Blog Post: Top Ten Games of 2016


It has been an eventful 2016 to say the least. I graduated high school, went of the college, made many new friends, watched the Cubs win a world series and witnessed what will likely be the most unorthodox presidential election cycle of my life. Still, it sure is nice to take a step back from the chaos and the transitions and reflect on what a phenomenal year it has been for us gamers. I would go as far as to argue there has never been a better time to be a gamer. I had a hard time crafting my own top ten and there are still a good number of games I haven’t gotten around to. Games in 2016 gave me a wonderful conclusion to my favorite video game series, numerous quality shooters, tight indie experiences, and the best puzzle game since Portal 2. I didn’t even get into the awesome couch co-op games or the social phenomenon that was Pok√©mon Go. As for movies, I found myself impressed by the end of the year. Arrival, LA LA LAND, Hacksaw Ridge, and Rogue One all blew me away. Toss in a couple movies from the last couple years, a new Captain America movie, a breathtaking new film from Laika, and I was left looking back on a good year for movies. Netflix made my summer with Stranger Things and helped me through first quarter with The Office. I also tried to get into more music this year and I’m truly glad I did. So, without further distraction let’s jump into my Top Ten Games of 2016.


Games I Want to Play:

·       Rise of the Tomb Raider 20th Anniversary Edition

·       DOOM

·       The Last Guardian

·       Battlefield 1

·       Hyper Light Drifter

·       Brut@l

Games I Considered:

·       Tricky Towers

·       Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Campaign)

·       Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens

·       That Dragon, Cancer

·       VIDEOBALL

·       Pac Man Championship Edition 2

·       Amplitude

·       Song of the Deep

·       Stardew Valley

·       Alienation

·       Severed

·       Furi

·       Super Mario Run

Well here it goes...my top ten:

 



Another Insomniac game I haven’t played all the way through yet, Ratchet and Clank is an under-appreciated masterpiece. Not only is it one of the best-looking games on PS4 it’s among the best playing. Jumping from side-to-side, throwing Ratchet’s Omniwrench, and firing off shots from the Pixelizer all feels like pure perfection. The writing is quite clever as well. Captain Qwark narrates the entire game telling the origin story of Ratchet and Clank from his own, self-glorifying perspective. The self-aware dialogue from Ratchet, voiced by James Arnold Taylor, had me laughing aloud on multiple occasions. The writers of this game managed to find a satisfying balance between telling an independent Ratchet and Clank origin story and referencing the other games in the series that chronologically occur after the events of this year’s Ratchet and Clank. I know it’s confusing. But for a game, based on a movie, based on a game that had more than a handful of mainline sequels, Insomniac Games did a nice job.

 



Speaking of games that made me laugh, Hitman feels like it was designed to create moments of complete absurdity and “what if…” questions. I watched significantly over 10 hours of video content of Giant Bomb’s Dan Ryckert and Brad Shoemaker playing this year’s episodic Hitman entry. From trying to kill a target dressed as a Sheikh carrying a fire axe, to jettisoning a movie star into the sharpened mouth of a mechanized beast Hitman delivers on being a game that encourages fun and independence. What I found the most shocking is that IO Interactive managed to make guns the least important weapon in a Hitman game. As a player, your goal is never killing with a gun, simply because using every other kind of weapon is so much more satisfying: whether that be knocking out a guard with an expired can of tomato soup or straight throwing a knife into your target’s face right as she turns a corner.

 


 

I try to play a game like Journey every year, in the past games like Hohokum have scratched that itch. From art director of Journey and his new studio Giant Squid, Abzu was the purely emotional experience I was looking for this year. At the core of the game is its fluent swimming mechanics that allow for beautiful moments to occur. The fish are gorgeous and move realistically, the lighting is stunning, and the blend of technology with nature is quite tasteful. Most of all I want to compliment the soundtrack in Abzu that truly brings to life every pause of meditation and every ride along the current. Beyond what is presented, Abzu holds surprises in both its narrative and environments. I’m purposefully trying to dodge spoilers because I honestly believe this is a game I would recommend to anyone. Expect a two-hour relaxing experience and Abzu is perfectly fulfilling. It’s not Journey by any stretch of the imagination but wow it’s an impressive feat to make a game that almost reaches that standard.

