Best of 2016

2016 was...Not a great year. That information probably isn't surprising to you. It wasn't completely without merit though, and some of those merits were video games (I also went to Disneyland & Universal Studios Hollywood to see that cool Springfield USA Simpsons area, but that's neither here nor there - this is a video games website, dammit!).

And so, here is a list of ten games this year which were bright sports and helped me while away some time ignoring the often depressing world at large. An honourable mention as well to my 2015 runner-up for Game of the Year, Life is Strange, which I cherished in parts of this year as well. It's a very good game, people. And also my 2015 Game of the Year, Super Mario Maker. Which is literally infinite Super Mario. I should not have to explain why that continues to be awesome.

There are a few games which would possibly be on this list if I had found time to play more of them, or play them at all in some cases (like many of you, I have a hefty backlog). Some of them are probably games you'd expect to see below over some of my choices. That's just the way things have worked out. Those games are:

I might put out an updated list once I've played those enough to re-assess - they are all on my to-play list. With the possible exception of the last one, since I'm platform-excluded from it right now and I don't know when that it is likely to change (I do not feel I can justify buying an Xbox One just for Forza, Halo & Cuphead. I could alternatively buy a PC, but I really don't want to as I have nowhere to put one).

Anyway, onto the list!

List items

  • Firewatch is a masterpiece. It is a singular work of art of utterly exacting quality, the type of achievement that that comes along very rarely in any medium. Some technical rough edges with the launch PS4 version were the only quibbles I had with this brilliant game. The spectacular visuals, engaging and entertaining story, the top-notch voice over work, the simple but novel gameplay elements...All of it came together in an experience which has stuck with me all year long. I played through it the first time in one sitting, and left wholly satisfied. This is an uncommonly well-realised experience. Game of the Year.

  • As you may know, I enjoy a good stealth game. My poison of choice has traditionally been the Metal Gear Solid series - which I enjoyed for the sandbox offered by the systems in its gameplay. Not for its ever-unfolding & increasingly baffling narrative (Of which I am a firm, if muted, critic). No, what I liked was sneaking in, messing things up for the enemy, and sneaking right back out. Metal Gear Solid's sneak-in, sneak-out gameplay hit its peak in Metal Gear Solid 3, and returned to those heights in 2015 with Phantom Pain - which I named third best game of that year for providing "the last word" in sneak-in, sneak-out gameplay. In part, that was because I knew Konami was unlikely to properly continue the series with the departure of Hideo Kojima (and so it seems with that...Survival. Zombies...Thing they announced).

    What a stroke of luck then that IO Interactive, whose Hitman series I have oft gazed curiously at in the past, smashed back onto the scene in 2016 with their magnum opus reboot, simply titled Hitman. Hitman is nothing short of spectacular. It is so vast and intricate and well executed that I still haven't played all of its scenarios. And yet it has eaten up a massive amount of my gameplay time. Drawing me back in time and again with new chapters and tempting me with its smaller challenges. Stealth has a new home. And I couldn't be happier.

  • OBJECTION! This game doesn't have nearly enough Phoenix and Maya (In her triumphant - and preposterously belated - return to the series)! OBJECTION! The DLC Case fixes that problem.

    Dropping that trite and predictable gag, this is a great entry in the Phoenix Wright series. The trademark charm & inventiveness remain; while the implications for the wider narrative of the series are actually surprisingly interesting. After Dual Destinies needled the morality of practising law, Spirit of Justice explores the personal implications of investigation and the role of perception. It's not a game which would change any minds on the series, but for an existing fan like myself, it's a very satisfying sequel.

    Now if they could just bring back Detective Gumshoe...

  • Back in 2010, Disney Epic Mickey narrowly beat out my beloved Halo: Reach (My personal favourite Halo game ever made, even now). One reason is that I love Disney in general and Mickey Mouse in particular, so a game so slavishly devoted to Disney history and helmed by the iconic big cheese himself was about as directly pitched at me as my favourite movie - Star Wars: The Force Awakens (A Star Wars Movie, made by Disney & directed by JJ Abrams is basically like crack to me).

    The other reason is that I was born in the 90s, so I was raised playing 90s collect-em-up 3D Platformers like Crash Bandicoot, to which Disney Epic Mickey was a knowing (and well-crafted) throwback. Those games evolved in the early 2000s to games like...Ratchet & Clank.

    I played the hell out of the original Ratchet & Clank. Yet when Sony started talking about this reboot, I wasn't initially interested. In part, because it seemed too obviously like a tie-in to the Ratchet & Clank movie nobody wanted. And it is. But, as I learned after seeing my brother playing it, it's also a good enough re-imagining of the original that it stands apart from the movie. So I bought it. And I played it. And I played it. Until I squeezed every last drop - and the Platinum Trophy (I rarely bother with such things - only two other games have hooked me enough) out of it. It's nice to see this kind of game with modern enhancements.

    Bring on the Crash Bandicoot remasters.

