A totally unscientific, subjective run-down, in no particular order, of the 13 most important games of 2016.
If you told us that someone wanted to make a game about World War 1, one of the darkest moments in human history when so many lives were wiped out in the mud over literally nothing, we’d say they were crazy. Then if you told us that was going to be a Battlefield game, the multiplayer-focused first-person shooter favoured by teenage boys (who have all slept with each other’s mothers) we’d have been horrified. As it happens, DICE did a cracking job with Battlefield 1. The campaign is a sobering reminder of just how terrible war is, and how we shouldn’t be so quick to glorify it.
Highlight: The Campaign. It’s harrowing and that’s exactly what makes it so great.
Doom is included on this list chiefly because it was in development hell for an age, and when it finally came out, it wasn’t actually terrible. In fact, it was bloody great (see also: Final Fantasy XV, The Last Guardian). It’s ironic really that a game so deliberately old-fashioned – with health pickups, no cinematics and virtually no story to speak of – actually felt like one of the more advanced first-person shooters of 2016.
Highlight: The opening sequence is just glorious. No cutscenes, no quick time events, just some minor exposition before being thrown straight in at the deep end. Doom Guy kills some demons, silences the idiot on the other end of the intercom (who’s trying to burden him with some pesky storyline!) then cocks his shotgun in time with the rising heavy metal soundtrack. Outstanding.
This one is my pick for the best game of 2016, narrowly edging out Uncharted 4. Go read my review for an in-depth explainer on why I think it’s so bloody good.
Final Fantasy XV
Of the three big vapourware games that finally saw release this year – Doom, Final Fantasy XV, and The Last Guardian – Final Fantasy XV was looking like the most certain of the bunch to get a release. Eventually. Even with all the development troubles, Square Enix were never going to abandon the latest main-series release in their flagship RPG franchise. It also had the potential to turn out absolutely terrible, having started life as a spin-off from the dismal Final Fantasy XIII; thankfully it turned out rather good in the end. Good things, it turns out, come to those who wait.
Highlight: The road trip elements. While the game’s all male (and distinctly boyband-looking) main cast seemed like an odd design choice, especially for a series which usually features as weird and wonderful a cast of characters as Overwatch, it actually works really well for the ‘road movie’ dynamic they were aiming for.
People were unsure about the episodic format for the 2016 reboot of sneaky assassination sim Hitman. They somehow felt it was a way for IO Interactive and Square Enix to squeeze the toothpaste tube for as long as possible, milking them of more money and giving them less for it. What transpired was probably the best way to consume the Hitman experience: you spend some time in one area, unlocking all of its secrets and completing all the hits – including those dastardly one-shot missions – and just as you’re getting bored, a new episode drops and you can start all over again.
Highlight: The Chuckle Brothers. Actually, is that a lowlight? We’re not sure.
Dan absolutely loved Inside when he reviewed it earlier in the year. The trouble with Inside, though, is that it’s incredibly difficult to discuss without giving anything away. Avoiding spoilers is becoming increasingly difficult in our always-on world, but we thoroughly recommend you do your best with Inside; it’s totally worth it. If you need any more persuading about Inside, then simply the fact it’s made by Playdead – the company behind the wonderful Limbo – should be enough to tell you it’s worth a shot.
Highlight: We’re not telling. Spoilers.
The Last Guardian
This is the third one of these vapourware titles in this list. We’re not going to labour on the fact we never thought The Last Guardian would see the light of day; instead, we’ll marvel at what a unique and emotional experience Team Ico have come up with. The Last Guardian sees elements of their previous games mashed together with modern takes, like Journey and Submerged, to make something really rather special and unique.
Highlight: Trico. He’s flipping adorable.
Mafia III may have ultimately been flawed – a massive open-world game with an endless supply of grind-quests, but no ability to fast travel – but the game, and developer Hangar 13, deserve the utmost respect for tackling a sensitive issue head-on. They cast a black protagonist into a 1950s crime drama set in the Deep South. It’s grim and it’s unpleasant, but like the horrors of World War 1 in Battlefield 1, it’s an unsavoury aspect of all-too-recent modern history that doesn’t deserve to be skipped over. Jeez, that was a ballsy move.
Highlight: Have you not paying attention? This was a seriously brave game.
