Unless you are the sort of person who ruins multiplayer games, 2016 was probably a global dumpster fire crapping in your mouth, but there were some bright spots. There were some good movies, some good TV, some good music1.
And if you were a video gamer, 2016 kept you so busy with great games that even people whose job it was couldn’t play all the good games. So let’s count our blessings here!
Disclaimer 1: I have a serious bias towards single player games so chime in with your multiplayer and mobile goodness and of course I couldn’t possibly play everything single player either.
Disclaimer 2: I’m also going to ignore the launch issues that a lot of games had because it’s sadly just part of the package now, and they’re mostly fixed - no Arkham Knights level disasters this year.
Disclaimer 3: Games are listed in no particular order in a category.
1 Yes, I do realize these are all forms of escapism - the real world is terrible.
A great game you expected to be great is still a blessing - especially when you consider any of them could have ended up a disappointment like Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
- Witcher 3 Blood and Wine & Complete - the only sad thing here is that the indisputably best 3D open world RPG is over, but better to burn out than fade away.
- Dishonored 2 - Everything I wanted for the sequel to one of my favorite games ever. More powers! Better levels! Two absolutely brilliant levels in one game! Just needs chapter replay and that’s on the way.
- Uncharted 4 - Uncharted 3 actually put me off playing this for months, but this was a fantastic way to end the series on a high note. Better than Uncharted 2? Well at least it’s arguable.
- Trails of Cold Steel II - Not quite as amazing as the first, but it’s in an awkward position as the middle entry in a trilogy - I was still happy to be back with everyone, love the combat, and played through twice.
- Civilization VI - I know, like every game in the series people have Issues, but this changes it up enough to kill entire nights all over again.
- Shantae: Half Genie Hero - One of the very few games I’ve crowdfunded recently, this was the antidote for Mighty No 9. WayForward always delivers. Kinja doesn’t deliver and keeps eating my screenshot here - from http://www.siliconera.com/2016/12/26/shantae-half-genie-heros-transformations-almost-always-practical/
- Dark Souls III - What can you do with Drk Souls’ plodding pace after Bloodborne? This is the answer, and a great way to end the world.
- Rez Infinite - Rez is one of the few truly timeless classics, being even better fifteen years later with only minor updates. It finally gets the VR it was made for, and it’s glorious.
- NBA 2K17 - if you like sports games, this is a very good one.
- Pokemon Sun and Moon - Finally brings the franchise into the present - I’m not far into it yet, but I want to be and I can already see how streamlined it is.
- Banner Saga 2 - The first game was really good, the second is even better. Image stolen from Luke Plunkett.
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided - Human Revolution but with years of level design. The new levels are at first glance linear, but on exploration are amazingly honeycombed with alternative ways to traverse them, and it’s almost Dishonored 2 levels of choice.
- Superhot - SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. [80 lines of this]
- Firewatch - Most gorgeous walking simulation ever, now with wonderful conversation simulator.
- Oxenfree, Darkest Dungeon, Enter the Gungeon, Hyper Light Drifter, Broforce - These had been hyped enough that there was little surprise at how good they were but I enjoyed them all.
These are the games I wasn’t sure of, but were great anyhow. In a way that makes them all the sweeter.
- Titanfall 2 SP campaign - There is more inventiveness dropped on you and then tossed away in the singleplayer game than there is in a decade of Call of Duty (and I enjoyed Infinite Warfare’s campaign, but that was dumb fun and this is crazy smart fun).
- The Witness - This can’t possibly live up to the hype… but it did! Finally answered the question of what a smart Myst where you don’t randomly frob things and wander around aimlessly would be like, and gorgeous to boot.
- The Last Guardian - Some spoilers actually helped. Going in knowing how capricious Trico was going to be and how 2007 the camera and movement are made it a happy experience. Not everything 10 years in dev hell has to be awful.
- Final Fantasy XV - Yeah, the plot’s garbage but FF gave up on those long ago. Play for the moment to moment - fun combat and hot sweaty leather boy band doing some hardcore male bonding in a bitchin’ Utena car.
- Grow Up - Grow Home showed the potential and as usual Ubisoft delivered on game 2 in the series.
- DOOM - Another dev hell game, and after Doom 3 I wasn’t expecting much, but this took everything about the original and updated it brilliantly. SO METAL, so fast, and surprisingly smart. Think fast or die.
- XCom 2 - XCom sequels have been infamously bad and the reboot was really good, so where do you go after there? Oh okay.
- Owlboy - Another extended development game, and a few gameplay issues, but the pixel art is so gorgeous and it has so much heart who cares.
- Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare SP - Not as creative as Titanfall 2 and it has some po-faced Tragedy, but it’s a fun 8 hours. Space dogfights! And the first time in who knows how long in a CoD game where I know where and why you’re shooting people in the head.
- Planet Coaster - Here’s your modern Rollercoaster Tycoon, and it delivers. Some issues, but Steam Workshop makes up for it.
- Nier: Automata demo - I’m really pushing it by putting this in here, but the original game had so much promise, and the demo showcasing Nier + Platinum combat was so good I just played it three times, which is longer than I spent on Dreadnought beta.
- Splatoon - also pushing it since this was launched in 2015, but Nintendo gave strong support to this well into 2016, with the Splatfests generating amazing excitement and fan content.
What is this mysterious beast? You poke it… you sniff it… hold your nose and taste it… it’s good!
For some people the flood of shovelware on Steam this year was part of the dumpster fire, but there are a lot of wonderful little gems in there.
- Stardew Valley - Hopefully I don’t need to explain this.
- Inside - This is just brilliant, a masterclass in game design. I expected a game from the Limbo guys to be good, but this was far above and beyond.
- One Shot - Not all RPGMaker games have to be faux JRPGs. It’s a point and click adventure at the core, but this has a ton of heart and was a complete surprise.
- Watch Dogs 2 - The first game was famously terrible, so Ubisoft made this game the opposite, and it worked. Not a classic for the ages, but great fun.
- Kentucky Route Zero : Act IV - sadly, any chapter in the KRZ series is a surprise at this point, but the staggered delivery actually works well for this game, and this was probably the best episode in the series so far.
- Tyranny - It’s a great concept, and it delivers. Playing a competent bad guy is harder than Bioware thinks. If you’ve had serious discussions about where Hillary is on the Good/Neutral/Evil Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic matrix this is a game for you.
- Carmageddon: Max Damage - This is the Carmageddon we were all waiting for - if you were old enough to remember how great the original game was.
- Hitman - The Hitman series has been ‘meh’ since Blood Money, so it was a real surprise how good this is, especially the Sapienza episode. Like Dishonored 2 the giant sprawling levels with an almost over-generous bounty of choice finally deliver on the series’s promise.
- Mandagon - a gorgeous little pixel art package based on Tibetian theology. Short and free! Mildly uplifting without being preachy if you read all the things.
- Duskers and Hacknet - Never has in-game hacking been so ‘real’ (though that’s a low bar), and I’ve been Red Team on intrusion tests.
- Shenzhen I/O - If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a low level firmware engineer and board designer, this is a great simulator. It’s one of my day jobs, and I still love it.
- House of the Dying Sun - If you love space dogfighting, this is a love letter to you. If you complained about the length, you’re missing the point - beating the game on normal is the tutorial - Now get good.
- Pony Island - A brilliant little fourth-wall breaking game in the spirit of the Apple’s The Prisoner ][
- Thumper - Brutal rhythm brilliance, a true successor to Amplitude.
- Shadow Warrior 2 - Who wanta some Wang? I do! Gloriously stupid, with gameplay to back that up.
- Abzû - Ahhh, relaxing swimming simulator.
- Lara Croft Go - Like Temple of Light, it sometimes seems like 2D works even better for Tomb Raider.
- Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun - Holy crap, another Commandos game but with samurai and ninja? Yes please! Disclosure: I haven’t fully dived into this yet, but c’mon.
- Overwatch - Can there be a multiplayer only shooter that’s not completely toxic and arcane? Apparently so! Even if you don’t play this, the fan content has been a joy.
- Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak - Want more Homeworld? This delivered.
‘The first time I played Overwatch as Mercy and realize how helpless you are I cried.’
- Mafia III - The mechanics are not great, but this is best played as a ‘What’s it like to be black in America?’ simulator, especially relevant again.
- Pokemon Go - Yeah, this ended up not being a great game but it blew the lid off the potential of AR. People have shrieked about video game violence for decades - this is the first game that has actually killed multiple people just because of how compelling it is.
- Star Citizen - I may never get the single player campaign I backed so long ago, but it has an excellent multiplayer mode I’ve gotten countless hours of enjoyment out of: you read Star Citizen articles and the comments.
- Far Cry Primal - It’s more Ubigame, but riding a sabertooth tiger, no guns, and so focused there’s no DLC.
- No Man’s Sky - It was overpromised. It probably shouldn’t have been $60. But a lot of us found it very relaxing in an ASMR way just flying around and taking photos.
Okay, I’m stopping now. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things and that’s just how good 2016 was - if only in gaming.