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GOTY 2016

Seems like this is the year where everybody has a preamble about their feelings about current events for imo understandable reasons. I always do one anyway, so I don't feel too bad joining in on the chorus. 2016 sucked big time for me, easily worst year of my life on the personal side right from January all the way through. The world kinda being an extra crap place atm is just a bonus. Is what it is.

But it's relevant to my list in the sense that I didn't touch as many games as I typically do to deal with all the fallout in my personal life. Which is a shame, because this year is where this gen of games really kicked into high gear. And boy what a year for games it's been, only Nintendo hasn't really gotten in on the fun (poor ole WiiU) and that isn't even entirely true as the 3DS has had a surprisingly strong lineup 5 years into its' life cycle. Even the Vita (which is "dead" btw) has had some bangers.

I feel like 2016 is easily the best year for games we've had since 2011, looking back at my own personal lists the difference is pretty stark between this year and say a 2012. The odd thing about this year is that I feel like it's a year full of number 2's unlike last year which in my mind had two extremely strong number 1 candidates (MGSV and Witcher 3). Like this gen seems to have gone a lot of these games don't feel "game changing" but I think we are starting to see the subtle changes and such start to add up (attempts like the Division and Hitman make me optimistic about AAA being willing to shake things up a bit, even if they have some big flaws). Nothing was more eye opening to me to see just how far this gen has come graphically than loading up Dragon Age: Origins a few months back and then Skyrim. This gen kinda snuck up on us when we weren’t looking.

It feels like late 2015-early 2017 might be the peak of this gen for AAA stuff (kinda like 2010/2011 last gen or 1998 back in Gen 5). So this list may be the most unsettled Top 10 I've yet posted on Giant Bomb. I'm only rock solid sure that the top 4 of this list will remain in the top 10 once I've finally gotten to everything some years from now and even their order may change. I feel like there's a good couple dozen games I haven't touched yet that may be legit contenders for this list.

My personal biggest surprise? There isn't a single VR game on here and I don't feel like I've missed out on anything by not having a headset. My second biggest surprise? Three franchises I’ve been at best lukewarm on in the past all put out some of my favorite titles this year. My third biggest surprise? almost every game on here was a surprise to me. Underscoring the importance I think of keeping an open mind. When it comes to videogames I love surprises, surprises make for the best videogame years.

So let's get my disclaimer out of the way eh?

My usual disclaimer applies: Many of these games in the list I have not nearly played enough, but at my age and what I know of my tastes, I generally know how I feel about these games. Like any normal non professional reviewer I haven't been able to play every relevant release due to time and $ limitations so this list could change as I eventually get to them. It's the nature of the beast that many of these user lists are won and lost at time of purchase. List is for entertainment uses only and not intended for use as purchasing advice. Read list at your own discretion. Not for use on small rodents or the elderly. Store in a cool dry place away from kids, pets and Will Smith. Past performance is no indication of future results. I'm not a game critic but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

List items

  • If you asked me in 2015 which Fire Emblem game was likely to be on my 2016 list, I would have said Fire Emblem Fates.

    That still may end up being right if I change my mind about Fates later, since TMS basically just has costumes theoretically inspired by FE series (they have a very different spin on the FE look than Nintendo ever would) and that’s about it. Well technically it does have the weapon triangle, classic musical cues and classic characters as personas more or less, but it’s not like FE characters tend to get very fleshed out so they are kind of a veneer in their own way. So much so that they are the playable characters’ weapons called Carnage for the majority of the game. So the bad news is, is that this is not a fire emblem game. The good news is that it is very very much a Persona esque one. On the balance that’s probably for the best.

    If this game is more or less a trial run of the Catherine engine for Persona 5, boy o boy do we have a lot to look forward to. I didn’t realize just how much a graphical production value upgrade could do for one of these games, let alone the musical upgrade as a welcome by-product of its idol J-Pop focus. This game looks great, Akihabara in particular was a fun setpiece (which is good because you will be there a lot). We don’t quite yet live in a world where playing a game is like being in a live Anime, but the gap is closing all the time. Whoever thought having a catchy J-Pop hook coupled with a summon animation is a genius, now I actually want to trigger those as much as possible.

    TMS also has one of the better turn based battle systems I’ve played in many years, using Sessions (essentially if you nail an enemy with their weakness you will start an automatic chain of attacks from all party members whether they are in the lineup or not. It can also be in done in reverse to you) is a basically a nice refinement of the classic Pres Turn battle system. It really makes you pay attention to the enemy’s weaknesses as well as some of your own, especially in some of the boss battles (the final boss in particular is no joke if you are unprepared).

