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Way Too Late Best of 2016

I've had the order of this particular list saved as a note on my phone since the end of 2016, but unfortunately I just never got around to writing out my detailed thoughts on these games. It obviously would have been more pertinent if I had posted this list back then, instead of now in early 2018, but as I was brainstorming what to write about my favorite games from 2017, I felt the urge to go back and really give these 2016 games their due as well. My feelings towards some of these games have changed a bit in the past year, and in hindsight I probably would have ordered this list a bit differently based on my current opinions of these games. But in keeping with the spirit of GOTY as a time capsule, I won't change the order of my original list. With that said, I now present my 10 favorite games of 2016, as written in early 2018.

List items

  • As mentioned in the intro, if I was writing this list from scratch instead of holding true to my original 2016 rankings, then some of these games would have been moved up in the order and some games moved down. It's natural for thoughts about a game to shift over time. Trends change, gameplay and graphics become more refined, and personal tastes evolve. There are plenty of games that I remember fondly from the past that I am certain I would not enjoy at all if I were to revisit them today, and I am happy to just leave them alone as fond memories. Doom is not one of those games. I do not want to leave this game in the past. In fact, I think that I actually feel more strongly about having Doom as my #1 game of 2016 here and now in 2018 than I did back in the actual year of 2016. A year of hindsight has made me appreciate what a masterpiece this game truly was. I think the thing that impresses me the most about this game is the fact that the developers had the audacity to really go for it, and forge their own path. They didn't make a game that felt like it was designed by a focus group, they didn't make Call of Doom, and they didn't rip off a bunch of mechanics from other games to make some kind of Frankenstein-shooter. Instead, they embraced the mechanics and gunplay of classic Doom, while bringing them up to modern standards. The result is nothing short of fantastic. The shooting is excellent, the movement is fluid, and the enemies are fun to slaughter. Top it off with a solid (if not slightly cheesy) story and some of the most kickass music in recent gaming memory, and you've got a winner on your hands. I am eagerly awaiting the inevitable sequel.

  • Speaking of eagerly-awaited sequels, I cannot wait to see what comes next from the Hitman team and how they build upon the amazing sandbox that they created in this game. Hitman is such a unique experience in terms of its replayability. I honestly cannot remember ever playing a game that gave me such a strong urge to jump back into the exact same level that I had just completed, but time and time again I would finish a Hitman mission and then immediately replay it in order to attack it from a new angle. In addition to the replayability factor, the inclusion of Elusive Targets was a brilliant design decision. The rush of adrenaline that comes from successfully eliminating an Elusive Target is one of the most unique experiences in gaming, and helps to cement Hitman as not only one of my favorite games of 2016, but of all time.

  • When I first ordered this list back in 2016 I debated placing Titanfall 2 higher up than the #3 spot, based on the fact that it seemed to be more of a "complete package" than the two games ahead of it, featuring both an excellent campaign AND a solid multiplayer component. I ultimately settled on dropping it to the #3 spot after much internal debate, and now with a year of hindsight I believe that this was the correct choice. I still believe the campaign was remarkable as far as shooters go, with the time-shifting level in particular being one of my favorite campaign missions in any shooter I've ever played. But while I still look back very fondly on that campaign, I fell off the multiplayer pretty hard when the calendar rolled over from 2016 to 2017. At the time of release I was enjoying the multiplayer, but given more time with it I came to the conclusion that it didn't do enough differently from the first game's multiplayer to hold my attention for very long. While I admire the post launch support that the game has received, the core shooting wasn't engaging enough to keep me interested. Still, even though I cooled on the multiplayer, the campaign alone makes this game worthy of the #3 spot.

  • They don't make 'em like this any more. Seriously, they don't -- couch co-op is basically extinct, much to my dismay. Split-screen is no longer seen as a necessary feature, even in games like Halo where it was previously seen as a staple. Overcooked is a joyous, frustrating, and all-around hilarious good time with a full group of friends. This game is now a staple of my family gatherings around the holidays, and even after sinking probably 50 hours into it, I still have a blast playing this game with a group.

  • The first 75% of Inside is just masterful. My favorite part about this game is the way that the environments seamlessly blend from one to the next. It's remarkable how much story they were able to tell simply from the world that reveals itself as you progress forward. But, the ending really soured me on the entire game. I won't delve into spoilers here, but I will say that I didn't think that the last act of the game adequately fit the dark and moody tone that had been so effectively established throughout the earlier portions of the game. The tone shifted so abruptly, and went from being serious and affecting to something that felt much more lighthearted and closer to slapstick comedy at times. Further -- trying to tiptoe around spoilers here -- I specifically disliked the sound design and animation of the "thing" at the end of the game, and even those final puzzles had a strange sense of dark comedy to them that just didn't jive with the tone of rest of the game. With that said, a subpar ending wasn't enough to ruin my opinion of this game, and I still consider it one of the best of 2016.

