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Dec 30, 2016

Scott Ellison II’s Top 10 Games of 2016

Meet the most annoying NPC everybody.


10) Hearts of Iron IV

Despite not having much experience in the series, but experience with Paradox-developed games like Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV, I wasn’t anticipating how much fun I’d be having with Hearts of Iron IV. Paradox also released Stellaris, but the competition is strong, and HoI4 won me over. This World War II grand strategy wargame was on a smaller scale than the games I’ve played that came before it. From setting up front lines and fall-back lines to choosing a national focus for production of Naval forces or industrial output. This is an all-inclusive war simulator that doesn’t ever feel like it gets away from you. Things may go off the rails in Hearts of Iron IV, but this is the most in-control I’ve felt in a Paradox game, and it is one where I think it’ll make for a great entry point for those looking to see what these “crazy Paradox games are all about”.


9) American Truck Simulator

Ever since I played Euro Truck Simulator 2, I realized that this wasn’t a joke game, and that it very much captured the feeling of driving across Europe to build a transport business from nothing to an empire. I loved driving through foreign and unknown places. Though, I wanted this style of game to come to the United States, and that happened this year with American Truck Simulator. SCS Software re-created California, Nevada, and Arizona (in the form of free DLC). These three states are only part of the 48 contiguous states, but allowed me to explore familiar areas and do a lot of the same from Euro Truck Simulator 2, but on roads and areas I’ve recognized. And an amazing effort by the developers, have no done a re-scaling to the entire world map by increasing it by 35% to make it feel more lifelike. It seems silly to many how this could be an enjoyable game, but it is relaxing driving in your Peterbilt while listing to internet radio transporting hazardous material through Las Vegas to deliver it to Reno. Call me crazy, but being able to play something so out of the ordinary is what makes American Truck Simulator stand out.


8) SteamWorld Heist

Image & Form had released SteamWorld Heist onto Nintendo 3DS earlier this year, but its Steam release is where I actually came across this game to experience it for the first time. This is probably one of my favorite turn-based strategy games to come along in a long time. While I enjoyed XCOM 2, too much of it became a game of chance. SteamWorld Heist was a game that allowed you to take full control of your aiming and take headshots. Ricochet shots are possible too, and it is so satisfying to be able to get that final kill when you are near-death and able to clear out a room with it. SteamWorld Heist uses placement of your characters and objects in the environment as means of real, tactical advantage. Coupled with the excellent artwork and appropriately accommodating soundtrack, SteamWorld Heist is a charming game that will test your smarts on any difficulty and have you occupied for hours, all the way to New Game+.


7) Firewatch

Campo Santo provided a honest adult gaming experience that didn’t rely on nudity, guns, or anything distasteful for Firewatch to be a good game. This was an adventure game with an air of mystery, and the player became apart of two people with complicated lives who tried to make something out of nothing to fill the void in their lives while making a real, human connection for several months over a summer. When I had finished Firewatch for the first time, I instantly wanted to talk about it with friends and hear their experience. The fact that I still think about this game in this way today sends the message that the game had a profound impact on me. Firewatch captured that summer in the 80s feel, the loneliness, and the connections we form as people. The color palette was remarkable and the artwork that followed gave it a unique look that somehow immersed you into the forest of Wyoming that summer, and like summer camp, parting ways knowing you wouldn’t ever see these people again.


6) Planet Coaster

What a delightful damn game this is. I mean seriously, from the visuals to the soundtrack, it is really something for the senses to just bring a smile to your face the moment you launch it. The return of of the theme park manager is been a long time coming, at least for me. Frontier has made Planet Coaster, a game that allows you to play it in any way you choose: play a more focused campaign, take on limitations in challenge mode, or play in a sandbox with infinite money. Planet Coaster is all about possibilities, which are seemingly endless. You have control of every facet of your park, the controls allow you to position and maneuver pieces however you please, color them accordingly, and adjust the financials so that it strikes a balance of not offending your customers, but netting you a profit and increasing word-of-mouth for others to come visit your park.


5) Obduction

I have waited far too long for this. I backed Obduction in 2013, and have been anxiously awaiting every screenshot and update detailing the game’s progress and eventual release. Once I got my Steam key, I immediately started playing it and completed the game in roughly 12 hours, experienced all the endings, and I still want more. Obduction made me feel smart playing this, more than I ever had when I played Myst and RIVEN when they were first out, but that’s probably because I was a kid then. Maybe the puzzles were easier in Obduction, or maybe I was more accustomed to the Cyan puzzle stylings, but the sense of accomplishment when solving a puzzle was great nonetheless. Obduction‘s Hunrath was a place that existed before my arrival and had stories to tell and a mystery to uncover at every corner and behind every door. The creative use of the FMV made its triumphant return in Obduction and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like any Cyan game, you’re left to your own devices (both literally and figuratively). For the first time in a long time, I had to scribble notes and drawings into a notepad and keep track of the things I came across, no matter how minute they seemed at the time, I knew they would play a larger role later. To some this may seem like too much work for playing a game, but this is essential to the experience and I hope Cyan is not done making games with Obduction.