    Another plus was the Carnage system, it’s a lot more straightforward than the whole fusing Persona bit which I always found tedious in Persona games. RNGesus can pretty much only help you here not eff you over. As well as the progression structure, which makes networking with your NPC friends a whole lot less stressful than trying to maximize your social links in the calendar based Persona games. Overall these two changes made this my favorite Persona game, even though I think P3&4 have better stories, TMS in my book was significantly more fun to play. Doesn’t hurt it’s a touch shorter than most SMT:P games are too, so you don’t have to ball for 100+ hours when the P games tend to slog a bit with incredibly long dungeons, just 60-70-ish.

    I don’t know how Persona games keep doing it with their characters. In the hands of others these characters would come across as cloying, saccharine archetypes, but some Atlus makes them all lovable that you can’t help but smile with the silliness. I actually laughed out loud at this game at times, I almost never do that. This is a game that’s young and sweet and earnest at heart. And extremely ridiculous in the best ways.

    The game isn’t without its’ flaws to be sure, there is one segment where the censorship was exceedingly obvious to the point it was jarring (essentially a photo shoot that you could tell was meant for bathing suit attire, instead of whatever odd faux J-Pop/Hip Hop outfits they were wearing.) especially since it seemed so unnecessary (we’re not that prudish as Americans that we can’t see bikinis, C’mon Nintendo that was dumb) and inconsistently done. And perhaps most divisively there is no English Dub. This I thought was going to be a major problem for me, but the localizers did an outstanding job syncing the dialogue with the character animations so that it never felt jarring and the Japanese VA itself was excellent. For me at least, I’m now really glad there was no dub eventhough at one point I considered not buying it because of it. The Japanese VA just fit so much more naturally with the music and the environs. The plot itself isn’t much to speak of, bad guy wants to end the world for reasons, you and your teen friends go on voyage of self discovery of your talents which will save said world.

    Lastly it’s worth noting at the end of its life somebody finally figured out a great use of the WiiU gamepad.In TMS it basically serves as your Player Character’s smart phone. You use it for maps, mission reminders, side quests, the bestiary and texts with your in game friends. It all feels a very organic fit with the gameplay (and also an easy way to get character interaction for the dev without voice or animation work in a way that doesn’t feel cheap). It’s a damn tragedy that so few games weren’t this clever with the gamepad.

    This is a complete package game and a must play for any JRPG fan

  • Overwatch is probably my true number one in terms of gameplay also yet another surprise (my initial reaction to hearing that Blizzard was going to make a shooter was sadness). I can't remember the last time I was this hooked on a multiplayer shooter. I think it was never tbh. And that's a mind blowing accomplishment to me.

    I never got that deep into TF2, but I am MOBA man and this speaks to me in much the same ways DOTA 2 does. I don’t have the world’s greatest gaming hands anymore (never even had good ones but I’m definitely not even at my own personal peak) so it’s really nice to have a way to play a shooter and contribute without just getting trucked by whomever is the king of twitch based headshots. And it’s not just one way but a lot of ways too, the character variety is pretty nice and I’ve really been impressed with the balancing. There was a time this summer when I thought the game could be in serious trouble because the meta had gotten way too rigid, but Blizz smartly mixed it up and has continually done so with tons of QoL improvements and balance changes. (like voluntarily quarantining the toxic people off in competitive). Granted they aren’t icefrog, but it’s nice to see them doing a better job here than say what they did with Starcraft 2. I have a feeling I’ll be playing OW for years to come.

    Perhaps most notably for me is that on a personal level, OW and Discord has helped me make about a half dozen new friends and that in itself has made my gaming life so much richer.

    But I just can't put OW at number 1 despite how much I love it because the lore is extremely dissonant with the gameplay to the point of being really distracting. I love the art and characters and the world, it's fantastic (when are we going to get a narrative game in this universe blizz?), But wtf are we doing pushing payloads back and forth while shooting our allies? Seems like 80% of the cast are "good guys" of some stripe albeit not all of it the same factions. Granted it’s a videogame and there’s certain things you have to ignore to have a good time in most games, but c’mon blizz couldn’t you think of some better justification to explain all this?

    And the Gacha loot drop system ("fee to pay" as Jim Sterling would say) is utter exploitative crap. I'm glad I don't care about cosmetics. I feel bad for those who do. Granted I’m not complaining about the free updates they probably fuel, but it seems to me there has to be a better midddleground than the way Blizz does it.

    Pretty big problems, that would typically push a game much further down my list, but the gameplay experience is so good it deserves a high placement in my book.

    So that's why you are number 2 Overwatch.

    Btw How cool is it that Tracer might AAA’s first ever openly gay lead character?

  • First off thanks Brad for your quick looks of this game, If I didn’t watch those I likely would have never played one of my favorite games this year because I’ve been hurt by Hitman before.

