2016 has been a surprisingly excellent year for games, with so many outstanding titles released in the last 12 months that even collectively we can only shine our spotlight on a fraction of what deserves your attention.
This is the year where VR finally made its big push into the mainstream, mid-generation system upgrades became a thing, and can you believe that longstanding vapourware titles such as Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian are actually sitting on store shelves right now? How about the fact that Blizzard launched a new IP for the first time in over a decade (which has been incredibly successful), and let’s not overlook what a phenomenal year it’s been for shooters.
Sure, there have been the usual slew of controversies, flops and disappointments – not to mention 2016 has built a reputation all of its own for being unforgivingly brutal. However, there’s still so much to recognise and celebrate when it comes to gaming this year, so, following in tradition, here are a selection of great games we’d like to tell you about!
Honourable Mentions: INSIDE, The Last Guardian, Obduction, Titanfall 2, Stardew Valley, Firewatch, Dishonored 2, Hearts of Iron IV, Battlefield 1, Unravel, Owlboy, Forza Horizon 3, Dragon Quest Builders, Monster Hunter Generations.
Chosen by: Ben West
Released: January 26, 2016
Developer: Jonathon Blow
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, macOS
What an astounding way to start the year; The Witness released and puzzle gamers everywhere danced for joy. After Braid received so much attention years ago, there was much anticipation for Jonathan Blow’s next title, and it certainly did not let us down.
To say that I completed the game in one week is to greatly misunderstand the intensity of that week. Every waking hour was spent trying to uncover my latest solution, or simply wandering the island trying to find something new that would shed light problems elsewhere. My desk at work became littered with diagrams and theories, and I’m fairly sure I was solving even more in my sleep. This game took over my life.
This all comes from the masterful craft-work behind The Witness. Each of the game’s puzzles offers you a new concept, or a deeper elaboration of an earlier one, never wasting time retreading the same ground. It introduces them so smoothly that it’s easy to overlook how much the game has taught you. It’s because of this subtle education that the game can be daring enough to give you almost no overt direction, or to throw you into a situation you couldn’t possibly solve and expect you to work out that you need to leave this and return later.
I am sad that I’ll never be able to play this game fresh again, and can only hope that game designers take a note of this work for the future. While there is no purpose to a ‘The Witness 2,’ the concept of constant elaboration on ideas should be worked into many more games.
Chosen by: Don Chalmers
Released: February 25, 2016
Developer: SUPERHOT Team
Platforms: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, macOS
Being an adult is a pain in the ass. Not because people have expectations of you, politics and current affairs depress you, or any of the usual horse-dung throws at you once you’re thrust into the machine. No, it’s that so many things seem to steal your time.
SUPERHOT, as one of this year’s indie darlings is very much a brief experience. My word, though, does it linger in my memory – as an arcadey series of action-movie vignettes where the player controls the flow of time with each movement, it certainly looks and feels ‘cool’ to play. What’s stuck in my craw, though, is the minimal but eerily subversive and (*cough*) meta-narrative that had me uttering ‘woah’ as un-ironically as I could. Woah indeed.
Chosen by: Brendan Holben
Released: March 24, 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows
Let’s be honest here, Dark Souls 3 is a pretty safe choice for my favourite game of the year. I was fairly time-poor this year, so I made myself a few goals: finish The Witcher 3 and Dark Souls 3. Guess which one I didn’t finish! I also have a secret – I’m actually fairly terrible at Dark Souls. I usually traverse through Souls games at a glacial pace with much frustration, all the while being supremely engrossed by the gameplay and setting. Like the previous games, Dark Souls 3 is a mixture of unforgiving combat, exploration and obtuse lore-hunting, and in many ways doesn’t stray far from the series’ formula. Bosses are daunting and seemingly insurmountable, normal enemies pose a significant challenge, and then, of course, the environment itself is usually out to kill you as well.
