Dec 28, 2016
Evan Rowe’s Top Games of 2016
To say that 2016 has been an interesting year would be a drastic understatement. The year has put us through our paces, bringing with it an unrelenting series of cultural events great and terrible that are sure to leave a lasting mark for decades to come. If the year’s events were a sine wave, both its frequency and amplitude would stand out amongst those of other recent years. Happily, I’d say that most of the big things to hit the gaming scene in 2016 were perched atop the peaks of those waves. It feels like those of us in the gaming community say this every year, but it truly has never been a better time to be a gamer. We’ve had some really excellent titles to sink our teeth into, a surprising number of which were deliveries on development promises that have been keeping us hungry for over five or even as much as ten years.
This list is slightly less conventional than others, as the vast majority of my gaming budget and time were turned toward building a new gaming PC rather than purchasing games (a project which took most of the year to come to fruition and is still ongoing); as such, I needed to be more judicious than in previous years about only buying titles I was pretty sure I’d enjoy, and I only really missed the mark on one of them.
As such, here is a list that reads more like “The Games I Actually Bought and Played This Year”, in no particular order. ANY QUESTIONS????
I only just finally picked this game up this past week but wow is it a special experience that possibly totally redefines what it means to play (or even design) a first person shooter.
I’ve been following this game for years and snapped it up immediately upon its release. Admittedly I haven’t played as much as I’d like but it lived up to all of its original promise and more. What’s not to love about a retrofuturistic cyberpunk hacking game that involves you lugging your massive 48k deck around with you to open security doors and deactivate lasers? Nothing, that’s what.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
It’s really easy to remember only the lackluster endgame experience, but the fact is that the entire run up to that endgame was a total blast. Taking on missions in snowy, abandoned New York City and finding new guns, gear and skills to constantly improve your character was a fantastic time. Changing your agent’s outfit on the daily (or even hourly) was surprisingly satisfying. I have actually been toying with reinstalling and rolling a new character lately in light of the unusual frequency of snowstorms in my city. It’s just a shame Ubisoft didn’t give us more to do with our agents when we finished the story.
No Man’s Sky
This game “broke” for me in the same way most clicker games break for me eventually. The treadmill it had me more or less stopped trying to hide itself, and the tasks the game asked me to perform in order to keep running were not enjoyable enough on their own to merit that I keep moving. However, for the week up until I could see through everything that was happening, the game was delivering on most of its promises and I was having a total blast with it.
I mean, you can be standing on the surface of a planet, hop in your ship, blast off into the atmosphere, jump to another system, take a brief pit stop to dock with a space station and roam around inside before landing on a new planet full of giant three legged ostriches. Try and tell me that isn’t special.
And now the any order list…
Super Mario Run
This is not a traditional/typical Mario game; I have no illusions about that. However, I can play Mario on my phone any time I want, and that’s worth a lot to me. Toad Rally finally “clicked” for me yesterday and since then I’ve been having a great time stomping all over my friends, not unlike a train of Goombas.
I have been a fan of the Hitman games since the 2002 release of Hitman 2. As a character/series created in an era when PC games were trying desperately to emulate the cool, this series has had its own share of ups and downs over the years. Hitman is the first game I’ve played since Hitman 2 that feels like it is really making good on the concept the developers set out to create all those years ago.
I have been continually impressed by every aspect of this game; its controls, mechanics, level design, creative direction and degree of replayability are all landmarks in the series and the genre. It may also be one of the only good examples of episodic releases on record, one that other developers seeking to pursue that model should take note of.
If I were singling out a Game of the Year, this would probably be it.
Anybody who has played Braid likely remembers the cycle of strong feelings brought on by its gameplay loop: wonderment at strange and exciting new landscapes; the frustration of feeling hopelessly stuck; elation as a sudden epiphany led to the end of a troublesome roadblock. Jonathan Blow’s approach to creating puzzles and teaching the player is once again intact here, and so too is that particular emotional loop at both a micro and macro level, intensified to new heights.
