10. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
9. Dragon Quest Builders
7. XCOM 2
6. Super Hot VR
5. Titanfall 2
4. Dark Souls III
3. Dishonored 2
2. Uncharted 4
World of Warcraft: Legion
WoW waxes and wanes on its expansion packs, and "Legion" brought a raft of gameplay changes and new story that have resonated with its player base in general, and me in particular. It's not what I hoped it would be, but it's pretty awesome.
I've mentioned my local chapter of CivAnon before. Let's just say that group therapy doesn't do as much for One More Turn Syndrome as you would hope. It had a few stumbles at the start, but the Fall Patch gave it some needed balancing.
If you like playing "chess with guns," it doesn't come any better than this. And any game that starts out from the presumption that I muffed it big-time at the end of it's predecessor has a really good grasp on its audience. I've redeemed myself since then. But it was just in time to have my face removed by a new set of even more powerful alien jerks lurking in the DLC. Oh well.
The Lab, particularly Longbow
This free demo game has some really cool experiences in it. We've all spent a fair amount of time just playing with Goddard (what we named the robotic dog). But far and away my personal favorite is the archery game Longbow. Defend your castle from waves of Cave Johnson's 2D Visigoths, lighting them on fire and dropping boiling oil on them. It's fun for the whole family.
Minecraft with Vivecraft mod
I know. But seriously, it's a game-changer in all directions. No wiki – just what you remember off the top of your head or can figure out. Swinging your actual arm to swing your sword to deal with a Creeper hissing up on you. Actually standing in a spiked Ice Plain, feeling the twisted, blocky spires rise at your back. The immersion brings it all home.
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
I'm not Native, but I'm from the interior of Alaska, and grew up around these stories. When I heard this was being made, it went on my list immediately. Seeing it come to life, and hearing the words I hadn't heard in so long was engrossing.
The sense of delicately creeping dread brought by a balanced marriage of art and punishing gameplay gave this a dark urgency that's rare in even blatant horror titles.
Day of the Tentacle Remastered
As the proud owner of the scion of Chuck, the Horticultural Horror (Shrike's rosemary that must have been bought at The Little Shop of Horrors) I think it's fairly safe to say this one's kind of part of my DNA. To be able to play it again with beautifully updated art and without the giant wall of hardware woes that come with legacy games brought a big smile to my face.
Epistory: The art is epic, and games with different control schemes are kind of a thing I look for. This one added some cool quirks to QWERTY-driven games that I hadn't seen. You'd better get your typing fingers ready.
Left 4 Dead 2
I know it's been out for yonks, but if you look at hours played, this one still holds its charm with the gang I hang out with. It's still a go-to game in our multiplayer round. At least once a week I'll find myself online, finding the Hunter with my face for the bunchteenth time.
I'll start with the honorable mentions before getting into the list proper:
Battleborn: It's a crying shame that this game got stuck taking the full brunt of Blizzard's marketing war machine, because it's quite good. I like the concept of leveling up during a mission, instead of throughout the course of the game, and I like the different characters. My only complaint is that so many of the characters are locked behind achievements and level walls. Sure, you get 25 characters in the plain vanilla version, but only a few of them are initially playable at the start. I don't like having to earn the content I already paid for, which is why this one didn't make the list.
Extreme Forklift 2: I love a game that's willing to be silly and fun, and Extreme Forklift 2 hits the ten ring on both counts. The only thing keeping it off the list is that it's a little too one-note.
Unravel: Charming, sweet and beautiful. There isn't much to dislike about this little surprise from EA, and it fails to make the list only because there were too many other great games ahead of it.
Halcyon 6: What a fascinating game! I look forward to going back to it now that it's finished and seeing what it's become.
American Truck Simulator: This one is gorgeous, but it needs more time in the oven. Fortunately, the developers seem as committed to this one as they were with Euro Truck Simulator.
In Case of Emergency: Release Raptor is my pick for "most heart." It struck me as a labor of love that just never gelled for the creator. I paid for it, and was happy with the purchase, but the developer refunded my money anyway.
