ScreenCritics Sam reflects on 2016 and offers his opinion on the top 10 games that stood above the rest of an incredible year in gaming.
There’s no denying 2016 was a solid year for gaming. We finally saw our most anticipated games for almost a decade finally hit the shelves with The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV, and the first-person shooter market flourished with plenty of surprises as Call of Duty met its timely demise to more bold competitors like Doom, Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2. But in retrospect, it delivered an abundance of amazing games that limiting them to only ten was difficult, but the few reigning titles that stood out among the others climbed their way to the top. Without further a due, here’s my personal Top 10 Video Games of 2016, kicking off with five honorable mentions.
This may come as a bit of a shock, but Overwatch not making the cut isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Blizzard’s ambitious, colorful online shooter certainly took the genre by storm, and continues to do so well to this day. It’s an insanely addictive, fast-paced experience with plenty of lovable characters that unfortunately missed the mark due to its lack of features and loot grinding that still plagues the industry. Apart from its shortcomings, Blizzard made an easily accessible, entertaining burst of fun that won’t lose momentum any time soon.
Indie-rockstar Jonathan Blow, who took the indie-gaming market over with the acclaimed Braid, delivers a follow-up worthy of note. The Witness is a thought-provoking, meditative puzzler with a lot of heart and a keen eye for expertly crafted game design. The puzzles may come off as overly complicated, but the sheer thrill of solving one and using the environment to figure out your next step forward at your own pace makes this one of the most remarkable and original releases of 2016 that just missed the list due to its underwhelming climax.
Civilization V left a huge hole to fill after its initial release back in 2010, which put Sid Meier’s strategy darling in the mainstream spotlight. 2016 finally saw the release of the sixth installment, and it did not disappoint. Featuring a more robust system and building upon the brilliant tactical mechanics of its predecessor, Civilization VI continued to dazzle well into the double-digit hours of playing. At times, it did feel like more like an expanding successor to V than its own standalone product, admittedly that was not a major issue, but a tiny nitpick that just held it back from achieving masterful status.
Arkane Studios had to lot to live up to after the first Dishonored, which single-handedly rejuvenated the stealth genre thanks to some innovative mechanics by way of BioShock. Dishonored 2 picks up several years after the first game, with the now grown up Empress Emily picking up Corvo’s mantle of master assassin. A refined focus on the gameplay mechanics and a worthy new protagonist in Emily certainly makes Dishonored 2 the successor we all hoped for, despite having a few narrative stumbles along the way.
THE LAST GUARDIAN
Being a spiritual successor of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus is no easy task, especially with the expected pressures that come with it. Fumito Ueda’s third outing, The Last Guardian, tells a much more personal tale of friendship between a boy and a mythical beast named Trico. The sheer scale and beauty of the world is what sucks you in from the start, and maneuvering Trico to solve some head-scratching puzzles becomes a bonding experience much like owning a real-life pet that you get emotionally attached to. The Last Guardian would’ve easily made the list had it not been for the unreliable camera and controls which unfortunately hindered the experience one too many times.
10. MIRROR’S EDGE CATALYST
Let’s face it, nobody really anticipated EA DICE’s reboot of their 2007 cult classic, Mirror’s Edge. Catalyst serves as a retelling of freerunner Faith Connors’ origins, but does it in a more focused way that gives light to her emotional plight in the events. The story of rebellion against a tyrannical government is not something we haven’t heard before, and it certainly plods along with a blissful sense of detachment from the player. However, with makes Catalyst truly remarkable is how it plays. The gameplay is fine-tuned to utmost perfection despite a few missteps with the combat, and the thrill of scaling colossal buildings is unrivaled. The final missions are among some of the most jaw-droppingly breathtaking moments I’ve ever played in a video game, and do much to convince players that the first-person parkour perspective can work greatly in immersion.
9. TITANFALL 2
At a time when Overwatch, Battlefield 1 and DOOM had already taken the first-person shooter genre by storm, Titanfall 2 dropped and firmly landed its mark among these greats. Possibly one of the biggest surprises of 2016, Titanfall 2 delivered a single-player campaign that explored the bond between man and machine in a believable, often humorous way. Taking us back to the days of 90’s shooters, Titanfall 2 refreshingly implemented several great platforming sections to mix up the already fantastic shooting mechanics, finding the pinpoint perfect balancing act that Call of Duty could only dream of achieving. Titanfall 2 should rightfully be called the Call of Duty killer, but that title is shared with another shooter we will see further down the list.
Unravel may have slipped under the radar in 2016, but for those lucky enough to play this platforming gem, the emotional impact wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. Players assume the role of a ball of yarn named Yarny, one of the most lovable mascots I’ve seen in a while. His journey away from home to find his rightful place in the world is the simple but powerful driving force behind the game, and teaches an important lesson of family and belonging. The platforming sections are complicated enough for a challenge, but never overly difficult. Much like Journey, Unravel chooses to let the players take their time appreciating the finer details of the game world, and does so with spectacular fashion. It’s one of the finest, most memorable platformers of the year, and deserves more recognition.
