The Best & Worst Games of 2016
The Best & Worst of 2015 / 2014 / 2013 / 2012 / 2011 / 2010
Well that was a year, wasn’t it? Lots of stuff happened. A big year for stuff.
Lots of games too, and most of them were pretty good.
2016 was the year that my family and I moved to Japan. After years of mulling it over, we finally decided to take the plunge. It has been tough going at times, but overall it’s been a positive change and we’re happy to be back.
In a year of so much upheaval, games have been a welcome and familiar distraction. In 2016, I finally bought an Xbox One, packed away my Wii U for good, was eventually wowed by VR but ultimately decided to pass, made my triumphant return to Tokyo Game Show and bought and played as many games as I could. I also started losing my hair, but that probably doesn’t have anything to do with video games.
These are the games I played in 2016, to completion or something resembling it.
PLAYED: 3D Gunstar Heroes, 3D Hang On, Abzu, Call of Duty: Advance Warfare, Dangerous Golf, Dark Souls III, Doom, The Evil Within, Fire Emblem Fates, Firewatch, Flow, Flower (PS4 vers.), Forza Horizon 3, Galak-Z, Hitman Go, Joe Danger (Vita vers.), Just Cause 3, The Last Guardian, Let it Die, Lumines Puzzle & Music, No Man’s Sky, Ori & The Blind Forest, Overwatch, Pokemon Go, Rez Infinite, Street Fighter V, Super Stardust Ultra, Table Top Racing, Titanfall 2, Uncharted 3 (Nathan Drake Collection), Uncharted 4, Until Dawn, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine, XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus, Xenoblade Chronicles X
CURRENTLY PLAYING: Yakuza 6, Grim Fandango Remastered, Rhythm Paradise Megamix
BOUGHT BUT HAVE YET TO PLAY: Dead Rising 4, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, Mafia 3, The Master Chief Collection, Quantum Break, Ryse
What follow are the best and worst games of 2016. Look about right?
Enjoy your games and have a Happy New Year
1. Game of the Year: Rez Infinite
There were plenty of excellent games this year.
Putting together my GOTY shortlist was fairly easy. However, choosing my number one was far more difficult, in part because I had a bone or two to pick with every game on my list. I was slightly disappointed by the quality of Uncharted 4’s writing and I didn’t feel that the larger levels added anything worthwhile. Dark Souls III did little to set it apart from its predecessors, Titanfall 2’s pilot was vacuous and the campaign was a little short, and despite the brilliance of Trico, I couldn’t overlook The Last Guardian’s numerous flaws. Rez Infinite is a rerun of a fifteen year old game. It’s most outstanding feature, Area X, is best enjoyed in VR, something I’ve only experienced once. Four imperfect but excellent games (U4, DS3, T2, RI) and one that is more unique than it is outstanding (TLG). Five games, no clear winner.
I was debating this right up until the last minute, before finally settling on Rez Infinite.
I usually wouldn’t consider a remake, remaster or rehash for GOTY honours. For the most part, Rez Infinite is just a nicer version of a fifteen year old game; a nicer version of a game that has been tidied up and rereleased before. I’ve always enjoyed Rez and have come to appreciate it more and more with each upgrade, falling for it entirely this time around. It is still remarkably fresh, and if you didn’t know better you’d swear it was always intended for VR. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a re-tread. So why is it my GOTY?
Area X is why.
Area X, the only brand new part of the Infinite package, is the final evolution of Rez. Off rails and off its tits, this short collection of stages is everything that I wanted from Child of Eden and so much more. I’ll not soon forget the first and only time I played it in VR - setting off musical fireworks, taking in my surroundings, mouth agape, unsure if I should be nodding my head to the note-perfect soundtrack or having a bit of a cry, overwhelmed by the beauty of it all (I’d had a few beers). It was one of those gaming experiences that only come around once in a while, something that catches you by surprise and becomes a point of reference against which you measure other games. It’s up there with Sonic on my first video game Christmas, swapping my controller to fool Mantis, exploring a PS-era Final Fantasy overworld, shooting the Boss and marvelling at Liberty City. As a first-time experience, it’s up there.
Outside of VR, I must’ve played it through twenty times in the last three months. It’s not quite as effective in TV mode, but it still astounds. As I write this, I'm wondering if I’ll have time to play it again tonight.
Here’s hoping that Enhance Studios are working on a full game in the Area X mould.
Honourable Mentions: Uncharted 4, Dark Souls III, The Last Guardian, Titanfall 2
2. Best pre-2016 Game I Played this Year (for the first time): Just Cause 3
A relatively weak category this year. Previous winners include Dark Souls, Yakuza 5 and Skyrim, but there was nothing comparable this time around. Just Cause 3 was the best of a decent bunch - far from perfect, but still plenty of fun. It’s a silly game, one that knows it’s silly, and it can be difficult to put down, as there’s always one more base to invade, installation to destroy or jet to jump out of. Plenty of excuses to keep playing for just a little bit longer.
