2016, a terrible year in general, a superlative year for video games. I honestly can’t remember loving so many games, just in terms of volume. I wanted to make a top 10, but I couldn’t. So I made a top 12 instead. These are the games I honestly fell in love with in 2016.
12. Uncharted 4
Bizarre, but I feel like I have to explain why this is so low on my list, as opposed to explaining why it’s here to begin with.
Uncharted 4 is probably (technically) the most beautiful video game ever made. It’s bogged down by too much combat, and a Scotland section that I’d rather was cut completely, but goddamn that final third.
If any game ever needed a fully developed camera mode it was Uncharted 4. Good thing then, that it does have a fully developed camera mode. Naughty Dog has set a high standard for itself and Uncharted 4 leaps that bar with ease. It might not be the achievement that Uncharted 2 or The Last Of Us was for its time, but it’s almost certainly my favourite blockbuster game of 2016.
11. Tricky Towers
Tricky Towers is an outlier. You might be surprised to see it on my list but the reality: I play this game every weekend. Every. Goddamn. Weekend.
My family loves it, are completely obsessed with it. This game might be stripped back and feature-light, but with four players, it’s an unbelievable amount of fun. It’s Tetris, but not quite. It’s more like a chaotic game of reverse Jenga. I love it.
10. Titanfall 2
I can’t even communicate how emphatically bored I am with traditional shooters. I can’t motivate myself to play Battlefield One no matter how good everyone says it is. Not even Conor McGregor can convince me to play Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. These games are both very good, but I’ve been there too many times before.
I felt similarly about Titanfall 2 – before I played.
I couldn’t imagine how it could interest me. How it compel me to play through yet another set-piece driven first-person shooter. Yeah, I was wrong. I am always wrong. Titanfall 2 is special.
9. No Man’s Sky
Strip away the hype, strip away the promises, strip away the backlash and the drama and all the bullshit. No Man’s Sky is just a weird, esoteric, inspiring video game experience. It’s unforgettable.
For the 15 or so hours I spent in that game’s universe, I was enthralled. I explored. I searched for runes. I slowly learned languages. I flew from one planet, into Space and then literally flew to another one and landed on it.
That never got old to me. The exploration element. The scale. How pretty it all was.
No Man’s Sky may have disappointed some, and that’s okay. I was in awe of it.
8. The Last Guardian
Someone told me that The Last Guardian feels like a HD remaster of a game that should have been released five years ago.
Yes and no.
Yes, the camera is shonky. Yes you have to fight against the controls. Yes, the frame-rate is a problem.
Jesus Christ this game is spectacular. The world is unique. The architecture is just so wonderfully alien. That goddamn dog-bird is just perfectly animated and adorable and real. I actually enjoy the way it refuses to do my bidding like a stubborn cat.
I want to say something about the way the game controls, the way the movement feels.
So often we want controls to just respond to our inputs. We want controls to disappear into some amorphous blob: all buttons do the same thing in every video game, all movements are precise, simple, accessible. The Last Guardian makes you feel clumsy, The Last Guardian feels imperfect. I love that. Not all video games need to feel the same, not all controls need to be precise. I wish more video games would strive for their own sense of identity in all facets – including the controls. Games that do things a little different, that feel different are always the most memorable.
7. That Dragon, Cancer
I’m glad That Dragon, Cancer exists. I’m terribly sad for the circumstances that allowed it to exist, and tremendously sorry for the pain that its creators had to endure. But I’m proud to write about a medium that could express that pain so vividly, and allow Ryan and Amy Green to share the story of their beautiful little boy.
It may sound weird, but I’m always rooting for video games as a medium. I grew up defensive of video games, that’s probably why.
So I love it when video games do things right. Firewatch is video games done right: interesting stories, rich dialogue. The things Firewatch does right are the things video games usually get wrong.
Progress people. Progress. 2016 was a year of progress for video games in general.
Everyone knows Overwatch is the goddamn shit.
How does Blizzard do it? Every single time. Overwatch is a slow creeping masterpiece.
I need to play more Overwatch. Probably everyone could do with playing more Overwatch.
Except my brother-in-law. He should probably play a little bit less.
I’m playing this game thinking, what’s all the fuss about? Yeah it’s pretty good. Cool aesthetic, cool environmental story-telling, incredible atmosphere. Then the ending. Dear God the ending.
Video games are so fucking awesome.
I just love Oxenfree so much.
I love it because it has the coolest dialogue system I’ve ever seen in a video game. If you talk, the conversation is altered but staying silent is also considered a method of communication. You have the choice to stay silent and conversations happen naturally without you.
It’s beautiful. It’s natural. It’s seamless.
Oxenfree has the best teenagers I’ve ever seen in a video game.
That sounds weird.
What I’m trying to say: Oxenfree is a video game featuring brilliantly drawn characters in a compelling story. It’s smart, it has real drama. So often people talk about wanting to play video games ‘to see what happens next in the story’. Oxenfree is one of the few games that’s genuinely made me feel like that.
It’s also criminally underplayed.
Everyone: play Oxenfree.
2. Dark Souls 3
I don’t know how From Software keep doing it.
How they keep making superlative video games one after the other.
How they continue to create these incredible environments and spaces. How they continue to tweak their formula. How it continually feels fresh. It’s incredible.
You could make an argument that Dark Souls 3 is From Software’s best game yet. (I say it goes Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3, but still…)
It’s almost trite to say, but Dark Souls 3 is a brilliant combination of the best parts of previous Souls games. The world isn’t as tight knit as the original Dark Souls. It feels more sprawling, but never feels like a series of discrete areas like Dark Souls 2. It feels cohesive and natural. And by God is it gorgeous.
By Christ, it’s very hard to not have this be my game of the year.
1. The Witness
I didn’t expect The Witness to be my favourite game of the year. Especially not in the moments when I was completely fucking lost, solving random puzzles. Especially when I sat there trying to figure out the goddamn rules of how anything worked on this fucking island.
I think at one point I just fell in love with how intricate the design was. How the puzzles interacted with one another, how the rules were revealed. How the impossible slowly became possible. How the environment itself was a puzzle. How everything just worked.
The Witness made me feel a lot of things. It made me feel smart, stupid, angry, delighted, giddy, confused, bored, excited. It made me feel awe. I was in awe of it. 2016 was a helluva year for video games, but The Witness takes it. The Witness is my game of the year.
That's just my own, personal list — what are your favourite games of 2016?