2016 has been a good year for me and games. While at points 2016 has lacked for quality, it certainly made up for it in quantity. Both AAA and indie devs threw everything at the wall to see what stuck. We’ve also had unconventional release patterns, sleeper hits, and a few early access gems finally coming out in full. It’s been an interesting ride. I haven’t had time to play everything, but you may find something interesting in my list of 2016 Games of the Year(TM), presented in no particular order.
DOOM (Win, PS4, Xbox One)
Brutal, fast, and laser-focused, DOOM knew exactly how to use the time I gave it. Never once did it feel like id Software were wasting a second of my attention with extraneous bollocks. Everything from the enemy roster to the weapon selections are crafted for maximum satisfaction. Glory kills force forward momentum, punishing popular FPS tactics, and rewarding aggressive gameplay. It’s all about the kill, the rip and tear of the combat. Every snarl, every crushed limb, punches with a brutal intensity that clawed me away from other titles for weeks. DOOM wants you to plug some headphones and crank it to 11. Give it a weekend and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Darkest Dungeon (Win, PS4, Mac)
Leaving early access in January, Darkest Dungeon wears its heart on its sleeve – You will die, it will hurt you, you will enjoy it. Red Hook Studios gimmick of turning adventurers into gibbering wrecks when they see an eldritch abomination is layered over a confident turn based RPG. I couldn’t help but get attached to my fighters, knowing that I would watch them slowly go insane and die because of poor decision making. Nobody walks away unscathed, although sometimes that can sometimes be blamed on some cruel dice rolls. Darkest Dungeon slowly ratchets up the tension, turning a regular dungeon crawl into a nail-biting fight for sanity. Victory is a rarity, making those big wins feel like a minor miracle. If that isn’t Lovecraft, I don’t know what is.
Stardew Valley (Win, PS4, Xbox One)
Let’s get real – 2016 has been stressful. The rise of nationalism, climate change, Toblerone changing shape! Not comforting thoughts. Sometimes I want to get away from everything. To forget the woes of the world and be taken away to a magical land. That’s what Stardew Valley was for me this year. Created by one man, Eric Barone, Stardew Valley is as complicated as you want to make it. It never judges you. If you want to spend your time flirting with every person in town, or massing vast sums of wealth by becoming a one man Starbucks operation, go right ahead. Hell, do both. You’ll still have enough time to do some mining, fish, or maybe stare at the ocean. There’s a thousand things to get up to, and everything’s so peaceful and rewarding, it isn’t hard to get sucked for a few dozen hours. It’s a warm blanket and a cup of tea made digital.
Inside (Win, PS4, Xbox One)
I wasn’t impressed by Limbo when it came out in 2010. It never struck the same chord with me that everyone else was grooving to. Which is why Inside caught my off-guard. It’s practically the same game – small boy get into menacing situations and dies a lot. I want to spoil as little as possible, so just trust me on this. Playdead threw down the gauntlet this year, challenging people to play a different kind of game. Not one played with a controller, but one that asks for discussion and interpretation. It’s The Beginner’s Guide with a more traditional game attached. Inside is relatively cheap and takes an evening to complete. Go play it and tell me you didn’t come up with at least one interesting theory you want to talk about.
Furi (Win, PS4, Xbox One)
I’m a sucker for a game which gives me a handful of mechanics and tells me to master them. Furi teaches you five things – Run, slash, shoot, dodge, and parry. Then it pats you on the head and sends you on an insane run against 10 bosses. With each enemy it’s pushing your understand of those 5 concepts further and further. The Game Bakers pacing is never off the mark. It’s is an incremental challenge which pushed my skills, asking more and more until the finale, where it becomes a dance of neon bullets and close swordplay. It isn’t often when a simple set of moves can grant such immense satisfaction. Furi is a challenging romp where the rules are always clear and everything is pointed towards the challenge. I would also be remiss to not mention the fantastic electronic soundtrack, featuring artists like Carpenter Brut (also know for Hotline Miami 1 + 2). Here’s a taster:
As a bonus feature – here are a few titles I thought were worth a mention for one reason or another, but failed to make it onto my 2016 games of the year list:
Firewatch (Win, PS4, Xbox One, Mac)
Campo Santo’s trip to the Shoshone National Forest purposefully avoids a traditional description, unless you enjoy the dismissive genre label “walking simulator”. Firewatch made me sit back and enjoy a more intimate story than I was prepared for. One of isolation, self-imposed and otherwise, and shies away from a typical resolution. Interesting, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Superhot (Win, Xbox One, Mac)
Another game that had me mucking about with a small set of ideas, Superhot may just be the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. Every fight is a short puzzle, and every optional challenge run gives a new twist on the main mechanic where time slows to a crawl if you stop moving. The story was a little too navel-gazing for my taste though.
Hitman (Win, PS4, Xbox One)
IO Interactive’s unconventional release pattern for Hitman initially seemed counter-intuitive, but after the first few months it was clear they had something special on their hands. Having so much time between new content lets the little details in each stage become apparent, giving a new level of appreciation for the clockwork timing that goes into each successful hit. Repetition and elegance are a constant goal to strive towards, with new content drops that test knowledge and ingenuity. Hitman respects the players intelligence and we need more games which are confident enough to do that.
Dishonored 2 (Win, PS4, Xbox One)
Arkane Studios let me down this year. Dishonored 2 is a fantastic game and would have probably been my Game of the Year(TM). Unfortunately the number of technical flaws were just too numerous, even after some massive patches. It’s brimming with ideas and New Weird personality, picking up the pieces from the insipid Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. It’s just a shame it couldn’t stick the landing.