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My Late Late GOTY 2016 List

Yeah, I put this off way longer than I should, but I promised myself I'd finish it regardless of when.

And here we are. I won't really write much of that long, obligatory introductory paragraph, because I think 2016 as a whole doesn't deserve it. For all the shit that's happened. So I'll make it short: Last year sucked ass, but was a pretty fine time for video games. Here's my top 10 for 2016, plus a few Honorable Mention that didn't quite make it.

Enjoy. For whomever actually reads it. Cheers.

List items

  • Blizzard’s been known to polish their games to a nice mirror sheen, and Overwatch is no exception. Constant updates to notify us of balance changes or hero tweaks they’ve been doing (and will do), as well as potential new heroes, maps and game modes show their dedication to give Overwatch longevity. The commitment they’ve shown to this extraordinary game is one of the reasons I keep coming back for more. If they keep doing what they’ve been doing since launch, they have my support. Hopefully, so will the rest of the fanbase, so long as we smartly avoid the subject of butts, body figures, and what makes a legendary skin ‘cool’ or not. But I digress.

    Perhaps the best reason why Overwatch is its own thing is because of the colorful, diverse pool of heroes, each with their own unique abilities and personalities. No character is a carbon copy of each other. I’m eager to try out every single one to determine which heroes are the right fit for me and which ones I will forever suck at (looking at you, Genji). Gameplay is tight and engaging; simple to pick up, but hard to master. Visual and sound design? Outstanding. Cheesy ultimate ability lines, fired weapons, and even footsteps are so distinguishable you know exactly who is who and where they might be lurking. Map/level design? With the exception of (the cancer that is) Hanamura, the maps are generally well made and well balanced. Play the game long enough, and you begin to memorize payload routes, chokepoints, shortcuts for hit-and-run tactics, and health pack locations to retreat to. Overall, Overwatch encourages team play without K/D ratio or points being the number one focus. Victory is achieved through teamwork -- keeping each other alive and holding objectives while keeping the opposing force at bay. Skillful play is rewarded with the Play of the Game feature, showing off who pulled off a quintuple kill or which Mercy hid better from the enemy, then resurrected all their teammates to hold the objective. Not one match turns out quite the same as the next.

    Part of what also makes Overwatch tick is it pays homage to shooters of old. It hearkens back to a past era when games merely had Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, yet people were satisfied enough, losing themselves in those modes alone for hours on end, honing their skills against others in tournaments and LAN parties. Overwatch scratches that familiar itch for many, myself included. And despite our desire for more content we’ll no doubt receive in the future, we’ll always go back to its Quick Play and/or Competitive core; arguably, it’s where Overwatch is at its finest (loot boxes are also a thing). For all the games I’ve played in the same vein as Overwatch, no other motivated me to learn how each hero works, gradually develop my skills, and indulge the competitive side in me I’ve always avoided. No other game (in any genre) gave me this much fighting chance to eventually stage a comeback. No other game like it has given me this much joy to play for long stretches and lose sleep because of it. Put it simply, Overwatch is something special. Hands down my game of the year.

    Can't wait for Terry Crews as Doomfist.

  • If you’re looking for the definitive Hitman experience, this is it.

    Hitman is a well-crafted and insanely delightful assassins' playground that just dares you to be as creative as possible. In other stealth games, I feel fairly limited in the things I can do. On the other hand, Hitman offers me 50 ways to potentially eliminate my targets. I can electrocute people, throw them off a balcony; drown them with a toilet; poison their Bare Knuckle Boxer or fugu; stick a remote mine next to them and blow them to pieces while walking away; strangle them; throw a knife at their face; slit their throats with a circumcision knife; stick 'em with a fire axe, so on and so forth. Then the disguises. I can kill them as a sheik, a janitor, a therapist, and even as Helmet Fucking Kruger. Then when everyone’s dead, make a grand getaway by helicopter or by speedboat. It’s rather simple, really; you blend in, you kill, you escape, and no one’s the wiser. Hitman lets you revel in those moments, often rewarding you with new starting locations and weapons as you complete specific challenges. There are even more opportunities you can uncover as you keep exploring, so there’s always an incentive to do things differently than you did previously. Hitman grants you absolute freedom to do whatever the hell you want, and I’m always excited to do whatever dumb thing the game strongly suggests I can do. Additionally, there are plenty of other content to sample, such as Escalation and Elusive targets, and even create your own twisted contracts. IO Interactive deserves all the praise; they’ve created something truly marvelous, and I simply can’t wait for what Season 2 has in store for us.

  • I sunk a lot of hours into XCOM: EU back back in 2012. I probably spent too much time naming my soldiers after friends and family, then screaming bloody murder when they're killed on the battlefield. I'm happy to report that nothing's changed in the sequel. XCOM 2 is all of its predecessor, and then some. A whole lot more of it. Battles are more intense and challenging. It constantly keeps you on your feet and pulls you in critical situations, forcing you to leave your comfort zone and rethink your strategies. XCOM 2 almost never gives you time to relax, always throwing limited-time events at you and slapping you in the face with a countdown to endgame not even halfway through the single player campaign. Yeah, this game's a dick.