    Conceptually I've always thought the Hitman series looked super super fun, but it was always such a chore to actually play. Kinda like Zelda 2: Adventure of Link, it’s amazing how much a save system can make or break a great game. Not much worse in games than hitting a roadblock, where you have to replay hour long segments over and over because you are fighting the controls so much.

    Hitman fixed both issues (maybe it did a while ago, tbh I said “nope nope nope” back in the ps2 days on this franchise) and now it’s amazing. From the excellent eavesdropped humor, to the level design, to being the monkeywrench in an intricate clockwork world, this is my idea of fun in a clockwork world.

    Some of the dialogue work doesn’t really fit with the locations (ok a lot of it didn’t), but you have to make some allowances in a globe trotting affair like this. And as usual the lore and story of Hitman are pretty lackluster (at this point I could give two $hits about Agent 47’s origin story yet again) but at least the few story bits there were reasonably coherent. My biggest concern with this game and what prevents it from consideration from #1 is the always online requirement. I’ve had a couple runs get busted due to server issues on Squenix’s side. What happens when Square Enix pulls the plug on the server for good? Is our game just bricked? A pretty troubling trend to say the least.

    Anyhoo it’s nice to actually have a non-Telltale game figure out to how to make episodic content work. It’s been a longtime since I felt compelled to replay a game and level over and over, but the dripfeed of levels with their high variability actually incentivized me to do so. As well the addition of Elusive Targets which is about the perfect way to do time limited content (right amount of gameplay and reward). Which is fantastic because I miss that feeling from the old days when I used to do that stuff routinely. My only regret is that I was cheap and did not buy this sooner. A problem I will remedy with season 2.

    I love the crap outta this game. Please don’t ever kill it Square.

  • Never was a Doom guy, always respected people who were, now I’m a Doom guy. Sign me up, I want more of this. A lot more. One of the many pleasant video game surprises 2016 had in store for me.

    I wouldn’t like Doom if it was self serious, and thankfully it isn’t. I wouldn’t like Doom if it was super cheesball lame like Duke Nukem or Serious Sam and very very thankfully it isn’t. It rides a very thin line between camp and XXXtreme tough guy stuff and never really makes a wrong move tonally. Doom is about feeling like an ultra badass 90’s style and boy does it nail every aspect of that. From the Doom marine’s eff you devil may care nonverbal attitude, to the pulse pounding metal soundtrack, to the badass demons, to the frenetic high adrenaline ballet of destruction the shooting provides (You move or you die, you rip and tear or you die), this is a game that knows exactly what it is and revels in being it. Not much in life better than being true to yourself. I’m not sure how the collectibles fit into that badass equation, but somehow it works and being a completionist type I enjoy their presence not to mention the opportunity to catch my breath every once in a while.

    Unquestionably the tightest designed game of the year, and if I were a shooter guy at heart this would be my number 1.I also appreciate that it runs silky smooth 60fps even on my midlife GPU while still looking stunning

    And hey you know what? The multiplayer isn’t that bad either. I still need to mess with the SnapMaps at some point

  • If XCOM 2 had released with controller support and wasn’t framey as all get out at launch, there’s a chance it might be higher on my list. It is the highest game in my list that was not a surprise to me, I expect to like XCOM 2 and I did.I think my favorite thing about XCOM 2 is the premise of reclaiming the earth from a hostile alien force, it’s a neat idea and not all that unusual in scifi but one we rarely see explored in games.

    Other than that it’s pretty much more XCOM with some tweaks here and there. I think I actually like how it plays better than X:EU and I really really like character creator (thanks to @darkbeatdk in the forums for creating and sharing his version of GiJoes which I happily used I also feel like the enemy design is a lot more compelling this time around. I still prefer the more Japanese linear style of progression in this genre than roguelike esque XCOM version (which I find very stressful), but the clock does add a lot of tension to the experience.

    Given the relative dearth of AAA SRPGs on console/PC these days more of the same is enough to make me pretty happy. This one is a prime candidate to go lower once I play other stuff

  • Oxenfree is the only indie game on my list this year and is a game I’ve had talked up to me by a lot of people, specifically Darth_Navster. And I really thank for him for doing so, because man does this game feel like a big step forward in adventure games in what they do best, namely dialogue and characters.

    Instead of really talking about that part in detail , I’ll just say go read his blog

    What I will add is that I think the other aspect that makes this work is that the Puzzles, traversal are the right balance of ease and activity to keep you in a state of flow without seeming like busywork. If you ever hit a roadblock in a LucasArts game, this one doesn’t have that pretty much ever.

    Oxenfree isn’t without its’ warts though, the camera is pretty far pulled out so you can’t see the characters interact probably the keep the animations costs and variables down. Also most critically eventhough they are for the most part well acted, some of the actors just sound far too old for their roles and the vocab in spots sounds “off” for a teen. Fortunately Erin Yvette does a great job with the main character Alex.

