In my previous top five list, I said 2015 was a great year for games. I was a little worried stepping into a new year, fearful that we’d gotten all the good releases out of our system too soon, leaving nothing but remasters to fill calendar gaps.
Thankfully I was wrong.
While 2016 brought the noise with big sequels, it also delivered some fresh new franchises into the industry. We met colourful casts of characters, travelled to wild and exotic places, and interfaced with new gameplay systems. It was also a time for innovation, with virtual reality headsets making their way into consumer hands.
Without further ado, here are some of my favourite games of 2016 in no particular order.
The Last Guardian is a technical mess, and by most metrics a poorly designed game. And yet despite all that, I loved every second of it.
Trico is a character all its own, and the developers manage to build a relationship between the two of you simply through your actions. Your feathered dog-cat friend may just be a bundle of scripts and artificial intelligence, but the way it moves and interacts with its surroundings gives Trico more depth than any amount of dialogue ever could.
While the game's long and troubled development has left its mark on things like the framerate, controls, and systems, it can't undermine its more emotional achievements. The Last Guardian is a story about friendship that will resonate with every player.
Nobody in the industry knows how to make soiled rags quite like FromSoftware. Not much of a surprise; they’ve been mastering the craft since the Souls series started in 2009. Countless players have fallen in love with the setting, its robust world building, and punishing gameplay.
Dark Souls III is the final entry in the series. Not only a culmination of mechanics and gameplay, it was the developer’s last chance to tie up any dangling story threads. A difficult task too, given the ephemeral nature of the fabric it was sewn from.
Thankfully they pull it off. The game delivers players to a lonely world full of horrifying monsters to overcome, mysteries to unravel, and gloomy characters to interact with. While historic call-backs come across as trite fan service, and some design decisions feel rushed, they can’t take away from the other successes of Dark Souls’ swansong.
A lot of games lack style. I’m not talking about a strong artistic direction, or a tie-in fashion label. I’m talking about a feeling so thick, you could cut it with a knife and watch it ooze everywhere. A sensation while you play that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Furi is all about style, and it permeates every single element of its creation. From its neon-soaked battle arenas, to its thumping electronic soundtrack, there’s a cohesion to every element that elevates it over its peers.
That feeling seeps into the combat, which consists solely of back-to-back boss battles. Each one is a new puzzle for you to unravel, as you fight with a sword and gun in fast and furious fashion. You’ll lose multiple times on each one, until that one time where everything clicks. All your strikes land true. All your dodges are immaculate. All your parries are perfect.
Furi is stylish as hell.
What Furi does for style, Darkest Dungeon does for desperation. This turn-based dungeon crawler may rely a lot on numbers and percentages to drive its themes, but their unpredictable nature also gives it a lot of replay value.
Darkest Dungeon is about the horrors of adventuring. Quite often in games we see heroes delving into crypts and caves, focusing on the physical challenges involved. In your time with this turn-based roguelike, you’ll deal with those challenges as you manage familiar HP meters and armour values, but you’ll also peek into the psychological toll endured by your ragtag party.
The game also deftly dodges the simple – and at times insensitive – interpretation of Lovecraftian madness. As your heroes face off against unspeakable horrors and gruelling hardships, they’ll accrue “stress,” which in turn tests their resolve. If they buckle and break – and many of them will – they’ll adopt negative quirks and traits. These aren’t throwaway sensory or auditory effects like in Eternal Darkness either – they’re with your hero for life.
Outside of that, and Darkest Dungeon is just damn good fun. It can be horrifying how quickly you slip into a middle-manager’s shoes, especially when your portfolio is one of money earned versus your team’s wellbeing.
Jonathan Blow’s long in development puzzle game is frustrating. Not because its mechanics or puzzles are poor. It’s frustrating because it’s so difficult – which only makes the fruits of your labour all the sweeter.
On the outset, The Witness is simple: traverse an island, solve puzzles at terminals, and take in the sights. Tying that all together is a form of mental Metroidvania. As you explore different environments, you’ll discover new and profound ways of solving puzzles – methods that transform sets of rules you’ve been using for hours. The lens that you use to look through the game’s world changes.
It’s also elegant. It reflects the learning process we all go through in life via its gameplay loop. You’ll start a puzzle, hit a road-block, and quit in a huff – only to find the answer fall out of thin air the next day. You’ll then repeat this whole process over again. The game doesn’t provide tips and tricks, because it’s confident in our ability to develop and grow, and make sense of the unknown.
The Witness is an optimistic look at the human condition, and one of the best games of 2016.
Those were some of my favourite games of 2016. What were yours? Sound off in the comments below!
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