    New enemy units are also introduced that are terrifying in their own way, mostly because they threaten your soldiers' chance of survival. Thankfully, you have some advantages of your own. I love the moments when you get the drop on the enemy instead of the other way around. You take your fully concealed squad in position, take the first shot; an ADVENT soldier goes limp, and the rest of the enemy scrambles for cover. Overwatch works as intended, effectively eliminating the rest of the (visible) aliens in one go. Suddenly, a Sectopod comes out of nowhere, and your best soldier succumbs to mind control. But you're ready for it. Your Ranger is still invisible and ambushes a Sectoid to break the mind control. That soldier then gets a free turn and eliminates an enemy. You then give the enemy a taste of its own medicine, ordering your Psi Ops soldier to mind control an Andromedon to act as a meat shield against the Sectopod. Next thing you know, you're turning the tide of battle and eventually finish the mission. Everyone survives.

    Much like the first game, XCOM 2 is tough and sometimes fair. The RNG gods may be in your favor for the first three turns, and then they turn against you for the rest of the mission. A soldier dies because a Muton gets a critical hit even at full health. And vice versa. But hey, it's not a true XCOM experience without all the bullshit and frustration. It's addicting. And I love it.

  • Dishonored 2 gives you a new set of powers to mess around with, mainly around a new playable character, Emily and an improved Corvo's familiar skillset. I'm actually encouraged to use the rest of my powers instead of resorting to only two abilities I was ever interested in using, playing the rest of the game that way. The game strikes a better balance between stealth and open combat. Sure, you're still squishy in terms of taking damage, but your arsenal is nonetheless varied and effective in many situations. You don't have to always memorize guard patterns and the 'right' moment to strike; you can actually take out multiple enemies in a given area much faster than before. That's great.

    I was already expecting good things with Dishonored 2, after the previous one set a high bar already. Not only did it meet those expectations, it exceeded it. It's impressive in level design as well as visually. I was incentivized to explore the world and approach each mission in a different path. Sure, it’s more of the same, but Dishonored 2 tweaked and refined many of its features to craft an outstanding singular experience definitely worth getting into again.

  • I wish I’d actually spent time with the first Titanfall. In addition to the sequel’s already robust multiplayer, Titanfall 2 adds a long-requested single player. And boy, is it superb. It’s fast-paced and exciting, wall running, sliding, shooting, and time traveling your way through enemies and taking on some notable enemy Titans. I found myself liking the relationship between BT and Jack Cooper, how it gradually builds as you progress. Overall, the campaign itself was as solidly written as it was gratifying to finish.

    These days, it’s rare for me to enjoy story mode in a shooter, and Titanfall 2 succeeds in this regard by avoiding tropes that generally make them stale. Titanfall 2 is made to keep you moving instead of staying in one place at any given time, while providing all the tools to give you a much needed edge in battle. It wants you always on the run, forcing you to react on the fly without actually feeling like you’re too overwhelmed. Titanfall 2 strikes that good balance with game and level design, enemy AI, and how amazing it feels to control. Titanfall 2 also introduces a mechanic solely for one particular mission; giving you ample time to familiarize with it, throws in clever platforming puzzles while utilizing said mechanic, and gets rid of the entire thing after the mission is complete. I think it’s a smart idea, because it avoids overstaying its welcome, as well as making that mission unique for people to discuss. The only thing I’d change in the campaign is make boss fights more creative than just shooting enough bullets to open them up for some admittedly flashy execution animations. Of course, Titanfall 2’s multiplayer isn’t something to ignore either. The added verticality and cool abilities and weapon loadouts to try out make playing through modes like Hardpoint and Capture the Flag worthwhile. But perhaps my favorite is Last Titan Standing. Shooting down Titans while on foot as a Pilot is one of the most satisfying moments to pull off, especially when you start to mount a comeback at the last minute.

    It sucks, because Titanfall 2 is overall a fantastic, complete package shooter, and deserves more attention than what it’s getting right now. Whatever the case, though, I’ll be playing Titanfall 2 so long as Respawn keeps supporting it in the long run. This game needs more love. You should play it.