Dark Souls 3 stood out for me not just for providing a new Souls experience, but for building upon the best bit of the series. There’s a return to an interconnected geography that traverses a wide range of stunning locations, although in a more linear fashion than the original Dark Souls. The call-backs to the original brought a smile to my face, not to mention the return of a certain Onion Knight. The story is relatively straightforward (in Dark Souls terms) but has plenty of lore to discover through item descriptions and the world itself. Online play is handled seamlessly with more options than ever for co-op, invasions and PVP. Here’s another secret – I cheesed my way through the game with jolly co-operation. There’s a whole culture around “git gud” with Dark Souls, but I’m happy to admit to a bit of cheesing to avoid the inevitable rage quit.
– New Years Resolution 2017: Finish Dark Souls 3.
– New Years Resolution 2018: Finish Dark Souls 3 DLC.
Chosen by: Colton Onderwater
Released: March 31, 2016
Developer: Heart Machine
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Ouya
That’s right. For the third time in these Editor’s Choice articles, I’m bringing up Hyper Light Drifter!
Hyper Light Drifter is much-anticipated 2D-brawler from indie studio Heart Machine that was originally set to release in mid-2014 but was delayed several times to add extra content to the game as the developers received much more funding from their Kickstarter campaign than initially anticipated. Not to mention health issues experienced by the lead developer, but you can hardly fault them for that.
Once it did finally ship, however, the game managed to exceed expectations and quickly garnered praise from backers, critics and players alike. Not only is it a gorgeous game, it has one of the most responsive and well-made combat systems I’ve come across in some time. Exploring the world in Hyper Light Drifter is the main feature of the game, with a visual story that naturally unfolds in order to explore the events leading up to the dystopic-futuristic landscape. There is no text shown at all while playing, so clever design takes a front seat as the story, events and even instructions on how to play are conveyed through various symbols and also through using the environment itself.
Going about in its world is never a chore as there are a generous amount of enemies placed throughout which provide the opportunity to exercise your combat prowess. It was more challenging than I anticipated, but the excellent combat system ensures it never grows frustrating. Even bosses, which would take multiple attempts to beat, are that much fun to fight that I had no problem throwing myself at them repeatedly to experiment with different tactics and take them down. Hyper Light Drifter is fast, beautiful and a shining example of what good game design looks like.
Chosen by: Danielle Campbell
Released: April 12, 2016
Developer: Insomniac Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Ratchet & Clank is a game that really fits the 2000s era where franchises like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot were already big and had a large fanbase, and where anthropomorphised animals were often saving the world one wumpa and gem at a time. Released in April of this year, if the remake of Ratchet & Clank was to be anything like the original, it was basically guaranteed to rope in a lot of fans, new and old.
It’s a game that holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the first games I ever got for the PS2. I still remember the first time I booted up the game and thinking to myself that this Lombax creature and his robotic helicopter friend were the best duo since Spyro and Sparx. The chemistry between the two characters is great, and, even years later, it still entertains me and keeps me chuckling right to the end.
Ratchet & Clank’s simple objectives, while repetitive, give you that special sense of achievement every time you complete a mission, as well as when you receive those bolts which enable you to purchase upgrades that allow you to reach that unreachable area back in level 1. Something about the entire game is just so satisfying. Maybe it’s the easily learnt controls. Or possibly the voice acting. Or even the nostalgic sounds that haven’t changed in 14 years.
While playing the 2016 remake was very much an experience of reliving my childhood, its humour and attraction definitely hasn’t been lost, and it looks so pretty running on the PlayStation 4. Plus, those witty one-liners and cringey yet hilarious puns never get old. To be fair, almost every entry in the franchise is a series of play on words to create something that’s hilarious but also clever. I mean, “Up Your Arsenal.” How did that get let out of office?
Chosen by: Callum McCole
Released: April 28, 2016
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS
Disclaimer: Stardock, the publisher for Offworld Trading Company, is a sponsor of Callum’s YouTube channel.
