2016 has been an interesting year. There has been a vocal argument that it might be one of the best video game years of all time. For me, I think that 2016 was filled with a lot of good to really good games, however there were few great games that were released. I think it’s very far from one of the best years of all time. Even so, there was a lot of good stuff to play this year. With that said, here are my top 5 games of 2016.
#5 – Oxenfree (XONE, PS4, PC)
In my review for Oxenfree I referenced that the game is The Breakfast Club meets LOST. Then, several months after release, Netflix released Stranger Things. NOW, I would call Oxenfree, Stranger Things the Video Game. Analogies aside, Oxenfree hit in January of 2016 and just blew my socks off. In fact, the only game this year that has resonated with me more is [redacted] (just keep reading). Oxenfree puts you in the shoes of Alex and her teenage friends. The game is hard to describe in words, but it’s basically a narrative based, side scrolling, adventure game. The story revolves around a mysterious island and time travel (maybe?!) and monsters (maybe?!) and scientist (maybe?!)….are you picking up on the LOST vibe now? Even though that is the backdrop of this game, what the game is really about are these characters. Who they are, what they’ve been through. Oxenfree does such a good job of making the character resonate. Even if you don’t identify with the “Jock” of the group, you will quickly identify with someone that fits that roll. Rinse and repeat for all of the cast. By the end you care about each one of them and about make sure that your decisions aren’t going to ruin everything. Oxenfree is a game that I absolutely love and can’t want to see what Night School Studios does next. If you are interested, you can read my full review of Oxenfree HERE.
#4 – LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens (XONE, PS4, WIIU)
LEGO games are a dime a dozen now days. If you walk through the video game section at Walmart the odds of you stepping on a LEGO game are pretty high. The amazing run of TT games started with the original LEGO Star Wars. In 2016, following the release of The Force Awakens, TT releases their 3rd LEGO Star Wars game, aptly titled “The Force Awakens”. I was excited for the game, as I am for all LEGO games, but I was not prepared for just how fantastic TFA was going to turn out. The funny thing is, it’s hard to put your finger on just what makes it so good, but from the time you boot the game it’s clear that TT reached a new level. The first and probably most notable improvement is graphics. It feels like LEGO TFA was the first time that TT really flexed it’s muscles on the Current-Gen hardware. The cut-scenes looked to be the same quality as The LEGO Movie. The game looks so good. Another great feature were side missions. From how C3PO got his Red Arm to Poe’s Side Story, there is a lot of additional content to play once the credits roll. As for gameplay, the two biggest additions are Multi-build and cover shooting. The Multi-build takes you to a stack of bricks, like at LEGO games, where you can build something to help you get to the next area. Only, in TFA, you have several options of what to build, giving you more variety and freedom to complete the tasks as you’d like. The cover shooting mechanics were very welcome and fit perfectly with the Star Wars theme. At various places in most levels, you come to a “shooting” section. You snap to cover and the camera pushes in on your character. From here you pop over the cover and fire a few shots before retreating. It’s not complex, like our next game, but it’s a welcome addition and did well changing the pace during levels. In my review for LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens I call it the best LEGO game made to date. 6 months removed, that is still my belief which is why it hits #4 on my top 5. Also, if you want to read my full review of you game, you can do that HERE.
#3 – Gears of War 4 (XONE)
I have to be honest, prior to the start of 2016 I had never played a Gears of War game. Over the top violence and gore just isn’t normally my thing. Neither are shooters. The Gears phenomenon just past me by. So, with the imminent release of Gears of War 4 on the Xbox One, my good from James (from Life of Gaming) talked me into playing Co-Op with him. So, we started with Gears 1. We also finished 2 and 3 just a few weeks before 4 dropped. Then, we beat 4 Co-Op. I have to say that playing Co-Op through Gears probably takes the game from a solid 8 to a 10 for me. Being able to experience something with a good friend will always increase it’s value. But Co-Op aside, Gears is a fantastic game. I have the advantage of playing the entire saga (save Judgement) in the span of about 6 months. So the story and the characters were very fresh for me going into 4, and what is in 4 is good, not great, but it’s a nice way to start a new trilogy. There are a lot of little nuggets and nods to both the past and the future, many of which I look forward to exploring more. I really liked the new characters. JD is kind of a Mini-Marcus and that’s OK, I love Marcus. Del was pretty funny, #PaperRockPaper. Kate was by far my favorite character, which may be because I played her almost exclusively through our Co-Op. She was smart and strong and a Sniper, which is my favorite class. A good story and good characters doesn’t make a game great, that always goes to Gameplay. If gameplay is king, then Gears is comfortably sitting on that throne. The combat is Gears is fast, fluid, and so much fun. If the Coalition keeps this up, Gears is going to have an even brighter future!
