My Favorite Games of 2016

It’s been said over and over again, but 2016 was a great year for games. It was also a little weird and more difficult to gauge than previous years. 2016 didn’t feature any massively hyped titles that blew everyone away and vaulted into instant classic status (like Halo, Mass Effect 2, Skyrim, and last year’s Metal Gear Solid V, for example). We usually get one of those a year, and many of 2016’s best games were total surprises steeped in doubt. Yet overall, it felt like there was a higher volume of legitimately great games than ever before.

Perhaps this is for the best too. 2016 felt like a strong, confident year for games that sold themselves. There was something for everyone, and everything from short indie experiences to the biggest annual shooter franchises seemed to deliver. In fact, there were so many great games all at once that it may have been too much, with stories of the fantastic Watch_Dogs 2 and Titanfall 2 underperforming, while instant classics like Dishonored 2 seemed to go unnoticed during some GOTY discussions. The game industry delivered such a strong year that they may have misjudged the size and appetite of the audience capable of devouring it all.

I was fortunate enough to play through nearly all of the big titles I wanted to, but even then a few big things fell through the cracks. Hitman? Maybe that will be my 2017 Old Game of the Year. Deus Ex Mankind Divided? It’s stacked in the backlog right beneath Human Revolution. Oxenfree? It seemed cool, but I have to get back to it.

Despite not playing everything, the games I had to cut from my top 10 were almost all painful cuts…

Quantum Break was wildly misunderstood, perhaps even by Remedy to an extent. It blended their trademark action gameplay and storytelling with a TV show and a short novel’s worth of reading. The presentation of all of that was a little uneven, but the end result was a coherent time travel story that stuck to its own rules to the very end — an incredible accomplishment.

Unravel was a beautiful, heartfelt puzzle platformer that may have been a bit too precious for its own good. For me, though, this one hit on a weird personal level. When I was a kid I always had this mascot platformer in my imagination — the main character was tiny, and had to navigate giant, real world environments. Unravel is basically that game from my childhood dreams. Besides that, it’s also a sort of spiritual successor to Cool Spot.

Then there’s Battlefield 1, a game that’s still going to war with my #8, #9, and #10 spots. It’s the best Battlefield game since Bad Company 2, with a weirdly great campaign and a new mode called Operations that’s up there with BFBC2’s Rush in terms of thrills. I just didn’t feel confident letting it climb my personal ladder because I ended up playing a lot more Titanfall 2 in 2016. This year, that may change.

There are many other games of note, some of which I talked about in other articles prior to this top ten list. But it’s time to get to the point.

severedI played Severed over a few sessions spread out throughout the year, starting with its release in April and ending just a few weeks ago in an attempt to get caught up and make this list. Each of my sessions was an enthralling joy. Severed is an eminently playable, beautiful dungeon crawler with Infinity Blade-esque touchscreen battles. I’ve bounced off of these sort of first-person maze dungeon RPGs before, but Severed’s perfect blend of that genre with action combat won me over. One of the Playstation Vita’s essential games.

hyperlightdrifter.pngA beautiful, dark, modern take on Zelda with a combat system Nintendo never would have made, but one that should be in all of Link’s future 2D adventures. Hyperlight Drifter is another realization of what games may have become if polygons and 3D graphics were never invented. With stunning pixel art and animation, a haunting soundtrack, and worthwhile secrets and exploration, Hyperlight Drifter is a stunning window into an alternate history of video games.

uncharted4I enjoyed the original Uncharted trilogy in spite of itself. The storytelling was a treat, but it was always compromised by excessive, drawn-out combat encounters. Uncharted 4 fixes this in several ways. Combat arenas are designed for the new grappling hook and stealth mechanics, and they’re spread more evenly through an adventure packed with variety and some of the series’ most thrilling sequences. That truck chase from E3? That gave me some Fury Road-tier goosebumps. Then there’s the story, which successfully humanizes the cast of Uncharted, digs into Nathan Drake’s flaws, and concludes with a flawlessly-executed epilogue.

titanfall2After the original Titanfall burned fast and bright, wowing us all before fizzling out, it was obvious that Titanfall 2 was a good idea. A sequel just needed to offer more variety and abilities — and maybe a proper single player campaign. Titanfall 2 not only does all that but it delivers a truly thrilling campaign that only the people behind Modern Warfare 1 & 2 could provide. The adventures of “The Pilot” and his robot buddy BT are packed with fun, memorable moments. On top of that, the multiplayer suite is somehow even more smooth and playable than it was in the first game. This thing puts current Call of Duty games to shame.

