Presumptive 2016 GOTY Contenders

Updated fairly constantly. We'll see what's still on this list when the year is done. Includes honourable mentions, a few speculative additions that aren't out yet or I just haven't played yet, and maybe some real clunkers as well. You can ignore those. It don't matter. None of this matters.

No pages exist in the Giant Bomb database for DreamBreak or Random Access Murder, which are currently on my backlog.

List items

  • The best game of the year until Overwatch hit, which still gives Stardew a good six month run at the top of my charts. It could probably find itself cresting that hill again if I ever find the time to check out that big 1.1 patch. Maybe I don't even need to.

    I never enjoyed a Harvest Moon or an Animal Crossing nearly as much as Stardew Valley. Not even the originals. Stardew is an exceedingly rare example of a game that guns hard for a very specific set of inspirations and blows them all out of the water. It's a really special thing, a defining work, the sort that comes around maybe once a decade and continues to evolve.

    Regardless of what's been added and what's still to come, the revelation that Stardew Valley was right from the start, especially as such an unexpected hit, has been nothing short of remarkable, especially from a development team of exactly one (1) dude.

  • I haven't enjoyed a shooter this much since LAN parties were a thing. Everything about Overwatch feels immediately familiar in all the best ways. Maybe "comfortable" is actually the better word? Right out of the gate it's managed to nail the x-factors I loved about competitive shooters circa-Unreal Tournament/Quake 3 Arena while keeping the various advancements made in the interim and being smart enough to jettison most of the stuff that doesn't matter. There's an unusual wisdom to how Overwatch presents itself which is usually missing at launch, especially in a fresh IP, that goes beyond just the expected Blizzard polish.

    Post-launch updates, particularly Ana, Sombra, and the Arcade overhaul, have only enhanced the experience. The seasonal events are mostly great. Even the memes are hot fire. 2016 managed to run just about every other once-fun chunk of internet culture right into the goddamned ground, but somehow, goofy Overwatch jokes escaped unharmed. I call that a win.

  • A surprisingly strong smaller kinda outta-nowhere release that does all the stuff I love about modern story-centered adventure games and adds some truly disturbing psychological horror elements. Also features a lot of great character work somewhat flirting around the edges of what Life is Strange was playing with the previous year. Unfortunately it was released very early in 2016, so I'll be sad when pretty much everyone forgets about it come GOTY season, if they haven't already.

    A free New Game+ DLC thing also exists and is pretty cool.

  • Backlogged until I find the time to actually play the damn thing. The sequel to my 2012 GOTY is supposedly a tad rougher around the edges but still absolutely worth considering on this list once I get to it, so I expect it to finish at least a couple slots into the top ten.

  • Excellent, but Stellaris has slid down several notches as the launch afterglow wore off, even with a few content patches. Which isn't to say that the big "Clarke" and "Asimov" updates haven't helped Stellaris' longevity, and I'm sure future additions will keep that trend going; it just hasn't quite had the staying power I expected, at least not enough to keep Civilization VI from eating its lunch, and it has a lot of the same UI problems which bother me in all strategy games.

    Minor concerns aside, this is still one of the best 4X games in years. For space 4X in particular, maybe it's been decades? The gold standard Master of Orion 2 might actually be the last time a space 4X was as good or better than Stellaris.

  • Civilization VI kinda-sorta takes the "well duh of course this makes the list" slot that Persona 5 was forced to abdicate. I don't necessarily subscribe to the popular gamer groupthink of "Civ games only get good with expansions" but even if I did, I'd still be pretty damned impressed by this latest edition, which launched on day one with nearly everything Civilization V had in its final form, plus loan mechanics from Endless Legend and some hard lessons learned from Beyond Earth (though perhaps not quite enough.)

    Civilization VI is a somewhat-near-perfect Civ experience as-is and future updates and expansions are very unlikely to undo that accomplishment, even if they fail to address some of VI's core issues with AI and UI.

  • What is Firewatch? As it turns out, it's a gorgeous and very well-acted walky-adventurey-thing (I find the term "walking simulator" to be reductive as shit so I refuse to use it) marred only slightly by some (temporarily) ungainly controls and a divisive ending. An enjoyable experience nonetheless, and another great example of video game characterization coming into its own.

  • The more I think about Hyper Light Drifter, the more I like it, despite being kind of terrible at it. It's definitely far too pretty to ignore just because of my own skill deficiencies, doing more with the ever-evolving-yet-increasingly-rote pixelart trappings than most games I've seen recently, like a Perturbator music video you can fiddle with. Most importantly, in a genre where games live or die on the tightness of their controls, few others handle as well as Hyper Light Drifter.

  • It feels a bit insane to say "hey, Starbound is out" and "hey, Starbound is a 2016 release" but here we are, three years (?) after the initial 80-something hours I put into the Early Access version on Steam, talkin' 'bout Starbound like it's still wet behind the ears.

    I still really like it though. The full release version has finally pulled together the disparate questing and loose story threads that we only caught glimpses of beforehand and spun it all into something that finally feels cohesive and structured, which is great, even if it delays a lot of the open world sandbox wandering by a few hours or more.