  • As I mentioned in the previous entry, The Force Awakens is my favourite movie of all time. I watched it twice as many times in theatres as I had ever watched any movie in theatres before. I own it for personal viewing three times over. And the novelisation. And an ungodly amount of merchandise. But there was no game to go with it (aside from Battlefront, which is a decent game but not really meaningfully attached to the sequel trilogy).

    Then it got the LEGO Treatment. I've liked many of the LEGO games, just as I like the actual toys (and that marvellous LEGO Movie). But the original "LEGO [Franchise]" Games have always been the best to me. I've never not had a good time with them in all the years they've been doing them.

    I own this one on 3DS & PS4. I haven't yet had time to devote to thrashing the hell out of it on PS4 (I want to really go at it so I can get that Platinum), but my time with it on 3DS and playing the PS4 demo in multiplayer have been enough to convince me that Traveller's Tales have done it again. And with my favourite property ever. Obviously, this one gets my seal of approval.

  • Until very recently, this game was actually one place down on the list. But I've been playing it in almost all my spare moments since I went to visit my parents for Christmas, and I've developed a greater appreciation for what Super Mario Run is.

    I understand the frustrations people have with it. It's neither particularly like most mobile games or particularly like most Super Mario games - and I mean both mechanically & structurally. What it does instead is chart a middle course. It takes some getting used to.

    But once you do, it reveals itself as a very refined game with a lot of replay value. Tour Mode does seem short, because it is. That's because it's not following the grand adventure model of Super Marios past. Similarly, it's not infinitely self-perpetuating in the same way most of the great mobile games are. Instead, it takes the elements of the New Super Mario Bros series which were aimed at completionists and expands them into a lengthy & challenging series of tasks to hammer away at, while mixing in elements from the multiplayer to create an asynchronous experience which is bitesized, but has a lengthy meta game.

    There's a lot to do, it's just easy to see it as repetitive. But for zoning out and trying to get into a rhythm, it's exceptional. I think a healthy reverence for the New Super Mario Bros games is helpful too. I love them (I 100%'d the original on all three Save Slots just because I could) so the elements it extrapolates from them appeal a lot. If you prefer older Super Mario Bros formulae to the exclusion of the New take...I can see how it might not have the same appeal. But for me, it's a damn fun time.

  • Pokémon Go was the highest-ranked mobile game on this list until the last week of the year. While Super Mario Run may ultimately have stolen my preference, I still have a lot of good things to say about Niantic's inventive spin on the Pokémon franchise.

    If nothing else, tossing Poké Balls at Pokémon projected into your real world environment by AR is a cool mechanic. And the experience of just walking around the real world and encountering them is undeniably neat.

    The basic frustrations of practicality are why I ultimately let Mario run ahead (heh) at the last minute. The addition of an Apple Watch app to make things slightly more practical late in the year was welcome...But I've had some issues with getting it to reliably work right on my Watch, so those niggling issues have to be addressed before I'll be able to be as devoted to Go as I would like to be. Nonetheless, a throughly cool little game.

  • Codemasters continue to do good work with their F1 series. Despite a dearth of competition (Not just in Formula 1 games - as the exclusive licensee - just in racing games in general. There's so many fewer series than there used to be, and they release entries much less frequently), they continue to improve and advance their games each year.

    Sure, 2015 did drop some features from years past to smooth the belated transition to current gen hardware, but its gameplay was well crafted. F1 2016 refines that gameplay further and reintroduces modes like Career to beef out the package once more. F1 2016 then is the best F1 game from Codies yet. About 10 years ago, there were signs Sony's Studio Liverpool were phoning it in as the official licensee. Codies have managed to avoid repeating that performance. Bravo.

  • Yes, I bought myself a VR Headset. Sony's more affordable option allows me to experience some truly exceptional VR Gameplay. The best of the bunch for me so far (Bearing in mind I've yet to get my hands on Job Simulator) is the game I bought with it - RIGS: Mechanized Combat League.

    RIGS is a game with an exceptionally good feel. It's just very satisfying to move around and aim the game's titular mechs. Every developer working on a VR traditional First Person Shooter should play the hell out of RIGS to see what it does right.

    But it's also a great game in its own right. RIGS takes the first person shooter back to a realm it last really excelled at in the early-to-mid-2000s (though it first landed there as early as the 90s): future sports. RIGS evokes the classic Bombing Run fun from Unreal Tournament 2004, juicing it up with the trappings of hyper-commercialised 2016-era eSports & real commercial sports. It's a great concept, magnificently executed and it's some of the most fun you can have in VR.

  • Yes, No Man's Sky. I liked this game. I'm not completely enamoured of it. Had I played some of those extra five games from the intro, I imagine it would have slipped off this list. But I enjoyed it. I never felt, as many apparently did, that it failed to live up to my expectations. I got exactly what I expected from it. Does it have some frustrating limitations and questionable design choices? Yes. Hence why it's so low on this list and on the bubble for being beaten by some of the games I didn't get to. But I think it's a good game. I enjoyed myself playing it. I like how it looks, I liked how relaxed it was and I liked how easy it was to grasp. Is it a masterpiece? Far from it. But I liked it well enough, and I never felt its backlash was justified. But to each their own.