Let Us Begin.
2016 was an incredibly shitty year in so many ways. We lost countless celebrities. We elected a brain dead reality TV star to lead one of the most powerful countries in the world. The Dallas Cowboys are winning football games. But with all that aside, there was a little bit of positivity. 2016 was one of, if not the best year for video games in an incredibly long time.
As usual, I played a whole lot of video games this year. I didn’t get around to everything (having 135 hours logged in Steam to Rocket League probably didn’t help), but I feel I gave it a pretty decent shot. I like to define my “Top 10,” but honorable mentions deserve to be, well, honored. Let’s start there.
Did it come out in 2016? No. Unless you want to count the expansion, Rock Band Rivals, but Rock Band 4 sure found me this year. Once upon a time, I was a huge Rock Band and Guitar Hero guy. I owned them all. I own probably thousands of dollars worth of Rock Band DLC, and I owned the ION Drum Kit. Around the time the Xbox One came out, Rock Band was put to bed for a handful of years. I have to say it’s been awesome to..ehm, get the band back together. All my DLC imported just fine, and I’m back where I was years ago crushing those songs. Keep on rockin’ in the free world.
A loot shooter with an okay story in an awesome NYC open world. The Division turned out better than I expected, and the Dark Zone PVP is some neat stuff. Like all loot & level games, much of the end game involves raiding, which can be a turn off for those with limited time. It didn’t help when hackers exploited the game to hell and back. However, the game’s recently released Survival Mode along with Ubisoft fixing the game’s issues seems to have given it a second breath and an all new fanbase. I look forward to checking it out.
Still working my way through this one, but it’s got a ton of style and the addition of another character with her own powers is very welcome. It hooks you in the ways the first one did with its masterful worldbuilding, environments, and mechanics.
After the incredible Braid, everybody wondered what would be next for Johnathan Blow. Announced in 2009, The Witness is an unbelievably complex puzzle game taking place on a mysterious island. With head-scratching puzzles scattered across a beautiful landscape, The Witness is a truly wonderful game. You may dig it, you may not, but its attention to detail, command of respect, and reward of success makes it an all time great. I’ve never had so many “ah-ha!” moments in my life. I look forward to Game 3.
This game took over a good amount of lives this year. Basically, it’s a farming simulator, but a damn good one. It’s everything that you wanted in a proper Harvest Moon sequel. (It’s not an official Harvest Moon sequel) Relationships, farming crops, fishing, building homes, decorating homes, making machinery for your farm, before you know it you’ve sunk 12 hours into the game in one go. Top this all off with an incredibly bright art style, relaxing music, and all the charm in the world, and you’ve got quite the time sinker on your hands. In addition to being on PC/Mac/Linux, Stardew Valley just hit Xbox One and PS4 this week, so let your loved ones know you’re sorry and you’ll miss them.
It turns out five years was about the length of time I needed before I was ready for another Gears game. It was worth the wait. Microsoft’s The Coalition managed to make a game that’s obviously faithful, but more importantly very good. Just like the Bungie to 343 transition of Halo, the team has added just enough hooks on top of an established formula to bring you back in. It’s loud, it’s pretty, and it kicks ass. The campaign not only manages to make an interesting continuity out of a very wrapped up ending in Gears of War 3, but may just be the best campaign of all four Gears games. Horde Mode 3.0 is also bananas.
I’ve got a soft spot for Devolver Digital, which in my opinion is one of the best publishers in games right now. They always find the perfect combination of things that will immediately get me onboard. Mother Russia Bleeds is further proof of this. It’s a combination of Streets of Rage with the style, hyperviolence, and pulsing neon-underground soundtrack of Hotline Miami (also published by Devolver). Like a lot of Devolver Games, there’s not a lot like it. The levels are fun, the bosses are great, and it’s a pretty solid length. Did I mention it’s incredibly graphic? Probably worth noting.