Offworld Trading Company is a completely new take on RTS; rather than focusing on producing and controlling units, players fight each other through manipulation of the player driven market, superior economic management and with sabotage powers. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the gameplay is truly unique and the presentation is goofy and fun.
Most RTS games are daunting and stressful for new players to approach, but accessibility is one of Offworld Trading Company’s greatest strengths. The tutorial is packed full of wit and humour which had me hooked from the first few minutes, The game doesn’t require speed, precision or heavy multi-tasking like almost all other RTS games, so it addresses the common criticism of “RTS is too hard for me”, while still remaining an incredibly complex and challenging game.
Excellent features are introduced in the game which I hope become a standard for RTS games in the future. The most notable of these features is the ability to play and resume skirmish vs AI matches while queuing for an online game, a nice solution for long queue times due to the small player base of RTS games. (Especially for those in an Australian timezone)
Offworld Trading Company is more is than excellent game, it’s also is the biggest innovation RTS has had since Company of Heroes back in 2007. It opens up the doors for a whole new subgenre of RTS games, which I hope we see more developers experiment with. In recent years, RTS has suffered from too many bland and shallow attempts at Command and Conquer or StarCraft clones, so it’s refreshing to see a creative new approach to what’s become a stagnant genre.
Chosen by: Blade Shaw
Released: May 10, 2016
Developer: Naughty Dog
Platforms: PlayStation 4
At the beginning of the year, I eagerly jumped on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End as my most anticipated game of 2016. Despite a pretty turbulent year in relation to politics, social conflicts and much more – I feel as if 2016 was a great year for gaming, with the advent of VR coming to fruition alongside a slew of really great AAA and indie games.
However, there’s a number of personal reasons as to why Uncharted 4 is the cream of the crop in my eyes. Firstly, from a design and gameplay perspective, Naughty Dog have continued to refine and improve their game’s format over time to the point where it has essentially become a science. The same can be said for the graphics as well, which have grown with the hardware capabilities of the Playstation 3 and 4 both as current gen and re-release titles.
Couple that with a blisteringly fast-paced action movie narrative and great voice work, and you’ve got yourself a sure-fire hit. Despite all the great functional attributes and aesthetically pleasing visuals and audio, I also can’t help but be swept up in the Naughty Dog discourse as well. In an industry which I feel forgoes artistic integrity and merit for monetary gain on numerous occasions, for Naughty Dog to close the book on Uncharted of their own volition speaks volumes to the level of esteem that the studio have for video games as both entertainment and an art form. Instead, it appears they’ve decided to evolve the series in a new direction with the DLC/stand-alone “The Lost Legacy.”
With that on the horizon and “The Last of Us Part 2” slowly heading our way, I’m excited for the future of the studio as both a critic and a fan. And as 2017 approaches, I’m hoping that the next “Unchartedesque” title might be lurking right around the corner – ready to melt my face off and captivate my imagination on insane high-octane adventures.
Chosen by: Kit Fox
Released: May 13, 2016
Developer: id Software
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
DOOM. Holy crap, id Software nailed this game so damn hard.
Twenty-three years ago, we got our first horrifying glimpse of a nightmare world that got everyone’s blood boiling, and now we’ve been thrown headfirst back into the inferno. It’s as angry as it’s hard rocking music, bloody red as the planet Mars you start on, and as violent as the Hell it sends you to. At first, I was crying I was too young to die, but by the end, I was screaming for the demonic hordes to hurt me plenty. Many times I found myself knee-deep in the dead, heart racing, eyes wide, sweat on my forehead and grinning from ear to ear, waiting for the next wave of ultra violence to wash over me on the shores of Hell.
Shooters have held our hands long enough, guiding us down corridors and patting us on the back with a thousand checkpoints. DOOM just drops your pathetic ass in a room, fills it with demons and says if you’re still alive in ten minutes, I’ll take you somewhere else and try to kill you again. Whatever story is in this game, I missed it completely, and it didn’t lessen the experience at all. If anything, the Doom Slayer shared my disgust at being slowed down for the plot, smashing computers and kicking down doors to find the next slaughter.
