Over a month late, and an unfortunate realization has dawned on me: I can’t do a Top Five Anime for 2016. My Hero Academia, Please Tell Me! Galko-Chan, and Mob Psycho 100 are the only ones that have stuck with me through the Trumpster fire that was 2016; my backlog saw more action than the shows that actually aired. 2016 was a limp dick of a year for almost all media: movies, pop music, and even comics felt underwhelming for the most part. But there was one medium that saw a standout performance: games.
2016 was an almost insultingly good year for gaming, so good in fact that I’m bumping up my usual Top Five list to ten entries, with an assortment of honorable mentions to boot. 2016 felt like the year next-gen truly became current gen; every platform found its footing, from Playstation finally getting a confident library of exclusives, Xbox continuing to reinvent itself, and even Nintendo showing signs of life and learning from past mistakes (I hope). For now though, fifteen games, ranging from All Time Greats, to just having one aspect that was memorable enough to stay in my head for months on end. A month late, with the world crumbling around me, might as well do this while I can.
Underwater Journey: that’s all this game really is, and to be honest, that’s all I really wanted. It’s gorgeous, it’s mellow, it’s relaxing, it has a couple of unexpectedly tense moments, and if you’re a diver (especially one WHO GOT CERTIFIED THIS YEAR, MO-FOS!), it’s essential to play. Granted, it’s not the masterpiece its predecessor is, and if I were really cynical I’d call it a rip-off, but... guys, does it deserve hate? This might not be monumental praise, but if you can’t get your hands on Stardew Valley, here’s your next fix for something that’s just pure chill.
I really do like this game. I’d say it fits comfortably as the second best entry in the series, and I can confidently say this after finally playing every game in the Gears of War saga. It has some of the best characterization and story in the series, and the gameplay is a slight improvement on the perfection that was Gears of War 3. Sadly, it also has some of the pacing, character development, and story problems that’ve always plagued the series. Not as bad as Gears 1, 2, nor Judgement, but like 343 Industries, The Coalition is so faithful to the series that they’ve somehow kept both the pros and the cons in translating their series from one developer to another. Still, great gameplay, enjoyable multiplayer, a story and cast of characters that keep you engaged until the end. Best of all, I’m more than eager to see where the series goes next.
As you’ll see later on, EA did surprisingly well this year: no utter duds, and two outright spectacular FPSes. And before you say it, no, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst is not a bad game. Not great, not good, but definitely memorable, in both the best and worst senses. First, this is a game we, the fans, made happen, don’t forget that. It’s an achievement to be proud of. Second, this is undeniably a Mirror’s Edge game: where free running that makes you work for it. Titanfall 2's movement is effortless, and while that’s great in its own right, ME:C shouldn’t go the same way. It knows that parkour isn’t easy, and that’s why I love the movement in this game. The story, characters... not so much (although I give it kudos for the diversity in it). But the world, and just getting around it, through it, over it... no regrets, I’d gladly welcome another one. In a decade’s time, probably.
I almost want to call this a guilty pleasure, but that moniker doesn’t fit this game for some reason. The story sucks, the characters are wooden , and the gameplay itself does leave rooms (maybe a whole household) for improvement. But... goddammit, when I played this long delayed title back in the summer, its sheer cool factor hooked me in. The time powers and puzzles, with the solid third person gunplay... Remedy, I beg of you, do NOT give up on this series; it’s more than capable of true greatness. Rework the story presentation to maybe be something more conventional (hey, the TV series was worth trying, I’ll give it that), invest in better overall writing, and maybe hold off until the hardware is a tad bit more advanced. But bullet time turned up to 11? More of this, please!
This may not be a great game, but Ratchet and Clank is far better than it has any right to be. It’s great value, it’s impeccably designed from a gameplay standpoint, it looks great, and while difficult at times, never unbeatable (although a third of the boss fights had me swearing something fierce, which surprised me). The one issue that keeps it down here, though? The story: this is a game that was stepped on by the needless movie tie in, and it shows. The pacing isn’t great, the story’s structure just feels flawed, and it almost makes viewing the movie needed in order to get all that’s going on (which is a fate I’d only wish on my worst enemies. The movie is so bad, you guys...). But even so, Ratchet and Clank is a must own for PS4 owners. Even if just to say hello to your old friend Mr. Zurkon.
