It’s finally happening. And by “it,” I mean the golden era of game releases that usually hits around half-way through a console generation (if we can still call it that?). Basically, I’m talking about the games that exist outside of that initial obsession to prove the value and power of each system, and to instead focus on fresh and innovative experiences. Typically, most of the excitement is left until the later months of the year, but 2016 has been an exception to history with so many excellent games having been released already. E3 is not far off either, so before we move forward, we thought we’d take a moment to look back on the year so far and highlight the games that stood out to us personally.
I know, I know. Kicking off a “best of” list with the highest rated game on Metacritic is very predictable. However, the reason I’ve chosen this game is not necessarily for the reasons you might be thinking. If anything, I have a few more critiques to share than the average reviewer, but that doesn’t change the fact that I enjoyed Uncharted 4 immensely.
I could sit here and tell you why I think Dark Souls 3 is excellent, or why The Witness is one of the best puzzle games ever made, and, to be honest, I’d very much enjoy either. Heck, I’m also itching to talk about the DOOM reboot as it surprised me in a big way despite some major scepticism going in. Something changed for me in a big way this year, though. I became a father, and that meant a lot of changes to my gaming habits and the time I am able to invest in it.
I like Uncharted 4 for a lot of reasons everyone else does—there is no denying just how incredibly well produced this game is. Not only does it tell one of the best pirate stories of the modern era, it wraps up a long-running and beloved series in a way that’s truly fitting (and that’s a remarkable thing in itself!). Why it speaks to me, though, is for the fact that it was an experience that I was able to bring my family into, and that was an incredibly special thing as someone who typically prefers solitude while gaming. For as much as I revel in the boom of open-world games, Uncharted 4 (somewhat due to its linearity) is a game where anyone can sit down, watch, and even participate in. Whether it’s truly the best game of 2016 is up for debate, but I simply can’t look past how memorable and endearing A Thief’s End is.
A Homeworld game that’s not in space? Yeah, it sounded ridiculous at the time, but once I played a few hours of DoK, everything clicked into place. This wasn’t just a cash-cow fed the gruel of marketing since birth, this was lean predator attempting to bring a modicum of ingenuity back into RTS. This game was not just a fitting homage to the old Homeworld games, it was a reminder of what made them so good in a new context.
There’s so much that could be said about how Blackbrid reinvigorated the franchise’s mechanics. It may not have been a game about three-dimensional positioning anymore, but the old counter system was still intact. On top of that, new line-of-sight mechanics and a greater focus on aggression and mobility made DoK a new, refreshing take of the series. It wasn’t just good for a Homeworld game, it was damn good all round. I don’t want to say it was the best in the series from a design perspective, but it was bloody good.
Perhaps the most important part about why I’m choosing DoK is that it did what seemed impossible: Make a new Homeworld game that wasn’t in space that didn’t suck. If someone came to me last year and said, “Hey, these guys are making a Homeworld game that isn’t in space,” I’d laugh in their face. How wrong I was. Not only did it do the series proud, it’s a game that I’m willing to say is the best thing I’ve played this year. Mind you, I haven’t played Doom yet, but even hell knows DoK was so freakin’ good.
I like fun, colourful, adventurous games. I like diverse, thoughtful gameplay mechanics and systems. I like whimsical, unique characters and worlds. Ratchet & Clank has been giving me all of these things for 14 years, so it’s no surprise that they’ve done it again on the PS4. While I can’t say it’s my favourite R&C game, I think it’s pretty fair to say it’s the objective pinnacle of the series.
Ratchet & Clank plays so enjoyably. Jumping around is fun, shooting Blarg baddies is fun, solving puzzles is fun; no single moment is lacking in pure, simple joy. It’s a succinct, high quality experience. There’s plenty to do, but nothing ever feels like content for the sake of content – all killer, no filler. Whether you fancy a spot of racing, some tricky puzzles to focus on, or just some excellent shooting or platforming, Ratchet & Clank has something to offer.
I almost don’t even need to make a case for the way it looks. I will, though. Have you seen it? It’s the most vivid, extant video game I’ve ever seen. The PS4 finally provides a viable platform for Insomniac’s wonderful, distinctive art, and it’s everything an adventurous, creative set of worlds should be.
Everyone saw this coming from a mile away, including the GC team, but I called it first so suck it everyone who isn’t me! For those who’ve likely seen it plastered all over the internet but still don’t exactly know what it is, Overwatch is essentially a cracked out TF2. It’s like the developers and artists snorted ground up unicorn dust and put on pyrovision goggles before getting down to work. It features the fast-paced PvP combat of what I’ve dubbed Flash-FPS’, with an expansive and diverse cast of characters, as opposed to a limited set of classes. Moreover, while there are plenty of minor references around the place to their prior titles, this is an entirely original IP from Blizzard.