Honourable Mention: Xenoblade Chronicles X
3. My Daughter’s Game of the Year: Abzu
Or “fish game” as she likes to call it. Any time I turned on a console during the daytime, my daughter would appear and demand that I “play fish game daddy!” She’d then sit down and spend the next ten minutes pointing at fish, which Abzu is full of. I tried to get her into Dark Souls III, but she didn’t take to it. A filthy casual.
Honourable Mentions: Car game (Table Top Racing or Forza Horizon 3) and Star/Lady game (Rez Infinite, Area X)
4. Portable Game of the Year: Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright
Fire Emblem is as close as we’re going to get to strategy-RPG perfection, at least until Square Enix pulls its finger out and gives us another Tactics game. Fates is a worthy successor to Awakening; it’s not quite as good, but there’s no shame in that. It is well paced, addictive and packed with content, and I’m considering returning for Conquest, the other side of the story, so that I can stab-up some good guys.
Honourable Mention: Pokemon Go, XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus
5. Biggest Surprise: Overwatch
Initially, I had no interest in Overwatch. I was aware of two similar looking shooters coming out around the same time, the other being Battleborn, and I decided that I didn’t care to try either of them. I can’t recall what caused me to change my mind, but I’m glad I did. In spirit, it reminds me so much of my beloved TimeSplitters and I consider my month in Blizzard’s FPS a month well spent.
Honourable Mention: The Last Guardian finally coming out
6. Biggest Disappointment: No Man’s Sky
I don’t think I was expecting too much of No Man’s Sky. I knew it wasn’t going to be the space epic that the trailers suggested and that much of the audience expected. Even after the reviews hit, I was confident that I could find something of interest in NMS, perhaps a game of space exploration and gathering that could keep me occupied for a few weeks. Unfortunately, it fell well short of my tempered expectations. I’m sure that the new patch has improved things, but my initial experience was so overwhelmingly disappointing that I have little interest in giving it a second look.
Dishonourable Mention: The controls and camera in The Last Guardian
7. Standout Moment: Area X in VR – Rez Infinite
I was lucky enough to play Rez Infinite’s new stage, Area X, in VR at a launch event. It left me speechless. Area X is outstanding in TV mode, but in Virtual Reality it’s transcendent. It all comes together perfectly – the music, the visuals, the journey from A to B – and I find it difficult to describe the emotions I felt at the time. A moment that I will never forget and the only compelling reason I can see to invest in PS VR.
Honourable Mention: Attic and couch scene (Uncharted 4), the first time Trico comes in for a fuss (The Last Guardian), Cause & Effect (Titanfall 2)
8. Best Debut: Overwatch
Not a great year for new, potential franchises. All of my favourite games in 2016 were sequels or remakes, and Overwatch wins here despite falling short of my GOTY shortlist. I really enjoyed it for a month, though I haven’t had any great urge to go back to it since. It’s basically this year’s Splatoon, but with more lesbians.
9. Biggest Time Sink: Pokemon Go
It probably isn’t a game and Niantic have handled updates very poorly. Regardless, I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing Pokemon Go. The first month was the highlight, when everyone was out hunting. Huge crowds gathered in parks across Tokyo and I walked everywhere in an effort to collect them all. It was a shared experience, even if players rarely spoke to each other, other than to say “there’s a Dratini over there” or “watch where you’re going, prick”.
It has fallen in-and-out of favour in our household since the summer, but I still open it up most days for short-burst sessions.
Honourable Mention: The Witcher 3 DLC
10. Most Unremarkably Brilliant Game: Dark Souls III
Dark Souls III is outstanding, yet also overly familiar. I felt like I’d played it twice before, but I was still able to enjoy every minute of it. In a series this good, more of the same suits me just fine. That being said, it’s probably time that From Software move on from Dark Souls before series fatigue sets in.
11. Thing That I Liked That No One Else Did: The Metal Gear Survive trailer
A co-op survival game running in the MGSV engine sounds pretty good to me. And I’m tired of all the moaning about disrespecting the Metal Gear license. Firstly, it’s Konami’s to do what it pleases with and, secondly, a parallel universe full of zombies isn’t much of a stretch in the world of MGS. If Konami's going to continue with the franchise, then this is exactly the kind of thing they should be doing with it, as opposed to continuing the existing story and besmirching the names of Snake and Big Boss. I adore MGS and have a great deal of respect for Kojima, but I’m willing to give this a shot.
12. Thing That Everyone Else Liked but I Didn’t: Doom
Did I play a different Doom to everyone else? The FPS I played was ludicrously repetitive and ran out of ideas within the first couple of hours, yet dragged it out for what felt like an eternity. Fifteen hours of the same half a dozen demons piling into similar looking arenas, being led on the same wild-goose chase before being picked off. The soundtrack was offensive, the guns lacked punch and melee was like a wet kiss. Seriously, what version of Doom were you lot playing?
Dishonourable Mention: Uncharted 4’s ending
13. Most Idiotic Controversy: The sexuality of Overwatch characters
Tracer, a fictional character made of non-gender specific pixels, but female in appearance, prefers to keep the company of other women. Rumour has it that other characters in Overwatch also enjoy same-sex relationships. Basically, they are gay pixels. This caused a great deal of consternation amongst adults/children who could no longer enjoy fantasising about doing the dirty with Tracer, knowing that their filthy love would never be reciprocated. I’m as confused as you are. Some people really need to get out more.