    In an odd sort of way, what Oxenfree offers reminds what Mass Effect and other “choice matter” games fail to deliver. While OXenfree doesn’t have say butterfly effect variability, it does have multiple endings and you can change how the cast feels about you. If that those aren’t choices that matter I don’t know what is.

  • Another candidate for eventual removal or maybe not? DqVii is hardly new, in fact it’s a remake of a 16 year old game. It may not reinvent the wheel everytime, but Dragon Quest has always in my mind been a series that executes incredible well. That’s no different here. It’s simple Toriyama look, familiar combat and soundtrack always belie a genuine thoughtful story.

    I’m only part way through this monster sized RPg and already I love it. It starts off painfully slow even by DQ standards with way too little combat but once it gets into its’ rhythm of [Mild Early Spoilers] discovering islands in the past, solving their crisis and re-exploring them in the present it becomes a lot of fun.

    And Props to the localization crew, the amount of text in this game is incredible and has a ton of care put into it. I can’t imagine trying to translate that much Japanese and then trying to throw attempts at local flavor on top of that (e.g. one village might have Italian accents and mannerism, another German etc).

    Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

    p.s I did not intentionally put this seventh despite the game sharing the same number.

  • The Division is a game I never expected to like or even play and yet here I am 60 hours later with likely another 60 going to be added quickly.

    It’s nice to have the Borderlands hole in my life filled again. It’s got the loot and co-op modes I didn’t realize I’ve been missing. Post Dollar flu NYC is definitely one of the prettiest areas I’ve gotten to explore in a while. I like ubisoft open world games tend to pull the camera in a bit closer than GTA, kinda helps immerse you in the palce a bit more. The premise does feel a bit weird though (I feel the Division itself would not be a lawful use of our military? And it seems like there is some assumption profiling in the game, since you pretty much just straight up murder some NPCs on sight based off their clothes. You dod this I suppose in all games, but to do it a setting I might actually be irl is jarring), and isn’t terribly well realized. I will say though, in the post Bioshock era where finding audiofiles etc for lore has become the norm, the Division’s cell phones (I’m assuming you are listening to voice mail that you find on them?) are really well written. They have a very natural cadence and acting to them. One of my favorite touches in the game. Another Surprise for me is how much I like the outfits in the game. I don't know what this says about me, but there are more than quite few jackets and such in this game I'd probably wear irl.

    Then there is the Dark Zone, took me a while to get the hang of it, but I like it. The whole tension of trying to figure out where is safe to firefight and whether to trust or fear other players, make it an interesting dynamic experience. I have to admit I assumed most people I’d meet would be backstabbing rogues, but mostly it seem people would rather work together.

    But man is the PvP broke af though. Some skills are so broken, it gets into there is only one way to play if you want to win which sucks bigtime if you do get in a firefight with people. The game needs some serious TLC on the balancing side, that I doubt it will get.

    Still my buddies and are having blast, I’ve heard end game is bad but even if it is. 60 hours of fun is a whole heck of a lot more than I thought I’d get.

  • I don’t have a lot to say about RoTF because I haven’t finished it yet. At some point I’ll probably move it onto the GotY 2015 list, but it was a 2016 release for me as a PC guy

    I really liked the first game and now that the second has somewhat addressed my biggest quibble with the first (the lack of well… tomb raiding), well I like this one even more . I’m not sure who thought to turn Tomb raider into Uncharted+Metroid but it’s a grand idea, a really grand idea. And what’s crazier yet, the controls (imo) are some much better than Uncharted. Never thought I’d be saying that about a TR game, a series that I used love in spite of reviling its’ tank controls back in the day.

    Anyway for a more thorough look at it why it’s rad go read humanity’s great review

    This is a candidate to move up on my list. I’m just not sure which year I’ll consider it to be.

    Btw is it just me or did Square Enix have a hell of a year?

  • I’ve barely played Final Fantasy XV, just the demos and watched the animes. I had/have some concerns over the combat, but who am I kidding here? I love these games even the lesser ones. After decades there hasn’t been one yet I personally didn’t get dialed into, even X-2. And I really liked Tabata’s last game Type 0. And the chance to listen to soundtracks to the previous games in the car sounds like my version of open world travel heaven.

    It’s a mainline entry in my favorite franchise and I’m going to go spend 300+ bucks for a PS4 (it’s too long a game to borrow a friend’s) to basically play just this because I can’t take the chance it won’t come to PC however small that chance is. If that doesn’t count for something I don’t know what does. There’s a good chance it will end up being my number 1 by the time I’m done with it given my love for these games.