Game of the Year 2016

January is practically over and I've had a few weeks to get some distance from and thoughts on all the fantastic games which I played last year.

In 2016 I had my longest break from gaming since I started the hobby. The three months I took to travel from Helsinki to Singapore by land was the best time of my life, but did not leave a lot of room or desire for big screens, controllers and the joys of video games. I did manage to fiddle with a few mobile games on the trains of Siberia, but that's about all I played until June.

Taking a long break from a hobby I love so much was clearly healthy and good for my wallet as well, since I was able to grab most of the spectacular games that came out early in the year for cheap. And play them on my refreshed PC with a new GPU to boot!

Like always a lot of spectacular games barely missed out being included on this list. As such, I'd like to give a few honorable mentions to games like Civilization VI, Uncharted 4, The Banner Saga 2, F1 2016 and Mafia III. I'd also like to commend a few games in the following categories.

Best Looking Game: DOOM

Runners-up: Inside, Abzû, Battlefield 1, The Witness, Forza Horizon 3, Gears of War 4

Best Music: DOOM

Runners-up: Mafia III, Abzû, Forza Horizon 3, Civilization VI, My Summer Car

Best Sounding Game: Battlefield 1

Runners-up: Inside, The Witness, Forza Horizon 3, DOOM

Best Multiplayer: Titanfall 2

Runners-up: Battlefield 1, Tricky Towers, Utimate Chicken Horse

Best Dumb Fun: Mafia III

Runners-up: My Summer Car, Hunie Pop

Most Relaxing Game: Abzû

Runners-up: Forza Horizon 3, Mafia III, DOOM

Best Old Game: Homeworld Remastered

Runners-up: Kerbal Space Program, Mortal Kombat X

Best Value: Forza Horizon 3

Runners-up: Civilization VI, Pokémon Go, Gears of War 4

And with that out of the way, here are my favorite games of 2016.

List items

  • Picking the top game on my list hasn’t been this easy in years. Playing trough DOOM after upgrading my GPU this fall was the best re-introduction to mouse & keyboard FPS-games I could have hoped for.

    The pure speed of the game in terms of haste of movement as well as frames-per-second is something I’ve not experienced in many many years. The ingenious combat puzzle system, which forces you to constantly switch out weapons, traverse the levels vertically and push at opponents with close-quarters shotgun and melee kills is smartly designed and incredibly satisfying. A humorous self-aware attitude and full frontal music envelop the game to create one of my favourite and most memorable gaming experiences of this decade.

  • Inside was probably the most pleasant surprise of the year for me. A relatively understated E3 announcement, followed by a quick succession of 5-star reviews and hushed conversations about this supposed new masterpiece by Playdead.

    Inside was everything I'd hoped for from a spiritual successor to Limbo; atmosphere as thick and dark as squid ink, clever puzzle design, a few good plot twists and one truly magnificent one as well as beautiful production values from the music to the animation. A short and exquisitely crafted experience which will stick in my mind for a long time.

  • This is quite positively the least surprising game on my list, because any Forza game is usually one of my most anticipated titles on any year.

    Forza Horizon 3 is largely successful as a sequel, growing features, and pure size on top of the fantastic groundwork laid before by its first two predecessors. The already great visuals and vast car-list have been improved upon and expanded even further, off-roading now gives the player true freedom and the weather effects have taken a major lesson from the tech used in Forza Motorsport 6.

    It's hard to find any real faults with the game, but I have a sense that this current formula of Forza Horizon has now peaked. The setting of Australia is neat, but doesn't differ that much from the two previous ones. And the driving still feels great, but has somewhat stagnated compared to the progress Turn 10 has made with the Motorsport franchise. The people at Playground Games will have to think of new formulas, locales and ways to freshen up the genre if they want to keep Horizon feeling exciting and energetic.

  • SUPERHOT is the most innovative shooter I've played in years!