Dishonourable Mention: The possibility of a female Link, “censorship” in localisation, vagina bones and loads of other stupid shit
14. Best Game Mechanic: Caring for Trico (The Last Guardian)
It is the simple things that are most pleasing in The Last Guardian. Developing the heart-warming bond between boy and Trico is by far the best part of Fumito Ueda’s long delayed game. Soothing Trico after a fierce battle with gentle words and caring pats, treating his wounds, feeding him and giving him a good fuss are all simple mechanics that allow us to fully invest in the relationship that is at the heart of TLG.
Honourable Mention: Press L1 to time travel (Titanfall 2), Rewinding time (Forza Horizon 3),
15. Worst Game Mechanic: Escaping from guards (The Last Guardian)
It’s frustrating that a game can get some things so right, yet get others so terribly wrong. Avoiding and escaping from possessed suits of armour is by far the worst part of TLG. Running from them is the idea, but in some areas this is exceedingly difficult and they will catch you. To escape you must bash all the face-buttons, until they finally let go. The animation is clumsy and the input uninspired. The whole sequence is stunningly poor and not something you’d expect to find in a game that has been in development for a decade.
Dishonourable Mention: Inventory management in No Man’s Sky
16. Best DLC: The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine
What a delightful game. I thoroughly enjoyed Hearts of Stone but I chose Blood & Wine here as I was so impressed with the new setting. Toussaint is a lovely place to visit, even if it is filled with man-eating beasts and blood-sucking shits, and it is the perfect place for Geralt to ply his trade as a beast slayer-slash-detective. Blood & Wine was a great way for the series to bow out.
Honourable Mention: The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone
17. Jump in and Play: Forza Horizon 3
Whether I have ten minutes or two hours, I can have fun with Forza Horizon 3. The map is full of varied events and it’s respectful of my time. It won’t force me to wade through screen after screen of upgrades, it allows me to dictate the difficulty of races by choosing the type of cars that will enter, and even lets me rewind time so that I can un-crash my new car. And if I don’t want to do anything in particular, I can just cruise around the generous map listening to a few good tunes. Lovely.
Honourable Mention: Rhythm Paradise Megamix
18. Most Anticipated: Uncharted 4
I was very excited for Uncharted 4. There were some minor disappointments but, for the most part, it lived up to the hype. The cast are as irresistible as ever, the combat fluid and fun, it looks amazing and boasts an unrivalled level of polish. I’m greatly looking forward to checking out the Survival DLC over the NY holiday and playing Chloe’s stand-alone expansion next year.
Honourable Mention: Dark Souls III
19. Best Character: Trico (The Last Guardian)
Trico is everything that is good about The Last Guardian. Trico is inquisitive, caring, and protective, but also stubborn and dangerous; most importantly he is believable as your living, breathing companion. He feels like a real creature in personality and behaviour, and the game succeeds because of him, despite its multitude of frustrations.
Honourable Mention: Nathan Drake (Uncharted 4), Kazuma Kiryu (Yakuza 6), Geralt (Witcher 3 DLC)
20. Best Suda 51 Game: Let it Die
I was ready to ignore this entirely, but I’m happy I didn’t. The formula is very familiar, but its style is very much its own. I stopped playing before I needed to start spending, but it's clear that Suda 51 is still capable of making interesting games, something that I had started to doubt over the last few years. It’s nice to have him back.
21. Best Take on a Tired Genre: Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 might be the smoothest FPS I’ve ever played. The fluidity of movement is striking, and the speed and effectiveness of traversal, when playing as the pilot, sets it apart from the competition. Controlling the Titan is a very different but no less interesting experience, and switching between the two is never jarring. Through a brisk campaign, it manages to keep things fresh, constantly changing up scenarios and mechanics, while never dwelling on any one idea for too long.
22. Most Stylish: No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky didn’t get much right, but fortunately it absolutely nailed the 1970's Sci-Fi look. The planets are a sight to behold, even if they are unbearably dull to explore, I loved the use of colour and thought the soundtrack was brilliantly atmospheric. From lunar caves to Daft Punk-reject aliens, NMS is a visual treat.
Honourable Mention: Abzu
23. Wish I’d Made Time For: Yakuza 6
I started the latest Yakuza today and I can already tell that I’m going to love it. I decided to try and fit a couple of smaller, more manageable games into December, most notably The Last Guardian and Titanfall 2, at the expense of getting into Yakuza 6 straight away. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up being one of my games of the year, but for now it’s stuck here. I’ll let you know in January.
Honourable Mention: Final Fantasy XV, probably
24. Most Looking Forward to in 2017: Mass Effect Andromeda and Red Dead Redemption 2
Resident Evil 7, Persona 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nioh and Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age all look nice. Nier: Automata is now also on my radar, following an impressive demo, but it’s Mass Effect Andromeda and Red Dead Redemption 2 that I am really looking forward to. I can’t wait to see where Bioware take ME now that Shepard’s story is over and I’m keen to revisit Rockstar’s West, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to wait until 2018 to do so.