The characters available are very unique, balanced in such a way that each one will always have a perfect foil but that none of them play the same. It’s a refreshing update on an established sub-genre of team-based PvP FPS’, without straying too far into the realms of experimentation. There are no load outs, no special weapons, and nothing that would give one player an edge over another simply due to the possession of a paid-for item. Graphically, both regarding visual style and presentation, Overwatch also approaches Pixar levels of quality and charm. I haven’t had feels for a robot like those I have for Bastion since The Iron Giant.
Speaking of Bastion, the tear-salt powered robot/walking-death-mobile, I’ve something quick to say to those who continuously whinge about his presence in the game: For the love of Christ, shut the hell up. He is not as OP as everyone claims; he literally has to become stationary to use his most powerful weapon, and can easily be taken out by a half-decent Hanzo or Widowmaker. Those aren’t the only characters that can take him out, just those who’ll find it easiest, which is to say nothing of Roadhog and his bullshit stun hook/chain. For those who truly think Bastion is too much to handle, I can only offer this advice: Git gud, or git Bastion’d.
There have been some amazing games released this year already; faithful retellings, amazing new ideas, and perfect endings to stories we’ve come to love over the years. And as much as I have had real fun losing hours into Overwatch or needing a cup of tea and a good chat at the end of Firewatch, there is one game that is undeniable to me as the best so far. Stardew Valley was the smashing debut from Eric Barone, aka ConcernedApe, and probably one of my favourite games of all time.
If you have not played this game, I talked at length about why that is a mistake you need to correct in my review. So instead of talking about how everything is beautiful and charming, from the music to the art to the story, I want to just mention the impact this game has had on the community that has supported it.
When the game was released, and word spread about how amazing it was, Reddit was flooded with posts from people that had loved their experience so much they wanted to pass it on. Users were buying copies of the game for people who couldn’t afford it themselves to make sure it reached as many people as it deserved to. This may be in part to a well-made game, but Eric Barone released multiple patches after the game’s successful release and personally helped multiple players on Twitter and Reddit to fix their crashed saves. The love and care that was put into this game, to me, outweighs all the flashy graphics in the world and was returned in kind. If I could only say one reason why this is the best game of 2016 so far, it would be this Tweet from a fan genuinely concerned about his well-being. This game inspired a real human connection between artist and fan, and if that’s not a reason to hand over your $20, I don’t know what is.
We’ve been extremely fortunate in 2016 to continue the trend of debuts from new studios who are not content with the status quo, instead choosing to push the boundaries and landscape of player engagement, emotional connectivity and psychological depth. Earlier in the year, I was fortunate enough to review Campo Santo’s Firewatch who more than definitively fits this description.
When life is getting hard, and things get overwhelming – do you ever imagine what it would be like to just escape it all and disappear? To its absolute credit, Firewatch manages to both pose and answer this question in such a crafted and painstaking way that the game makes you feel as if you’ve been dropped in the protagonist’s shoes.
As a game which isolation features in so readily, it also offers such a great insight into the intimacies of relationship just via human interaction – where Henry and Delilah manage to form such an integral relationship with one another despite not ever coming face to face. In a way which is completely organic, it becomes quite easy to feel as if you’re shaping the existence between two people without ever actually physically being involved.
To boot, it’s incredibly beautiful to look at – and the sheer work between the voice actors fronting Henry and Delilah gives Firewatch the polish to definitely be a darkhorse contender for game of the year in 2016. As someone who plays games most prominently for narrative, it makes me incredibly proud and excited as a gamer to see the industry continue to develop games which push against convention and perception into experiences we’ve not seen before in other mediums. While my choice may have changed by years end, Firewatch should definitely not be ignored and is a must-play for anyone who is looking for that something “different” in their gaming experience.
The best and worst part about working around games every day is that you become engulfed in the sheer amount of releases. Since the beginning of this year alone it feels like I’ve played a different game every week, if only to avoid missing out on what could be my new favourite title. The one that stands out the most for me so far has to be Twilight Princess HD; even though it’s a rerelease, it still made more of an impression than other games this year. The Wii U had been lacking a great release this year, Zelda U had been pushed back again, and again, plus Triforce Heroes let me down enough that I was looking to fill the Zelda void. It promised and delivered the game I loved and finished a dozen times in all its glory, with every aspect of presentation improved. Instead of adding some extra fluff to warrant a rerelease, Nintendo only improved where it was really necessary.