The Witness succeeds as a puzzle game and a game in general because it so skillfully stumps and enlightens you, simultaneously captivating you and drawing you into its world. The extent to which the core mechanic is iterated on, experimented with and utilized in so many different was is impressive as a mental and creative achievement, and the island that plays host to the game’s myriad line puzzles is as fun to wander and explore as it is beautiful to behold.
I recall remarking to Scott and some other friends while playing The Witness that it was the closest thing we had seen to a spiritual successor to MYST in what felt like decades. The whole “puzzles on a strange island of varied landscapes” thing really gave off some similar vibes. I said this knowing full well that Obduction was on the horizon for later in the year, and in many ways that statement is still true.
Obduction, however, feels in many ways to be the full realization of what Rand and Robyn Miller were striving to create with the original MYST (and RIVEN). It is a fully contemporary take on a fully immersive puzzle adventure game set in a world that is simultaneously familiar and foreign, and in most ways it fully recaptures the experience of playing MYST for the first time, except with far better designed puzzles that are more well integrated into the world and drastically less obtuse.
I grew up largely on adventure and puzzle games before I ever really branched out into other genres. As such, I’m a sucker for any decent adventure title with a good story and a rich world to explore. Firewatch blends many elements for which I have a fondness together in a way that creates one of the more unique and memorable singleplayer experiences of the year.
With stunning art direction from Olly Moss, first class voice work from Rich Somer, an engaging story from the crew who worked on the original season of The Walking Dead series from Telltale, this game has a lot of great things going for it, and despite the mildly “controversial” execution of its third act (which I think was very sensible and served the story well), I think this is an adventure everybody should experience.
We all know who Blizzard is and we know their track record pretty well by now, so let’s cut to the chase.
Overwatch is a damn good shooter, plain and simple. Playing a game that looks as good as Pixar film is nothing short of joyful, and while the “class-based” nature of the game is a little loose compared to other class-based team shooters, I think this is one of the main areas in which it finds success. There are certain characters that simply cannot be effective if they aren’t fulfilling their primary duty (healers in particular), but ultimately part of what makes Overwatch so great is that it’s so easy to dive into and start having fun quickly.
This is no small feat considering the game boasts over 20 characters on its roster, each with unique abilities and play style. By all accounts, this should be as intimidating and difficult to enter as most MOBAs, and yet nearly anybody familiar with multiplayer shooters (and optionally Team Fortress 2) can jump in and start having fun in nearly no time at all.
I remember crowding around the aging IBM-Compatible with some classmates in my sixth-grade science classroom during lunch, playing a CD-ROM copy of DOOM loaded into a disc caddy that somebody had brought from home. Nearly everyone who grew up playing PC games in the 90s has a story like this about DOOM, and with good reason. It defined not just its own era, but many to come.
I don’t know that many people expected DOOM to be even as much as decent, and yet it stormed onto the scene with a huge amount of self-confidence and just the right amount of self-awareness to show off its impressive chops and smart design decisions. There were many points during the game when I found myself in fits of joyful laughter, in much the same way as the original had done for me and my classmates.
DOOM had the unenviable task of simultaneously needing to channel its roots (in ways the 2003 sequel failed to) while still proving it could stand on its own and bring something new and fresh to a genre which has been largely redefined by so many other series since its heydey, and somehow it succeeded beyond all expectations.
Forza Horizon 3
There is something inherently fun about driving really, really fast; taking tight turns at great speeds, rocketing past your opponents, soaring through the air after hitting a bump and doing everything in your power to align your car to stick the landing. This is to say nothing of the exhilaration that comes with feathering your boost and adjusting the angle of your car just right so that your front wheels connect with the ball suspended some twenty feet overhead and send it flying into the goal.
I don’t know when they added rocket engines to the cars in Forza and replaced them with Hot Wheels replicas, but I tell you the game has never been better.
Wait, what’s that? Oh. Right, sorry, I always get those two confused.
So as I was saying, Rocket League is an incredibly fun game, and despite the fact that it was released LAST year, I have put even more time into it in 2016 thanks to the constant stream of great updates and a player community that just won’t quit.
