In one format or another, I’ve done a Game of the Year list each year for quite a long time now, so why should 2016 be an exception?
Without further ado:
Game of the Year 2016
10. Total War: Warhammer
The game that finally made Total War click for me, Total Warhammer (because, seriously, how is that not the actual name?) combines the massive scale of Total War with the hilariously grim and over-the-top fantasy setting of Warhammer in a way that was great. Nothing quite matches the sight of a Vampire riding a zombie dragon massacring hordes of terrified goblins.
Combing a space-based 4X strategy game with the storytelling of Crusader Kings II was an inspired choice. Stellaris is an easy game to pick up, and lends itself well to guiding your newly space-faring civilisation to an end that is more about the journey than it is the victory conditions. This game is at its best when you’re focusing more on playing peacekeeping in the civil war between factions of sentient clouds than it does deploying massive fleets (although that is fun too). Well worth picking up, especially with the most recent expansion adding in some additional scenarios to discover.
8. XCOM 2
Apparently the entire bottom half of my list consists of strategy games. XCOM 2 was not quite everything I had hoped it would be as a sequel to XCOM (and especially after the amazing experience that was the Long War mod), but it was still a phenomenal game that addressed many of the flaws in the first game. The idea that you were playing as the resistance against an alien occupation force and their human allies/thralls was an inspired one, and the gameplay almost always matched up.
SUPERHOT IS THE MOST INNOVATIVE SHOOTER I’VE PLAYED IN YEARS!
SUPER! HOT! SUPER! HOT! SUPER! HOT! SUPER! HOT! SUPER! HOT! SUPER! HOT!
6. Gears of War 4
More Gears of War. Honestly, there isn’t a great deal else to say – the Coalition have begun a new trilogy that looks great, plays like the old games (which I have generally loved playing through with my wife), and includes plenty of fun nods to the old story and characters while trying to walk its own path…even if that path is super derivative of the previous games.
This came a shock. I’d never enjoyed playing the previous games, but the consistent stream of entertaining videos of Giant Bomb playing the new episodic Hitman game convinced me to give this a shot, and I was not disappointed. It hits the perfect mix between robust, serious open-world stealth assassination game and being goofy as hell, and I love it to bits. Probably the best example of episodic game content ever as well.
4. Hyper Light Drifter
Probably the most stylish game on this list, as well as the one with the best soundtrack, what truly captured me was how sublime the gameplay is, effortlessly combining the exploration of an old, top-down adventure like A Link to the Past with Dark Souls-esque combat built around pattern memory, reflexes, and an understanding of exactly when and how to strike. I was obsessed by Hyper Light Drifter when it came out in a way that few games ever capture me these days, and the new 60fps patch has sent me back in for New Game+.
3. The Banner Saga 2
The original Banner Saga is one of my favourite games of all time, and its successor is more than worthy as a sequel. Gorgeous to look at, challenging to play, and featuring a wonderfully hopeless tale of the end of the world as experienced by travelling caravans of fantasy vikings and their immortal, giant allies, the Banner Saga 2 is every bit as good as the original game. I would have liked it to push the envelope a little bit more than it did, but the familiarity doesn’t take away from the immense quality of the experience.
2. Titanfall 2
Titanfall was a very cool game that sadly never achieved the popularity it probably deserved, another promising FPS put in the way of the Call of Duty steamroller and promptly flattened. The sequel…actually appears to be suffering the same fate, which is a real damn shame because this game is so damn good! Not only does it feature a single-player campaign that is legitimately one of the best I’ve played in years (not since Half-Life 2 I’ve I come across a story mode as innovative, though Titanfall 2 is a much shorter game), but the multiplayer takes all the free running, pilot and giant robot tag team action of the original and amps it all up. Titanfall 2 would easily have been the best FPS I’d played in a very long time, except, well…
Who the hell (hah!) saw this one coming? Not I. Doom 3 was, in my opinion, a garbage fire of a game. The last good thing id had put out was probably Quake III. Wolfenstein: The New Order was great, but also not actually made by them. When all the rumours came out about Doom 4 being this story-based, Call of Duty-esque tale of marines fighting a demonic invasion force on Earth, I was completely ready to write it off.
Apparently, so were id.
Going back to the drawing board, they got back to what made Doom DOOM, and in the process may well have started a paradigm shift for the genre. Fast, stupidly violent, incredibly satisfying to play, and possessed of a wicked sense of humour, DOOM is everything I had ever hoped for as a fan of the old games, and something I never would have expected. Also, there’s a multiplayer mode, but who gives a crap about that?
So that just about does it for my top 10 games of 2016. However, there are a few other mentions I’d like to give as well:
Pony Island – great, dumb concept and a fun little experience
Darkest Dungeon – Fun game, but never quite hooked me the way I expected.
Furi – Really like this one, but just haven’t had time to sink my teeth in.
Tyranny – Promising concept, but failed to hook me after the first act. May go back to it.
House of the Dying Sun – Very fun, X-wing-esque gameplay, but not a lot of meat to it.
Enter the Gungeon – Super enjoyable rogue-lite shooter, but just a little bit too hard.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Honestly, perhaps the most disappointed I’ve been with a game since – funnily enough – Deus Ex 2: Invisible War. Feels like the same game as Human Revolution, only somehow less fun and with a much worse story. The more open hub area was a great idea in theory, but in practice just made the game tedious, an impression that was only reinforced by the rest of it.
(for the games where my opinion is not overly positive or negative, but just a long, drawn out sigh)
Brigador – has everything I like in games, except actually being fun to play.
Kentucky Route Zero: Act 4 – Acts 1 – 3 were each very cool and unique. 4 was certainly unique, but did not capture me at all.
The Division – great concept, fun for a few hours, boring and samey from then on.
Rise of the Tomb Raider – I really enjoyed the reboot, but the sequel has left me cold. Decent to play, but not at all engaging.
May have made my Top 10 if I’d played them for long enough before writing this
Civilisation VI – I really like all the Civ games, and this is meant to be a good one. No brainer.
Dishonoured 2 – The first game was great, and I have a feeling this could scratch the itch that Deus Ex so spectacularly failed to reach.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun – I can pretty much guarantee that, barring a catastrophic failing in the second half of the game, that this would have scored highly indeed. A Commandos-style real-time stealth puzzle game, Shadow Tactics is amazing and should hopefully serve to revive what has been a dead genre.
Battlefield 1 – stupid name aside, I’ve liked the Battlefield series in the past and WWI (or the weird, fantasy interpretation of WW1 here) is a really unique setting for a game that I’d like to dive into.
No idea if I’d actually like it but really want to play it anyway
Thumper – Rhythm violence seems a perfectly apt way to describe this game. I get weirdly tense just watching and listening to it – playing it seems harrowing in a way I can totally get behind.
Most played old game
Rainbow Six: Siege – Got me back into playing multiplayer shooters after a long absence and has kept its hooks in me. The varied character classes, slow, methodical gameplay, and extreme tension all make it a very unique game to play, although it is one I can only handle in small doses.
Most time spent watching someone else play a game
Hitman – Giant Bomb’s pretty much constant coverage of every new Hitman episode (and many of the Elusive Targets) is what finally got me to pull the trigger on this awesome game.
Shenmue – I finally got to experience this hot piece of garbage again after watching the Giant Bomb Endurance Run. It was every bit as terrible as I remembered it being from playing it when it first came out, although I can definitely appreciate just how revolutionary some of its concepts were back then.