Final Fantasy XV: It's only the second final fantasy game I've ever played (the other one being the original), and I haven't put a lot of time into it yet, but I'm very much "digging" it, as the kids say. Four fine examples of character archetypes with great chemistry embark on a road trip and do a little mercenary work to help people in need? It's the A Team game I've always wanted!
And now for the real list, starting with the least awesome and moving on up to the most awesome:
10. Offworld Trading Company
I have never liked real-time strategy games, but I've always wanted to. The sorts of stories that come out of them have always been a source of fascination for me, but I've never been able to capture that magic for myself. Usually it comes down to not being able to track all the units that I'm supposed to micromanage, and getting overwhelmed by the AI while I'm trying to force a rock-stupid AI to face the enemy who is shooting it. Offworld Trading Company circumvents that problem by removing units – and combat – from the equation entirely. Bravo!
9. Deadly Tower of Monsters
Comedy is hard to do well in an action game. The result is usually either unfunny because the jokes are repetitive, or unfun because the mechanics took a backseat to the schtick. Deadly Tower of Monsters takes what might have been a paint-by-numbers action RPG and weaves it with humor in a way that I'd love to see happen more often.
8. Samorost 3
There isn't much to say here. Samarost 3 is the continuation of brilliant puzzles, beautiful art and truckloads of charm that Amanita Design has come to personify to me. If you haven't played this gem, you are missing out in some wonderful point-and-click action. It is a testament to the quality of this year’s releases that Samorost 3 only ranks eighth for me.
7. Stardew Valley
I've tried to play Harvest Moon games in the past, but none of them really got their hooks into me like Stardew Valley. I like the town. I like the people. I like the variety of things you can do, from hunting slimes to brewing ales.
6. Titanfall 2
The first multiplayer game I cared enough about to try and get good at. I never managed to get good at it, but I did have a lot of fun with the all-too-brief single-player campaign. Plus, I'm a sucker for games where robots try to figure out human concepts like slang, sarcasm and loyalty.
5. Tom Clancy’s The Division
This one was on again, off again, and on again for me. I wasn't originally planning to put it on the list at all, but on reflection it does so many things right, and I realized I very much want to go back to it for more.
4. Devil Daggers
This is my new go-to for when I want a twitch-challenge that doesn't involve getting mocked by teenagers over the internet. First-person, simple, arcade action at its best.
I like everything about this game. I like that it was supposed to be a Duke Nukem game. I like that they made it work even after they lost the court battle for the license. I like the weapon variety, and I like the action. It's a shame that it came out in January and will therefore be left off of most lists, but here it is for me because Bombshell is something special.
2. Farming Simulator 17
Saints alive, what a game! Mundane vehicle sim, agribusiness management, logging, shipping, animal husbandry, basketball! It's like Stardew Valley without all of that courting and friendship nonsense. If you want to get your farm on, and get lost in a world, here is the game for you!
Oh. My. I wasn't honestly expecting much from a reboot of a twenty-three year old game, but holy hell did they ever manage to blow my mind. Doom is the best first-person shooter to hit the market in years. The action is tight like only seasoned veterans of the genre can make it. Everything you do in the game, from using a color-coded key to crushing an imp’s face with your bare hands, is viscerally satisfying in a way that no game I've ever played has matched. It's not the best game I've ever played, but it's in the top five, and of the games I've played this year it definitely rises horn and carapace about the rest.
In no particular order:
I know, I know. You saw the Glory Kills in the teaser trailer and wrote this off as a money-grabbing bastardization of the grandaddy of all FPSes. But then you played it and holy hot hell, is this addicting or what? DOOM avoided the pitfall of soullessly reimaging the old familiar standard, injecting some next-gen systems and style over the classic Doom-Feel (tm) to create a worthy modern successor. There's something insanely satisfying about running through a large playfield, strategically ripping enemies to cinematic shreds, and then turning around to winnow down the remaining onslaught – something that, frankly, isn't replicated in any other shooter on the market.
