Until 2016 I just never had the money or the time to play as many games as I could. I also was pretty stuck in my ways. I knew exactly what kinds of games I wanted to play and didn’t want to break too far out of that box. If it wasn’t some Japanese RPG or "Putt-Putt", I was probably not going to try it. At the beginning of this year Yahtzee wrote in his Extra Punctuation column that gamers should get out of their comfort zones in 2016. I took his advise to heart and spent the winter playing a filthy Polack gaijin RPG in "The Witcher 3". I spent the summer playing dirty western first person shooters. I really wanted in 2016 to try to see the full width and breath of what the gaming industry had to offer, both big and small. Here are my findings.
Now that said, I couldn't play everything. So many of the big budget games this year looked utterly boring, so I ignored them. Life is short, nobody has time to waste on regurgitation like "Far Cry: Primal". "Mirror's Edge" is a classic, "Mirror's Edge: Retaliation" has been turned into the standard open world game that everything else is now. (You'll notice, AAA open world games failed to make this list entirely.) But I also missed things I wanted to play, like "Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE", "Firewatch", "Superhot", "Dragon Quest Builders", "Oxenfree", "The Witness", and who knows, maybe "Titanfall 2" could have surprised me. I'm just one person, there seems to be an infinity of time at the beginning of year. By the end you realize there really isn't.
So without further ado, here the games of 2016 that I'm glad ate my time:
"Abzu" is just pretty.
It isn’t complicated, it isn’t challenging, and it only lasts about ninety minutes. But "Abzu" is a game that is all about the journey. And I specifically mean the 2012 video game, "Journey", which "Abzu" is a clear spiritual successor to in just about every way. You play as a genderless mysterious humanoid swimming through levels of underwater splendor. It is hard to point out any particular thing "Abzu" does that "Journey" did not. It's only unique feature is letting players meditate and stare at the exhaustively researched sea life. But if you’re gonna steal your style, gameplay, and even ending - steal from the best. "Abzu" is still utterly gorgeous, animating thousands of fish and giant whales and even prehistorical sea monsters. This is the perfect game to play through if you’re feeling down one evening and just want to play with the fishies. 'Pleasant' is a tone more games need to strive towards.
9. "Hyper Light Drifter"
We haven’t had a 2D Zelda game in a while. I’m starting to get the shakes, man. I need my fix.
"Hyper Light Drifter" scratches just about a third of that Legend of Zelda itch. You have your top-down action, your exploration, and your world-building. Yet the game really doesn’t have much in the way of characters and its puzzles are non-existent. However, "Hyper Light Drifter" is good enough to stand on its own outside the Zelda comparisons. It is its own grim kind of weird action game. You play as a man dying of some kind of tuberculosis in the ruins of the world after a vauge "Evangelion"-esque apocalypse. Most of the story is told through the scenery, which is stunning. This is one of the best looking pixel-art games I’ve ever seen. But there is just a tad too little game in "Hyper Light Drifter". It’s too short, and the bosses are just a tiny bit too easy. If it were slightly harder this would have been 2016’s 2D answer to "Dark Souls"… besides "Salt and Sanctuary", of course.
8 . "The Last Guardian"
"The Last Guardian" is a game that really made me feel things. In some cases those feelings were pure frustration and utter hate, but few games elicited more emotion out of me than this one. Trico, or as the kid calls him "Turico", is like a big lovable Clifford the Big Red Dog. Only he’s not red, he’s not really a dog, and he watched dumbly while I fell to my death several times. I feel that Clifford would work to save Emily Elizabeth a bit harder. "The Last Guardian" is a game that made me so angry I felt physical pain in my stomach during its worst puzzles. But it also made me love a giant video game pet more than I’ve loved nearly all of my Pokemon (except for Squirtle). Who could stay mad at that face? When enemies hurt Trico, it was like they hurt me. Stop being mean to my dog/rat/dinosaur thing!
It was a long wait for "The Last Guardian", and even though the results are mixed, it was worth it.
7. "Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse"
2016 was a banner year for JRPGs, but only two made it on the final Top 10 list. A lot of the problem is that most of the JRPGs I played this year felt like retreads of earlier games. "Bravely Second" was more "Bravely Default", "Fire Emblem Fates" was more "Awakening", "Pokemon Moon" was more Pokemon… I hate to say it, but JRPGs were kinda boring this year. I didn't even finish "Bravely Second" in the end. I loved the first one, but I had no stomach to just play that game again as a sequel. These expansion pack titles deserve no place on a Top 10.
So in utter hypocrisy, here's "Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse" which is just more "Shin Megami Tensei IV". But I give it a pass because 1) "Shin Megami Tensei IV" is the single best game on the 3DS and it turns out I actually did want to play another fifty hours of it, unlike "Bravely Default". And 2) you kill God in this game. As in the God, capital G. The god you prayed to, the one that didn’t answer those prayers. "Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse" is a derivative cash-in sequel, but it puts a very dark spin on the already dark storyline of the previous game. This game goes places, man.
"Thumper" is a game of aggression. It is heavy percussion blasted over and over right inside your skull. This is a visual and musical nightmare through intense rhythm challenges. Everything about "Thumper", from its tense dark neon style to its gritty music is there to unsettle you. This game wants to make you bleed. "Thumper" is a game of pure abstract musical challenge. You must direct a space beetle flying at a million miles per hour down some crazy roller coaster highway level by level. Your beetle does not so much hit notes as blows them to oblivion, then smashes against the walls in a rush of violence.
I did not get a chance to play enough of "Thumper" in VR, but it's even more of an intense experience with the goggles on. But even just on your plain old TV, this game is magnetic brutality.