I know this will find a sad home in my backlog, but the first few hours alone cemented this game a place on my list. Some games can just floor you on creativity and presentation alone, and my first ever experience with a Final Fantasy game did just that. I’m holding off on finishing it until it’s “fixed,” but even now it’s a game that’s almost literally like nothing else out there. Yes, it has its problems (how, how, can a game simultaneously display healthy masculinity, and yet feel a decade behind when it comes to characterizing women?), and some of its flaws will probably never be fixed, but... it’s kind of a holiday romance for me. Not something I’d fully commit myself to, but dammit if that one weekend isn’t going to stick with me for a while. I don’t know if that’s a good analogy, but for a game as out there and wonderfully (for lack of a better word) Japanese as this, it fits doesn’t it?
Dammit Telltale, why don’t you hire yourself out to everyone? Most games have meh writing with good gameplay; you’re great at writing good story and characters, while having gameplay that wards off players who can’t imagine what they’re missing out on... can’t we have both great gameplay AND great writing at the same time? [sigh] One day, maybe, but for now, I present the Batman: Arkham game I’ve always wanted (it’d fit perfectly between Origins and Asylum chronologically, don’t you think?). And undeniably the best written Batman game, which is so nice after the 50 shades of disappointing that was Arkham Knight. I think the part about this game that won me over was Telltale’s risk taking in changing major aspects of the Batman mythos, while keeping parts that have worked in its favor, such as Two-Face’s fall from grace, and the love-hate relationship between Batman and Catwoman, which in here is quite possibly its best representation ever outside of the comics. Tales from the Borderlands, Life is Strange, and now this; turns out just having great storytelling can be a formula for success.
For all of you who have opinions and views on where VR is and where it’s going, you need to check out this Kinect game. It’s only $15, it requires a controller to play in tandem with the Kinect sensor, and it’s easily the most surprising game I played all year. I didn’t see it coming, and while the concept around it surprised me when I saw it 2-3 years ago, I thought it died out months ago... but I’m still floored as to how good it turned out to be. We all hear about games that are truly innovative to play, but the one time a game gets next to no buzz, it’s the one that’s literally like nothing else out there. I also see it as a cautionary tale: don’t give up on innovation. The Kinect, while flawed for a couple of years, did see improvement, and it even saw a few fantastic games (*cough*FANTASIA*cough*), but if an audience is too apathetic to the possibilities, or in this case too eager to see something die, well, you get forgotten classics. If you have a Kinect though, go and play this immediately.
I want this to be higher. I really do. The gameplay on its own is some of the best I’ve ever come across in my lifetime as a gamer. It has a purity to it that’s almost unheard of nowadays. It exceeded all expectations (although I personally called its success after I got my hands on the beta, a month before the game released proper. I don’t know why, it was just a gut feeling). So why isn’t it higher? Well, best way to put it: DOOM’s a bit too soulless. It has character to it, but like Overwatch , it really only has gameplay to win you over, and while it has a beautiful bastard of a campaign, there isn’t much there to bring me back. Characters, story, a world that’s shown instead of told through lore; that’s almost nonexistent. It took me a week to get through this, and while it was a glorious week, it’s only a week. Other shooters got me coming back this year one way or another, and while I’ll sing DOOM’s praises, I say others can and have done better. Except for the soundtrack: Mick Gordon is a legend, and he deserves ALL the work now.
Short but so goddamn sweet, both to play and to experience. I’d wanted to get into Battlefield for a few years now, but when the only real options are Battlefield 4 and Hardline, can you blame me for not getting sucked in? This though... this is one of the few first person shooters that’s won genuine respect from me. Turns out if you want a shooter to have gravitas to it, it needs more than just shooting (looking at you, DOOM). Battlefield 1 had barebones stories, and while they all had their own little faults, they all made me truly care about what I was fighting for, and it made me actually read into the Great War, with all its cruelty and macabre beauty. Battlefield 1's shooting was more of the same, but everything else was brilliantly different: the setting, the campaign, and its fantastic overall tone, which glorifies the war, but somehow manages to treat it with the respect it deserves, as more than just a game...
I really wasn’t expecting this to be here. I’d finally hit burnout on the Assassin’s Creed series, I was meh-ed to near death by the original Watch Dogs, and after seeing the seismic shift the series took with everything except the base gameplay and continuity, I was really unsure as to where it was going. This though turned out to be the polar opposite to its predecessor: Watch Dogs 2 may not have sold all that well, but holy crap is it a breath of fresh air. An enjoyable protagonist, a cause worth fighting for, a city that’s wonderfully rendered, and mechanics that are a great step up. Even the soundtrack is a massive improvement from the original. Best of all oddly enough, is that this is a game that somehow makes you not want to kill people, even though it’d be so easy to. Doing so would feel out of character for Marcus, the bright and colorful world makes killing truly feel wrong and out of tone, and not killing introduces a great level of challenge into the world. I’ve never seen a game were a gameplay aspect, character and setting have all worked together like this so damn well. Just for this aspect alone, Watch Dogs 2 is one of the most surprising games I’ve played all year.