 



Yes, I know it’s not as high on this list as most of you would like. I truly love Overwatch and the insane level of diversity in that cast. I’m not talking about ethnicity, though that is certainly true, I mean in terms of how each of them play and work with one another. I consider myself very capable at playing first person shooters like Titanfall, Call of Duty, and Destiny, but Overwatch forced me to transition my typical methods from constantly moving and killing to keeping track of my team and building momentum off them. I went from completely discounting Overwatch, because my interest in Battleborn, to being completely addicted to the Beta. I took my lunch break between AP tests to come home and play a couple matches of Overwatch. Let’s just say Roadhog hooked me hard and I fell in love with Overwatch and even prematurely called it my Game of the Year. For as much as I value and appreciate Overwatch, I can’t get around the flaws that allowed me to escape its grasp. The free-to-play, loot box based progression system fails to encourage playing beyond just the enjoyment of the matches themselves. As much as this speaks to the quality of Overwatch I lacked any desire to play after underperforming. All the cosmetics and sprays are locked behind massive paywalls or the luck of the draw. If rewards were based on the characters I played as and duplicates were eliminated I would be much more compelled to play more than one night a month. With all due respect Overwatch is one of the best games of this year and certainly worthy of the accolades it is receiving but it just failed to deliver in long run.

 



No game has moved around this list as much as Overcooked!. Couch co-op games have a unique ability to dominate the holiday season: this is especially the case with Overcooked! Ghost Town Games’ cooperative kitchen experience is easier enough for anyone to play but mastery requires teamwork, active communication, and a solid strategy. I’ve played most Overcooked! with my dad and younger brother by my side. Despite the constant yelling for onions, or to wash dirty dishes, or to serve a last-minute order, Overcooked! is a blast to play. Each level adds a level of complexity that is guaranteed to keep your team on your toes. As logical as it seems to assign one person to cutting and another to grabbing ingredients, there is always an extra task or challenge that forces a level of chaos even on a solid, three-star run. Overall, Overcooked! succeeds as a couch co-op game because its mechanics are inviting and growing complexities create chaotically addicting fun.

 



From a design perspective Jonathan Blow’s The Witness is the most impressive 2016. It’s a genius concept: create a metroidvania game that advances with the player’s knowledge. The game is essentially a 3D metroidvania, in which new skills are learned through exploration and the completion of puzzles. New areas are unlocked by the player’s own understanding of the world rather than mechanical skill. Beyond this The Witness has a very pleasing and relaxing art style that clearly points attention to what needs to be seen for the completion of the story. It also hides many secrets that deepen the puzzles and add narrative depth through raising new philosophical questions. Both the standard ending and the secret ending shed an incredible amount of light on the questions I had witnessing the game but also leaves much to interpretation. Personally, the two endings represent what I feel to be one of the best video game endings of all time. The Witness is a very satisfying 40-hour experience that I persisted through the first half of this year and finished completely Blow(n) away, pun very much intended.

 


The game's description puts it best, "Thumper is rhythm violence: classic rhythm-action, blistering speed, and brutal physicality. You are a space beetle. Brave the hellish void and confront a maniacal giant head from the future". Weird, right? But it is truly one of the most intense, unsettling, and overwhelming games I've ever played. Each beat in Thumper's rhythmic symphony is a set split-second actions the player must execute. Like the greatest level based games, Thumper establishes patterns and adds complexity and/or new mechanics to them. The game is stunning visually, musically, and mechanically, but most importantly it is a unique take on the rhythm genre that most gamers are still burnt out on. My only issue with Thumper is that I was under the impression it was only a VR game. That is not the case, I played Thumper entirely without VR. So please go play Thumper, especially if you are a musician.

 



Inside is 2016’s tightest, most artfully designed experience. Totaling around 2 hours, every moment of Inside is intentionally placed, leaving no room for filler. Playdead’s LIMBO is one of my favorite games of all-time, so naturally I had high expectations for its successor: Inside still managed to blow me away. While a similar game to LIMBO in design, Inside adds much welcome color and three-dimensional depth to the familiar gameplay. This, in addition to its stirring sound design gives Inside a style so strong it literally oozes out of the game. Much like Abzu I would recommend Inside to anyone who enjoys games. Inside is a rather simple puzzle-platformer and its impact lies in its narrative, visuals, and pacing. It is a game filled-to-the-brim with striking moments driven by approachable gameplay. But above all, Inside has a compelling obtuse story with an fittingly absurd ending. It is a game that respects the player’s time and intelligence and for that reason I give it my highest recommendation.