insideThe follow-up to Limbo secures developer Playdead’s position as an uncompromising team of true artists. Inside doesn’t resemble most traditional games. It doesn’t re-use assets or gameplay mechanics. From one moment to the next you navigate a uniquely crafted world made up of puzzles that have almost nothing to do with each other. Even moreso than Limbo, Inside doesn’t waste a second on repeated concepts. Despite that, Inside smoothly builds and builds to a crescendo. It saves the best for last, and its best is hilarious, shocking, and disgusting.

mafiaiiiFew games made me laugh this year like Mafia III. That’s not because Mafia III is a comedy, far from it. But it tells its story in such a delightfully entertaining way that it was hard to avoid cackling in agreement. From the moments where the documentary-style cutscenes very frankly spoil the upcoming story beats, to the sudden appearance of Joey Mother Fuckin’ Coco Diaz as one of your targets, Mafia III is full of fun surprises. The core gameplay may be straightforward, but it’s also polished and incredibly satisfying. Other open-world crime games should be taking notes.

dishonored2The differences between Dishonored and Dishonored 2 are subtle but profound, taking this stealth-action-play-how-you-want series from great to essential. Aside from some technical wizardry in some of Dishonored 2’s best levels, it doesn’t do anything vastly different from the first game. Where it excels is in the extra layer of craftsmanship baked into every bit of level design, world-building, and systems interaction. When it comes to Looking Glass-style games, Dishonored 2 may be the new king.

darksoulsiiiThis is going to sound weird, but I think Dark Souls III is underrated. Blame it on franchise fatigue, a fanbase that was already burned by Dark Souls II, or the proximity to the superior Bloodborne — whatever the case, Dark Souls III didn’t have the same enthusiasm surrounding it, and I think that’s weird. Simply put, Dark Souls III is the best Dark Souls game. The original Dark Souls fumbled in the second half, and Dark Souls II was good, but largely forgettable. Dark Souls III seems to get better and better as it goes, with cool reveals, memorable bosses, hidden quests, a branching storyline, and fearless, uncompromising challenge.

doomI’m not sure what I can say about the new Doom that hasn’t already been said a million times. From the combat design where you perform melee finishers to regain health, chainsaw enemies to get ammo, never reload, and run around at 90 mph; to the story, which is hilariously self-aware yet deeply serious; and the soundtrack, which sets the tone perfectly; everything about Doom is immaculate. This game shouldn’t exist, but it does and everyone should play it.

thewitnessThis game was my life for a little while. Jonathan Blow crafted a devious puzzle island that taught me its language, rewarded perception, and eventually became so much more than a series of puzzle panels. It’s a shame a game like this can be solved and used up. You can never get that first time back. Thankfully, The Witness makes sure you get your fill, and after dozens of hours, pages of notes, and an epic final challenge behind me, it’s an experience I will never forget.

Watch_Dogs 2 vs. Mafia III – The Importance of Sticking the Landing

With 2016 over, it’s time to discuss the year’s best games. Alongside a top 10, I’ll be posting a few “Versus” articles pitting two games against each other. Really though, it’s just a silly way for me to talk about some of the titles I may not get to in my final top 10 list. Enjoy!

Watch_Dogs 2 and Mafia III are two open-world crime games released within a month of each other. They’re both noteworthy for their progressive portrayals of blackness. Marcus Holloway of Watch_Dogs 2 and Lincoln Clay of Mafia III are both fully-fleshed out black protagonists, genuine to their respective times. A few years ago Ubisoft may have palette-swapped the original Watch_Dog’s Aiden Pierce and called it a new frontier. Today, these two characters were written with thoughfulness and care, and that feels like real progress.

It helps that both games are genuinely great. Watch_Dogs 2 reframes the solid gameplay from the first game in a more vibrant world with a cast of genuinely likable characters. Mafia III tells one of the great video game stories of our time, filling in the gaps between the excellent cutscenes with generic, but satisfying gameplay.

Both games succeed, but they excel in different ways. Watch_Dogs 2 is the standout in terms of gameplay, with tactical/stealth action that sits beside Tom Clancy-brand greats like Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six. Mafia III, meanwhile, seems more concerned with telling a complete, coherent, cinematic plot. Continue reading Watch_Dogs 2 vs. Mafia III – The Importance of Sticking the Landing

Virginia vs. Firewatch – A Tale of Two Frame Rates

With 2016 over, it’s time to discuss the year’s best games. Alongside a top 10, I’ll be posting a few “Versus” articles pitting two games against each other. Really though, it’s just a silly way for me to talk about some of the titles I may not get to in my final top 10 list. Enjoy!

