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.
I 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.
A 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.
I 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.
After 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.
The 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.
Few 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.
The 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.
This 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.
I’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.
This 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.