I spent the majority of age 17-18 playing Counter-Strike and TeamFortress Classic, feeling the rush of adrenaline as I rocket-jumped and bunny-strafed my way through corridors in a glorious, last-ditch effort to save my team from ruin. Overwatch scratches that fun-but-tactical itch in such a way that I can't even bring myself to buy the thing, lest I find myself staring at the ass-end of 4 am on a workday.
Project X Zone 2
It's a turn-based mash-up RPG sequel on the 3DS! An incredibly niche offering, to be sure, but it hits a nice fanfiction cross-over sweet spot that throwing your Power Rangers and G.I. Joe's against Jem and The Misfits with their M.A.S.K. Mobiles accomplished. It's also the closest we'll probably get to a decent Super Robot Wars game on the shores of these Americas.
Street Fighter V
8 Frames of Input Lag Stubby Normals No Buttons Anti-Air LP Ken Face Clipping Problems Broken Shop Useless Season Pass Long Load Times Gotta Grind for Colors. That's about all the bad things Street Fighter V had going for it during its first year in the wild. It definitely won't unseat SF3: 3rd Strike as my favorite in the series, but it's not a bad thing to pick up and bat around with a friend or two. It has, unfortunately, fallen victim to the Game As Platform bug: Capcom released a half-baked game with some questionably lacking features because they're in it for the long term ... or at least that's what we keep telling ourselves. We'll see if season 2 can turn it around.
Star Trek Online
Not a new game. Hell, it's not even a game that's new to me – I even wrote about how it's Not Strictly the Trek I Remember a while back. But STO expanded to consoles this year, bringing with it a next generation of interest. I've voyaged through most of the main storylines, earning myself a nice Admiralty, and am getting knee-deep into the discovery that a boring grind-a-thon seems to pervade the late-game experience (though, to their credit, the designers here have found ways for you to grind without the need of glomming onto a guild or clan). This enterprise isn't for the faint of fandom, and there's plenty of MMO jank around to remind you that it's something you're going to pick up for a while, but getting to play fake captain in a variety of pew-pew spaceships is pretty fun.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir
The original Odin Sphere on the PlayStation 2 was a sumptuous love letter to pixelart graphics. Released late into the console's life, the scope, animation and personality that imbued the game's aesthetic was nothing short of stunning. Unfortunately, there were a number of game mechanics that tied that beautiful art around a leaded weight, and the game wasn't without its healthy doses of slow-down as the aging Emotion Engine tried to manage everything onscreen. All this before HD quality resolutions.
Leifthrasir corrects much of Odin Sphere's missteps, giving us a much less punishing, much friendlier repackaging of the story. In a deluge of Next Gen remasters, this one stands out.
The AR game so popular a U.S. presidential nominee tried to name-drop it to get her supporters to vote. Or, the AR game so wildly popular that a number of people actually walked until they received an adequate amount of exercise for once in their lives. Or, the AR game that briefly brought life to a 20 year old game series and showed mainstream gamers and smartphone users that the future is going to be really gameified. However you choose to remember the game, Pokémon Go proved to be an unexpected stand-out this year.
10. Fire Emblem Fates
A slew of UI and mechanical changes have added depth to this tactical RPG franchise, and some of the creativity on display for the maps in Conquest and Revelations were strong enough to keep me going even through save-scumming replays. But dividing unnecessarily into three separate games stretched the design too thin.
9. Gravity Rush Remastered
Flying around the city of Auldnoire is such an exhilarating experience, and there are so many nooks and crannies to endlessly explore as you drop, sail, and fly around and across each surface. However, the game's got some rather clunky controls, and some of the more annoying foes are way too abundant near the end.
8. Final Fantasy XV
With over 70 hours in the game, it is quite clear I enjoyed myself. The open-world is highly detailed and varied, filled with monsters and side quests to properly encourage exploration. The fishing mini-game is undoubtedly the best in any video game of this nature. Unfortunately, the gaps are obvious, and it is clear that FFXV was simply shoved out, as it would require another two years minimum to truly complete.
7. Another Metroid 2 Remake
It is amazing what such a small team was able to do with the basic template of the GameBoy's Metroid 2. Massive chambers I once became lost in now became unique locations with new and creative routes, puzzles, and beasts. However, I don't see myself returning as often as I do for Super, Fusion, Zero or Prime.
6. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
A soundtrack consisting of earworms, colorful and luminescent style, amusing characters and tactical combat are all ingredients to the Tokyo Mirage Sessions recipe, closing off the WiiU's life with one of its stronger titles. Unfortunately, everything in the game, be it dungeons, bosses, chapters or late-game combat, went on a little longer than necessary.
5. World of Final Fantasy
The greatest flaw this game has going for it is its localization team. Horrific sense of humor aside, World of Final Fantasy may as well be titled "World of Final Fanservice" with its nostalgic narrative. The real star of the show, however, is the fusion of Pokemon and Final Fantasy, implementing stacking and catching mechanics that provide additional depth to the Pocket Monsters' systems.
I'm not much for narrative indie games, a.k.a. Walking Simulators. However, Firewatch is both about its protagonists, Henry and Delilah, and about the player experience as well. It's about loneliness and isolation, and the conundrum of seeking solitude while yearning for something social. It's about paranoia and runaway imaginations. It's an awful lot of things that I cannot fit in this confined space.
3. Bravely Second
On the surface it's just more Bravely Default. Yet Bravely Second is superior in every way, with creative new character classes that further bend the job system's capabilities and further reward creative party building. The characters themselves are a delight, the narrative disarmingly charming. What's more is the excellent meta used to perhaps even outshine Default's attempts at breaking the fourth wall.
2. Dishonored 2
On the surface it's just more Dishonored, but that would ignore how much the original was improved and expanded upon. While still not vertical enough for me, level design was at its top-notch best. Mission design as well, as it felt like many of the levels had some excellent gimmick or twist that helped set them apart from their brethren.
1. Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 does it all. It pushes the narrative and gameplay envelopes enough to be familiar, but to also tread new well-executed grounds. From wall-running, to platform hopping, to time warping and climbing satellites, there's so much more to do in this game than just shoot people. While the narrative is not the most creative, it certainly pulls off all the major story elements with seeming ease.
JR Ralls would like to remind everyone that unlike every other human who has ever existed, his likes and dislikes are not filtered through his own subjective internal experiences but instead represents= an objective statement of universal Truth. If you feel that any game on his list does not belong here, it just means that you are wrong and should feel bad about yourself.
10. Day of the Tentacle Remastered – PC
Can you go home again? I often ask that of myself both in games and in other aspects of life. Sometimes the answer is yes; sometimes the answer is no. I was a huge LucasArts fan when they were first coming out, but it’s been a loooooooooooong time since I played one. When DoT returned, I knew I had to give it a shot. I tried to get my kids (4 & 6) to watch me play it, and that didn’t work out so well. I don’t hold that against it, but it didn’t engage me, or the kids, as much as I’d hoped. While I still plan to go back and finish it I’ve also yet to actually do so.
9. Dungeon Warfare – iOS
Have you played a tower-defense game before? If so, then there is absolutely nothing that is shocking or that innovative in this addition to the genre. But so what? There is something to be said for a well-crafted and honed experience that gives you what you expect. This is not the type of game to play for hours on end but it’s perfect for when you just have two or three minutes to spare for a bite-sized strategic challenge.
8. NES™ Remix Pack – WiiU
This game got my wife to play videogames with me. That NEVER happens, so it made the list just for that. It’s a collection of around two dozen games from the NES era, but rather than being a straight “Best Of” compilation, Nintendo does something interesting and gives you quick challenge after quick challenge to complete; in this screen you are Star-Mario and have to kill 10 enemies, in that screen Dr. Mario has to kill five viruses with one pill, etc., etc. Do enough of these and you’re rewarded with truly re-mixed NES games; my favorite of which was a very Limbo-esque version of Super Mario Bros.
7. Pokemon Go – iOS
Yes, the gameplay is ridiculously simple. Yes, there really isn’t that much game there. Yes the world went nuts over it. But the world went nuts over it. Games don’t exist entirely independent of themselves. Having a collective experience instead of an entirely solitary one can greatly change how the experience is enjoyed. The world will probably not see something like Pokemon Go again for a long a long time, but for those few weeks it was a hoot to walk around and smile and nod at the other people you could just tell were looking for the same Charmander as you.
