2016 was a great year for gaming. The unveiling of two ‘refreshed’ consoles — the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S — and a console-friendly VR headset — PlayStation VR — are undoubtedly the highlights, but graphics and hardware improvements aside, we saw some truly phenomenal games in 2016.
These are some of my favorites, in no particular order.
Set in the same locale as the 2012 original, Dishonored 2 opens the door to a sort of Victorian steampunk world that’s equally likely to feature futuristic robots as it is 1800’s steamers. You’ll play as one of two characters: royal bodyguard Corvo, the original protagonist, or Emily Kaldwin, a young empress that Corvo is tasked with protecting. It seems odd to talk about Emily needing protecting, as she’s pretty damn capable.
Aside from that, the game will play entirely different depending on your style. Some will use guns and crossbows, others swords and magic. Some will prefer to sneak around rooftops and side streets, others facing enemies head-on in a last man standing-type bloodbath. You can focus on the core game and finish it in about 12-14 hours, or explore every nook and cranny of the environment for upgrade-granting collectibles and take a couple weeks. It’s all up to you and there’s no “right” way to play.
There’s not much left to say about Hitman. The sixth iteration in a series that debuted in 2006 brings with it a sense of familiarity. Like others you’ll use stealth, creativity, and bad-ass weapons to help Agent 47 take out marks. Like others, you’ll die, get frustrated, and swear the game is actively plotting against you. And like others you’ll complete a level without raising any alarms and then rejoice in the sense of accomplishment that comes with being the world’s best assassin.
And then you’ll do it all over again in an equally frustrating new level.
Aside from improved visuals, there’s not much that’s new or improved aside from its episodic release. Rather than releasing Hitman as one game, you’ll get a series of episodes scheduled to be released throughout the year, and the years to come — three seasons are currently planned.
All of the upcoming content is included with the purchase price of the game.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2017
FIFA may dominate the soccer world, but Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) has been the better title for at least two years. In what remains the only true rivalry in a sports gaming world dominated by exclusive licenses, each title has something to offer, but they’d really be great if they somehow joined forces and became one.
There’s something supremely satisfying about the mechanics of PES that FIFA still lacks. Hitting a back-heel pass to a striker, heading a cross into the corner of the net, or nailing a perfectly-executed tackle, all look as if you’d just seen the real thing. In a game about controlled chaos, flow, and precision, PES is easily the best choice for the soccer purist.
If it’s kits and official licenses you like, FIFA is still the game for you. PES, unfortunately, lacks most of the real team names, kits, and actual squads you’d come to expect from a sports simulation. If you’re looking for the better-playing of the two games, it’s PES, hands-down.
Ratchet and Clank
Devoid of any real-world aspirations you’ll tag along with the iconic Lombax, and his quirky robot friend, Clank, through a series of misadventures. It’s nostalgic gaming at its finest, and although it was set to the classic storyline of the 2002 original, it still felt decidedly new.
Visually speaking, this is the best we’ve ever seen Ratchet and Clank. The visuals stand up not just to other games in the series, but anything on offer for console gamers. Lighting, structure, and environments are all a marvel of technological achievement and as you fight robots, collect bolts, and equip newer and more outrageous weapons you’re often left pixel peeping and admiring just how great the game looks.
Unlike the original, Titanfall 2 offers a pretty stellar campaign mode. It’s on the short side, but enjoyable combat, dialogue, and a host of unlocks make it worth playing through.
In campaign mode, you’ll play as rifleman Jack Cooper who unexpectedly takes over the reigns of a mechanized weapon known as BT 7274, or just BT. Stranded on the planet Typhon after their starship was taken down, the somewhat comedic duo of Jack and BT are left to their own devices as they learn to work together to complete tasks. Throughout the game, you’ll learn new skills and acquire new weapons with the game fully expecting you to learn how to use both as you progress.
As good as the campaign was, Titanfall is still all about multi-player. This iteration addresses issues from the original — like lack of play modes — and adds an excellent customization and progression system to boot. In short, it’s added what you wanted, and trimmed what you didn’t.
Much like the original, the run-and-gun style is a ton of fun. The break-neck movement, combat sequences, and puzzle aspects make Titanfall 2 a must-play title, and one of the best of 2016.
The only PlayStation VR title I included could have just as easily been Arkham VR. In the end I sided with Thumper because it doesn’t require the VR headset, and it offers a lot more bang for the buck. Arkham VR is amazing in its own right, but a 30 minute game that’s less a game and more of an episodic journey is a tough inclusion — especially since it requires hardware that most don’t already own.
So that leaves Thumper. There are some really good titles for PlayStation VR — Rez Infinite, Battlezone, Eve: Valkyrie, etc. — but I found Thumper to be the most enjoyable, and frustrating. In it, you’ll lose all notions of reality as you slide down a rail as a mechanical beetle and try to time corners, jumps, and lateral movement while pressing the appropriate button at the right time. Nail it and you’ll collect tiles that add to your score and help defeat bosses. Blow it and it’s back to the drawing board.
It’s the perfect homage to classic arcade games that just drop you in a foreign world and leave you to your own devices while you try to figure it out with minimal on-screen help.
The score and frenetic pace make Thumper the ultimate ‘one more try’ game, and it’ll keep you entertained for hours.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Like all Uncharted titles, the fourth iteration is a masterpiece of action and cinematic storytelling.