    A lot of people shit on this thing throughout its time in Early Access, deservedly so at times, hyperbolic-ass mountains made of molehills at others, but Starbound 1.0+ seems to have carved-out a pretty nice place for itself and compares very favourably to the current state of No Man's Sky.

  • I never played Limbo, but now that I've taken a run at Inside, I feel like I don't really need to. A stark-yet-subtle aesthetic, intuitive puzzle design, a great sense of forward momentum, and some of the most disturbing and evocative environmental storytelling I've seen in years, all combines for one of the most memorable experiences of 2016. Anyone who says they saw that last act coming is a damned liar.

  • It's a Commander Sisko simulator, which is something I never knew I wanted. Halcyon 6 combines XCOM-style base building (in space!) with slight 4X elements, a little Star Control 2 flavouring, and old-school JRPG-ish turn-based combat with spaceships and redshirts alike.

    Halcyon is an amazing little melting pot of great old design concepts which blend together just well enough to exceed the sum of its parts.

  • Here for the same reasons as XCOM 2, with the not-unimportant difference being that I've actually got around to playing it. It's probably more likely than XCOM to fall off unless I actually find the time to finish it, unfortunately. But it's more Banner Saga, which is only a good thing.

    It might not crack the top ten, but Banner Saga 2 is quite likely a good choice for an "honourable mentions" list. You may as well assume that anything ranked 11 or lower qualifies for such a distinction until my tone turns sour in some of these descriptions.

  • By replacing the typical roguelike combat entirely with twitchy bullet hell shooting, Enter the Gungeon has solved one of my bigger problems with most games of its ilk, even if it means that my sluggish old man reflexes may never beat a single boss without substantial (read: younger) help in co-op. I'll take the trade-off.

    Sadly, I get the feeling that Gungeon might not be quite as deep as I'd like it to be; a little too Binding of Isaac, not quite enough Dungeons of Dredmor. Perhaps. But there's an update coming next year which might help.

  • All the pre- and post-release allusions to Chrono Trigger have done I Am Setsuna a disservice, which admittedly is an outcome I should've seen coming. It's a mostly-fine RPG, it's got a lot of the mechanics you'd expect from those comparisons nailed down pretty well, but it's also missing most of the intangibles that made Chrono Trigger so memorable. Come at the king, you'd best not miss.

  • A great experience, particularly notable for its great lead character, her fantastic voice actor, and an interesting twist on the familiar post-apocalyptic setting. That said, the technical limitations of the game engine are unfortunate, if not necessarily outright busted or otherwise disqualifying.

  • An interesting new take on the burgeoning non-combat exploration/adventure genre with a very slight survival element. Great visuals, a fantastic minimalist UI, slick overall presentation, chill soundtrack. It seems to take a much lighter approach to its storytelling, peppering insights around the edges, which may turn some folks off. Definitely something I plan on revisiting.

  • Aye, it be a fine Videoball, but sure it is no Windjammers.

  • No Man's Sky is unlikely to rise into my Top 10 or qualify as an honourable mention even with the recent "foundation" patch. At launch and prior to the early fixes it was either completely unplayable or kind of a mess, depending on your mileage. Mine fell somewhere in the middle. It was enough to put me off a return barring some kind of massive turnaround, and one update advertised as "a foundation of things to come" isn't exactly encouraging. Yet.

    Maybe a little more optimization and a lot more content will finally be enough to revitalize No Man's Sky, but not if the balance between depth and breadth continues to wade so far in the shallow end of the pool. Solving that problem will probably take several major updates, easily putting this out of contention in its own release year - especially compared to Starbound, which has all that plus far more personality at 1.0.

    While I am once again bothered by the eye-rolling toxicity of the backlash, I'll still be shocked if No Man's Sky doesn't take Giant Bomb's 2016 Most Disappointing Game award, sprinting away with it full tilt, leaving all the year's other disappointments covered in its weird grainy neon dust.

  • A 2016 release that I played in 2016 and that's the only reason it's on the list. It's okay though, a perfectly cromulent shmup in the expected retro style.

  • A (perhaps deceptively?) complicated card game that seems very well made but it's just not really the kind of thing that ever appeals to me in a digital form. Good art, great voice acting, "for a CCG" or otherwise.

  • I launched this one by accident because sometimes Steam registers one mouse click as a double click, or I was super tired, I don't know. Seemed to freeze on startup. Definitely froze on shutdown. There was a game of some sort in the middle there, I think? Looked like an extremely roughly put together sci-fi take on Hotline Miami, moved okay, sounded like a bunch of dubstep drops looped together.

    Woof.

  • Backlogged. Could finish high.

  • Backlogged. Not expecting much.

  • Backlogged. Looks like a solid contender.

  • Backlogged. An oddball choice, likely honourable mention.

  • Backlogged. Multiplayer focus might leave it behind.

  • Backlogged. Still working up the courage to face it.

  • Backlogged. Not sure what to think. Goon-made!