In 2016, I surprised myself. I surprised myself by playing more games than I thought I would, and more games than I probably have in the three years preceding it combined. Some I liked, some I didn’t. Here are the ones that held my attention for more than a couple of minutes at a time.
A few of these aren’t new, and a few of them I didn’t actually start in 2016, but… give me a break. I genuinely struggle with sitting still long enough to sink some hours into a game, or even a movie. I’m trying my best to change that. It’s actually kinda surprising to me that I managed to finish more than 10 games this year, but here we are: it’s December 28th and I have a list of my favourites.
DOOM is a very straightforward game, and that’s why I like it. More often than not throughout its campaign, you’re dumped into a locked room with a bunch of bad guys that spawn, and you can’t progress until you blow them all to bits. It takes a lot of effort to polish a modern shooter into something that feels slick and runs smoothly and plays quickly, with the pay-off that if you put time and effort into it you feel godlike stringing a bunch of kills together.
I’m a sucker for a giant robot. I like Mechwarrior, I like Pacific Rim. And Titanfall 2 has giant robots like you read about. It’s a pity that just like the original, Titanfall 2 was released in the shadow of the latest Call of Duty and on the tail of Battlefield 1 — I don’t think it got the mainstream attention it deserved. One of the levels in Titanfall 2 in particular is probably the most interesting gameplay experiences I had this year, and the game itself is probably the most fun.
I haven’t played more than five minutes of Battlefield 1‘s multi. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about it. I like singleplayer games these days, I think, and Battlefield 1 gave me that in spades. I wrote about how brutal and not-really-a-game BF1 was, historical innaccuracy notwithstanding, and I still think every now and then about some of the missions that I played through — like the pigeon — in the same way that I think about Saving Private Ryan or the Normandy landing missions in MOH:AA.
You thought this list was just going to be full of AAA blast-’em-ups, right? Surprisingly — for me — it’s not. I think Inside takes the ball that Playdead kicked along with Limbo — one of my favourite games way back in 2011 — and runs with it into the end zone goal station area sports metaphor thing. It’s weird, and bleak as all get-out, has some inventive puzzles, and its ending actually had me staring at the screen slack-jawed for a couple of seconds.
I know Lifeline has been out for a couple of years now, and I’d partially played it before, but 2016 was the year that I actually played it through from start to finish. It’s awesome. Part Andy Weir’s The Martian, part Zork text adventure, it’s built in Twine — it just asks you to make A/B choices. Simple as that. Behind that simple facade is a pretty damn enthralling real-time sci-fi journey.
Another mobile game. I spent one tenth of the 365 days of 2016 working overseas for Giz, and I usually take the opportunity of flying to catch up on podcasts or reading, but Hyperburner stole my attention for almost the entirety of a flight to Lisbon via Dubai. Mobile games can do that where a PC or console just can’t. To the point that it was a problem and I forgot to do actual work. Like all great mobile games, Hyperburner asks you do just one thing, and if you do it well, you’re rewarded.
Firewatch is actually one of the games that (slowly) pulled me out of a pit of barely playing games at all, one that I’d been in for at least a couple of years before 2016. Since I started at Giz I’d been playing games less and less, but at the team’s insistence (thanks Hayley, thanks Alex) I bought Firewatch and found it a compelling mix of relaxing art and environment and intriguing mystery. Now, like everyone else, my next job is going to be as a park ranger in the Shoshone.
A mod! An actual, honest-to-goodness mod. I know I’m a little late to playing Black Mesa, but hey — the original plans for Half-Life: Source were drawn up when I was back in high school, back in 2004, so in the scheme of things I’m not too late. But it’s done so well, and I think it’s the biggest compliment I can pay to say that Black Mesa makes me feel almost precisely how I did when I played the original Half-Life that it (genuinely) improves upon.
‘Member RollerCoaster Tycoon? ‘Member Theme Park? I do. Planet Coaster stole my evenings for a couple of weeks — something that only probably Civ 6 did otherwise this year — because goddamn did I love RollerCoaster Tycoon, and Planet Coaster is well and truly its spiritual successor. If you like management, if you like precise civil engineering, if you like colouring between the lines, then this is the game for you.
This is a late addition to the list, but Kotaku’s very own Tegan and Alex (and pretty much every other nerd here at Allure) convinced me to buy Pony Island a couple of weeks ago, and… whoa. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game that mucked with the world outside its actual, essential gameplay. I’ll admit that it utterly tricked me more than once throughout the evening that I played it from start to finish. Well, to finish — apparently I have to re-install it? Goddamn it, Tegan, I was happier not knowing.
I have probably the largest pile of shame of anyone I know. I love buying games — I love the ideas behind so many of the titles that I read about — but I’m not that great at actually playing them. I’m having a great time with Dishonored 2, and I’ve dipped my toes in The Witness and Oxenfree and The Last Guardian and Thumper, but I haven’t spent enough time with them to actually put them in this list. I think they’re good and I know that other people like them, but they’re not my favourites.
Exclusions? No Man’s Sky was fun, and I definitely wasn’t as disappointed with it as most, but it didn’t hold my attention, even the update which fixes a hell of a lot of glaring problems. I quite liked Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak in hindsight, but I haven’t gone back to it after clocking the singleplayer campaign. And Overwatch just isn’t my brand of whisky.
2017 gaming resolutions? I’ve had That Dragon, Cancer in my library for 11 months now. I still haven’t found the courage to open it. Next year, I will. I also want to play through The Witcher at my friend Kate’s urging for the last decade, every time I remember the annoyance of Fallout 4 I just want to dive into Wasteland 2, and I’m looking forward to Horizon: Zero Dawn in a couple of months.
My main resolution is just to play more games.