5. "World of Final Fantasy"
I promise at some point I’ll get back to "Final Fantasy XV" and play enough to gather together a review. But I’ve been slacking on it because "Final Fantasy XV" feels like work. It is a game that I would not have played if not for the series it is in, and I would have already abandoned it if I didn’t have a sacred duty as the guardian of Final Fantasy culture. Oh well.
Let me talk about a game I actually like instead:
"World of Final Fantasy" is more of what I was looking for in a Final Fantasy game in 2016. Yes, it’s cute and kiddie and consciously Japanese, but that’s fine. It’s a cheerful celebration of series history using a charming art style and adorable takes on old characters. After suffering through Squall’s emo bullshit for an entire game, it’s a nice piece of therapy to see him to try that same teenager angst again. Only now he’s two feet tall and his attempts to be serious come off hilarious. Due to the glut of games at the end of 2016, I didn’t get my time to finish more than half of "World of Final Fantasy", but this game still swept me off my feet and deserves a closer look. It's got a decent enough storyline and a huge Pokemon-style monster collection system to keep you occupied for hours. I’m ready to get back on the tiny Chocobo and finish this.
Doom is a classic video game series with a deep pedigree going back decades. And until 2016, I didn't care. It took this modernization to make me wake up and appreciate my history.
For all this time I thought I hated first-person shooters. Turns out, no, I don’t. I just hate popular FPS games. 2016 was a grand old time for the poor FPS genre, and no game had a better campaign than "DOOM". After decades of slow “realistic” modern shooters and ugly war stories, the time of Call of Duty is waning. "DOOM" could be the first of a new breed to come. I remember thinking this game was just too little too late nonsense at last year's E3. Then I saw some gameplay this winter. Suddenly I could see a game with fast, arcade-y, pure fun action. Something was going on here, and "DOOM"'s success is no surprise to me at least.
"DOOM" is a thumping blast to your face. It’s a glorious celebration of its own legacy, punching through the bland tropes of an FPS storyline. When your voiceless hero first meets an obviously evil character who will clearly betray him, he punches the monitor and tosses it away. "I don’t have time for this bullshit, I’m ready to kill demons." That's an attitude we can all agree with.
3. "Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End"
"Uncharted 4" is the best-looking game ever made. I don't say that lightly.
For years gaming has dragged me kicking and screaming down its obsession with getting better and better graphics. All the while I kept saying, “yeah, it’s better, but the old graphics were already fine.” Did we really need to wait another four years for "Final Fantasy XV" so it could be on the PS4 and have more triangles in Noctis’ hair? "Uncharted 4" finally justifies all that graphical advancement. It is the game that conquered the uncanny valley. By this point I do not even see Drake and Elena as graphical cartoons anymore. They are living people to me, wonderfully realized and expressive. "Uncharted 4" was a series best on every level. It had the best story, the best gameplay, and the best characters. It really feels like a culmination of a decade of work by Naughty Dog. By borrowing the emotional beats of "The Last of Us", they took a chucklefuck series like Uncharted and turned it into one of the great character journeys of the year.
For a little while I was weighing the difference between "Furi" and "Hyper Light Drifter". They’re both enigmatic SciFi top-down indie action games with impressive visual styles and memorable music. But while "Hyper Light Drifter"’s foundation is in on world building, "Furi"’s is in difficulty. "Furi" is a shrine to video game challenge. The developers even congratulate you at the end if you manage to finish it off without resorting to easy mode. "Excellence is not an art, it's pure habit. We are what we repeatedly do."
"Furi" is a boss rush of eight unique encounters. You play as the Stranger, a mysterious man who has been locked inside a massive prison above the Earth, and must kill all eight of your jailers. Along the way a talking bunny man leads you on, who may or may not be a hallucination. "Furi"'s uniqueness is matched by its challenge. Some of these bosses will tear through your asshole and come out your belly button with your balls in their vice grip, particularly the seventh. In a perfect world "Hyper Light Drifter" and "Furi" could have been one single greater game. But with "Furi"'s bosses so well-made, there are no complaints to be had. Every victory is like a great accomplishment in of itself. That’s just how good these gaming moments are.
Also "Furi"'s soundtrack is bar-none the greatest of the year. There is no discussion to be had here. Even if the game itself sucked "Furi" might have made the Top 10 by strength of music alone.
Yeah, this should really not be a surprise on any level.
I’ve said so much in praise of "Overwatch" over the course of this year I’m actually out of things to say at this point. I’ve written Fandom articles about it. I wrote a whole review of the game here already. "Overwatch" excited me so much I played "Battleborn" just because jf you squinted the right way you could pretend you were playing Blizzard's new team shooter. I needed to bridge that two week wait somehow. I must have 500 tweets about "Overwatch", only half of which are creepy comments about my main, Tracer. There was just no debate. No other game is even close to the top spot. No other game this year ruthlessly devoured an entire season of my life like "Overwatch" did. What other game made me late for every social function, stole my ability to sleep, and dominated me like I was it's living puppet? None did.
Around August I tapered off in my "Overwatch" play. I haven’t played in months, to be honest. But even with the love affair over, I can still look at "Overwatch" as the single best gaming experience of the year. This is what modern multiplayer games should be: fun, light, energetic, and with a warm active community. There's a reason nearly every Top 10 list ends with either "Overwatch" or "DOOM". The FPS is back, baby.
I never ever thought in my life that a multiplayer FPS without a story mode of any kind would be my Game of the Year. But here we are, "Overwatch" proved me wrong by simply being that darn good.
Worst game of the year was not "Battleborn" and it was not "Final Fantasy XV". It was actually "Star Fox Zero". I played only a minute of that game before realizing just how badly Nintendo had screwed up one of my favorite childhood games. "Star Fox Zero" is like waking up one morning to discover your feet have been replaced by bowling balls, then trying to run a marathon. It is utterly awful in every way.