Playing as Nathan Drake, you’ll dive into some backstory while learning the basic controls and navigating your way through an orphanage as a younger version of the protagonist. It’s here that we learn about Nathan’s upbringing, as well as his brother before being thrust into a Panamanian prison alongside him to start the story.
Once the action heats up, you’ll be met with fierce combat, platforming elements, and some puzzle solving as you seek out treasure, and answers, before coming to the excellent conclusion. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s Uncharted, trust the successful series to satisfy in its latest iteration.
Of all the things Overwatch does well, its characters are what make the game most enjoyable.
First-person shooters, more than any other game, perhaps, have a seemingly-insurmountable skill gap between a mediocre player and a really good one. As someone who falls into the former category, I can tell you first-hand just how frustrating it can be to play them in multi-player when it ends up being a series of not-all-that-enjoyable deaths.
Overwatch doesn’t attempt to fix the skill gap to make the game more equal, nor should it. Instead, the game takes the approach of applying different skills to different characters. Each are varied enough that you’re certain to find one that fits your play style. Whether you’re a quick aim on the sticks, or you prefer to think strategically and find the optimal spots for turret placement, Overwatch has a character that’ll make you feel like you’re contributing no matter your skill level — or play style.
If you’re looking for a solid campaign mode, this isn’t it. If you want to go balls-to-the-wall with some intense 6v6 online action, there’s no better first-person shooter this year than Overwatch.
On the other side of the spectrum from Overwatch, we have Doom. If you’re looking for online play, find something else. The campaign, though, is as solid as ever.
Doom is what happens when you strip away the cinematic elements of most games and instead hand a shotgun to a badass and tell him to go shoot demons in the face. Devoid of a great story, or never-ending cut-scenes, Doom is all action, all the time. Aside from some really cool combat action, it cherry picks pieces of classics like Resident Evil in that it’s as much about finding resources as killing bad guys. You’ll never have enough ammo, and you’re always near-death and searching for the next health pickup.
That’s Doom in a nutshell. It’s not for the faint-of-heart, and it’s a bit repetitive at times, but when you’re locked in you wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else.
Street Fighter 5
What can I say about the latest version of Street Fighter that hasn’t been said thousands of times before for every version since the 1987 arcade game? It’s a classic, and you know what you’re getting yourself into before ever hitting the start button — intense button mashing and some really cool special moves.
Inside, you’ll find familiar faces like Ryu, Chun-li, and M. Bison as well as three new ones: the Tarzan-wannabe close-quarters combat specialist Necalli, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Capoeira fighter Laura, and the acrobatic Rashid.
This PlayStation exclusive is as good as ever, and the online mode serves to challenge even the most experienced players.
We loved Firewatch on PC, but it’s equally as good on the PS4. The game is less of a “game” in the traditional sense (I’m not even sure it’s possible to die) and more of an immersive and interactive story. You can play through in all of a couple hours, but at $20, the relatively limited options for replay-ability are cooked into the price.
The game centers around a man hired to live in an overlook point and watch for fires during a park’s off-season. There are no weapons, and no upgrades — just a man, a compass, and a few survival tools needed to navigate the vast wilderness.
You’ll start with mundane tasks and chores before stumble onto a mystery as the game progresses. Each step unlocks another piece of the puzzle and by the end you’re desperately wishing there was more.
I want to preface this by saying I don’t, and have never, enjoyed historic shooters. Dating back to Battlefield: 1942 in 2002, I really wasn’t a fan of the series until ‘Battlefield 2’ — the first modern iteration of the franchise — in 2005.
This historic shooter, though, I loved.
Another game that’s all about multi-player, Battlefield 1 has a better-than-serviceable campaign mode this year. The story-based action leads you from historic event to historic event based on actual battles in World War 1. Throughout the campaign you’ll be entrusted with period-specific weapons and tasks that you can go about accomplishing however you see fit.
It provides a sense of realness to war and connects you with the characters like few other titles can. It’s hard to describe how immersive this game is, but carefully chosen music, background sounds, and excellent movements (and shooting) mechanics all lead to a sort of off-handed understanding of just how chaotic, and devastating, war can be.
Multi-player is, as usual, excellent. Unlike the spray-and-pray tactics of most first-person shooters, the period-specific weapons are clunky and inaccurate beasts that require precision.
Another thoroughly enjoyable new inclusion was Operations mode. In the new mode, you’re matched up with another team at a sort of mid-point on the map and forced to take over territory before moving forward, or back, on the map in your next battle. It has a conquest-type feel to it that plays out like you’d imagine a real war would — take territory and move forward, lose and you’re defending what little bits of the map you have left.
Calling The Witness a puzzle game is doing it a great disservice.
The game takes place on a surprisingly expansive island with a singular goal: solve puzzles. Deceptively simple at first, the puzzles lull you into a false sense of comfort for what’s to come. The puzzles are challenging, but solvable, and often with a solution residing right under your nose the entire time. The game teaches you early on that sometimes you have to walk away from challenges in order to solve them, and this holds true throughout the game. What seemed impossible at first is later a breeze as you unlock bigger pieces of the overall puzzle.
At first, you’re not really sure of how the story progresses, but as you solve the tasks placed in front of you, the island begins to reveal itself and each individual challenge is rewarded with a greater sense of understanding of how it all fits together.
The Witness is a masterpiece, and it begs to be played again even after finishing it.