I had a gaming revival in 2016. It started in January with the purchase of a PS4 and culminated at the very end of the year with the purchase of my gaming laptop. In the intervening months, I played more games than I have in a decade. I mostly played games from this year and last year, but I didn’t finish many of them. Still, it was so great to be back into games and to play with friends once again. Let us break this down, shall we?
This is my game of the year, without any question. There is no game I played more. There is no game I had more fun playing. There is no game like Rocket League. I had fun playing it with friends, by myself, and when we didn’t have internet, even against bots; it didn’t matter. If I had purchased a PS4 and only played Rocket League the entire year, I would consider that a good year. Is it the best looking game I played? Certainly not. Did it have the best story? There is no story. Instead, great matchmaking put me into tight, quick matches that win or lose, I kept wanting more and more. Its ability to draw in players of all kinds defies all reason, but yet that is exactly what it does. I am less than twelve months in and I don’t see a stopping point, which has never happened for me. I usually get burned out and at least take a break if not completely leave a game after a couple of months. Rocket League is just too fun; I don’t want to quit.
I regret not getting to this game this year. Everything I have heard has been glowing with such superlatives being thrown out as “Best Uncharted”, “Best Story”, and “Best Nathan Drake.” I took on the ambitious goal of finishing the previous Uncharted games before tackling the 2016 release and got sidetracked mid-way through Uncharted 2. Hopefully, I can carve out the time for this game before it gets swallowed up by new releases.
10 - FIFA 17
Every year a sports franchise will push out a new game and all too often it feels like a money grab. The graphics got bumped slightly or the multiplayer got worse somehow. FIFA 17 breaks the mold with its story mode. Forget designing your own character; give me Alex Hunter any day. I wanted him to succeed. I wanted to beat the hell out of Gareth, punk. Oh, and there is a really solid, beautiful, fun soccer game moving the story forward. I actually didn’t play much else besides The Journey, it was that good. I hope some of my other favorite sports franchises take note because FIFA nailed it this year.
9 - Superhot
Do you remember the first time you saw the Matrix? The first time Neo dodges bullets on the roof and even though he is moving super fast, we are seeing it in slow motion. Imagine an entire game built around that moment and that is the core mechanic of Superhot. I hit a bullet out of the air with a katana, throw the sword through the guy to my right, elbow the guy in the face to my left, launch his pistol into the air, grab it and shoot the guy behind me! I felt like a superhero. Then I get to watch it happen in real-time at the end of the level and it somehow is even cooler.
Don’t be deceived though; Superhot isn’t just executing a series of absolutely incredible moves and laying waste to anyone who stands in your way. There is also a really clever story tucked into the campaign as well as challenge modes that will keep anyone going for hours and hours. The work that was put into this game from their initial tech demo they released is really impressive. This whole game is really impressive.
8 - Firewatch
Firewatch was the first game I really played this year and it was a great start to the year. The wilderness was beautiful and strangely peaceful, the characters were interesting and had depth to them, and the mystery provided a good ride, falling off ever so slightly at the end. It was so easy to become invested in the relationship between Henry and Delilah. I can’t wait to see what Campo Santo offers up next.
7 - Doom
I have a confession to make. I never got into Doom. Somehow I missed the whole Wolfenstein, Doom, Doom II era and jumped straight into Quake, so I don’t have a strong attachment to the game or the monsters or any of it. So while Doom will be at the top of many people's list, it just didn’t hit me in that same way. I think it is a fantastic game. It looks amazing, the combat is fast and chaotic, and the glory kills are so fluid and awesome that I am sure we will see that emulated in games to follow for years. The first fifteen minutes of this game is one of the best intros I have ever played. There is such a respect for the Doom fan, being conscious of never wasting your time.
My favorite part of Doom has to be the music. Mick Gordon absolutely nailed it. It got my adrenaline pumping and then right as I am about to be thrown into absolute chaos, a song like ‘BFG Division’ kicks in and I just want to smash every skull I can find. It is sublime.
6 - Dragon Quest Builders
Dragon Quest Builders caught me by surprise. I didn’t even know what it was but I saw Aaron playing it night after night and decided to check it out. I am so glad I did. Taking the building of Minecraft, the combat of the early Zelda games, and wrapping it with a light and enjoyable jRPG story makes for one compelling package. The townspeople had personality and varying motivations for why they wanted to see me succeed or fail.
Maybe the best thing Dragon Quest Builders did was give a reason to be building anything at all. In order to advance my town, I had to keep building and upgrading my rooms. That goal provided motivation instead of absent minded wandering. Even the boss battles were impressive. Feeling a real threat to my creation and people made it feel worth it.
5 - Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2’s single player campaign caught me out of nowhere. This is world class level design on display. It would be so easy to make each level feel so lazy, with clearly marked areas designating the action the designer wanted me to take. “Wall run here.” “Double Jump here.” “Platformer time.” While that still might be true, the way it is pulled off is so natural, so engaging, that I didn’t care. They were faced with a challenge and they rose to the occasion.
The sideways city stands out to me as a great design that is grounded in the world it was built in but still demands something from the player. The time mechanic mid-way through the game was stellar. Even the end credits were well done.
