the hits. I recently achieved 'full mastery' of the first mission (meaning I've unlocked all the bonus unlocks on that destination by completing a *massive* number of challenges) and still kinda feel like I've just started to scratch the surface of the mission. Need to take down a famous fashion mogul who is hosting a fashion show party in his Paris mansion? Dress as one of the models, walk the catwalk then choke him out with razor wire backstage. Or why not dress as a waiter, learn how his favourite cocktail is mixed then spike it with poison when you serve it to him at the after party? Or maybe trigger a fireworks display in the mansion gardens then push him off the balcony as he takes a minute to admire the show? Or sack off all of these and just run up to him, lob a fire extinguisher at his head and then try and get out of the house before security lock down the party and hunt you down. It's mind boggling how many options there are and how much fun is to be had here. It's a hit, man.

  • Overwatch, in the most reductive way possible, is Blizzard doing what Blizzard does best. They take a genre (this time it's the online first person shooter) and make the most refined, approachable, polished-to-all-hell version of it. They inevitably release it to critical acclaim and end up dominating that genre. Whether it's World of Warcraft (MMOs), Starcraft (RTS), Diablo (action role-playing) or Hearthstone (CCG), Blizzard consistently rule the roost. Overwatch is their 2016 attempt at this and, unsurprisingly, they've smashed it again. An online 'class-based' shooter, Overwatch asks the player to learn 23 playable 'heroes' who each fit into one of four roles within the game; Tanks, Defence, Offence and Support. Matches sometimes take the form of base defence (with one team trying to take the base and the other defending), sometimes escorting a payload to a delivery point (while the other tries to halt their progress). There are variations on a theme and, on paper, variety seems a little lacking. But the quality of the moment-to-moment gameplay is what makes or breaks a game and everything about Overwatch's gameplay is sublime. Each hero plays remarkably different. The game does a fantastic job of showing players all the information they need to understand their chosen hero without needing a lengthy tutorial. You can change hero on the fly if you realise your team is lacking something (a healer for example) or as you react to the opposing team's changes. It's all so fluid. Blizzard have released new heroes and new maps (all for free) so far and the game feels like it's constantly evolving. Long may it evolve!

  • Doom (2016) shouldn't have been a good game. It's a relaunch (a reimagining?) of one of the most groundbreaking and influential video games of all time. IT SHOULDN'T HAVE BEEN A GOOD GAME. Doom is almost the best game. From the moment your character awakens (in a tomb), puts on the armour, punches a computer monitor that's warning you of an incoming demon invasion and cocks his shotgun in sync to the music you know you're probably going to have a good time. Describe almost anything about Doom and it'll sound clichéd and generic. Heavy metal soundtrack? Loads of hell/satan references? Generic 'guy in armour' hero? Check, check, check. But Doom is absolutely oozing with style and, somehow, brings everything together in the most tightly designed, FUN campaign. I eagerly awaited each enemy encounter. Weaving through incoming rockets and punching a cacodemon in the eye hasn't been this much fun since 1994. The multiplayer can be largely ignored (which feels a bit weird to see considering Doom's rich multiplayer heritage) but the single-player campaign is absolutely essential in 2016. DOOM SHOULDN'T HAVE BEEN A GOOD GAME.

  • Inside is the spiritual successor to 2010's Limbo. Limbo was INCREDIBLE. Inside is better in every way. It's dripping with intrigue from the get-go and the game keeps that up through to the end. There are multiple scenes in Inside that are just phenomenally great but to read about them before experiencing them yourself would be stupid. The game takes simple platforming mechanics and reinvents them and asks the player to subvert their expectations and, often literally, dive into the unknown. I loved Inside from start to finish. I also loved following the post release search to unlock the 'hidden ending' (which I urge you to check out once you've finished the game). Just a beautiful game from the beginning all the way to the end. Especially the end.

  • Persona 5 might have been delayed until 2017 (who woulda thought it?) but, no worries, there's another game in the Megami Tensai series to fill it's space... TMS ♯FE features Fire Emblem characters essentially playing the part of anime ghosts that hang out with J-Pop idols in real-life Tokyo locations like the streets of Shibuya, the amusement parks of Odaiba, Takeshita Street in Harajuku and the rooftops of Ikebukuro. An absolute dream game setting for an idiot like me. Whether you're battling demons on a TV show set, searching convenience stores for donuts for a vocaloid(?), making a special potion to cure your boss's hangover or digging in to the side-stories of the various characters (like Barry, the grumpy American dance coach/game collector who affectionately calls you "millennial boy"), TMS ♯FE shines. The characters are endearing, the battle system is fun, the progression system is addictive. It's a GREAT modern JRPG. GREAT GREAT GREAT.