  • Abzû manages to exceed the pure visual wonderment that stapled its predecessor Journey so firmly into my mind. While the storytelling in Abzû doesn’t quite live up to its big brother, the game still manages to create a stunningly beautiful world from which I had no intention of escaping from until the closing credits. Having just spent weeks swimming and snorkelling around islands in Thailand and Malaysia in the spring, Abzû brought back a lot of those memories in a very convincing and arresting way. Very rarely do I re-play games, but I’m already looking forward to diving back into the oceans of Abzû.

  • Gears 4 could not have come out at a better time. Having skipped Judgement myself, it’d been half a decade since I’d played a full-bore Gears game. Just enough time had passed that I’d started to feel a little nostalgic towards the genre. There was an irresistible warmth to the familiarity and simplicity of Gears, when compared to all the other shooters that have come out recently.

    The timing of Gears 4’s release also coincided with the Play Anywhere push by Microsoft, which enabled the game to reach new levels of visual splendour on the PC. After what I’d seen and heard of Judgement, I’d become a bit hesitant to trust Coalition with the franchise. But luckily the studio was able to craft a sequel which was able to at the same time laugh at and honour the legacy of the previous games in the franchise, as well as creating a bridge to new storylines and characters.

    I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing in which direction Coalition will take the cliff-hanger ending to. Then again, maybe this franchise really does benefit in staying in its grub hole for slightly too long, so that we can all learn to miss it once again.

  • While I did not get the same experience out of Titanfall 2’s single-player campaign as many people did, the multiplayer is still arguably the industry’s gold standard. Every mechanic in the game has been tweaked and tuned and the problems relating to item and upgrade scarcity largely fixed. And it all runs, looks, and sounds great to boot! Perhaps the greatest compliment to Titanfall 2, is its position over Battlefield 1 on my list this year. Battlefield has always been my go-to multiplayer shooter on the PC, so for any game to steer most of my attention away from a new Battlefield title is a huge feat.

    Sadly though, I simply can’t find the kind of time to dedicate to multiplayer shooters as I did back in the Halo 3 / Modern Warfare days. So, in the end, the scheduling of my private life prohibited me from truly enjoying this fantastic game.

  • As with Titanfall 2, it was hard for me to find the time to play a lot of Battlefield 1. In fact, the 10-hour Origin Access trial was plenty for me to get my taste of WW1. I’m glad that DICE decided to take the series back to its roots, and at the same time avoid the amphetamine fuelled trend of 300mph shooters that Respawn and Activision are chasing.

    Even though BF1 is a slower-paced shooter, it doesn’t mean that the game isn’t hectic as all hell. Seeing mud, grass, bodies, bullets, and gas fly all around me while just handing out bandages in a ditch was a more intense of an experience than any wall-run or jetpack-headshot in Titanfall 2.

    I didn’t find a lot of time to play Battlefield 1 this year, but these games have always had long legs for me. Perhaps after a few DLC releases I’ll jump back in the muck and shovel a duder or two in the head.

  • I wasn’t at all sure if I was enjoying the Witness while I was playing it. The puzzles often frustrated and confused my simple mind. It was a little too slow to walk around the map. Sometimes I knew the solution for a puzzle but was just struggling to execute.

    Even with, or perhaps strictly because, of these irritations, images of The Witness carved themselves in my mind quite effectively. The simply effective sound design and contrast-full visuals created a brilliant atmosphere in which to concentrate on the task of puzzling. And the feeling of reward upon figuring out a solution, sometimes after nights of dreams full of lines and odd statues, was extremely elevating.

  • I was very pleased to see that IO Interactive were able to course-correct after Absolution and find the right path for the future of the Hitman franchise. While I still look back at the levels and scenarios in Blood Money with more fondness, it’s clear that the episode-based format works well and is a good one for IO to build on.

    While I think that the game is excellent in its execution, my gameplay experience was perhaps a little tainted by the wealth of Giant Bomb content surrounding the game as well as by choosing to play all the episodes consecutively within a single week. Maybe I’ll hop aboard the train next season and experience each devilish setting and scenario to their fullest.