2016, what a year for videogames. As time for gaming seems to shrink for me, perfectly-timed games are a rare luxury that standout among droves of games trying to pack their worlds with endless quests and side missions. In 2015 I was overwhelmed with open worlds, side quests, and 50+ hour games. In 2016, I found quite a few games that satisfied me across the board and didn’t need three days worth of game time to do it.
Favorite game released before 2016, Played in 2016: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
I admit it; I barely touched MGSV in 2015. I was so caught up with Rocket League and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate that I just didn’t have the time to really get into MGS V. For whatever reason, I found myself booting up MGSV and sinking hours and hours into it. I’m not terribly good at stealth games but I found myself trying as hard as I could to make Snake proud. After my first experience with the game’s emergent gameplay in which an ammo delivery knocked out an enemy that was on my tail, I knew I’d be playing MGSV a lot in 2016.
5. Hyper Light Drifter
I found myself looking for an “indie darling” halfway through 2016 and Hyper Light Drifter did not disappoint. I’m a sucker for games that can pull me in with no dialogue and Hyper Light Drifter did just that. Its incredible sound design, electronic soundtrack, beautiful visuals, and gameplay that made me feel accomplished after each battle pushed me forward to keep going. I enjoyed my time exploring the world in Hyper Light Drifter and didn’t want to leave when it was over. The fact that the game’s narrative is tied so closely to its creator’s made it all the more special.
4. Ratchet & Clank
I used to spend way too many hours in front of a TV playing Jak & Daxter, Sly Cooper, and Ratchet & Clank when I first got my PS2. I was absolutely obsessed with third-person action platformers and for a long time I couldn't find anything remotely close to those games on the PS4. And then, in 2016, Insomniac did something really weird…they made Ratchet & Clank. I was extremely hesitant when I first started playing this modernized version of a game I hold near and dear to my heart. But after the first level I knew what I was in for. It all came back to me, the bolts, the combat, the rail grinding, and the groovitron. Ratchet & Clank successfully captures what made the original title so special and gives the franchise a beautiful overhaul to make it standout even by 2016 standards.
Who the hell thought DOOM would be in a game of the year discussion in 2016? I’ll be honest, Doom 3 broke my heart, it was not what I wanted from a Doom game. Sure, it was unique and special in its own way, but it wasn’t my Doom. So when DOOM was released without much fanfare and a lackluster multiplayer beta, well let’s just say my hopes weren’t too high. But then I played DOOM. The run and gun action that made the original Doom feel so fast and frantic is alive and well, glory kills are the most incredible thing to watch and actually matter to the gameplay. I mean, in 2016 I was actually strategizing my battles to figure out the opportune time to use a chainsaw for ammo in DOOM. Forget about hiding behind cover, I’m running into battle with my shotgun and taking down some stylized demons while the whole world around me winks and says “Yeah, we’re in on this joke too, man”.
In 2015 I played a handful of FPS games and didn’t like them all that much. In 2016, I have two of them near the top of my top 5 list. Leave it to Blizzard to make one of the most addicting team-based first-person shooters since Team Fortress 2. It figures that a studio that can get me to play a card game, Hearthstone, can get me back into the competitive multiplayer shooter genre. Overwatch plays out in a team vs. team arena match with various objectives to accomplish depending on whether you're attacking or defending. Each character, and there are many, plays completely differently than the next. There are healers, tanks, damage dealers and so on. Some characters rely on their large amount of health while others rely on their ability to dish out damage, and still others stay behind the front line and heal their buddies. Every character is unique and fun to play in their own way and that depth is what is truly special about Overwatch. I found myself playing healers quite often not out of necessity but because I enjoyed playing them. It doesn't hurt that the game is damn gorgeous as well.
1. Stardew Valley
There isn’t enough room or time to discuss why I love Stardew Valley so much. When I first moved into my new apartment I didn’t have a gaming PC. I loaded up Stardew Valley on my Macbook because I wanted to play PC games again and this was as good as my little Mac could do. And then I proceeded to sink over 100 hours into Stardew Valley. You start with a farm and it’s not a very pretty farm if we’re being honest. But, like any great Harvest Moon fan, you build on that farm and make it work. Then you start questing for your town folk. You get to know their likes and dislikes, their problems and their dreams. You might want to get married, venture into the caves and fight evil creatures, explore the desert, find rare goods and improve the town you live in. All of these systems come together in a coherent, easy to drop-in and play manner that made me just adore Stardew Valley. I realize there were a lot of special games released in 2016, but this one took the cake for me.
Honorable mentions: Salt and Sanctuary, Titanfall 2, Firewatch, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, MLB The Show 16