  • Superhot and Superhot VR book-ended 2016 for me in a lot of ways. I picked up Superhot during our annual charity gaming event Gameblast in February and loved it. Superhot VR launched with the release of the Oculus Touch controllers in December and quickly became known as the must have title of that launch. I love Superhot to bits. It's a shooter where you're thrust into bite-sized situations and - here's the twist - time only progresses when you move. So stand still and time freezes. Move forward slowly and time progresses slowly. Stop moving and enemies bullets hang in mid-air allowing you time to think and formulate how you're going to dodge out of the way of them - very slowly - as you allow them to move towards you at your own pace. Imagine how incredible this would be in VR? IT IS INCREDIBLE. Literally dodge incoming gun fire by moving your body and limbo-ing under them. Shotgun a guy in the face then grab his gun out of the air as it's launched from his hand and swivel (slowly) and rain fire down upon his accomplices. Throw bottles, knives and anything else that comes to hand at enemies as they appear around corners and then duck down (again, literally) behind a barrel to dodge the return fire. Use a knife to slice incoming bullets as the move slowly through the air towards your face. The precision that Touch controllers in VR space afford you is simply unrivalled. Superhot VR is an incredible example of how VR can add to a game to give a new totally unique experience. We can directly compare it to a non-VR game as they both released in the same year. If you don't have access to a Rift and Touch, please please please buy Superhot. If you've got a Rift and Touch, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

  • Ever loved an Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon game? Welcome to your new favourite video game. Stardew Valley takes the farming and relationship sim part of Harvest Moon, mixes in the scavenging/economy/friendship sim part of Animal Crossing and adds about a million new mechanics and a ton of weird stuff to make one of the freshest and most exciting games of the year. Which is weird to say about an indie farming game. You're basically thrust into looking after the upkeep of a farm after living a life in the city and you have to get to grips with it pretty fast. Luckily you have the help of a town full of new friends who will nudge you in the right direction and teach you the skills you're going to need to keep the farm running throughout the upcoming seasons. But farming is really only a tiny part of Stardew Valley. There's a staggering amount of activities that you're free to fill your days with and they're all rewarding and essential in their own ways. If it's raining one day then I don't need to spend an (in-game) hour and half of my stamina bar watering all of my crops so I might head to the mines and descend into the depths to fight monsters and scavenge gems (I didn't mention - there's combat in this farming sim). Or maybe head to the beach to spend the morning fishing? Maybe today is the annual 'Egg Festival' where the town spends the afternoon hunting easter eggs hidden by the mayor. Maybe I'm taking my latest gemstone discoveries to the museum to fill out the collection. Or maybe I'm chopping down trees in the fields to earn enough pieces of wood to construct my newest farm building where I'm going to install 'mayonnaise machines' to convert all of my eggs to mayo so I can give it all to my new friend Maru who, inexplicably, loves mayonnaise. Stardew Valley is deep, full of character and seemingly endless fun. Pick it up and get lost in the farming life. It's great!

  • Racing games so often get the short end of the stick when it comes to GOTY lists. They don't seem to capture the hearts and minds of critics in quite the same way as more character driven games. Hopefully this has changed for at least one year with the release of Forza Horizon 3, the latest in the Horizon series by Playground Games. If you're unaware, the Forza brand is split into two series. The Forza Motorsport games (2015's Forza Motorsport 6 is the most recent release) are hard simulation track-based driving games. The Horizon series takes a different approach. I the Motorsport games are Gran Turismo, the Horizon games are Burnout. This year's entry is easily the best yet. Set in the Australian outback, Horizon 3 has you hurtling through forests, swamps and deserts. It has you racing across beaches and, in the Blizzard Mountain expansion, hurtling down snowy mountainsides. It's a graphical tour de force but also packed full of variety in terms of race types, missions, environments and cars. It's an absolute BLAST and more fun than a (fairly) serious car game has any right to be.

  • Thumper developer's Drool describe their game as 'rhythm violence' and that seems pretty fitting. According to them, "You control a space beetle while careening towards confrontation with an insane giant head from the future." Sold.

    Lightning Bolt bass player Brain Gibson is a co-founder of Drool and if you can imagine liking a rhythm game that has been designing partly by A FUCKING MEMBER OF LIGHTNING BOLT you shouldn't wait another minute before picking up Thumper. It's as intense as you'd imagine. Your space beetle (they weren't joking) slams into walls and collides with the floor in time to the ever more complicated time signatures the game throws at you. Each level ups the ante and introduces new mechanics that leave you feeling like some kind of industrial/math-rock god when you pull it all off. The game is pretty frightening and intense while played in a normal TV set-up environment but for even more fucked up times, why not play Thumper in VR mode on your VR headset of choice? Really feel the speed and impact and see that 'insane giant head from the future' coming for you in real 3D! Not for the faint-hearted.