Top 15 Games of 2016

What a great year for games. As the industry grows, so does the breadth of experiences games deliver. From the big budget titans to the games made in a garage, these games have a lot of love and care put into them. After taking a couple of months off from the medium in the fall, I found myself overwhelmed by a slew of amazing, excellent titles and these are my favorites.

1. Obduction

Myst was a formative part of my childhood, so when I heard Cyan was returning to the first person adventure game genre, I was on board. The result is magnificent. It captures that undefinable mood and magic of the original and adds a healthy sense of awe and scale that could only be done with modern technology. My jaw dropped several times playing this game and no other title elicited the sense of magic and wonder that this game did.

2. Dishonored 2

Take Thief, mix in Deus Ex style emergent gameplay and you get Dishonored 2. The original Dishonored is a superb game with a few nagging issues. Dishonored 2 smooths out those rough edges and crafts some of the finest levels in this type of game. These tightly designed, highly interactive spaces made for a game experience was was constantly exciting, surprising, and mentally stimulating.

3. Hitman

While news of episodic delivery was met with lots of ire, the result is an absolute masterpiece. The title will run you the price of a regular game, but the amount of detail and replayability in this game is mind-boggling. It’s a simulation lover’s dream. I’ve always held that Hitman is more of a puzzle game than a stealth game and here solving a puzzle for the first time is just one of dozens, if not more, ways to complete your objective.

4. Quadrilateral Cowboy

Yes, it’s short. Yes, it doesn’t take its concept as far as it could, but damn, every moment in this game is fresh and engaging. You are a hacker in a retropunk world and must use coding logic and principles to hack your way through various heists. Just about the time you get the grip of one idea, you’re whisked on to the next. Add on that a charming aesthetic and a beautifully told story and this game is magnificent.

5. That Dragon, Cancer

Yes, I cried. It’s hard to not be moved by a father’s account of his son dying of cancer. What could have been a straightforward, ethnographic tale turns into this visually fascinating experience where imagery convey just as much as the spoken world. Add in a moving struggle with religious belief in the face of death and this is a masterful use of the medium.

6. Doom

The new Doom is good. Who’da thought? For a game based on such an iconic property, it somehow manages to be fresh and original while still capturing that old spirit of Doom. It feels fast and loose, but creates this tight gameplay loop that encourages aggressive play. It’s the kind of game that get’s the blood pumping and it doesn’t let up until the final, gory conclusion.

7. Orwell

Some people will complain there’s not much of a game here, mostly just clicking and dragging things to unlock more bits of story, but that’s missing all the rich thematic depth here. The game places you in the role of Big Brother, an entity that invades the privacy of others and digs out all the dirty secrets. All of a sudden you understand the allure of power and the ease of violation that this kind of surveillance allows. You have good aims, but boy do you do a lot of evil, evil you might actually enjoy, to try to fulfill them. Name me another game that pulls off that moral conflict as well as Orwell.

8. 1979 Revolution: Black Friday

The real world Iranian Revolution is a pivotal moment in the history of the country and this game attempts to capture that historical event. But more than just a history lesson, the game lets you express yourself in this moment of history. Are you a violent revolutionary or peaceful bystander? It’s an exciting, gripping story and one of the best of this style of game.

9. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Where Gone Home and Dear Esther failed, this game succeeds. You walk through an abandoned town and try to discover what happened. But more than that, you get a glimpse into the everyday lives of people and their complicated and messy relationships. It’s a relaxing, pensive experience with a fascinating story throughout.

10. Lara Croft Go

What a masterfully designed puzzle game. It introduces each concept in a controlled space but then quickly asks the player to take the concept to its limit before throwing it in with all the other concepts you’ve learned until the game is a network of interconnected pieces. It’s the kind of game where you have to sit back and think things over for a while before executing a solution, failing, figuring out where you went wrong, and trying something new. Bit by bit you get farther and farther until reaching the solution.

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12. Duelyst

I always like the idea of collectable card games, but most of the times they don’t work well. Random chance seems to be too much of a factor and having certain cards can win the day. This game mitigates a lot of that with a couple of systems as well as making the game play on a grid with pieces instead of simply cards attacking and blocking. This makes for a lot more control over your play and a tactical gamer’s dream.

13. Dark Souls III

While this certainly shows that Dark Souls overstayed its welcome, it’s still a solid game. The problem is Demon Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne did this so much better. I’m glad From Software is moving on to other IPs, but I’m glad we got a solid swan song after the abysmal Dark Souls II.

14. Overwatch

I have a hard time getting into multiplayer shooters. Many of them are built around super competitive play or maps so big and out of control that I find the experience too overwhelming. Overwatch is a lot easier, smoother experience with characters that let you find your specific niche of play. Sure, lots of shooters have classes, but not nearly this many and customized to this level of balance and playstyle. Just about any shooter fan will find a class to love and that’s quite the feat.

15. Firewatch

A magnificent work of tone and character, Firewatch is a lovely tale about an atypical videogame protagonist. A middle-aged, balding man runs away from his problems only to get caught up in some nefarious events during his summer as a national forest fire lookout. Yes, the story is not particularly satisfying, but it’s not meant to be. This is a character piece, akin to an arthouse film, and, in that regard, it works magnificently.