Yes, I finally got a PS4. I said I’d get one when The Last Guardian came out, and I am a man of my word (and my offer about building a rig when Half Life 3 still stands, Valve). However, the Playstation exclusive that found its way onto my list was from a franchise I thought for years was massively overrated, and yet in its last outing, turns out to truly be the PS4's killer app. Forget Driveclub , screw Bloodborne , and Ratchet and Clank ... actually, you should totally check that out, but aside from that, Uncharted 4 is the one game I’d recommend buying the whole system for. It’s not just a swansong, it’s a game that somehow exceeded the hype, by blowing every previous game in the franchise out of the water. Just by learning from The Last of Us , mitigating the design aspects that’ve weakened the series since day one (mainly the flawed third person gunfights, by going for as many stealth encounters as possible), and sticking to and strengthening the aspects that’ve kept Uncharted going (the writing, acting, and oh sweet jesus the visuals in this game...). I’m actually not sad this is the last game in the series: it’s earned its rest, it’s going out on the highest of notes, and now I can’t wait for The Last of Us 2.
The sequel to the most overhyped game of 2014 turns out to be one of the most criminally underrated titles of 2016. The sequel isn’t perfect mind you, but like many games on this list, it makes it its life mission to blow its predecessor out of the water. Robust and thorough multiplayer, gameplay that builds up on from the previous Titanfall , and a campaign that would make Half Life 3 feel pointless. That’s right, I’m calling it: Titanfall 2 has one of the best first person shooter campaigns of all time . Better than this year’s DOOM , levels above the original Modern Warfare , and up there with Halo 3 . Not just by level and enemy design, but by going the extra mile and having one of gaming’s best bromances. Titanfall 3 , I don’t know when you’ll be here, but please bring back Jack Cooper and BT-7274. I never knew there could be so many emotions associated with being a human fastball...
For my writing final this Fall term, I decided to write an argument on how games could and should be considered art. I went for various examples from the obvious (Spec Ops: The Line), to ones that probably needed justification for how I viewed them (Halo 4). One set of games I did cover though was Playdead’s titles: Limbo and Inside, the latter of which was easily one of the most striking games I played this year, and easily one of the most uncomfortable I’ve ever played, period. Talking about exactly what makes it so unbelievably, uncomfortably great would spoil it, so I’ll keep it brief: it has a superb aesthetic that’s simple yet striking, puzzles that keep you on the edge of your seat and often in a cold sweat, and an overarching story that’s beautifully horrifying. Just outstanding, plain and simple.
I know what you’re thinking, but before you say it, let me state my defense. I did not care for Forza Horizon 2. Forza Motorsport 5 was an okay but heavily flawed entry in the series, and Forza Motorsport 6 was great, but somehow didn’t have the fizz, that zest that could get it a podium finish like Motorsports 3 & 4 did before. Forza Horizon 3, however... this game is pure joy. It’s a game that can frustrate you, but like something you love, you can’t ever hate it, and every time I’ve popped it on my Xbox it’s been an utter blast to play. The handling allows for drifting that’ll make you feel like Vin Diesel one minute, and yet is sharp enough to make you feel like Nikki Lauda in an F1 race the next. The graphics and aesthetic have rediscovered the right balance that was lost in Horizon 2, producing a game with a wonderful level of realism, but in an environment that’s alive and beautiful to behold in its own right (the sunrises in this game are to die for, I swear). The soundtrack is back up to snuff, with a great mix of pop, hip-hop, classical, rock, and even your own music if you so desire. The car selection is fantastic, the racecourses are fantastic, the move to make you the manager of the Horizon Festival is fantastic. And I haven’t even gotten to Blizzard Mountain yet...
There are few things as memorable as driving a multimillion dollar Lamborghini through snow and black ice at 200 mph. I adore this game, and I will stand by declaring it one of the best racing games of all time as well, since it finally achieves what the Forza series has set out to do from day one: turn car lovers into gamers, and gamers into car lovers. This is to the Xbox One what Uncharted 4 is to the PS4.
And so I finally finish my Best of 2016, and can lay this ghost to rest. Here’s to the rest of 2017... Above all else, Resist, and Rise.
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TGRIP is a film student studying in Portland, OR. TAY’s resident Xbox and racing game fan, he also (part time) reviews and does opinion pieces on games, movies, television, comics, and anime. He also runs his kinja sub blog Work(ing Title) In Progress. You can follow this third person narrating weirdo on Twitter @Dennis_wglasses, and his Gamertag on Xbox Live is “Aventador SV”.