No Man’s Sky
We actually quite liked No Man’s Sky here at Thumbsticks towers. Yes it could be a repetitive resource-mashing grind, but that’s sort of what we were expecting from a procedurally generated, maths-powered space exploration ’em up. Anyone who expected anything else – who seem to be the angry, vocal majority – appear to be the most disappointed by the marvel that Hello Games eventually delivered. Given the average age of editorial team is well on the wrong side of 30, we’re experienced Elite Commanders from the first time around, and that’s exactly who No Man’s Sky really appeals to: players who were able to make their own fun out of hauling themselves around the cosmos, exploring planets and trading resources, for really no reason at all other than “why the hell not?”
Highlight: That “just one more planet” feeling, like one more turn on Civilization or one more match on FIFA. Sure, it was probably going to be much the same as the last one, but we still went there anyway.
Overwatch is kind of a big deal. If you’ve not been paying attention, it’s Blizzard’s first attempt at a multiplayer first-person shooter, and holy shit did they nail it. Combining the fast-paced gameplay so beloved by online players, the tactical nuances of Team Fortress 2’s character classes, and Blizzard’s enviable chops with lore and design was always a recipe for success, but people still had their doubts. Then it came out and the world couldn’t get enough.
Highlight: The most diverse range of characters (and largely, with all the female characters fully-clothed) we’ve seen in pretty much any game, including a cybernetically enhanced gorilla, several female characters of various body types, a whole swathe of different ethnicities and backgrounds, and most recently, Tracer became the first confirmed homosexual Overwatch hero. Well played, Blizzard.
Pokémon Go probably wasn’t the best mobile game of 2016. Hell, it wasn’t even the best Pokémon game of 2016. But it was still an absolute phenomenon when it hit our mobiles in summer. It may be losing its lustre and a large swathe of its user base after the initial surge of popularity – and to be fair, the onset of colder weather can’t have helped a game spent predominantly outdoors – but it was still an absolute phenomenon. Pokémon has been trying to encourage players to get off their arses and walk around outside (to hatch eggs and the like) for years, but Pokémon Go is the first game to actually achieve it.
Highlight: It’s a toss-up between the excitement of catching your first Pokémon in augmented reality, or the crazy news stories that went with the game (like “Poké-riots” in Central Park).
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was about as perfect a send-off for one of gaming’s great modern characters – I’m reluctant to say hero, but that’s exactly the point – as we all could have wished for. Superlative writing, direction and performances raised Drake’s final outing above what in previous outings felt like a frenetic race between action sequences, giving the characters room to breathe and the player time to enjoy what is a remarkable experience. It’s clear the Naughty Dog team learned a lot from The Last of Us in making Uncharted 4; here’s hoping they continue this trend with The Last of Us: Part 2.
Highlight: There’s so many to choose from. The ‘lads on tour’ section with Sam and Sully was brilliant, as was the ‘holiday with the wife’ bit a little later on. Also, the photo mode was pretty special. It was all brilliant.
This is Dan’s pick for the best game of the year. Or maybe the worst. He’s quite worked up about it, one way or the other.
13 Honourable Mentions:
- Civilization VI – it’s a new Civ game and it’s a belter.
- Dishonored 2 – an amazing sequel to a brilliant game.
- Forza Horizon 3 – one of the best open-worlds ever created in videogames, but it’s a driving game.
- Gears of War 4 – a fantastic return to form, in spite of one or two little flaws.
- Hyper Light Drifter – this Kickstarter project turned out great, but was a bit lost on its eventual release.
- Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – an incremental improvement on the original, but less stand-out nowadays.
- Oxenfree – this is a supernatural teen movie in game form, and it’s a charming homage to the genre.
- Pokémon Sun and Moon – brilliant, as ever, but sadly overshadowed by Pokémon Go.
- Stardew Valley – an absolute gem; like Harvest Moon, but on PC. Enough said.
- Steep – like Forza Horizon 3, but with skiing and snowboarding. Came out of nowhere, but it’s ace.
- Superhot – the most innovative first-person shooter in… well, ever.
- Titanfall 2 – an incredible single player campaign. Makes its predecessor look shallow and cheap.
- Undertale – this retro RPG doesn’t look like much, but it actually had streamers crying.