  • Doom is both modern and old school in the best way possible. Always full sprint; no reloading; projectiles instead of hitscan; pickups instead of waiting behind cover until your health regenerates; and the classic Doom weapons we’re all familiar with. It adds just the right amount of that modern touch -- such as weapon and armor upgrades, collectables, Glory Kills, and the like -- without losing what made the original Doom special in the first place. Like Titanfall 2, Doom amps up what can be done to invigorate the shooter campaign experience. There’s never a dull moment; you’re constantly moving, shooting and crushing demon heads along the way. Combining the sheer brutality of the iconic Doomguy (or Doom Slayer) towards the armies of Hell with nu/heavy metal just pumps me up every single time. You feel incredibly badass because the game deems that you are. You don’t fear the armies of Hell; Hell is afraid of YOU. You’re basically the John Wick of the Doom universe. I’m probably going to get a lot of flak from that. Sadly, I can’t do enough justice to the masterful single player, but I will say that it definitely lives up to the original. Not having to exist in the shadow of what made shooters the way they are now is quite a feat. I imagine id Software had a lot riding on their shoulders after they made significant changes when this was called Doom 4, but the end result is pretty damn awesome. Job well done.

    Oh, right, and there’s the multiplayer too.

  • [Insert obligatory statement for making a valid excuse to include yet another main Pokemon game, solely because it’s a damn Pokemon game, damnit, here]

  • Final Fantasy XV is a good game. I can't believe I'm actually saying that.

    For the first time in quite a while, I'm enjoying my time with a Final Fantasy game. More than I'm expecting. Other than it being a great looking game, the combat is fun and fluid, and there’s so much stuff to encounter in the world. Aside from the usual fetch quests, you can hunt down monsters for money, which can potentially go to improving your car or getting new gear. Leveling up isn’t such a chore anymore; they’ve done such a great job giving you many things to do and discover, that you almost forget you have to return to camp at some point. Next thing you know, you’ve jumped from level 10 to 30 in what seems like no time at all. I thought I would hate my companions for the entire game, and then I find myself gradually liking them. I no longer want to kill Prompto as he keeps humming the Final Fantasy Victory theme. I mean, what happened? Why is this game good? Goddamnit, I was ready to trash this game too! But now I can’t!

    What they've created and accomplished with Final Fantasy XV alone is a step in the right path (in my opinion, Nomura leaving the project was probably for the best). There have been many people, like me, who were tired of the direction Final Fantasy was going. The developers set their goals to bring those people back in the franchise, and honestly, they succeeded. I never thought I would like a Final Fantasy game ever again, and here I am praising it. Whatever Tabata and his team do for XV and for future flagship titles from here on out, keep it up. Stay the course. I’ll be along for the ride.

  • I never finished the original Odin Sphere. Not because I disliked it, but I put it aside temporarily to get other games out of the way. Sadly over time, I just forgot about it. Plus, I lost my PS2 copy. Whoops.

    Thankfully, I was able to revisit this game in its remastered form, and it’s a delight. Odin Sphere looked great back then, it looks even more visually stunning on the PS4. Little to no framerate issues in flashy boss fights; a much improved combat system and inventory management; meaningful additions like unlockable new abilities and levels; the inclusion of the original Odin Sphere as an option; a world very rich in narrative and interesting characters, and food. Lots and lots of food. Seriously, playing this game makes me hungry sometimes. Playing Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir altogether makes me happy, and I should play more of it. And yeah, the only reason why it’s not any higher on this list is because I haven’t finished it yet (fuck you, Overwatch). I will. Eventually. I promise this time.

  • Ratchet and Clank sets a new standard in how games should be remade. It's way more than a fresh coat of paint. It embraces both old and new. It gives you a reconstructed but familiar, colorful world complete with its quirky but memorable cast of characters, fantastic, cartoon-y visual quality, and an array of fun weapons and gadgets that can honestly take on any game universe. For me, it gives the series a much needed reinvigoration in a time when I thought the series was reaching its twilight years. Ratchet and Clank is alive and well, and has plenty of juice left in the tank, hopefully with new universes to explore and recognizable places to revisit in the (near) future.

  • Honorable Mention: This took some internal debating, but I'm ultimately okay with my decision to not include it in my top 10. However, I will say Uncharted 4 is a good game, with some improvements that provide a good balance between action set-pieces the series is known for and the option to approach a situation stealthily. The relationship between the Drake brothers is the best part of the story, and the sole reason I stuck around until the end. On top of that, it's one of the best looking games in years, and the sense of immersion and isolation I felt when I was traversing the quiet mountainous terrain of Madagascar was surprisingly calming, one I used as brief times of contemplation. Uncharted 4 for me was that game we never thought we ever needed. At the same time, I'm fine with it. I have a feeling I'll be alone in that opinion, and that's fine.

  • Honorable Mention: Journey but underwater.

  • Honorable Mention: Dark Souls meets Legend of Zelda. Haven't finished it yet. Shame on me. Again, fuck Overwatch.

  • Honorable Mention: I spent a chunk of time when Stellaris came out. I enjoyed it fairly well, but like any Paradox game, it was lacking in terms of content, diplomacy options, and the battles were pretty dry and dull at launch. It did eventually make up for it, being supported with hefty updates and system improvements, among other things. Perhaps it's time for me to come back to it after so long. I'm fairly new when it comes to 4X and Risk-like strategy games, and I'm grateful for Stellaris for being easy and straightforward enough for me to get into, compared to past Paradox titles.