#2 – Inside (XONE, PS4)
There is not a game that stuck with me this year more than Inside. Playdead’s follow up to Limbo was mesmerizing, engaging, and haunting. From moment one the game feels alive. The character animations are just so spot on and the environments are breathtaking. You know it’s a video game. You know it’s fantasy. However the game completely suspends your disbelief and puts you into the world. You aren’t a person holding a controller looking at a screen but you are participating in the discovery and intrigue of the world that is presented. Then, without warning, the last 30 minutes of Inside smack you in the face just to remind you that you simply have no clue what’s going on. When I finally sat down the controller, as the credits played, I just reflected and tried to understand just what I had witnessed. It didn’t stop there. Laying in bed that night, my mind wandered back to the world of Inside. The next day I insisted on playing the end again…and again…and again. A few days later a “secret ending” was uncovered that just created even more questions. In the end you are left, not with a game, but probably the best experiences that I have had with any piece of entertainment this year.
#1 – PokeMon Sun/Moon (3DS)
There is not a game that I have played more in 2016 than PokeMon Sun. I have been a fan of the PokeMon series since Blue on the original GameBoy and have played every generation of the series except Black2/White2. The reason that Sun/Moon get my Game of the Year is because it perfectly executes the fine line of what you know and love and what is new and exciting. The game is PokeMon, through and through. You move to a new town, you pick from 3 starter PokeMon and you begin your journey to “Catch’em All” and “Be the Very Best!” If you have played any PokeMon game, the formula will be familiar…and THAT is why Sun/Moon really stand out. You would think after 30 years of playing PokeMon there wouldn’t be any excitement left, but The PokeMon Company has managed to engage me more in a new PokeMon title than I have been in years. From the great new additions to the PokeDex to the addition of “Trials” in place of Gyms to the drastically different Hawaiian-esque environment to the movie like cinematic presentation, PokeMon Sun/Moon raise the bar in pretty much every area possible. If I had to choose just 1 new features as the best it would be the PokeRide system. For 6 generations we have had to assign any HM move to one of our PokeMon to basically fast travel or maneuver around the world. In a game that is about raising strong PokeMon to battle with, using 1 of your precious 4 move slots for an HM was unbearable. This lead to many people carry a party of 5 PokeMon and a 6th HM PokeMon. PokeRide now allows you to, at any time, call a Charizard to Fly from island to island or call a Tauros to break through rocks. It is the feature that everyone has always wanted and it’s just a small example of just how great this game is. If you don’t like PokeMon then I’m not sure that Sun/Moon will win you over, but if you are a Fan, Sun/Moon will go down as one of the best PokeMon games of all time and a worthy choice for my Game of the Year.
Before I run there are several games that I played through the year that I really enjoyed. They might not be game of the year candidates, but I’d like to give a shout out to them.
- The Witness
- Braid is one of my favorite games of all time. Blow’s follow up is a gorgious puzzle adventure that is nearly pitch perfect.
- I am a big fan of narrative in games and Firewatch has some of the best voice acting and world building of any game this year. It misses my Top 5 because it kind of falls apart at the ending. Still, it’s a fantastic game and shouldn’t be missed.
- InBetween really took me by surprise. I ended up playing it because I got a code to review. I had little to no expectation for the game, but left the experience totally changed. The game deals with the 7 stages of grief in a dying man’s life. If it sounds heavy it’s because it is. The Gameplay is just OK, but the story was engaging and emotional enough to keep me invested till the end. You can actually read my full review of InBetween HERE.
- Song of the Deep
- Song of the Deep was note worthy because it was the first game published by Gamestop. The game itself actually turned out to be pretty noteworty on it’s own. A 2D, side scrolling, Metroidvania, submarine game. It was colorful and fun and emotional. It was a much needed break from the shooty shooty bang bang stuff. You can read my full review for Song of the Deep HERE.
- I sang ReCore’s praises even before we knew what the game was going to be. In the end, the game didn’t meet most of the expectations that fans forced on it. For me, I really enjoyed ReCore for what it was. It reminded of a game from years gone by. It felt like a fun N64 shooter….only it looked really really nice. For a guy who things gameplay is king, ReCore’s combat really shines. It’s tight and precise controls and color swapping template were pure fun. It’s not going to be on many people’s list, but I think it was one of the highlights on Xbox One this year.
- Forza Horizon 3
- Forza Horizon 3 might be the only perfect game of 2016. FH is like your favorite song or your most comfortable pants or you favorite slice of pizza. It just makes everything better. The game drops you into gorgeous cars on the Australian coast and then just leaves you alone. I refer to FH as my wind down game. I just put on my headphones, play some music that fits my mood and just drive. The controls are perfect, the environments are picturesque, and the world building in unmatched. Riding around seeing your friends just show up is something that is too often taken for granted. This game could easily be my #1 game of the year and next year and the next. Forza Horizon 3 for me is just not a game, it’s a state of mind.