4 - Overcooked
Overcooked is the best couch co-op game of 2016, there is no doubt in my mind. It is immense fun while conjuring high amounts of anxiety. There wasn’t another game that I spent more time yelling at my friends to get their crap together than Overcooked. The progression of difficulty through the ever-changing levels is spot on as well. Just when I felt like I had a handle on this nonsense, rats start appearing and stealing my food, or the floor gives way to lava, or I have to manage an airlock on a space station. It’s wonderful.
3 - The Division
It took some time and some cooling off to realize that I actually really like this game. The cover mechanic is fantastic, the result of years of work Ubisoft has put into cover mechanics across all of their various franchises. The guns feel great. The main story has a lot of memorable moments while Underground offers an alternative to just running the same static mission over and over again. I regret not getting to Survival before writing this piece, but I look forward to trying it.
Something that I somehow forgot along the way is how incredible this world is. New York City is so vivid. Running down a street, the snow silently falling overhead, I couldn’t help but take a moment to drink it in. Then a sudden explosion echos off the buildings in the distance and I am pulled back to the reality of this broken world.
I wish the end game hadn’t hit me with a ton of bricks and that Underground could have come out just a little sooner because I think I could have stuck with The Division throughout the year. I am glad I have gone back to it because I really missed running down those streets.
2 - Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter is so beautiful, so mysterious, so refined, it is hard to reconcile it with its Kickstarter beginnings. The art in this game is second to none when it comes to pixel art. The world feels rich and detailed. The characters are stylized and interesting. The use of color is so well done that it is no wonder we saw a smattering of games emulating it after Hyper Light Drifter was released.
The intro cinematic is where this great mystery begins, flashing images of an apocalyptic future...or is it the past? I had no idea. Why am I injured? Who is that dog? What are the giant zombie titans doing? It sets the tone for the rest of the game to follow. I may never have had a full grasp of what was happening in the story, but that didn’t stop me from being sucked in.
Unraveling the mystery with some exceptionally tight controls makes the whole experience such a joy. Dashing and moving between melee and gun combat is so effortless, I never felt like it got in my way. When fighting the sometimes difficult bosses, bad controls never felt like a reason I failed.
1 - Watch Dogs 2
I don’t have the baggage of Watch Dogs and the sour taste it left in people’s mouth so I was able to come into Watch Dogs 2 with an open mind and ended up being treated to an absolutely amazing time. I mean huge-stupid-grin-on-my-face amazing time. This game has everything I could ever want. The stealth and cover mechanic is solid. The guns feel great. The hacking is a riot. Flying drones around dropping explosives is pure bliss. Marcus is a character I really liked and wanted to root for. DedSec, the rag tag bunch of hackers that Marcus works with to bring down Blume are lovable in their own quirky way. Dušan Nemec, Blume’s CTO, is an absolute douche bag that I wanted to punch square in the teeth.
Usually in an open-world game, I have a problem keeping focus. Each play session devolves into me causing chaos for no reason, the cops coming after me, and then seeing how long I can survive until eventually something takes me down. Rinse and repeat. I didn’t have this problem in Watch Dogs 2. Sure those moments happened, but I wanted to keep driving the story because I was actually invested in it. The only other open-world game to accomplish that was Red Dead Redemption, and that is the gold standard for me.
Then, as if I wasn’t already having a lot of fun, there are co-op activities like sneaking into a warehouse to get some data off a server, fighting your way out in a hailstorm of bullets, jacking a minivan, and speeding off to safety. It’s so satisfying. The more subtle, Journey-inspired, multiplayer component also adds a lot of depth. At some point, I found a tunnel that I could cause some havoc in, and after really agitating law enforcement, suddenly a bounty hunter was dispatched to take me down. I couldn’t believe it when I realized it was actually another player sent to hunt me down for my crimes against society. Sadly, they didn’t see the mine I threw down on the road and they went out in a fiery explosion. Tears of joy were streaming down my face.
The story of Watch Dogs 2 moves between tones of seriousness and pure silliness. In one moment, I find myself trying to stop a home automation company from mining data from its customers and the next I am remote controlling a car that is remarkably like KITT from Knight Rider over ramps with fireworks erupting behind me through the streets of San Francisco. It is a game that knows not to take itself too seriously, but still provides some thought-provoking moments. Within Watch Dogs 2, there is a Crazy Taxi-like mini game called Drive SF. On one mission I was picking up a passenger, who starts to question the ethical nature of the Uber-esque service, and asking how I feel about screwing taxi drivers. When I reached the destination, a group of disgruntled taxi drivers opened fire on me and I had to haul out of there. A serious question about the impact services like Uber and Lyft have on society, with a silly outcome of taxi drivers trying to take me out.
It is for all of these reasons and the hours of fun I had playing this game, that Watch Dogs 2 is my Game of the Year. There was no other game that brought me such joy save Rocket League this year. I would start another game, realize I am not having nearly as much fun as Watch Dogs 2, and abandon it to pal around with Marcus and cause some more havoc in San Francisco. Well done Ubisoft, well done.