With heaps of guns to use, gruesome glory kills, secret areas, retro callbacks and a vision of hell that would make Dante Alighieri quit writing, Doom is a masterpiece of the genre it’s predecessor created. An absolute must play for everyone and a permanent entry on my best games of all time list. I’ll see you all in Hell!
Chosen by: Patrick Waring
Released: May 23, 2016
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
I love me some Overwatch, and it’s hands down my game of the year for 2016. This isn’t like my love for Monster Hunter, a game that could honestly be described as “niche,” all things considered. I’ve easily sunk more time into Overwatch than I have any other game this year, and I wasn’t even reviewing it. There hasn’t been a week since its release that I haven’t played the game, and most evenings I’ll get at least one or two matches in. Blizzard has done a fantastic job of mashing MOBA and FPS elements (which is something that a certain other title failed to do.), and continue to do incredible work with their updates. The constant change in character balancing, a job that’s never quite finished, keeps things fresh, and new content is always being added to the game in the form of maps, characters, and events. Further to that, all this constant improvement is free, with no ongoing subscription fees (or season passes) past initial purchase.
This is also probably the only online shooter I’ve continued to play well after release. The story elements, though not a huge focus in Overwatch’s gameplay, is something I can’t seem to get enough of. It’s never something you interact with directly, only something you can passively observe via the environment and character design, or through the extended lore that Blizzard puts out. It’s what makes you love certain characters beyond how they play, keeps you oddly invested in the combat that’s oddly divorced from the story elements. Overwatch has this power to make players inject their own meaning into the game, drawing them into its world with characters that have a real sense of intrigue and mystery about them. Above all else, it didn’t fall completely flat on its face, basically losing its entire player base within a couple of months of release. Thank you, Overwatch, for being the anti-Battleborn in my life.
Chosen by: Mary West
Released: June 25, 2016
Platforms: Nintendo Wii U
It was an easy decision to choose Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE as my favourite game of 2016. After all the hours I spent running through dungeons with interesting mechanics, slashing at monsters, watching the beautiful anime style cutscenes, and singing along with the ever-so-catchy J-pop filled soundtrack, there was no other choice in my mind.
I can still remember when this game was only known to the world as Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, the words printed on a black background, no other hints as to what it would involve. My excitement began there, as a fan of both series I knew I had to have it regardless of what it was. I kept an eye out until word finally hit what the result of this mash-up was and put through my order for it as soon as they were up, my hopes held high.
The result of these two famed series coming together is beautiful. As you run around in the game, whether in Tokyo or within the various themed dungeons, there is plenty of colour to catch your eye. Even the menu screen is gorgeous, displaying all the characters in your party, and others you’re friends with, lazing together in a grassy field. They really do push the fact that your characters are entertainers with bright lights surrounding their profiles in the menu and the colourful battlefield complete with an audience which is just a nice touch to keep with the whole theme of the game.
A wonderful JRPG that smoothly combines the two franchises, Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE was a joy to play and experience the world they created. I hope that they will continue to make more mash-ups to enjoy in the future.
Chosen by: Ellis Longhurst
Released: July 6, 2016
Developer: Niantic, Inc.
Platforms: iOS, Android
I see your raised eyebrow and your look of disdain. I hear your cry of “Pokemon GO is as much a worthy game for this list as Trump’s skin colour is natural.” Sure, it wasn’t the most visually spectacular or technically exceptional game of 2016, but Pokemon GO has simultaneously provided a foundation for future location-based games and brought them to the mainstream (more than Ingress ever did).
