My 10 Favorite Games of 2016

As far as years go, 2016 was a shitshow. A dumpster fire. Over the last 12 months I’ve lost my dad, the family dog, and almost lost my closest uncle to a car accident. With gaming as my primary form of escapism, I’m at least eternally grateful that this was one hell of a year for our favorite medium.

I’ve already gone over my honorable mentions, so let’s not waste anymore time and dive right in to my absolute favorite games of 2016. I’ve narrowed it down to 10.

alonewithyou

#10 – Alone With You

Alone With You is an interesting sci-fi tale, focusing on the sole survivor of a space colonization project gone awry. With the help of the colony’s A.I., you spend most of your time locating parts and schematics in hopes of building an escape ship. Only you’re not mentally equipped to do it all on your own. To help out, your new A.I. pal uploads the memories of four of the colony’s most important figures (now dead, by the way), turning them in to sentient holograms.

It’s mostly an adventure game, favoring a narrative focus instead of action or combat, but with a dash of dating sim thrown in for good measure–as you can spend time with each of the four holograms between scavenging missions. There’s a lot of backstory to uncover as well, as you’ll tap in to the lives of the recently deceased by scanning the many, many corpses that litter the colony grounds.

I liked the idea of associating with sentient holograms that still felt somewhat human, and piecing together the deceased’s final moments through found documentation was always a horrific treat. The retro aesthetic, the OST, the writing, it all came together rather nicely and I was far from disappointed.

saohollowrealization

#9 – Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

Hollow Realization is the latest gaming installment in the wildly popular Sword Art Online universe, and it’s a game that’s probably not going to connect with those unfamiliar to the source material. Even if you are, your mileage may vary. It’s definitely an action RPG for Sword Art fans, letting players customize and control the series’ hero Kirito while partying up with familiar faces from within the anime, like Asuna, Lisbeth, and Klein.

The story isn’t very good and the piss poor translation certainly doesn’t do it any favors, but there’s tons of loot to collect, weapons to master, and dungeons to scour that make it a worthwhile undertaking. I’ve spent nearly 60 hours with the PS4 version, when combining the passable campaign and the online multi-player raiding feature, and I’m eagerly awaiting the new update and DLC packs.

It’s not the best action RPG around, but as a huge fan of the anime I had a great time palling around with my series favorites, leveling up different weapons, and tackling the game’s massive raid bosses with randos online.

firewatch

#8 – Firewatch

Firewatch is a first-person narrative exploration game that offsets its beautiful Wyoming landscape with the somber tale of a man’s struggle as he deals with his young wife’s early-onset dementia symptoms.

Taking place in the Shoshone National Park, Henry accepts a part-time job as a fire lookout in hopes of mentally checking out for a few months. His only human interaction is with Delilah, a female fire lookout stationed in another part of the forest. As Henry’s wife succumbs to dementia, thus slowly purging their memories from her mind, your dialogue choices with Delilah set the tone for the rest of the game.

The storytelling in Firewatch is pretty top-notch, having given me a steady stream of intrigue as I explored Shoshone and conversed with Delilah over my walkie talkie. The narrative’s delivery is also rock solid as Rich Sommer (Mad Men, The Devil Wears Prada) and Cissy Jones (Life is Strange, Adr1ft) bring both of the central characters to life with gravitas.

Firewatch is a bit on the short side, which is fine, but my main gripe is in how the game ran. The PS4 version suffered from some pretty awful framerate issues and screen tearing, which did pull me out of the experience a bit. However, neither of those problems were enough to keep me away. I was sucked in from the jump and happily played through in a single setting.

stardustgalaxywarriors

#7 – Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax

I love me a good bullet-hell shmup, but Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s absurd, beautiful, and plays like a dream, while having one of my favorite OST’s of 2016. The bleeps and bloops are just pure ear-sex.

There’s a ridiculously good gameplay loop, drip-feeding a steady supply of rewards to the player as they blast their way through hordes of baddies and over-the-top bosses. Each character class even has their own abilities that added a bit of Destiny and Diablo to my frantic shoot-em-up sessions.

Stardust Galaxy Warriors is one of the finest arcade shmups I’ve ever played. Bottom line. And its plethora of customization and game modes, along with its almost Mega Man-like soundtrack, still have me revisiting it months after release.

oxenfree

#6 – Oxenfree

Oxenfree intrigued me when it launched on Xbox One, but I didn’t get around to Night School Studio’s supernatural adventure game until it landed on PS4 earlier this year.