Back in my days of covering PAX, I got to play a demo of Quadrilateral Cowboy. This had to have been around 2012 or 2013, and ever since then, I followed its development almost obsessively. Quadrilateral Cowboy is an ode to 1980s hacking culture and a damn good one. It has a neat, pixely art style that fits in with the blockiness of the 1980s technology. Basically, you’re an elite hacker with a sick-as-hell rig and an over the top 56k modem that you use to pull off heists. The main mechanic of the game has you actually writing (in-game) code to get through the levels. You’ll write code to turn off laser tripwires for a few seconds as you walk past them. As the game progresses, the sequences and missions get more complicated. The story is up in the air, but the original mechanics make this more than worth checking it out. Don’t worry, the code is super user-friendly.
The Forza Horizon series has been awesome to see evolve over the years. It’s almost like a countercultural statement to its own genre. Not everybody cares about racing games, and certainly not about the “motorsport” aspect of course racing, changing tire pressures based on weather and what have you. Like those before it, Forza Horizon 3 throws this all out the window and says “You wanna drive a fucking Lambo in the middle of the Australian desert? Do it!” Between the incredible graphics (some of the best I’ve seen) spread across the gorgeous Australian landscape, sharp gameplay, large selection of vehicles, and activites to check off your bucket list, Forza Horizon 3 is a racing game almost anybody can get into. In my opinion, it might be one of the best racing games ever made.
What started out as a game jam project-turned Kickstarter, Superhot is one of the most innovative shooters I’ve played in years. Presented in a minimalist art style, the goal of Superhot is to basically simulate goddamn John Wick. There’s a ton of dudes in each level with your goal being to kill them all. The trick is that time is completely frozen, and any action you take (moving, shooting) moves time. This results in a metagame of somewhat complex puzzle mechanics and timing. If you get shot or hit once, you must restart the level. For example, a guy can shoot a bullet at me and I can move out of the way, but for every step I take the bullet will move faster. You can throw weapons such as knives, or even your guns. Combining all this allows super satisfying John Woo action sequences. I can punch a guy close to me, catch his gun in mid air, and turn around to shoot someone else with it. If you successfully make it through each level, the game replays your action sequence back in real time making you feel like a total badass. There’s also a pretty unique story and mythology to the Superhot universe. I can’t recommend it enough.
Inside is the masterful followup to Playdead’s 2010 hit, Limbo. Like Limbo, Inside is an incredible display of dark, twisted art styles and tight gameplay mechanics. A puzzle platformer, you’ll be raising your eyebrows at each segment of the game as you journey through moment after moment of “WTF?” Inside doesn’t hold your hand almost at all, rather having you explore trial and error to figure out various puzzles. You will die a lot, and violently. Animals mutilate you, you’ll be shot, stabbed, drowned. It’s incredible how the game will naturally teach you what to do and force you to journey onward. About 80% through the game, there is a pretty decent twist that completely changes everything, some might even call it an awesome twist. The game can be completed in probably about 2-4 hours, so I recommend digging in and doing it in one go. While the story is left up to interpretation, Playdead has created yet another classic to put on their portfolio.
Remember when 2013’s Simcity shipped and was sort of an actual piece of garbage? Remember when Cities: Skylines came out and fans rallied around that one versus the official version due to the amount of care those developers put into it? The same damn thing just happened with Planet Coaster. Made by a team comprised of many of the original Rollercoaster Tycoon devs, Planet Coaster is the Rollercoaster Tycoon game we always wanted in 2016. It has everything you love about Rollercoaster Tycoon but cranked up to 11. You can determine every little piece of every single ride. You can build rides from scratch, restaurants, bathrooms, structures even. It feels familiar, yet like it’s a game built in 2016. It’s frankly unbelievable. There’s even Steam Workshop support so people can build different things and you can download them to add to your park. As a Disney nerd, this has resulted in tons of people building stuff from Disney Parks, ranging from the castles to Rock N’ Rollercoaster, all for me to download and live out my theme park management days from years past. Planet Coaster is also an absolutely stunning game to look at. The developers even just dropped a huge free update adding tons of rides, maps, food stations, and more. They are constantly updating and the community is loving it. Rollercoaster Tycoon was once king, Planet Coaster has made sure it will be from now on.