7. RATCHET & CLANK
When Insomniac decided to build its latest installment in the series as a direct reboot based off of the film, many were skeptical as to how that would play out. After all, the original game is a beloved, iconic gem in the PlayStation 2 library, and “how dare a reboot attempt to recapture that same nostalgic magic again”. Well, Ratchet & Clank very easily does it again. Featuring a revamped focus on personal skill growth and an impressive arsenal of weapons at your disposal, Ratchet & Clank beautifully recaptures and delivers the same levels of entertainment we spent our childhoods on. It’s a fine example of a reboot in a series done right, and even though it still holds the stigma of being attached to a rather atrocious film adaptation, it shouldn’t be the reason to avoid this extremely well-done facelift of a platforming masterpiece.
6. FORZA HORIZON 3
The Australian outback is the ideal place to set Microsoft’s crowning open-world racer, Forza Horizon 3. The third instalment in the Horizon series of Forza games delivers one of the most luscious, detailed worlds seen in a racing game, and with a robust selection of vehicles, including the new off-road racers, which players can take to some really exotic and treacherous racing locations. The Horizon series has outdone itself yet again, and stands as a testament to the power of open-world racing done right. While a few graphical hiccups tend to get in the way, it never feels detrimental to the overall experience and sheer fun factor present in the game. Forza Horizon 3 is without a doubt 2016’s racing juggernaut, and the finest achievement in Xbox One’s catalog to date.
5. BATTLEFIELD 1
While Call of Duty may have leaped to the future for Infinite Warfare, its competitor took several steps back to the first World War with Battlefield 1. EA DICE’s ambitious new installment in the Battlefield series completely overhauled its modern military setting to create a palpable, immersive dose of historical warfare lovingly crafted to perfection. The campaign spawns the globe with several different stories and protagonists, and beautifully captures the turmoil and tragedy of the War, leaving quite a devastating impact in the minds of gamers desensitized to the average war shooter. The multiplayer is the best its ever been, with boots-on-the-ground combat taking priority, forcing players to strategize rather than simply go in guns blazing. Quite possibly one of the best looking games of the year as well, the new Frostbite Engine works wonders and gives the Battlefield series a huge edge over the competition in a year already dominated by shooters.
4. DARK SOULS III
Dark Souls fans needed not worry about the difficulty of Dark Souls III; it’s brutally challenging, unforgiving, but most of all, it’s back with a fiery vengeance. After the middling reception of Dark Souls II, developer From Software went back to the drawing board for their third installment, taking a few pages from the notes of Bloodborne in making Dark Souls III the most fluid, refined entry in the series yet. In true Dark Souls fashion, the boss battles are jaw-dropping and push players to their very limits, while the sense of exploration is maintained if players dare to venture beyond the dark corners of Lothric. Dark Souls III ends the series on a satisfactory note, and will most likely keep fans busy for a very long time to come.
3. UNCHARTED 4: A THIEF’S END
Naughty Dog’s acclaimed Uncharted series comes to an emotional, spectacular close with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The final journey of legendary explorer Nathan Drake has him reunite with his long lost brother, Sam, to uncover the fabled pirate treasure of Rodger Avery… much to the dismay of his concerned wife, Elena. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End highlights Naughty Dog’s strongest aspects as a developer, including astonishing graphics, tightened gameplay, and an emotional roller-coaster of a story that aims to knock fans flat. The final moments of the game left a tear in my eye and didn’t hesitate to throw the punches in what would seemingly be Nate’s final stand. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the unforgettable masterpiece we deserved.
Thin on plot and all sense of subtlety, id Software’s revamping of the Doom series boldly shoves a middle finger at plot and subtlety in what might potentially be the greatest return to center stage in gaming history. DOOM, much like the first game that pioneered the shooter genre, is a relentlessly fast-paced bloodbath of demons, big f*ckin’ guns and heavy metal, unashamedly turning the tables on the expected shooter formula. A hellish visceral nightmare of violence, DOOM chooses to be unapologetic about its brilliant presentation, capturing the spirit of the original while giving a new, diabolical spin on the winning Doom formula, proving that plenty of care went into the development of this ballsy fever dream of a shooter. While the multiplayer never truly shines, it’s the masterfully done single-player campaign that rips and tears into our minds and delivers a burst of upgraded bloody nostalgia rarely found in modern gaming.
1. FINAL FANTASY XV
Admittedly it’s not the best Final Fantasy ever made, neither is it as technically refined or explosive as DOOM or Uncharted 4, but what makes Final Fantasy XV truly mesmerizing and a notch above everyone else is the impact it leaves long after the credits roll. Final Fantasy XV spent some time in development hell since its announcement all the way in 2006 under a different title entirely, and went through several changes that are certainly felt in the game. However, with all its faults in narrative and a few unavoidable glitches, it was hard for me to point out exactly what made Final Fantasy XV so special. Throughout its abnormally short running time for a Final Fantasy game, I laughed, I cried, I felt power, and I connected on several levels with its cast of lovable characters and the bonds they all shared. Then it hit me: Final Fantasy XV made me feel genuine emotion; a deep connection to the characters and world that almost felt like an extension of my soul as a gamer, all culminating in this one journey that meant so much. I kept returning to this world because I always wanted to know more about it and create more adventures for the four amazing heroes. Much like Prompto’s random photographs, Final Fantasy XV emphasized the importance of not only good company and the massive impact of the little things, but the journey that should be soaked in and enjoyed rather than glossed over before the inevitable end. Final Fantasy XV is not perfect, but is nothing short of a masterpiece that I’ll fondly remember.