For the record, I disliked Hitman: Absolution with a passion. It took so much control away from you, had an insane checkpoint system, and had a ridiculously bad story. The only good thing to come out of that was the pre-order bonus, HITMAN: Sniper Challenge which is its own thing on mobile. It seems Io Interactive was listening to these complaints, because HITMAN came back in such a way that concerned many, and proved everyone wrong. I’m of course talking about the episodic format. Truthfully speaking, this was the best thing for the game. If all the levels had been included at release, people would have played each level just once and never returned. It allowed you to learn the ins and outs of every level, but yet never got stale thanks to the challenges, open-ended ways of taking out your targets, and contracts mode to create and player user-created objectives. Then comes the elusive targets, a real-world timed exclusive target that would disappear if you didn’t log in and attempt it. Elusive targets have their own rules to abide by, but you still felt in control, if not a bit stressed knowing that any mistake and resulting death would making this opportunity vanish in an instant. Every location in HITMAN is memorable, even the faux yacht in the ICA Training Facility is a talking point. The Colorado location sticks out as you had to play defensively from the get-go, there was no warm-up phase as you worked your way to the target. You were embedded from the beginning, and had to deal with that immediately. Bangkok allowed you to be silly by disguising yourself as a drummer, but Paris let you strut your stuff on the catwalk as Helmut Kruger. HITMAN Season 1 is an incredible start to what I hope will be many more seasons of assassinations in funny outfits and impossible situations to come.


3) Dishonored 2

Dishonored 2 takes everything great about the original Dishonored and makes it even better. To many, that doesn’t seem possible. But Arkane Studios has rightly outdone themselves and set the bar high for action stealth games. Now with two playable characters: an older Emily Kaldwin, and the aging Corvo Attano, they play wildly different from one another, so every player will have a different experience. Dishonored 2 provides the freedom to be as stealthy, or well, not stealthy as you want. Many people will talk about level involving Jindosh’s Mansion, as they should – because I’m about to. This is the level you show off to friends to sell them on the game. Jindosh’s Mansion is a level that transforms around you, requiring you to think on your feet, and that makes for the best type of game. The levels that came before it in Dishonored 2 only deceived you and lulled you into a false sense of security that you knew what you were doing and knew how this game was going to go. Even after Jindosh’s Mansion, there’s new threats that surface and characters to interact with that really flesh out the city of Karnaca, a truly beautiful place that is in stark contrast of Dunwall from the first Dishonored. Arkane Studios has made a game I want to replay in multiple ways. While I’m proud of my stealth playthrough, I’ve yet to ghost my way through even one level. I am however, able to eliminate each of my targets non-lethally. This is something I accomplished in Dishonored, and I love the freedom to explore this option again in Dishonored 2.


2) Forza Horizon 3

While racing games are now far and few between, Playground Games have been honing in on making the Horizon series of the Forza brand the most exciting, energetic, and outright fun games to play. While the serious nature of Forza Motorsport is a hallmark, Forza Horizon 3 takes to the fictionalized Australia and makes it a literal playground. Turn off the visual and mechanical damage in Forza Horizon 3, you will have such a better time with it. While I commend having that option there, it gets in the way of taking a Ferrari LaFerrari at 187mph through the dunes of the outback and being able to drive away after a gnarly nosedive. There’s so much more to Forza Horizon 3 than thrashing expensive cars about the environment. There’s exhibition races, championships, danger signs to jump great distances, drift zones to slide through, speed traps to get the highest speed in, and showcase events that have you racing against other forms of transportation for thrill and because you can. This is an exceptionally gorgeous game, as the developers had spent months in Australia actually recording the skies to provide an authentic skybox, weather, and time of day to race around in. Forza Horizon 3 is unmitigated fun at all times, and the ability to have this fun with friends to play the campaign in co-op or goof around in the open world together is more than enough to recommend. This is the first full Forza game to come to Windows 10, so if you don’t have an Xbox One, you hopefully have a gaming PC to enjoy this. No matter where you do, this will be an unforgettable gaming and racing experience.


1) DOOM (2016)

When id Software released Wolfenstein: The New Order in 2014, I was in love from the early goings. The story especially was from the heart and had purpose, with little bits of choice that changed aspects of the game. This was backed by its soundtrack from Mick Gordon. Wolfenstein: The New Order was a thrill-a-minute game that never let up. Fast forward to 2016, and id Software has brought back another classic with Mick Gordon providing the soundtrack. This has to be good right?

No, this has to be my game of the year.

DOOM is unadulterated carnage, brutality, speed, and gore. It is in your face at all times with how unabashedly metal this game is. After the first level and the music kicks in as you ride the elevator to exit to the Mars surface is easily one of the best synced music to action pieces in gaming history. It sets the tone for the game, one that doesn’t want you to shy away from combat, but embrace it. From the first time you perform a glory kill on an imp, DOOM is showing that it doesn’t hold you by the hand, you are holding the hand and beating enemies senseless with it. When you discover a classic level as a secret, you realize DOOM is a labor of love, and you will love to work for more of these secrets because you want to, not because you have to, to get an achievement. The super shotgun, aside from the BFG is probably the most important weapon and it is so satisfying to shred enemies apart when using it. Exploring levels reveals secrets, but also the tactics to these blood-soaked arenas you will leave them in.

Oh yeah, there’s multiplayer and SnapMap, but I honestly haven’t spent any amount of time with it to discuss at any length. The campaign contains everything that makes DOOM excellent for me. id Software has gone so far as to add a classic center view for guns to evoke that 1993 game again, as well as an arcade mode to experience the levels at a faster clip with the story elements removed – which I didn’t think was possible.

The resurgence of id Software first-person shooters is becoming my favorite thing in gaming. DOOM grabbed me and never let me go, all the while letting me have ridiculous fun that stretched a smile across my face the entire way through.