Navster's 2016 Game of the Year List

2016 was a pretty awesome year in terms of games. Perhaps one of the best even. As such, I had a monumentally hard time ordering my list of the best titles to come out in the past 12 months, and certain exclusions were quite painful (sorry The Witness!). But soldier forward I must, and what follows is more or less are my favorite games to come out this year. Apologies to the many games I haven't played yet but would probably enjoy, including <deep breath> Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Watch Dogs 2, Mafia III, Batman: The Telltale Series, Civilization VI, Final Fantasy XV, The Last Guardian, Let it Die, Superhot, Pony Island, Quantum Break, ReCore, That Dragon, Cancer, Virginia, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Now onto the list!

List items

  • After such an incredible year of game releases, one in which developers pushed the limits of our beloved medium to achieve remarkable virtual experiences, it seems somewhat anticlimactic to have a military shooter made by former Call of Duty creators top my list. But Titanfall 2 is no mere military shooter. Made with a keen sense of what makes these sorts of games tick, Respawn has crafted a tremendous game in which everything comes together better than it has any right to. The campaign, centered around the player’s relationship with the unrelentingly loyal BT-7274, has easily some of the best designed set pieces I have ever seen in a video game. The multiplayer, with its excellent sense of movement and scale, solves the problem of creating a skillful competitive shooter without making you feel like garbage when you lose. Titanfall 2 is simply a stunning achievement and is without a doubt my favorite game of 2016.

  • One of the early breakout hits of 2016, ConcernedApe’s Stardew Valley has stayed on my mind through a very packed release calendar. Though it can derisively (and somewhat accurately) be referred to as a Harvest Moon clone by way of Terraria, the game is far more than the sum of its parts. Evoking the fantasy about leaving everything behind and starting anew, Stardew Valley is video game escapism at its finest. Life on the farm is hard, and the first few months involved my plucky avatar sweating bullets to stay afloat, but eventually his new life began to coalesce. Soon enough, the farm was bustling with livestock and stocked with a variety of fresh crops, and my little guy found himself contemplating who he would like to share his life with. Though it’s been a few months since I’ve visited the valley, I know that somewhere in my computer there’s a little slice of heaven that I helped build.

  • Have you ever watched someone who is really good at something do that thing? The assuredness of their movement, the confidence in their faces, the slight cockiness that comes with mastery, it can often be mesmerizing to watch. Though the developers at id Software were not present with me as I played through DOOM, I certainly felt their master craftsmanship all over the game. Everything in DOOM, from the way you move in the world to the nonstop guitar shredding to the oh-so-satisfying glory kills, comes with an overwhelming sense of conviction. Of course I can jump only so high; jumping any higher or lower would be madness. Of course the pinkie demon charges at this speed; you’d be stupid to think otherwise. And of course the glory kills give you health; how did we go 23 years without it? DOOM is the product of some of the best developers in the world bringing to bear their combined skills to craft a singular, unforgettable experience. May we be ever grateful to be in its hellish presence.

  • I unabashedly love story and dialog in games. Though they have significant narrative limitations compared to film or books, the fact that video games allow for a level of interactivity has long made it the superior storytelling medium in my mind. There’s a sense of ownership that I have in the best game stories; of my choices, of what I choose to prioritize, of how the story concludes. With Oxenfree, the developers at Night School Studio demonstrate a keen understanding of games’ narrative strengths with their innovative dialog system. The conversations are natural and free flowing in this adventure, and there’s never a clear delineation between plot related talk and idle chatter. In a year overflowing with ingenious game mechanics, Oxenfree’s dialog system may be the most brilliant.

  • In the run-up to Overwatch’s release I could not have been more disinterested in what appeared to be a better looking Team Fortress 2. Sure, the trailers all seemed neat with their Pixar-like animation, but I was over class based shooters for nearly a decade now. In retrospect, I am more than happy to eat crow. Overwatch is simply in a class by itself in terms of game balance, level design, and outright personality. I cared just as much about getting to know the wonderful characters as I did advancing the payload, which speaks to how tightly designed the whole experience is. With constant updates and support coming from Blizzard, I expect that Overwatch will be my go-to PC shooter for a good long while.

  • Firewatch is not a flashy game. There’s no groundbreaking gameplay mechanic, no twist on an old formula to be found within it. The game is as exactly advertised: a slow paced adventure set in the middle of the remote wilderness. But through its low stakes and laid back nature, the game is able to craft a surprisingly poignant story about love, responsibility, and desire. Set to a beautiful soundtrack amid breathtaking vistas, Firewatch casts a spell that made me never want to leave Shoshone National Forest.

  • Initially rolling out with an incredibly unorthodox release strategy and confusing messaging, the episodic entry into IO Interactive’s storied series looked to be a colossal failure. But as the months wore on it became clear that Hitman was a game well worth checking out. The drip feed of levels and content throughout the year turned out to benefit the game’s design immensely, with players replaying the astoundingly dense levels with different objectives and equipment each time. The addition of time-limited content in the Elusive Targets also made the single player game one of the year’s best social experiences, as players would discuss how best to go about their one shot at killing their mark. Combine that with silky smooth stealth gameplay that rewarded experimentation, and you’ve got a game can be recommended to just about anyone. Season 2 can’t come soon enough.

  • Up until last week I hadn’t even considered this game as a possible favorite for 2016. What a difference 7 days makes. Christine Love’s latest, also referred to as Ladykiller in a Bind, is a well executed visual novel with sharp writing, great artwork, and a compelling risk-reward based dialog system. But what truly makes it special is its mature take on sex that deftly balances such heady themes as consent, respect, and power within (and without) the bedroom. Through it all, Ladykiller maintains that sex is, well, sexy. The game does not shy away from titillating the player and objectifying its characters while still acknowledging the agency of all parties involved. A bold step forward for sex in video games, Ladykiller in a Bind will be remembered for years to come as a landmark achievement.

  • If I had to guess back in January what would have topped my end of year list, I’d have probably said XCOM 2 (along with Persona 5 and Mass Effect: Andromeda, but I digress). The fact that it now sits near the bottom of my top 10 is not because of a perceived lack of quality, but rather because 2016 ended up being so unbelievably stacked with landmark titles. In any case, Firaxis has crafted a worthy follow-up to their incredible 2012 reboot by keeping enough of what worked while changing up things to stay fresh. The idea to set the game in a timeline that assumes the previous game ended in failure is ballsy, recalling Mass Effect 2’s famous opening, and it opens up a whole host of gameplay and narrative options. XCOM, now a ragtag group on the run from a seemingly invincible alien menace, must rely on guerilla tactics and ruthless prioritization in order to succeed. Marry that to the previous game’s already excellent turn-based battle system, and you’ve got one of the most addictive games of 2016.

  • Reboot, brand extension, graphical update. These are all terms that absolutely apply to Ratchet & Clank and are typically not words you find in a best of year list. Nevertheless, I can’t help but be enamored with my introduction to the adorable intergalactic duo. Perhaps I would be less hot on this game had I played the previous entries when they came out, but as it stands I can’t think of a release this year that so consistently put a smile on my face. The sublime hybrid shooter/platformer gameplay has been polished to a mirror sheen after over a decade of refinement and it shows. Add to that some of the best looking visuals on the PlayStation 4 and a sharp script with memorable characters, and this was an experience that I could not put down until the end.