More importantly, though, Pokemon GO is the game that united gamers of all creeds- hardcore, casual, and closet alike. Pokemon GO was a social phenomenon- not everyone loved it, but everyone played it. The number of people engaged by the game, the atmosphere it created, and the way that gameplay translated to the real world was, and is, unparalleled. Remember when GO was jokingly referred to as an acronym for “Go outside”? Well, that became less of a joke and more a reality. Pokemon GO brought gaming to the masses. It brought people outside. It brought people together. And for many, it still does.
Chosen by: Terina Kett
Released: August 2, 2016
Developer: Giant Squid
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
ABZÛ is one of the most relaxing and visually stunning games I’ve ever played. Not only is it a fantastic example of using games as a form of visual art, but it also uses its visuals to tell an interesting story and give the player plenty to mull over.
There were a number of reasons I found ABZÛ to be so relaxing and satisfying. First of all, it starts out slow without being boring, and allows the player to go at their own pace. There are faster moving sections, but these were exciting without being stressful because there’s no risk of failure. But that doesn’t make the game boring, either. There are rewards for playing it skilfully in the form of both achievements and increasing the visual appeal of the section.
I also enjoyed how the entire story was told through visual cues alone, and that it offered itself up for a variety of interesting interpretations. If not done correctly, this kind of vagueness can weaken a game, but ABZÛ is definitely the good kind of vague. I had thoughts on a variety of topics while playing through the story, including environmentalism, alien invasions and creation mythology. I think the low difficulty and the diversity of interpretations makes ABZÛ appeal to a wide range people.
From an artistic standpoint, ABZÛ is also unique in that it’s basically a dynamic gallery display that you can move through. It’s difficult to imagine another medium being able to offer something quite like this, and games like this could become a new avenue for all sorts of visual artists to explore in the future.
ABZÛ is my game of the year because it is enjoyable, I feel I can share it with people who don’t play many games, and I appreciate that it’s another step toward games being viewed as an artistic medium in other communities.
Chosen by: Brendan Meharry
Released: October 11, 2016
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (20 Year Celebration)
Console exclusive games are never a good time, and there is no bigger example of this than Rise of the Tomb Raider. Released exclusively on Xbox thanks to Microsoft’s endless pockets in 2015, it finally saw release on the PS4 this year. Those who waited (myself included) were not disappointed, however, as us PS4-onites (it’s a real thing, trust me) received a fantastic package. Not only did we get the game but it also included all the DLC, which involved Russian witches, zombies and a nice walk-around adventure (with no gunplay or fighting) set in Croft Mansion. Additionally, all this came bundled with an art book.
And the game itself! Oh, the game! There is a good reason why this won so many GotY nominations last year – it is a fantastic experience to play. The story is engrossing, the striking non-linear environments will make you stop and gape stupidly with your mouth open repeatedly, the platforming is fun and fluid and the combat is also exceptional. There aren’t many games out there where I favour using a bow over a gun, but the endless stream of upgrades available ensures that it was continuously interesting.
Even though Lara essentially spends the entire game whinging her guts out, Rise of the Tomb Raider is certainly worth a play. Revamps can sometimes mean death for a series, but luckily for Tomb Raider, we’ve struck gold twice in the last few years. I look forward to more!
Chosen by: Nick Ballantyne
Released: October 21, 2016
Developer: Firaxis Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS
If you thought 2016 was a bad year, just be glad that I wasn’t making any of the big decisions around here. Our military would consist of artillery and knights fighting side-by-side, our economic policies would consist of colonising deserts, and we’d have a new government system every six weeks. On the plus side, we’d all be unified by The One True Religion, unless you rejected the words of truth for a peasant cult. Then you die. Cold. Alone. Fleshless. Maybe a little soggy. Of course, I’m not in charge of the world, which is why I like Civ 6 so much!
The game felt like an improvement on Civ 5 in so many ways. Without happiness, the game functioned on a city-by-city basis for growth, which felt like one of the smartest iterations since the game’s inception. Amenities just made more sense, felt more impactful and were more enjoyable to implement. When this was combined with the districts system, Civ 6 felt a lot more active than Civ 5 ever did. The game still felt like classic Civ, though, and that’s probably its greatest triumph.
