2016 was a year where I often found myself in situations I never would have been in before. From a weekend retreat to Panama City Beach in January to a summer spent in a barbed wire laden, open-aired church in Guatemala.
The latter part of the year I found myself biting my tongue, surrounded by political talk, opinion, and upheaval.
What I’m getting at is maaaaan, I’m glad I have video games.
Video games helped keep me grounded in who I am in the midst of doing things radically uncharacteristic of who I have previously been. It served as the escape that I felt like I near-desperately needed when I began to miss home or when the political arguments became too much.
Last year was packed with big AAA releases, one after another. I found myself quickly jumping from one game to the next. This year was much different as I played fewer games, but spent more time with those I did play. Unfortunately I did not get around to playing Hitman or Dark Souls III, but I am still really excited to eventually dive into.
Gone Home Console Edition
While Gone Home will not make my top 10, I feel like I need to mention it. Gone Home is such an interesting game. In the best way, the developers do nothing. It is up to you, the player, to take what you want from Gone Home. I watched my girlfriend, who is not an avid gamer, get sucked into the game. She explored every cabinet, dresser, and closet to try and unravel the mystery of what happened in this home. The self-induced fear of roaming this dark and lonely home kept us on edge. Mysterious doors, secret passages, and lurking shadows created the feeling that the house was not as empty as it appeared to be. This culminated in the closing moments when we finally gain access to the attic. When she finished it, we almost immediately went online and looked up theories from other players. Player narrative is intended to drive Gone Home, and it is done so spectacularly.
I do not play games on my phone. I do not spend money on micro-transactions. Madden Mobile changed that.
You are on a space mission to an unknown planet. Things go array. Your food cabinet is destroyed. Your artificial crops are destroyed. You have no food and are starving. Do you resort to cannibalism and sacrifice your colleague along with your mental well-being in order to finish the expedition and progress the human race? Tharsis lets you make that decision.
9.) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
I was not a big fan of Deus Ex: Human Revolution in 2011, but Mankind Divided came out when I did not have much else going on, so I decided to give it a shot. It was a pleasant surprise. The game play mechanics work great and allow the player to tackle a mission in a number of different ways. What Mankind Divided does so well is the atmosphere and world that surrounds you. It is gritty and touches on several present-day issues, but with a futuristic guise. Cyber-implemented humans are found responsible for a terrorist attack and have been segregated as a result. Seeing how towns and citizens treat the implemented humans serves as a weird reminder of lessons learned in American history classes.
8.) Titanfall 2
I did not get to spend enough time with Titanfall 2, which is why it is so low on this list. I feel if I would have spent more time with it and gotten to dive into the multiplayer more, it would probably finish closer to the top. Titanfall 2 manages to do something that a video game has not done since 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – care about a first-person shooter campaign. Instead of just being a shooter, it was a clever platformer. Few things were more satisfying in gaming this year than wall running back and forth on two walls and then landing on top of an enemy soldier and burying your knife into him.
7.) Digimon: Cyber Sleuth
I did not expect to pour 40 hours into a Digimon game in 2016. It is not perfect, in fact, the dungeons are quite boring and get stale quickly. But boy did it dig its claws into me. I have not had much exposure to Digimon since my initial obsession with it as a 10-year-old, so maybe it was the nostalgia itch that this game scratched. It was nice to see Greymon, Garurumon, and Angemon again, fighting for me. Leveling up and digivolving my monsters served as a good enough carrot in my face to keep me rolling. I hit a wall where it took way too long to digivolve my monsters and fell off of the game pretty hard, but I am interested in seeing what developer Media.Vision does next.
6.) Pokémon Sun/Moon
My love for Pokémon games has dwindled somewhat with the last few installments. Sun/Moon fixes most of the reasons why. My beloved generation one Pokémon are present but brand new creatures are brought into the mix that have that same charm that I feel has been absent in the later generations of the games. The game features what is the best attempt at a story seem in the series. They do away with several of the mainstays that led to the series growing dull, and consequently, it leads to this installment feeling like a much needed breath of fresh air. I have not finished the game, but I do have this giant muscular wrestling cat guy that has a flaming title belt and does a 450-splash on my team. So that’s pretty cool.
5.) Stardew Valley
“Delightful” is the word that immediately comes to mind when thinking about Stardew Valley. Essentially, it is a modern, fleshed out version of Harvest Moon, which is a series I have never really dabbled in. Watching the weather, managing my crops, clearing out my land, fishing, and making friends with the townsfolk sums up most of my time with Stardew Valley. There is no one thing to point out about Stardew Valley. It is just an addicting experience that eerily simulates life. I look forward to playing much more of Stardew Valley in 2017.
4.) SteamWorld Heist
SteamWorld Heist initially came out last year on December 10 for Nintendo 3DS. However, it was not until June that it came to PS4 and Playstation Vita, which is where I played it. For that sake, I believe it qualifies as a 2016 game.
