Best of 2016

lt’s almost cliché to say at this point the absolute insanity the rollercoaster year of 2016 has been, and just as redundant to say how equivalently (and one might say, inversely) great this year in video games was. However, if there was ever a year to have my favorite medium to keep me distracted from the bizarre nightmare, this might be the one. The industry went all-in this year with some fantastic entries that will keep me coming back in my nuclear fallout shelter. As I get older, finding time to get immersed in a game is harder to do, which may be why multiplayer games are making a significant gain on my list. But this year has shown me that emotional impacts can come from the weirdest of places, and to always expect the unexpected.

List items

  • It’s funny. Titanfall 2 was barely on my radar at the beginning of the year, as I already had my head wrapped around many other first-person-shooter games for the remainder. But as soon as you put your hands on the mouse and keyboard, the movement and feel of Titanfall becomes first nature. Sporadic action, tight controls, and fluid handling highlight some of the best action gameplay I’ve ever experienced. Wall-running, sliding, and dashing your way to get the next set of kills is addictive and adrenaline pumping. And the secret sauce, the single-player campaign, is the most astonishingly well done story, with more great platforming and some wonderful time-travel puzzles. Titanfall was the ultimate surprise, and it blew my expectations away. Respawn has set the bar, and the underdog has become the champion.

  • When I first heard about VA-11 Hall-A, I had backed this game on Itch.io back in 2014 just so I could gain access to the soundtrack. Two years later, what was supposed to be a short outing in a small indie game turned into an addicting, "page-turning", and comfy adventure. The PC-98 themed art is fantastically well done, accompanied by a great set of chiptune lounge music, which creates an exquisite atmosphere. Story and characters are Va-11 HALL-A’s bread and butter, as you play Jill, a bartender stuck in an emotional rut during the turn of the cyberpunk revolution. The characters you meet are delightful, and their backstory keeps you coming back for more. Even if you are not a fan of visual novels, Va-11 HALL-A is worth taking a retro dive into.

  • Blizzard has never really enticed me with their game selection. I’m not big into MMOs, isometric action RPGs, MOBAs, or card games. So when they released Overwatch, I remained skeptical and kept to the sidelines until the very last moment. The theme of this year has been surprises, and this game doesn’t stop it there. Overwatch is the most polished, most balanced, and most colorful class-based first-person shooter I’ve ever laid my hands on with animations, UI, and gameplay so elegantly done. Each character has so much personality and charm, that it’s not hard finding your main classes. The learning curve is simple for anyone to catch on easily, allowing for great competitive matches and great team play. You had my curiosity Blizzard, but now you have my attention.

  • Five years ago, I declared Deus Ex: Human Revolution one of the best games I’ve ever played, with an astounding story, great dynamic gameplay, and some of the best aesthetic. And although Mankind Divided fixed many UI problems, has the same superb choose-your-own style gameplay, and great character interactions, it falls flat on its story. The main plotline expires too early, and doesn’t keep your attention as well as the previous game. I spent more time playing the side missions which had more intriguing arcs and dialog choices. Prague, while beautifully created and detailed, doesn’t have enough variance in comparison to Human Revolution that spans from Detroit to Shanghai. But these small niggles didn’t stop me from having an excellent time revisiting some old friends and seeing what they were up to.

  • Yet another game that came out of left field, DOOM was the thrill-ride that no one queued up for. DOOM manages to find the perfect balance of feeling like an unstoppable force, while still putting up a challenge. The story is no nonsense, and within seconds of starting the campaign, you are pistol-whipping an imp and smashing electronics. I know it’s been said many times from multiple sources, but it can’t be stressed enough: The soundtrack is an absolute delight. Constantly on the run, having a dynamic, intense metal track makes you feel like the star of your own slasher film. The game is so intense sometimes, that I can only play it in short bursts. Yet each time I take the keys for a joyride, I always leave with a smile on my face.

  • After tiring of playing Battlefield 4 early in its life, and having no interest in Hardline, I held back on my expectations for Battlefield 1 despite the hype surrounding its announcement. However, through the power of peer pressure and coercion from my friends, I ended up purchasing yet another shooter. Despite two other amazing multiplayer shooters on my list this year, I felt like I played more Battlefield overall. Not because it was the better game, but because of its slow, methodical pace in comparison to Titanfall 2 and Overwatch. This was the first Battlefield within the past decade where I felt squad play and strategy were an essential part of gameplay. And despite consistently dying over and over again, a victory in Battlefield 1 provides both satisfaction and relief.

  • The original Mirror’s Edge was a revolutionary game to me, yet was considered a niche, sleeper hit by many. Yet another victim of EA’s lack of marketing, Catalyst released during the summer to almost no fanfare and lukewarm reception. Here’s an unpopular opinion: I really enjoyed the open-world gameplay of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. There were definitely some issues with the progression of the story, the levelling system made little sense, and the combat was a bit iffy at times. However, the chase sequences were excellent, the city of Glass was absolutely breath-taking, the soundtrack is still stuck in my head, and the controls overall were just as solid to me as the previous game. Maybe next time, EA will remind me when they release their good games.

  • Watch_Dogs was the epitome of everything that was wrong with Ubisoft’s marketing and game development cycles of that time. The depiction of Chicago felt sterile and lifeless, the gameplay was buggy and not optimized, and the tone of the story felt unsure and deadpan. The inevitable sequel is a complete change in pace, tone, and feel for the better. The development team did a great job of taking the criticisms of the first game and turning it around. The city of San Francisco and its bizarre citizens feel organic and delightful. Watch_Dogs 2 not only runs great, but plays smoother with more stealth options and ways to interact with the world. And the relatable Marcus and his rag-tag group of hacker friends were a welcome change that the series needs to finally find its legs.

  • Superhot isn’t necessarily “THE MOST INNOVATIVE SHOOTER I’VE PLAYED IN YEARS!” but it’s pretty damn good fun. The game’s “time-moves-when-you-move” mechanic adds a level of strategy and timing that feels similar to Hotline Miami rather than Max Payne, with a quick respawn system that lets you experiment with different techniques and weapon choices continuously until you get it right. It’s far from perfect, as the game’s length feels too short, and even with the challenge mode, you are left begging for more. The VR mode looks like a welcome addition for when (or rather, if) the time comes to jump into the world of VR, but until then, I’ll hope for a sequel with more content and more variation in the time mechanics.

  • It wouldn’t be a GOTY list from me without a racing game or two plastered on it. From some of the reviews, you would think this Forza Horizon 3 would be the ultimate arcade racing game of the decade. And gameplay-wise, it almost seems like that. The car handling and sense of speed is exceptional, the amount of customization is insane, the soundtrack is a complete banger, and the portrayal of Australia is just an absolute blast. But there’s a fatal flaw with Horizon that prevents me from moving this higher up on the list: it doesn’t work half the time. The Windows 10 version, while a welcome addition to the franchise, has been an utterly broken mess for a majority of the player base since launch, without any contact from Turn 10 and Playground Games. Regardless, the time I do get to spend with Forza is an absolute treat and I hope a solution is found to the problems that PC players have been having.