Forza Horizon 3
In all seriousness, I love a good driving game, but I’ve never really cared much for games that dip too far into the “sim” category. Forza Horizon 3 is nearly the perfect driving game for me, as it allows me to be slightly more technical than an arcade style-racing game allows, but doesn’t dip so far into the sim bucket that it ceases to be enjoyable to play.
On the contrary, Horizon 3 knows exactly what kind of game it is, and it wants you to have fun with it. Fauxstralia is a delightful backdrop to the game’s races, serving as a varied and colorful playground to drive way too fast and execute unthinkable stunts in cars most of us will only ever dream of sitting behind the wheel of, much less own.
It’s the most Burnout Paradise thing to come out since Burnout Paradise, and that can only be a good thing. Did I also mention that this game is gorgeous? It’s a visual stunner, through and through; environments look incredible, weather effects are unrivaled by anything else I’ve seen in recent memory, and the sense of speed is superb.
My love affair with the Battlefield franchise persists despite my relative inadequacies as a shootsman. It has had its fair share of ups and downs, but after all the hours I spent playing the original Battlefield 1942 back in high school, I’m willing to take every new entry into the franchise for a spin.
DICE seem to have hit an enviable groove over the past few years, creating something remarkable in the Frostbite engine and continuing to refine it and roll improvements into each new game, the result of which is a process of constant iteration that shows strong returns with each new game.
I love Battlefield 1 because it feels in many ways like a return to those glory days of the original release, but with insanely high fidelity graphics. I love that the game rewards squad tactical play and offers paths to success even if you can’t aim your rifle for spit. It’s best enjoyed with a group of friends, but even going solo you can have a good time if you’re a particularly vicious sniper or if you’re just really good at chucking medpacks.
I spent much of my teens playing shooters, and during college they made up about 90% of my gaming time. I poured endless hours into them, refining my skills with thumbsticks and mice, ensuring I was a menace no matter what platform I played on. Over time, though, a funny thing happened; I fell out of love with shooting stuff. I have largely avoided shooters (for the most part) for the better part of the last decade aside from standout titles that really capture my interest. Funny then, that this is the fourth shooter on my list for the year.
To say that Titanfall 2 is attention grabbing is to sell it short. The pedigree of the studio that created Call of Duty is felt here in the gunplay and the speed of the action, to be sure. Taking on hordes of unwitting goons feels really good, thanks in no small part to the incredibly well implemented mobility mechanics and the solid weapon choices. Of course, those are the thing that make it feel good to play, not the show-stealing elements that help it stand out among the crowd.
That distinction belongs squarely in the hands of the game’s single player campaign, which easily stands out as one of the most inventive and exciting campaigns I’ve played in a pure shooter in a very long time. This is an especially nice surprise considering the series’ debut entry essentially had no meaningful campaign to speak of.
The story isn’t particularly remarkable (aside from= the characterization of your Titan, BT), but the design of the levels is inspired. Every single one has left me with a sense of awe and sheer glee throughout. “Into the Abyss” gets a particular nod here, with its wonderfully executed romp through a city-making factory that concludes with a dizzying vertical assent up a partially assembled set of city blocks.
Even if you don’t care for the multiplayer, do yourself a favor and play this game. I’m really excited to see where Respawn takes things next.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition
Ha HA! Another “old” game on the list! This one counts for real though due to the release of Skyrim Special Edition in October.
There isn’t much to say about Skyrim that hasn’t already been said over the years. I’ve dumped well over 30 hours back into the game since its rerelease (which is an awful lot for me), and am having a better time with it than ever before. The mod scene is still alive and well, and frankly the game looks pretty fantastic despite its age. Seriously, the screenshots I have been getting out of it are just beautiful.
Having specced my character as an archer who shoots first and asks questions never, I’ve been able to tap into my inner Katniss like never before as I galavant across the plains and scale mountains, lobbing volleys of arrows at any who dare cross my path.
Skyrim is still a great game, possibly better now than ever.