SteamWorld Heist feels like a perfect blend of XCOM and Worms: Armageddon. The game play is fantastic. The difficulty forces you to think logically and strategically, and when a mission was failed, it had me questioning what I did wrong as opposed to feeling cheated. Loot hidden around the levels served as an extra personal challenge when I was in the middle of a mission, as the loot would often contain something that would prove immediately useful. The few times I had to abandon the loot were in situations where it was a race against the clock or when I was being chased by enemies and had to escape as soon as possible. The writing is sharp and clever. I genuinely enjoyed reading the dialogue and banter between characters as opposed to button mashing my way through it. I do not consider myself a big fan of the steampunk aesthetic, but in this game it works great. The design of the robots were clever and helped give them personality. The only possible negative about the game is that there is somewhat of a difficulty spike in the latter portion that causes you to grind a little bit, but the game was such a joy to play that grinding was no real inconvenience for me.
3.) Final Fantasy XV
This does not feel like a Final Fantasy game. That might be why I enjoy it so much. At first glance I was not sure if it would be my type of game, and I was even somewhat put off by how the main characters looked like a Japanese version of One Direction. Somehow the game made me develop a relationship with those characters and actually care about them. The dialogue between the guys feels like conversations I would have with my buddies. It all comes off as authentic. “Bro-trip Simulator 2016” would be an appropriate subtitle for Final Fantasy XV. The combat took some getting used to, and was such a bizarre departure from the traditional Final Fantasy combat, but I learned to love it. The animations during the combat steal the show. I love getting into battles just to see what team up moves the guys will show next. The combat is fluid and gorgeous. The environment is huge and offers disparity as you progress. Most of the traveling is done in your royal vehicle, the Regalia. The game exceeds expectations when it comes to the customization of the Regalia. Like naming a puppy, installing a cream interior helped me feel attached to the car. To add, the game features soundtracks of almost all other Final Fantasy games as tapes you can purchase and listen to as you make your way around in the Regalia. The story takes an interesting, albeit predictable twist and I am curious to see how it plays out. For the first time since Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, I want to seek out and get all of the trophies for a game. I am not much of a trophy or achievement hunter, so for a game to interest me enough to do that is something else.
2.) Darkest Dungeon
Darkest Dungeon is unrelentingly Lovecraftian and I adore it. The first thing that grabbed me is the style it exudes. It has the best style of any game that I have played this year, and one of the best I have ever played. Everything from the characters, to the weapons, to the backgrounds are gorgeously detailed, and despite being a dark, Gothic game, it features a lot of interesting uses of color. I would immediately spend real, American dollars for an art book of this game. The game is incredibly deep from a game play standpoint, and at first seemed a little overwhelming. But it is all explained in a clear and straightforward way during the tutorial that helped me grasp it. At times, I loved my squad like children and would do anything to protect them physically and mentally. At other times, I knew I was leading my squad into a meat grinder and not all of them would make it out alive, or sane. That leads to another interesting and unique feature of Darkest Dungeon- sanity. As you explore the plagued ruins, the darker it gets, the more mentally unstable your characters become. When they reach a certain threshold, they snap, and become insane, which gives them certain characteristics like masochism, greed, paranoia, or many more that debuff your character and can make them unwieldy. Going insane could also have the inverse affect for certain characters, powering them up instead. New characters are constantly arriving, wanting to join your team, so losing a group does not mean “game over,” but it could be a huge setback depending on how much you have invested into the characters. My favorite moments of Darkest Dungeon are when I am in no man’s land. Out of food, torches, and about to go insane. Seemingly nothing is going in my favor, but somehow, after losing a character or two, there is at least one survivor who makes it to the end of the dungeon and is able to return back to the village. Darkest Dungeon is full of major losses, but it makes those little victories taste even sweeter.
Overwatch is the best competitive first-person shooter I have ever played. It fixed everything I did not like about the genre. It is a game that does not care about your K/D ratio, which is a welcome change. I got so tired of hearing people obsess over their K/D in other games. Every character has a role they play to help each other achieve the goal of the team. It is not mindless rushing around the map trying to collect the most kills. You are working together to secure a point, push cargo, or defend. The game is incredibly balanced and Blizzard is constantly pushing out updates and fixes to maintain that balance. It is colorful, witty, and fun. The lively characters are all unique and possess their own set of skills. They are so different from one another that it feels like they came from different games entirely. A cowboy, a robot, the grim reaper, an e-sports sensation, a DJ, and so on, the cast is incredibly varied. Overwatch does everything to near-perfection, and with Blizzard supporting it (with free DLC to boot), it looks like it will be a pinnacle in competitive gaming for a long time to come.
Also, Junkrat is the best character.