 



Super-Hot, Super-Hot, Super-Hot. What more is there to say? Inside may ooze with style but Superhot is the definition of styyyyle. The mechanic is simple: time moves when you do. With this concept at its core, Superhot delivers the action sequences you never thought were possible. Catching guns out of the air, slicing through bullets, surviving and elevator confrontation, Superhot is fully devoted to letting you live out your action hero fantasy. The story surrounding the already innovative game is cleverly fourth wall breaking and takes risks that I found thoroughly satisfying. Superhot is truly my indie darling of 2016 and it caught me so hard. I stayed up till 3:00am after booting it up for the first time and I have zero regrets. The game also has a well-paced ramp up in difficulty. By the end true mastery is required to pull off a truly impressive string of evasions and attacks. The reward for your dedication is true freedom to play Superhot...endlessly.

 



I’ll come out and say it, Titanfall 2 is the best full-package offered by any shooter to date. I loved the first Titanfall and played hours of its multiplayer. I even went as far as to complement its movement as the best seen in any first-person shooter, now topped only by its sequel. Titanfall 2 is the best playing shooter I’ve ever laid my hands on. I mean this both in terms of the still superb movement and the instantly gratifying gunplay. Titanfall 2 never took control out of my hands, and when a game plays this good I couldn’t ask for anything more. But Respawn takes it several steps further with its sequel. The campaign is refreshing in a way shooter campaigns haven’t been since this generation began. The long-lost art of level-design is something that has been dismissed for the sake of freedom and scope in modern shooters. Titanfall 2 ignores these trends and provides a carefully designed campaign that is intent on making the player feel awesome. All I need to say is press L1 to jump through time: this game is seriously cool. Its story isn’t the strongest but I would argue it doesn’t need to be. Narratively the campaign is just strong enough to hit the emotional moments and provide an occasional laugh. Perhaps what makes Titanfall 2’s campaign the most effective is that it never runs out of or overuses ideas. New mechanics are introduced, expanded, and fully delivered upon and then gone; just when you’ve had enough. The multiplayer is also perfect, With a healthy variety of modes, maps, and customization. Plus, an innovative new way to matchmake and join clans keeps wait times low despite disappointing sales. If you like shooters go play Titanfall 2, seriously it’s well worth the $30 it is selling for now.

 


The perfect conclusion to my favorite video game series. What more could I ask for in a game of the year pick? Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End takes everything co-directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley learned from The Last of Us and applies it to the pulp action formula of Uncharted. Uncharted 4 is filled with perfectly timed moments of intimacy that ground the game in ways the series never has been. Watching Nate and Elena enjoy dinner and some video games together is incredibly captivating thanks to brilliant writing, phenomenal acting, and the unbelievable facial capture technology that picks up the subtle forms of expression. The treasure is the background to the relationships and that is a much welcome change. Uncharted 4 succeeds as a conclusion because it fully explores, tests, and reveals each character in the core cast. Aside from narrative the game is absolutely stunning. From the massive vistas of Madagascar to the easter egg filled attic of Nate Drake, Uncharted 4 delivers on being a technical marvel to behold. As for gameplay, it is the best out of Naughty Dog in their history. I know that is not saying much considering the gunplay in Uncharted is tolerable at best, but Uncharted 4 does step it up a couple notches. On the chance the gunplay still isn’t good enough there is an aim-assist option that allows you to feel like the flawless action hero you imagine Nathan Drake as. I mentioned earlier that the treasure is placed in the background. True as that is, I do believe it is the most interesting and mystery filled treasure in the series thus far. Nate’s journey is being discovered as he uncovers the story of Captain Avery and his commune of pirate captains. Many of the late game reveals land perfectly. Almost as perfectly as the epilogue, which delivers a truly satisfying end for my much beloved thief: Nathan Drake.

 


Thanks for reading.