Being able to replay Twilight Princess on a new console, with less frustrating mechanics, was worth buying the game for what is probably the sixth time. Finding that I suddenly didn’t know everything about the game was a nice surprise too: the first chest that didn’t have the rupees I was expecting was a slight knock to my ego, but brought back an unknown element to the playthrough. A new collation to complete, plus the added level accessed with the beautiful amiibo gave the remake something new for Zelda fans. It may have been a remaster, but it was the most enjoyable game experience for me so far this year, and it will end up getting a replay soon.
Heart Machines 2d action-adventure game, Hyper Light Drifter had no intention of holding the player’s hand as they explored the gorgeous world it takes place in. With a cryptic narrative, the player shoots and slashes their way through a very beautiful pixel art environment in order to beat a handful of well designed and very challenging bosses.
The combat, although challenging, is very solid, and the skills available to build onto your character throughout the game provides a broad range of strategies that can be used to fight your way through the world. Exploration is the main theme, which even leaks into the controls of the game as the player is left to figure out how to control their avatar, the drifter, with a series of cryptic symbols which appear throughout to the game to drive forward the mysterious narrative. This lack of information is not an issue, but rather adds to the ominous atmosphere that Hyper Light Drifter creates, as the game showcases what clever design looks like, as opposed to walls of text that tell the player how to play the game.
Hyper Light Drifter is an excellent take on using exploration to tell a story, from its challenging combat to the remarkable aesthetics in the world, this game defines what great design looks like.
Oh man, this game. Despite how great the series is I wasn’t particularly pumped for a new Dark Souls to come out. Bloodborne had only been released the year before and Dark Souls 2 before that hadn’t captured my imagination like the first.
Thank you, FromSoftware, for giving me the slap in the face with a large haddock that I needed. Dark Souls 3 is excellent. It’s a big hug to all the fans, a hug which then turns into a brutal suplex followed by a whispered “git gud.”
Dark Souls’ (2011) interconnectivity of the world, punishing but fair gameplay, and obscure narrative all combined to create an incredibly visceral experience that the series has yet to surpass. Dark Souls 3 is a serious contender to for the title, and we’re unlikely to ever see that debate settled. We’re presented with an homage to the series most lovingly directed at Dark Souls, with all the best bits included while still managing to be its own game. From the very beginning the game throws weapons, armour, loot, covenants and NPCs at the player in a way that allows for unique builds and playstyles early on. Invasions and ally summons come in many different shapes and forms allowing for some great multiplayer fights, and some pretty hilarious footage for youtube (check out Shrek Souls!). Dark Souls 3 starts off somewhat “easy” for veterans, but doesn’t take long to reach its usual punishing form. To speed through content, I personally took advantage of as many player and NPC summons as I could, so there’s definitely enough challenge there for a solo player. Boss design is as amazing as usual that also force players to break habits and adapt to new gameplay mechanics. Dark Souls 3 is as exhilarating and frustrating as ever, and oh so painfully fun.
When I think about DOOM, I am immediately transported back to memories 10 years ago of me in my Dad’s study playing my most favourite game of the time, Unreal Tournament 2004. What made me love that game so much was its fast-paced movements, the twitchy trigger fingers, and the non-stop action. That was a long time ago, though. However, Bethesda has just released a new make of an old game that doesn’t sit as dear and close to my heart as something such as Unreal but still allows me to enjoy the same things that made that series so enjoyable to me.
DOOM is a first-person shooter developed by id Software, and is a reboot of the original series which first released back in 1993.
What makes DOOM so enjoyable to me now are those moments where hordes of demons begin to spill in, the heavy rock music starts to play, adrenaline begins to pump, and I am just itching to start bouncing around the depths of Hell shooting whatever the hell is in sight (no pun intended). While that probably doesn’t sound like the most beautiful picture to some, when I was 10 years old, it was that sort of fast-paced action that really made me enjoy this style of game, and also what attracted me to DOOM this year.
Stepping beyond the shooting and gore, the other thing that makes DOOM such an enjoyable experience is that the game isn’t trying to be anything it isn’t. While there is a story to uncover, albeit arguably not a very strong one, what really attracts players is the crazy guns, the crazy music, and the crazy action. Each demon has their own unique form of attack, so when you begin to get into a rhythm, the carnage can be very rewarding. Something about it just makes it enjoyable, and certainly makes me want to go back and play more.