It’s a 2D tale about a group of teenage schoolmates meeting up on a retired island to shoot the shit, drink, and do whatever it is crazy teenagers do. Like open an enigmatic rift using radio frequencies. Yeah, it gets pretty weird.

There’s a lot of great dialogue in Oxenfree, and not just about parallel dimensions, rifts, time travel, aliens, and ghosts, but the kids also delve in to some pretty dreary life issues, like love, divorce, and drug use. Your actions and dialogue choices not only affect the way others perceive and react to you, but alter the ending as well. With a handful of different endings to unlock, it significantly added replay value to an otherwise short (yet incredibly memorable) 4-hour experience.

If you’re a fan of Life is Strange, I highly recommend giving it a shot.

worldoffinalfantasy

#5 – World of Final Fantasy

I love Final Fantasy. I love Pokemon. Therefor, I love World of Final Fantasy. Poor attempt at comedy aside, I’ve really enjoyed my time with Square’s light-hearted nostalgia trip about capturing and battling with the series’ famous monsters and I’m sure I’ll be playing World of Final Fantasy well in to the new year.

The story is kind of a mixed bag, generally existing as nothing more than a way to push the player along to the game’s next zone, full of new mirages to battle and capture. Thankfully that part of the game is compelling and addictive. I’ve spent the better part of my time collecting, leveling, and transfigging mirages to make the perfect stacks, and that includes spending time in the game’s optional Coliseum to snag some of the series’ most well known heavy hitters, like Ifrit, Shiva, and Valefor.

The writing is clever as well, particularly the flavor text that accompanies each of your newly imprismed mirages, but it’s a shame they didn’t put more effort in to the central narrative or its characters outside of a batch of side-quests.

Still, I’ve yet to lose my urge to catch all of the mirages, summon champions from earlier games, geek out over Squall and Cloud cameos, and play mad scientist with the stacking feature.

doomreboot

#4 – Doom

Doom is one of the most polished and enjoyable games of 2016, hands down. Not only am I thrilled to see Bethesda’s enthusiasm toward delivering single-player shooter experiences, but their quality thus far has been outstanding. The reboot of Wolfenstein in The New Order, and its standalone offering The Old Blood were both fantastic, and I’m stoked to see how its rumored sequel The New Colossus turns out. And of course we have Prey coming in 2017, on top of this year’s well received Dishonored 2 (though first-person, the latter is anything but a shooter).

This was a game that I picked up at launch, which unfortunately occurred shortly after my dad passed away. I was in an emotional rut and just wanted a bit of a distraction, but I wasn’t in the right mindset to play and appreciate Doom for what it was. I eventually got back to it about a month ago and I’m certainly glad I did, because the campaign is incredible.

Everything from the push-forward combat, the brutal glory kills, and relentlessly ferocious A.I., to the hellishly beautiful world design, intriguing narrative, and metal-as-fuck composition on behalf of Mick Gordon worked in unison to forge Doom in to one of the finest shooters of this generation.

inside

#3 – Inside

This is a tough one to describe without spoiling anything, considering the best way to experience Inside is by diving in blind. From the creators of indie darling Limbo, developer Playdead crafted one of the year’s most perfect games. The intricate world design and clever puzzle solutions, along with Playdead’s attention to character animations and composition, are standout features.

Never has a game kept me guessing throughout its entire adventure quite like this one. The moment I thought I had a vague understanding of its goings on, a new mechanic, puzzle, or plot device is introduced. And that ending… man, that ending.

Like Limbo, there’s no spoken narrative. Rather, the storytelling is left up to the environment and player interpretation, which I loved. After finishing the game, I immediately took to the internet to read over fan theories while attempting to decipher its cryptic hidden ending.

Inside is a short game, clocking in at just a handful of hours, but it’s one that’s remained in the back of my mind for months since finishing.

trico

#2 – The Last Guardian

While I’ve abandoned many a game for having far less technical issues, The Last Guardian remains a masterclass in storytelling and character building despite its plethora of mechanical fuck-ups.

Here we have a game that’s spent the better part of a decade in development hell, and what we got was a game that absolutely feels like it. The gameplay is incredibly stiff, with the unnamed boy frequently fumbling and stumbling while the camera works against your every move.

But I had faith in the mad genius of Fumito Ueda! Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are both incredible stand-out games from the PS2 era, as well as key arguments for video games as an art form. Whenever I think about the PS2, my brain immediately focuses on Ico’s sense of height and scale, the bond between two people unable to understand the other’s spoken language.