  • Forza Horizon 3 is one of the games that definitely would have ranked higher on this list if I was re-ordering it now after a full year has passed. The Australian setting was simply stunning, and the joy of blasting around the countryside in various supercars with some bumpin tunes playing on the radio is something that I still am not tired of, even now in early 2018. Both the Blizzard Mountain and Hot Wheels expansions were phenomenal, and gave me plenty of reasons to jump back into the world of Horizon (which I would have done regardless, in all honesty). Of all the games on this list, I think Horizon 3 is the one that I have played and enjoyed most in 2017, and I will continue to sink time into this game until the inevitable Forza Horizon 4 is released (fingers crossed that the rumors of a Japan setting come true).

  • Stardew Valley is another game that might have been a bit higher on this list if I had been re-ordering it now. This is a game that I played and greatly enjoyed last year as a PC game on Steam, but after double dipping with the Switch copy this year, I have lost even more time to tending my farm and building relationships with the townfolk in 2017 than I did in 2016. It's charming and addictive and the only real knock I have against it is the fact that it becomes such an easy time sink, where if you blink you've suddenly lost a few hours as you find more and more tasks to accomplish.

  • When Gears of War 3 was released back in 2011, I omitted it from my GOTY list for that year on the basis of it being too "samey" as the other installments in the trilogy (side note, 2011 was the last year prior to this one that I actually bothered to write a top 10 list for GOTY, whoops). And now here we are in early 2018, as I put together my belated thoughts on my favorite games of 2016, and I find myself including Gears of War 4 on this top 10 for nearly the exact same reason that Gears 3 was omitted in 2011. Back then, I had grown slightly tired of the Gears formula, and while I still enjoyed the gameplay loop and had a fondness for the series overall, it wasn't as impactful the 3rd time around as it had been for the first two installments. Now, after many years away from the franchise, I am thrilled that Gears 4 feels EXACTLY like a Gears of War game. Maybe it's a bit hypocritical of me to now be happy about a game that sticks to the formula instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, but personally I'm thrilled that for once someone made a game in an existing franchise that looks and feels like the others that preceded it. In the time since my last GOTY list in 2011, I have watched as one of my favorite franchises, the Halo series, has been reduced to a shell of its former self both in terms of gameplay and cultural relevance. I had a lot of optimism back in 2011 that the handoff from Bungie to 343 would mean better days ahead for Halo, after the general disappointment that was Halo: Reach (campaign was pretty good, multiplayer was pretty bad). Little did I know that 343 would continuously botch their handling of the franchise. They chased industry trends, they ignored feedback from their most dedicated players, and they were so eager to leave their own mark on Halo that they completely changed the core gameplay for the worse (and we won't delve into the atrocity that was the MCC here, but that obviously is another blemish). So given how the Halo franchise has spiraled down the drain for years now, I had zero expectations for Gears of War 4. Entirely new studio created solely to carry on the legacy of a previously titanic Xbox first-party franchise? I saw what happened with 343, and even though I didn't have nearly the same attachment to Gears as I did to Halo, I was prepared for the worst. Thankfully, Gears 4 stuck to the traditional Gears formula, and it's better for it. They stuck to gameplay design that worked in the older games, and they put together a fairly engaging story that had a bit of a nostalgic bent to it but managed to feel fresh. Bravo to The Coalition, and I look forward to Gears 5.

  • I don't have too much to say about Battlefield 1, mostly because it is very competent at what it does. It's a Battlefield game through and through, and the WWI setting was an interesting shift for the series. The Battlefield games are ones that I often enjoy playing with my old high school buddies around the holidays when we all have some free time, and Battlefield 1 proved to be perfectly adequate at providing some hilarious and thrilling moments that only the Battlefield series can offer (planes crashing into horses, etc). I didn't play much of this game beyond the end of 2016, but I greatly enjoyed the time that I did spend with it.

  • Mini Metro is a quirky little game that appears on its surface to be a relaxing time waster, but for me turned into an addictive and often frustrating experience in urban planning. I still go back to this one from time to time, and attempt to get those pesky triangles and squares and circles to their preferred destination. Sometimes sublime, sometimes so frustrating that I want to hurl my phone against the wall, but always interesting, Mini Metro is an underrated gem of 2016.