6.Gladius – GameCube
Since this game came out, do you know how many tactical gladiator games there have been? As far as I can tell, the number stands at zero. The graphics can be a little jarring for 2016 eyes at first, but I quickly got used to that and had a grand time building up a gladiatorial team in a pretty fun fantasy universe. It’s the best of its genre, and I hope someone out there tries to make something like it again.
5. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – PS3
Sailing a pirate ship never gets old.
4. 80 Days – iOS
More about mood and setting and world-building than game-play (it’s pretty much a choose-your-own-adventure), this steampunk version of Verne’s classic Around the World in 80 Days paints a vivid picture with sparse and powerful prose. A great game to take you to an exotic world that never was.
3. Yakuza 5 – PS3
I lived in Japan for two years and I have never played a game that made me feel so much like I was back in Fukuoka than this one. No other game has ever come half as close to capturing the feel and the sense of being in a modern-day Japanese city as this one did. It’s the only brawler I’ve played in over a decade, and while it’s not a genre I love, I love this game. Make of that what you will.
2. Civilization VI – PC
The Civ series has been with me through a lot over the years, and the newest one gets it right once again. I like the feeling of accomplishment that conquering the world gives me, and Civ VI let me do that with the exact right amount of challenge. To me a sequel should improve enough that you can’t picture yourself going back and playing a previous version, and I cannot imagine going back to Civ V after getting used to the new quirks in Civ VI.
1. Red Dead Redemption – PS3
It wasn’t even close. By far RDR is the best game of 2016. After years and years and years of hoping it would be ported to the PC I finally broke down and bought a PS3. I got the first-gen, because it was fully backwards compatible, and plowed through stage after stage of RDR right up until I got the Yellow Light of Death. I spent hour after hour fixing that PS3 all because I knew that if I lost the saved file I’d never finish the game. It took a lot of work and a lot of effort and the fix I made only lasted about a week, but that was long enough because I managed to earn an ending that I’ll never forget. If only they’ll port the sequel so I won’t have to buy a PS4 … .
Let me start by apologizing. I didn't get around to quite a few games that I feel would have been contenders for me this year, but the GWJ community way is to list our favorite games that we first played in the calendar year, not the games we wish we had played. I also started and put real time into Planescape: Torment this year, but I don't know what I'd pop from my list to make room. That said, here are the games I know I knew in 2016:
My favorite of the "programming puzzle" subgenre, of which I tried out a few of this year.
9. 80 Days – iOS
Like The Fall, I've found myself spending a lot of time just poking around for more bits of story.
8. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Not quite a party game, but a really great time for a small group. Asymmetric-information as a dynamic that failed to realize its potential on the WiiU, but has found fertile new soil here and elsewhere (see my #5).
7. The Fall
A gift from Doubting Thomas, with the message "This one is worth your time. Enjoy." I'm not done yet, but the slowly revealing world of the game has been really intriguing.
6. Kingdom: New Lands
Became my go-to for half-paying-attention while sitting on the couch, which I think became a big part of my evenings this year.
5. Jackbox Party Pack 2
Maybe it's cheating to go with a pack of mini games, but these, especially Quiplash (followed by Fibbage) have been staples of parties for me in the past year. The ability for partygoers to pull out their phones and join in via browser? That's a big deal for a software title.
4. Battlefield 1
I'm not as big a fan of the multiplayer than TFall2, but this was a risky gambit that I think paid off.
I can't turn down Paradox grand strategies, and, like good chili, it gets better the longer it cooks.
2. Pokemon Go – iOS
Not that I'm nuts about the game, but it's by far the most hours I've put into anything this year, so honesty requires that I give it a high rank. Maybe Mario Run will be enough to make me stop burning my battery on this one.
1. TitanFall 2
Better campaign than it needed to have, and multiplayer's different enough to be interesting. In a year of great, AAA FPS releases, this is top of the heap.