Firewatch and Virginia are two excellent pieces of interactive fiction that I found impossible to fully enjoy thanks to rough performance on PS4. If you own a decent gaming PC or you aren’t sensitive to frame rate issues, you may take this as some pointless whining — but for me it’s a big deal. This lack of polish on tightly scripted, film-length experiences is inexcusable, distracting, and if I were writing for Giant Bomb, it would probably show up as my “Please Stop” nominee for 2016.

As a general rule, I think games need to pick a frame rate and stick to it. They should also strive to match or exceed the resolution of the device they’re being displayed on, with as few visual distractions (like screen-tearing) as possible. This isn’t because I’m some kind of graphics snob, and I don’t think it’s a lot to ask when many games of all sizes can meet these requirements. The reason is that for the keen eye, all these hitches and glitches are distracting. Continue reading Virginia vs. Firewatch – A Tale of Two Frame Rates

Infinite Warfare vs. Gears of War 4 – The Year of the Shooter Campaign

With 2016 over, it’s time to discuss the year’s best games. Alongside a top 10, I’ll be posting a few “Versus” articles pitting two games against each other. Really though, it’s just a silly way for me to talk about some of the titles I may not get to in my final top 10 list. Enjoy!

2016 was a great year for games, but one of the weirder phenomenons was the prevalence of excellent shooter campaigns. In a time when more developers are experimenting with multiplayer-only (Titanfall 1), succeeding brilliantly with multiplayer-only (Overwatch), or blending the whole thing together into an always-online experience (Destiny, The Division), the dedicated 5-10 hour single-player shooter campaign seems out of place.

Yet here we are with Doom, an instant classic that seems to have a tacked-on multiplayer if anything; Battlefield 1, which didn’t advertise a campaign at all, but came packed with an emotional collection of short war stories; and Titanfall 2, a complete package straight out of 2007 featuring fantastic multiplayer and a campaign that’s been compared to Half-Life 2. Continue reading Infinite Warfare vs. Gears of War 4 – The Year of the Shooter Campaign

When will Sony patch the PSVR & PS4 PRO?

The Playstation VR has been available since October 13, 2016. The PS4 PRO has been available since November 10, 2016. Neither platform has received a meaningful firmware update since launch, and both seem to have an astronomical number of issues.

I don’t own a Vive or Oculus Rift, so when the PSVR works correctly it is, for me, one of the most breathtaking gaming experiences I’ve had. But those instances where it works flawlessly are ephemeral. The PSVR view drifts over time as you play. Some games, like Thumper, are much worse about it than others. Motion controllers often lose calibration through the course of a single play session and begin jittering around the screen.

Players have been troubleshooting the hardware themselves on forums like /r/PSVR, coming up with massive lists of potential fixes. This results in a multi-step process just to start using the PSVR each time you play. First, it’s recommended that users fully reboot their consoles. Then, they should lay the PSVR headset on a flat surface and turn it on, waiting for 10 seconds before touching it. At this point they may as well run the calibration while they’re going to all this effort. Finally, they can put on the headset, grab a controller, and hope for the best. Continue reading When will Sony patch the PSVR & PS4 PRO?

Finishing up 2016’s GOTY Contenders

Staying on top of my game backlog is a strange, thankless hobby I can’t get enough of. I like to play everything big and important, small and noteworthy, and even some of the oddities in between. That task has always been impossible. As someone who doesn’t do *this* for a living, my time to get through games clashes directly with paying bills, maintaining an apartment and two cats, staying in touch with family, and any other hobbies I enjoy. I’m lucky enough to have a girlfriend who is just as committed to the game backlog as I am, otherwise I may have given up a long time ago.

Every year is the same. As the holiday release storm comes to a close, what was once a manageable endeavor becomes a herculean task. Up until now I thought I had a fair handle on this year’s game releases. Sure, I have to come back to a game or two from earlier in the year, but for the most part I played everything I wanted to.

Now that it’s nearly December that’s no long the case. So, in the spirit of hopes, dreams, and intentions, I’ve decided to make a list of everything I should really play before the year is through. What’s your list? Please share in the comments!