While Civ 6 made a whole bunch of changes to the classic Civ formula, it still felt like a part of the series. There were still workers, but now they were more precious. There was still a government system, but now you could pick and switch policies. Diplomacy was ever-present, but… Okay, not everything was perfect, but the game was still as Civ as ever! The game is a perfect example of how iteration can lead to a highly enjoyable game for newcomers and veterans alike. It’s also a perfect way of testing how well that military state of yours will work. Spoiler alert: Too well.
Chosen by: Lliam Ahearn
Released: October 13, 2016
Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Okay – it’s not a single game and nothing among PlayStation VR’s launch titles rivals the fun of Ratchet & Clank, the engagement of INSIDE, or the narrative of Uncharted 4. PSVR is the most accessible VR unit available, though, and it brings some of the most significant and definitive virtual reality games with it. Let me tell you about a few of them.
Batman: Arkham VR lays the groundwork for what a high-budget, story-driven VR game can be, distilling the essence of an iconic character and putting you in his cowl in a more immersive way than has ever been possible. Coming face-to-face with characters from the Batman mythos is intimidating and impressive, while gazing out over Gotham’s bustling streets is an unforgettable feeling.
Headmaster relies on a simple, obvious VR mechanic; hitting balls with your head. The satisfaction of mastering an accurate header alone is so rewarding, and PSVR’s head tracking always feels spot on. As targets get more and more intricate and involved, Headmaster proves to be so much more than a first impression suggests. Not to mention the Portalesque scenario and writing tying it all together.
Playroom VR offers a handful of fun asymmetrical multiplayer games that successfully demonstrate how well virtual reality can facilitate unique cooperative or competitive experiences. The show is stolen, however, by Robot Rescue: a simple third person platformer. Looking down over edges or around cave ceilings to discover secrets offers a fresh sense of explorative discovery, reminding me of the feeling I had transitioning from 2D to 3D platformers all those years ago. Robot Rescue proves that VR can not only work for, but elevate traditional genres in fantastic ways.
Thumper is a cool, different rhythm game outside of VR. In VR, though, it’s a mesmerising, intense and colossal experience. The impact of each beat is violent and abrasive, while the scale of the distorted path before you feels incredibly vast. I feel like I’m riding a roller-coaster in an Imax while I’m playing Thumper, and no game has ever made me feel even remotely similar.
Chosen by: William Kirk
Released: November 29, 2016
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
If there’s one thing you can count on when a new mainline instalment of Final Fantasy releases, it’s that the fanbase is going to be highly divisive about it no matter what. For all its strengths and weaknesses, Final Fantasy XV is no exception. It’s a radical departure for the series in some ways, as well as the closest Square Enix has come in over a decade to recapturing what makes Final Fantasy so special, so it’s a complicated game to try and explain in only a short amount of time.
Final Fantasy XV is a game with some significant flaws – many of which seem to stem from trying to salvage an inherently different game. However, what sets it apart from other modern Final Fantasy games is its ambition and a relentless push to innovate. Whether you’re a fan or a first-timer, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. The game has a wonderfully realised open world that’s filled with unique ideas, tonnes of content, and a combat system that’s surprisingly fluid. Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus and Prompto are also just a straight up great cast of characters, whose heartfelt tale of camaraderie supersedes the game’s underlining issues to deliver an emotionally rewarding role-playing experience.
I can’t say Final Fantasy XV is the most well-made game of 2016, or that it’s “technically” the best. There are other games which are more deserving of that particular recognition. However, what I can say is that after so many years of missteps and fears of declining relevancy, I am once again convinced that Final Fantasy has genuine untapped potential. That in itself is huge, not to mention the fact that despite a decade of development hell, it’s still one of the best games of the year. I’m already excited for what Tabata and his team can do next given a clean slate to work from!