If there was ever a year to use video games as a means of escapism, it was 2016. I don't have to go into detail into what fury the year has wrought, so I'll spend the rest of this paragraph talking about some legitimately surprising games to come out. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the range of titles that were released, surprises (and disappointments) among them. So as 2016 prepares to belch out its last breath of air, let's take some time to reflect on the games that kept me afloat during this wild ride.
Favorite Game Released Before 2016, Played in 2016: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Special Edition)
Offering to review the Xbox One remaster of Skyrim was the biggest mistake I made all year. Purchased at half the price (you should avoid paying full price for the remaster, as great as it is), it was 2011 all over again. The remaster didn't so much get its hooks into me - rather it flexed its mighty, razor sharp talons and pierced them deep into my flesh and held onto dear life while I sat there with a stupid smile on my face. The full Skyrim remastered experience shipped with three full expansions and mod support, which doubles, if not triples, the amount of content. My re-addiction to Skyrim jeopardized my opportunity to play most of the late 2016 GOTY candidates (like Final Fantasy XV). As of this writing, I'm still playing and still haven't bothered initiating the main quest! Just like old times.
5. Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni
Senran Kagura is a pretty outrageous video game/transmedia franchise. Built atop a solid foundation of fanservice, the game's brawler mechanics function in such a way that damage is depicted by an ever shrinking amount of clothing. Valkyrie Drive takes ridiculousness to the next level by introducing women who turn into fearsome melee weapons (wait for it) when they become aroused. It's totally absurd but beyond the titillating layer exists a pretty great brawler with lots of depth. The game's story can be played from the perspective of two groups of characters, each with their own offensive and defensive abilities. It's one of the more fun action games I've played on the PlayStation Vita (ahem, there haven't been many, ahem). The story falls into a deep well of ever lasting anime tropes and the Senran Kagura-style lady ogling hasn't changed much (if at all), but damn if it isn't fun to beat the crap out of opponents with multi-level combos.
4. Titanfall 2
I never played the first Titanfall, so the only thing I had to go on during the lead up to the sequel's release was a pretty fun multiplayer game involving giant robots. As a fan of giant robots, Titanfall 2 didn't have to do much to sell me on the product. The addition of single player campaign, which the first game lacked, had my attention if only to see if the action that made the original Titanfall a fun experience could be translated to something a little more solitary. And boy howdy does it succeed. The gameplay is great, fighting inside and out of the Titan BT is a great thrill because of the Assassin's Creed-style traversal. But it's the relationship between BT and his human pilot that makes the campaign so great. In a great many ways, it's the classic "Boy meets Robot, Robot is pragmatic towards Boy, Boy teaches Robot about human behavior, Robot picks up Boy's human mannerisms, Boy and Robot form a buddy team" type story, but the script combined with the delivery of the pair's banter made it this year's best stories about a man and his robot.
To crib from my review, I consider myself a bit of a fanatic when it comes to the Myst series. One of my favorite memories is seeing a television commercial for Riven on Thanksgiving Day and immediately running to my mom to tell her I wanted it for my birthday. I bought all the games under the Cyan brand, read the books by creator Rand Miller, and the soundtracks develop by his brother Robyn. In short, if Cyan was working on a Myst game, I was there. But then it all stopped. After Myst V, the company's silence felt to me like the end of an era, that we'd no longer get a chance to explore the beautifully surreal worlds the studio was known for. But then Obduction happened. From the moment my virtual feet were planted inside the dusty canyon of Hunrath, it was like Rand Miller never left. Everything about the game, from its "hands off the player" approach and intuitive puzzle design to beautifully disparate alien worlds, playing Obduction was exactly the kind of game I want and expect from Cyan.
Confession time: I suck at online shooters. Once in awhile I'll get lucky and perform well against other people but more often than not, I'm dead before I knew what hit me. I can forgive frequent and speedy death in online games if the package is worthwhile. Halo's brade of fast paced action and character abilities are always fun to experiment with and Battlefront's pitch perfect copy of the Star Wars aesthetic gets a pass. Because I am often terrible at the process of "point gun at target, pull trigger," I love having the chance to play more of a support role. That's what endeared me to Blizzard's upbeat, hero oriented Overwatch. Victory is not measured in kills but how well players can function as a team. Better yet, the game encourages you to experiment with different classes because of how they counter one another. It's a really smart way to design a game that ensures that everyone can do well in their own unique way. Because of Blizzard's approach to its playable characters, the game's tug of war battles are much more fun and dynamic than any capture the flag or team deathmatch.
This game. This god damned game. This might actually be the first time I've been so excited to talk about my Game of the Year. So much so that I purposefully wrote this paragraph last to preserve the anticipation of talking about this fucking game. I don't even know where to begin! Calling id's revival a surprise is selling short the shock of just how amazing DOOM was to play right from the start. Unlike DOOM 3, which took a narrative and approach to blasting demon spawn, DOOM does the exact opposite, putting a gun in your hand within the first ten seconds of the game (after ripping a demon in half with your bare hands). What makes DOOM such an incredible experience is how easy it is to get a handle on the speed and voracity of demon slaying. Movement is fantastic, shooting is fantastic, the music is fantastic, the visual are incredible, the kills are amazing in their brutality, and the best part? An Optimus Prime sound alike talks in your ear about the virtues of harvesting hell energy for the benefit of mankind. It's hard to communicate eloquently about what makes DOOM the most amazing game of 2016. I try doing it in person but I usually end up squealing and wailing its praises like a madman. It's been seven months since DOOM came out and still I smile like a devil every time I think about it.
We're supposed to write a closing paragraph to tie our Game of the Year choices together and provide a final moment of reflection for 2016. To hell with that. I'm going to go play DOOM again.
Honorable Mention: Dark Souls 3, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, LEGO Marvel Avengers
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.