Watch_Dogs 2 – Because I’m already playing it, I already love it, but it’s a big game and I need to finish it!
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare – Because I also already started this one, and it’s a blast so far. I love a good shooter campaign, and this year has offered a ton of them.
Titanfall 2 – Because there’s a moment in it that everyone is talking about in hushed tones. If you follow enough podcasts it can be a death by a thousand tiny spoiler cuts, but I’m still not 100% sure what the big deal is and I’m excited to find out for myself.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Because the Deus Ex series has eternally haunted my backlog, and I’d like to finish at least one of the “good” ones (ironically I managed to finish Invisible War).
Dishonored 2 – Because I finished Dishonored and all the DLC this year. The story is fresh in my mind and I want to see where they take it.
Hitman – Because it sounded like a great game all year long, and I finally got the entire collection for $30.
The Last Guardian – Because I loved Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and even if I didn’t, I need to know what was worth all those years of work.
Final Fantasy XV – Because it’s a non-MMO Final Fantasy game getting positive reviews in a post Final Fantasy XIII world.
Gears of War 4 – Because I liked this series a lot in the past, and I’ve heard this one is a lot of fun. I just don’t turn on my Xbox much anymore.

RRC Digest 11/1/16 – Battlefield 1, The Fall, The Magic Circle

This week I’ll be sharing two games and one show, all of which I enjoyed quite a lot. I’ve played through the Battlefield 1 campaign and a handful of multiplayer matches, and I think this one might be in the rotation for quite a while. In addition I finished watching season 3 of The Fall this week — no spoilers, don’t worry — but if you’ve never watched it I have some reasons why you should. Lastly, I finally got around to playing an indie game that’s been on my backlog for a while — it’s a weird one. Enjoy!

Battlefield 1 – DICE’s latest is a lot better than I expected it to be. Not to say I thought it would be bad — I’ve loved the Battlefield games ever since Bad Company 2 hooked me on the 360 (I dabbled with BF 1942 on a friend’s PC, but that hardly counts). I just didn’t think it would have both a respectable campaign, and a mode as good as Bad Company 2’s Rush gametype. That last part is key — BFBC2’s Rush mode was different from the one they’ve shoehorned into the maps in Battlefield 3 and 4. Bad Company 2 was built around the Rush gametype, and the map design fit with that, creating matches where players would fight on a single front that shifted from one location to the next over the course of the match. It was limited to 32 players on PC and 24 on consoles, but all of those players were engaged in a singular fight that made for some very chaotic gameplay.

Battlefield 1’s Operations mode takes the concept around Rush and blows it out onto larger maps with 40-64 players. The result is total madness in the best possible way. When you see a wave of enemies come running over the hills towards the objective you’re meant to defend, it can be genuinely scary and overwhelming.

The Fall – This show’s third and final season just landed on Netflix and now that I’ve seen it all I can safely say this is a show worth watching — if you have the stomach for it. The Fall follows two main characters in equal measure. On one side you have Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), a detective working in Belfast to track down a serial killer. On the other, you have Paul Spector, the killer in question.

The Fall portrays Stella Gibson in much the same way the male lead is treated in shows like House, Mad Men, and Rescue Me. She’s a powerful woman who has her way with the people around her and never second-guesses her actions. After all, she’s acting the same way any man in her position would…and she isn’t afraid to point that out. It examines double-standards while wading into an ugly world of sexual abuse and murder, rarely backing off from the terrible things Paul Spector does to his female victims

The Fall also follows Paul as a main character without ever glorifying his actions. Imagine if Dexter wasn’t colored as a hero, didn’t have a code or badguys as victims, but still got the same amount of screen time. We see Paul do terrible things, all the while covering it up with a family and normal life. The cat and mouse game between Paul and Stella is gripping throughout.

The Magic Circle – This indie game by ex-Bioshock devs is an exploration of the give-and-take that comes with long overdue games and the fans that anticipate them. Do the fans have any ownership over the games…do the creators? These questions are explored and torn apart in a hilarious manner, all in a broken, half-finished game world with surprising depth and fun mechanics for a 3-4 hour experience. The gameplay consists of pausing and hacking the various enemies, editing them to follow and fight for you. Eventually you use their abilities to advance past obstacles and sabotage the developer’s plans.

This game goes to some crazy places and surprised me from beginning to end. If you’ve ever followed the tortured development of a game, only to see it cancelled or changed drastically — or you just want a fun way to celebrate the launch of The Last Guardian — The Magic Circle is an eccentric must-play experience.

Game & Film Opinion by Joe Donato