Mafia III goes places that most games have never or frankly, would never dare to go. While it’s a large departure from the previous two titles, it’s definitely the best of the series. The developers had a story to tell and they are not afraid to tell it in any way. Set in 1968 in a fictional version of New Orleans, you play as Lincoln Clay, an mulatto Vietnam veteran who served in special forces missions and has returned home after hearing of an ongoing turf war with a large Italian mob. What comes next is an incredibly gritty story of revenge, and who doesn’t love a good revenge tale? As one would unfortunately expect in the South in 1968, Mafia III tackles issues of racism that I’ve never seen in a game before. As a POC, enemies and pedestrians alike openly use racial slurs towards you, police watch your every move just by walking by them on the streets. If you commit a crime in a poor neighborhood, police are more likely to take their time before showing up. It’s brutal, but it’s necessary, and it helps drive a game full of excellent writing and environmental storytelling. It also drives you to kill every single enemy you’re going after and keep pushing towards your ultimate revenge. Back to the environment, the game features over 100 licensed songs from the 60s. Creedance, Jefferson Airplane, Hendrix and more all accompany the tone of a really great gangster story. While the gameplay is a tad repetitive, it’s still one of my favorites this year just for the excellent writing and characters. The intro to the final mission also does one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Respawn’s Titanfall was something else when it debuted, combining fast-paced shooter mechanics with huge ass kicking mechs for an incredibly fun multiplayer experience. The game’s main issues were that there was no single player campaign, and multiplayer was incredibly lacking in rewards/unlocks. Titanfall 2 not only fixes both of these problems, but further pushes their own boundaries in every way. First off, the single player campaign. Titanfall 2 seems like a bunch of developers at Respawn all had totally rad ideas and sort of strung them together to create a campaign. Believe it or not, but the campaign it reminds me of the most is Portal 2. You might have heard about it by now, but there’s one level in particular that introduces an absolutely bonkers mechanic and I still have no idea how they pulled the wizardry off that they did to make the level. The game is worth it for this sequence alone. Going over to multiplayer, Respawn fixed practically every issue I had with the first game. There are TONS of unlocks and ways to customize not only yourself but your titan as well. The movement in Titanfall 2 is unlike anything I’ve played in a shooter. It just all feels so smooth. A new mode, Bounty Hunt, is also introduced. In Bounty Hunt, you and your team are competing against another team to kill the most AI on certain spots of the map. You collect money and have to deposit it at neutral banks across the map with a limited time to deposit the money. If another player kills you, you lose half of your money. Not since Modern Warfare has a game made me want to play long enough to prestige, but Titanfall 2 sure has. Between the phenomenal campaign and the slick multiplayer, Titanfall 2 is one of this year’s best. And you’re goddamn right I have a Buffalo Wild Wings skin on my titan.
DOOM! Holy shit, DOOM! I don’t think any person familiar with games was expecting Doom to turn out as good as it did. Famously in development hell for years, DOOM (at the time Doom 4) was going to be a completely different game. It was going to be like a Call of Duty in a Doom universe. At a certain point, the team had to basically throw a hail mary, scrap everything, and put something out. Who would’ve thought it would become one of the best shooters in probably the last decade? DOOM is the only game I can think of to successfully hit all of the nostalgia notes while dropping modern shooter mechanics on its head and still make a goddamn masterpiece. It’s incredibly fast, you’re constantly moving, and there’s tons of enemies to blow away violently. It sure plays like DOOM from days past, but it feels so slick and modern. The movement is incredibly smooth, and you need to chain weapons together in certain sequences to determine your survival. Unlike just about every modern shooter, health is not regenerated, but rather earned. You use devastating murder animations on enemies in order to regain health and keep moving. There’s no reloads, just ammo. The plot is absolutely ridiculous and incredibly tongue-in-cheek and self aware. It’s hilarious. The game literally starts with you figuring out a cult has been worshipping you as “Doom Guy.” Just incredible. On top of all this is an absolutely KILLER soundtrack. It’s so, so good. For example, listen to this track titled “BFG Division.” The entire game is one adrenaline packed punch to your face and you’ll never want to put it down. If you only get to play a handful of games, make sure DOOM is one of them.
