After nearly twelve years of reviewing games, I took a six month hiatus from writing about them. I resold my new Oculus Rift without even opening the box and just gave gaming a little lower priority for a while. I picked a great time to jump back in, though, with most of my "year's best" coming out in this past quarter. The list that follows is really in no particular order; I think they're all great and on any given day, any one of them could rise to the top spot.
Favorite Game from Before 2016, Played in 2016: Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption finally became backwards-compatible with Xbox One this year, and of course I had to play it again, as did so many fans who believe it to be Rockstar's masterpiece. It probably is. Red Dead is looking a little dated to be sure, but its story and characters are still some of the best ever crafted for a game. Very much looking forward to Red Dead 2 next year!
5. Dishonored 2
In just about every way, the follow-up to Dishonored was an improvement over the original, which is one of my favorite shooters of all time. Minor gripes about sound design, voice acting and character models aside, Dishonored 2's painterly environments and engaging game play make it a standout. There are so many viable ways to play Dishonored 2 -- from stealth to all-out chaos -- that the game's built in "more than one playthrough" design is justified.
4. Planet Coaster
Just about everyone was a fan of the original Rollercoaster Tycoon games, and Planet Coaster brings all that was fun about RCT to gamers equipped with processors and GPUs circa 2016. The game looks and sounds incredible, and offers endless hours of building, tinkering, and riding virtual scream machines. With a burgeoning Steam Workshop community, there will be a steady stream of user created content for years to come.
3. Final Fantasy XV
A Final Fantasy game for fans and newbies alike, XV takes a lot of chances, from its battle system to the design of its open world. It's a bit rough around the edges but has a well-told and relatively (for Final Fantasy) coherent story and with memorable characters. Getting around the expansive world can be a pain, and there's some janky tech hidden in the controls and camera, but overall, Final Fantasy XV is memorable and inviting.
2. The Last Guardian
Sneaking in just under the wire for 2016, and over ten years in the making, this successor to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus is, not surprisingly, one of the most emotionally compelling and artistically impressive games of the year. Its camera, platforming, and unpredictable AI can undermine moment-to-moment enjoyment, but the game's concept and overall execution are undeniably incredible. There is really nothing like it in this generation of games.
1. Dark Souls 3
No one would argue that Dark Souls 3 is the best "Soulsborne" game, but the high standard to which fans hold From Software's titles mean that even a "mediocre" Souls game is probably pretty damn special and better than most releases. Once again, the studio's ability to deliver challenging, precisely dialed-in combat, well-designed levels and memorable foes land Dark Souls 3 near the top of my list.
Honorable Mention: Titanfall 2, Gears of War 4, Shadow Warrior 2, Civilization VI