The Last Guardian may very well feel like a PS2-era game, but the bond that’s formed over the course of this adventure is not only the most memorable moment of 2016, but evoked emotions that rarely feel natural in a video game. Trico’s animations, its mannerisms and instincts, the constant heartbreak and small victories, along with the game’s beautiful aesthetic and expansive melodies… just… fuck, man, the game is just really good and I hope you play it. That’s all. It’s one of those games that come along once a generation that I’ll still be ruminating about 15 years from now, regardless of its technical shortcomings.

There were plenty of games more technically sound than The Last Guardian, like the 8 listed above, but it’s a story that’ll stick with me far longer than the others.

As someone else summed up The Last Guardian on Twitter: “It’s Ueda as fuck, man.”

ffxvgroupshot

#1 – Final Fantasy XV

Not only does it feel good having waited 10 years for The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV and both turning out to be great games (to me, anyway), but also for them to end up as my two favorite releases of 2016. Sure, it could be bias since I’ve been anticipating them for so long, or that they’re two of the most recent games I’ve completed this year, but I truly believe a game’s value lies is how much of an impact it has on me when all is said and done.

Both of these games were emotional rollercoasters, focusing on an unbreakable bond between fictional characters in a way that’s both relatable and engaging. And although The Last Guardian’s tale of sorrow, trust, and survival puts on a gut-wrenching clinic in terms of character building and storytelling, its list of technical shortcomings was enough to push Final Fantasy XV ahead.

As I mentioned in my review, Final Fantasy as a series is very special to me. It’s one that I grew up playing, planned my free time around, and it consists of some of my absolute favorite games, characters, worlds, stories, and soundtracks of all time. Final Fantasy XV’s narrative may very well feel like it’s taken a 10-year vacation in development hell, but the journey itself was just incredibly satisfying.

It felt like I was taking a road trip with my best friends, camping, taking pictures, eating at roadside diners, and dealing with unfortunate bouts of car trouble. I could relate to each and every one of the characters, though I certainly wish they had more time to develop. The combat is extremely satisfying, the main villain turned out to be the best I’ve seen since Kefka, and there’s just so many memorable moments over the course of the 40 hours I spent playing through Final Fantasy XV for the first time.

Sometimes it’s easy to sit back and dwell on what a game could have been. Is Final Fantasy XV what I thought Versus XIII was going to be back then? Absolutely not. And sure, it’s full of weird plot holes and characters that lack motivation at times, but I really, really love what we’ve been given.

I’ll always wish I got to experience Tetsuya Nomura’s original vision for the game, but realistically that’ll never happen. I’d rather spend that time appreciating what we got, how much I enjoyed it, and be happy that a Final Fantasy is once again my favorite game of a given calendar year.

Plus, playing two games that I’ve waited a decade for within a week of each other is just surreal.

***

Video games mean different things to different people, and we all look for our own “something special” every time we pick up a controller or place our fingertips on the keyboard. These are the 10 games that spoke to me the most in 2016. My favorites.

I never like to use the term “best” because it’s all subjective anyway, but what about you folks? What were some of your absolute favorite games to release this year?

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27 thoughts on “My 10 Favorite Games of 2016

  1. Awesome list! I sadly haven’t played any of these great games yet, but you’ve reminded me I really need to soon. I’m glad FFXV and TLG turned out fun after being in development for so long. It seems like good games come to those who wait :)

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  2. Great list! I gotta play oxenfree,hear nothing but good things about it…your 1-2 are pretty much the same as mine tho I think I give the slight nudge to TLG..It’s great to see both games in development hell come out amazing,even though both games camera’s need some fixing :P

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    1. Oxenfree is quite the game, especially if you’re in to the adventure-type stuff like Life is Strange or The Walking Dead.

      It could have gone either way with #1 and #2, haha. Definitely a tough choice. I think it boiled down to spending significantly more time with FFXV and being excited to continue on with the upcoming DLC.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love LIS and TWD s1 and 2 so I Think im gonna check out Oxenfree sometime next month for sure! :).Yeah,I love FF 15 aswell and I hope the future updates and DLC flesh the game and story out some more

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  3. Nice rundown. I ended up putting Stardust Galaxy Warriors on my Steam wishlist awhile ago. After I’m caught up on bills, I hope to check it out. It looks, and sounds intriguing.

    As I commented last time, I never get around to enough new releases to do GOTY articles, the only alternative for me would be to do what Classic Game Room does, and include retro games I discovered in the course of the year as I like to play all kinds of stuff old, and new.

    That said, again I highly recommend people check out some under the radar titles I played this year, that are 2016 releases. Rogue Stormers is an amazing game, combining rogue elements, procedurally generated levels, and 80’s run n’ gun gameplay. It’s like Contra, cross pollenated with Rogue likes, and a dash of Robotron 2084 sprinkled on top. An absolute blast.