PS – Danny O’Dwyer of /noclip/ just did an absolutely wonderful documentary on the making of DOOM. Check out all three parts on his Youtube channel.
The Battlefield series and I go way back. I used to LAN Battlefield 2 all the time. The series has since gone in some certainly interesting directions but none are probably more brave than saying “Let’s make a video game about one of the most horrific things to ever happen to our planet.” It’s not a secret how awful World War 1 was. We lost an entire generation. Tens of thousands of people died every day. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it all. After all, war games aren’t anything new, but this in some ways felt extra odd, especially given how serious Europe treats the subject versus us here in America. That being said, DICE has done a wonderful job with Battlefield 1. The campaign is incredibly effective at telling and showcasing the horrors of this war. The first mission of the campaign has you playing as a soldier as you are surrounded with no way out, no hope. You just keep shooting until you die. After that, you simply move on to another soldier and do the same. From there, the campaign somewhat acts as a tutorial as you play across five interesting stories spanning the globe. You’ll learn to fly in a pilot campaign, play as an English tank brigade, and more. I really enjoyed that the campaign told stories involving the women of WWI, something certainly not seen in games. Campaign aside, Battlefield 1 is definitely the best Battlefield game ever made. The multiplayer is amazing, fast paced, and brutal. Much like those in WW1, you feel a sense of empty duty, fighting just for the sake of fighting. I usually play a medic, and much like all those young men, you’re thrust into a situation and expected to just do whatever you can to help until you drop dead. Teammates around you choke on gas, buildings collapse left and right. It’s terrifying. It feels grounded in ways the other games certainly never have. It’s also easily one of the best looking games ever made (playing on a GTX 1070 sure helps). The multiplayer has its hooks in me for sure, and completing objectives with your squad always feels satisfying as it does brutal and graphic. A phenomenal game aside, this era is often shadowed by World War 2 (and certainly in many cases understandably). I hope this game helps a lot of people better understand how awful and insane World War 1 truly was.
Hitman is probably my favorite video game series ever. The idea of what you are doing as a character is downright insanity and the thought of a developer to even attempt something like that back in the day is absurd. Hitman Blood Money was of course the gold standard. Then came the long-awaited-yet-mediocre Hitman Absolution. I didn’t ever expect a Hitman game again. When I found out this one was being made, but would be episodic, I thought it was going to be terrible. It turns out Hitman going episodic was the best thing to ever happen to the series. Hitman goes back to the glory days of Blood Money by allowing so many different ways to complete the same task. Missions can take upwards of 40 minutes to an hour. The amount of little details and options the developers have put into every single thing is absolutely incredible. You can assassinate the same targets in literally dozens of different ways. By going episodic, this allowed players to do each mission over and over, teaching you different methods and achieving greater levels of mastery. By playing the mission more, you unlock more things such as weapons, starting areas, and starting disguises. This creates ultimately a bunch of individual complex playgrounds to try out things and become the ultimate assassin. Hitman works so well as an episodic title because if you had access to the next level right away, you’d probably just brush off the one you completed forever and might not play it again. You might not know that you can literally kill your target with a fucking cannon on Sapienza as opposed to blowing them up with a golf ball that has a bomb in it disguised as a golf instructor (yes, you can actually do both of these things). Of course, all of season 1’s content is now available, but I still think it encourages players to retry the same missions over and over. Furthermore, the developers continue to drop “Elusive Targets” into missions. These targets can only be accessed for 72 hours before they disappear forever, and some of them require certain criteria such as kill them with this weapon or this disguise. It keeps making you come back when you find out there’s an elusive target coming up soon. It pushes you to be a better player, and rewards you for becoming such. They even just released a Christmas mission for free on the Paris map (completely made over with presents, lights, and more) where you can dress as Santa and your targets are the burglars from Home Alone. Amazing. HITMAN (2016) is easily the best game in the Hitman series, and probably the first game ever to benefit from an episodic format. Even better, not only has Season 2 been confirmed, but also a Season 3. Happy hunting.