    Toxikk is a lot of fun too. It didn’t set the world on fire, but it did well enough for Reakktor, and they’re committed to keeping it supported via updates. It’s an arena shooter. While the subgenre’s popularity has waned, in favor of team shooters, of various types, it’s still a valiant effort. Plus it supports LAN which is awesome. If you want to play privately with some friends, some laptops, and a router you can LAN party all weekend. Plus the demo version lets you check out everything in the game minus the server browser, and character customization options. For those you have to buy it. But it isn’t anywhere near a full AAA MSRP.

    I’d second you on DOOM too. While I wish it could have captured more of the free roam freedom of the original game, I still really enjoyed it a lot. It had a decent story, that even managed to tie the different games together, and had spot on gun play. Just a lot of fun. And on the PC side there was a wealth of customization options available. Unless your computer was over a decade old, it could probably run in some capacity. And while the multiplayer wasn’t much to write home about, it wasn’t terrible by any stretch either.

    I’ve also been enjoying Overwatch. Probably not nearly as much as the most rabid fans. But it’s easy to see why those rabid fans like it so much. It’s accessible. You don’t have to be good to have fun, it has at least one character you’ll enjoy using, and it still manages to have appeal for those who are competitive. For those who do want to play at a high level. I don’t see it as my personal favorite. But if someone does think of it as theirs, it’s completely understandable. No this, and Doom aren’t esoteric by any means, but they are fun. Worth looking into if you’ve been on the fence about them.

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    1. I put the Rogue Stormers + Giant Sisters bundle on my PSN wishlist, so hopefully I’ll get to see what all the hype is about here soon!

      I know tons of folks have been enjoying Overwatch. It’s the one game this year that I wish I had an interest in, but it’s ultimately not up my alley. Maybe someday during a free-play weekend.

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  4. I really want to get to FFXV, everything I’ve seen of it I really like. In the new year I intend to pick it up and give it a go. I agree with a lot of your list (obviously as some of mine matches up!) although I hadn’t heard of some of them. Alone With You sounds interesting, although I’d more likely watch a Let’s Play than play it myself as I’m not a big point and click fan.

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    1. Watching a LP of Alone With You, as long as it’s thoroughly explored, is going to give you just as much enjoyment as playing it, I’d say. It’s not terribly long either and definitely worth checking out.

      Hopefully you enjoy FFXV when you get around to it. I think next year I’m going to tackle more of the backlog, which I say every year, but there’s some stuff in there that’s been neglected for a long, long time–Earthbound on Wii U VC, for example.

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  5. Great list! I’m terribly behind on games, but I’m planing on picking up a copy of The Last Guardian in the new year and working through it. I’ve also never gotten into Final Fantasy before, but I’d be interested to try FFXV and see how it holds up to some of the other open-world RPGs out there. Firewatch and Inside are also on my radar… so many games haha.

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      1. I’ve heard really great things about Inside. I want it, but my backlog is big enough right now. I did buy Titanfall 2, and The Star Wars Battlefront season pass for $50 on the Origin Christmas sale though :). Can’t wait to try Titanfall 2.

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  6. I haven’t played nearly as many games as you, but of course I have to agree on World of Final Fantasy (which my husband is currently playing in the other room right now). I think the narrative is okay, but it stretched thin between the chapters due to all of the sidequests, Mirage hunting, etc. I’m curious about the story behind the twins, but I do agree that a lot of that seems to get pushed to the back burner by the game’s mechanics. I absolutely adore the witty dialogue (Tama notwithstanding) and the puns make my word geek heart so happy. I’m overjoyed I decided to actually purchase it (by your recommendation hey!) so I have a new game to enjoy.

    Just added Limbo to my backlog now, too. I had Inside already :)

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    1. Yeah, I’m hoping it pulls itself around at SOME point, but right now it just seems half-baked. The game parts are fine though! I’m glad you decided to pick it up so I have someone to geek out about it on Twitter with, haha.

      Limbo was good! Short 2-hour game. Great aesthetic. Super forgiving difficulty and neat puzzles.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Life is so much better when you have someone to geek out with lol. One of my Facebook friends was just talking about Inside! Saying that it was a fairly short game with a haunting, moving ending. It will be interesting playing such a short game when I’m on like 50 hours of WOFF.

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        1. Short games are a great way to break up the investment of the significantly meatier RPGs, haha. Inside is definitely haunting and open for interpretation, and its 3-4 hour run time is a great way to kill a weekend. Really great stuff!

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