You can really, really tell that Naughty Dog was ready to wrap up the Uncharted series at the end of Uncharted 3. It put a nice little bow on everything. I’m sure Sony came knocking and said hey guys, how about one more go for our new console? Uncharted 4 has virtually no reason to exist, but like everything they touch Naughty Dog still put out what will definitely cement itself as an all time great. Uncharted 4 tells the story of Nathan Drake and his brother as they go after one last epic haul. Amongst this, Drake wrestles with his new life and starting a family. It’s an interesting degree of conflict for the player; something that is missing from the previous games as you go from a care-free, swagger filled adventurer to a guilty, greedy asshole. However, this one finally shines some insight into the history of Nathan Drake and explains why he is the character he is. Uncharted 4 is another breathtaking, globe-trotting journey across the globe. The graphics are mind blowing. Someone should really look into whatever technical wizardry Naughty Dog is doing because it’s insanity. Obviously it’s fairly new, but it’s easily the best looking game ever created. This is combined with Naughty Dog’s uncanny mo-cap animations and trademark over the top cinematic action sequences that blow your fucking mind. I always reference the train sequence from Uncharted 2 as being a demo for what video games are capable of, but this has easily been replaced by a driving sequence in this game. The combat can be difficult, yet rewarding. The same goes for puzzles. There’s even a goddamn Monkey Island reference THROUGHOUT the game. I love you with all my heart, Naughty Dog. Uncharted 4 absolutely closes the book on this series for good and while doing so, creates a game that has solidified itself in video game history. Between this and The Last of Us Part II finally being announced, just buy a PS4 already.
It’s obviously known that whatever Blizzard touches turns to gold. It’s not just their reputation or their branding, but how much detail and work they put into every single one of their titles. Overwatch is no exception. It builds off the Team Fortress formula while creating amazing characters that you fall in love with from the minute you first see them. The goal with Overwatch is to make it accessible to as many people as possible. Sure, every character has different abilities, but it’s unbelievable how well the game does at getting you up to speed on all of them. It’s an incredibly complex game that anybody can play, regardless of skill or time. You can watch Twitch streams of it all day or you can play one match per week and it still clicks with you, whoever you are. The mechanics are so goddamn tight and well tuned that you never feel cheated. It’s also an incredibly positive game in that there are no kills or assists, just eliminations. You’re in this as a team, and whether you do 5 points of damage or 100, you get an elimination for taking out a player. You serve a purpose no matter how you contribute in the match. Overwatch just has this way of making you feel like you belong in the match as much as anybody else, even if you’re level 8 and another player is 80. Every future map and character will be free. You gain loot boxes, unlocking new skins, voice cues, and more as you level, or you can buy them for real money. It’s incredible how well it uses even things like sound cues to let every player know what’s happening in the match. For example, every character drops a voice line when they release their ultimate move that the whole game hears, allowing them to adjust accordingly. The animation, soundtrack, characters, and maps are all gorgeous. Tons of different cultures from all over the world are incorporated and respected. Blizzard wants this to be a game that represents the world, and that’s something really special. It is one of the most well made, balanced, tight multiplayer games ever created, and their dedication and attention to its growth is unmatched. There’s also constant seasonal updates at Halloween and Christmas (happening right now!) Blizzard has even announced Overwatch League, a city-based eSports league complete with combines and contracts. Even Patriots owner Robert Kraft has made it known he’s interested in it. Overwatch is something I think will change eSports and move it into an even bigger mainstream. To me personally, it’s been a game full of positivity in a time where I think we all could use some of that. Whether you’re a hardcore multiplayer shooter fan or just play things like Minesweeper and mobile games, Overwatch is a game for you.