As we collectively get ready to shut the door on a truly terrible year, it’s worth taking a look at one element of 2016 that was consistently outstanding – its video games.
Yes, whilst wispy-haired megalomaniacs were taking office and the Coral Reef was withering away into nothing, the games industry was pumping out solid title after solid title, pretty much every month.
Everything from narrative-heavy point n’ clicks to action-filled blockbusters, brain-breaking puzzlers to record-breaking open-worlds – put simply, as 2016 already gave you an excuse to batten down the hatches and wait it one out with your console of choice, there were myriad of reasons to do so in style.
Pause Inside at any point and you’d have a painting thousands could analyse with infinite interpretations. Apply that across an entire game, and you have something altogether more enthralling.
Playdead Studios’ have spent the last five years genuinely perfecting every last part of their followup to LIMBO, the result being an immaculate physics-based platformer where every facet of the end product is polished and smoothed over to stand the test of time.
Its gameplay gently ramps up in difficulty without ever being too hard, graphics as mentioned are sublime, seeing pockets of colour pepper a dystopian landscape that intentionally doesn’t tell a straightforward narrative, leaving you to pick up the pieces yourself.
The overall feel, score and pace are outstanding, factoring into a supremely confident finale that’s ugly, powerful, memorable and still debated about as to its true meaning to this day. All of which establishes Playdead as a studio wearing the truest sense of artistry on their sleeves.
If you play one game from 2016, make it Inside.
What’s your take on the best games of the year? It’s tough nailing down one single title, but let me know your own picks in the comments below!
Every single pixel and voxel, from 2D unlockable sprite stickers to voluptuous character models is bursting with Pixar-rivalling charm in Overwatch, its overall level of visual flourish extending to some supremely polished combat.
Yes, it’s multiplayer-only, but this is Blizzard we’re talking about. Long a beloved developer, they’ve applied their hearty ‘fans-first’ charm to catapult Overwatch to the top of the e-Sports scene, alongside giving those at home a varied experience depending on which character(s) you decide to specialise in.
Regardless of whether you’ve been playing since launch or are just hopping in now, Blizzard have maintained excellent matchmaking standards, ensuring that – unlike Battlefield 1/Call of Duty – you can comfortably give anybody a copy and watch their face light up.
From its roster of loveable characters to a main theme that’ll make you want to don a cape yourself, the ‘charge-POP!’ sound of the loot boxes and the sheer breadth of gameplay styles inherent in its various characters’ abilities, Overwatch will grab you by both shoulders and route you to the spot for the duration.
Id Software wrote the book on first-person game deign, and with their grand return to DOOM – some 12 years in the making – they’ve knocked it clean out the park and straight up to Mars.
Running steady at 60 frames per second, you’ve not experienced a console shooter like this. And whilst that base foundation immediately challenges you to play as fast as your brain can process information, there are a number of truly innovative game mechanics that keep it all fresh.
Out of ammo? Just whip out your chainsaw and carve through enemies to trigger some pick-ups. Likewise with health, executing enemies restores it, encouraging you to mix up your weapons and tactics on the fly.
A technical powerhouse from top to bottom, take gore-soaked levels, varied enemy design, phenomenally powerful weapons and pack it all in with extra dynamite – DOOM is the resulting explosion, and everything you’d expect from a true veteran of the industry.
Initially seeing its reputation hampered by releasing in monthly instalments, IO Interactive used this extended development time to deliver what is honestly the best Hitman you’ll ever play.
Levels are miniature worlds of A.I. scripts and intertwining animations, the sheer breadth of which should see Bethesda quaking in their boots. IO even listened to the complainers from years gone by too, smoothing over how the series’ iconically over-the-top kills get triggered to make them more obvious – if you so choose.
Now, with a revamped step-by-step system easing you into taking out targets in the most ridiculous and impressive way possible, IO have managed to strike a perfect balance between making a Hitman for the hardcore and the newcomers, the final missing ingredient that elevates this year’s entry into quite possibly the finest stealth experience of the decade so far.
Released in a dreadful place, slap-bang in the middle of Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty (literally, the week in between the two), it goes without saying that some of the biggest-selling franchises in gaming history maxed out many peoples’ spending limits, leaving little behind for Respawn’s (infinitely better) shooter to claim.
And that’s a crying shame, because from some of the most innovative first-person shooter levels in history (one that sees you hop between multiple timelines at will, the other a shootout taking place inside an assembly line of moving houses), Respawn’s pedigree as a team made up of ex-Infinity War guys shines through.
Titanfall 2 is a window into the FPS genre’s future in everything from weighty physics to class-defining powers and unique weapons. Its frenetic, mech-fuelled multiplayer is some of the most rewarding and tactile you’ll ever play, all making for a pleasant deviation from the twitch-based likes of the competition.
Back to ‘proper games’, and there’s nothing that released this year that’ll force you to become one with a control scheme quite like Furi.
Developed by The Game Bakers, it’s ostensibly two games in one; a top-down twin-stick shooter with hack n’ slash melee combat, and an up-close, side-on fighter.
Built around speed, reaction times and the smallest windows of opportunity, you’ll need to take down a series of hyper-stylised bosses in the most precise way possible.
Waves of blaster fire fill the screen, charged attacks can be dodged or parried – the game knows you’re going to get good at its systems, and keeps up accordingly. A few hours in, battles will go from being intense duels to full-on Dragon Ball Z-style showcases of special attacks and flurries of clashing swords – it’s less about ‘keeping on your toes’, and more learning to never touch the ground.
Oh, and the game’s soundtrack is ostensibly this year’s Hotline Miami:
It’s been far, far too long since we saw a completely original idea thrown into the first-person shooter mix.
Enter SUPERHOT, the game where “time only moves when you do”. It could’ve been a daft gimmick, but in the moment, where you can literally let off the analogue sticks and watch time slow to a crawl, feels fantastic.
Being in control of dancing around and under bullets, catching weapons in mid-air, diving around enemies and coming crashing down to slice them in half with a katana – SUPERHOT is every action scene ever composed with you as both director and actor simultaneously.
Its story may not be terribly long and is definitely a very polarising comment on where virtual reality gaming is heading, but for its gameplay, SUPERHOT is truly something you need to check out for yourself.
You have to hand it to EA and DICE, they knew exactly what they were doing with Battlefield.
The trailer dropping right around the time everyone was getting that little bit too sick of COD’s insistence on future warfare, Battlefield 1 took us right back to the trenches, doing so with one of the most impressive graphics engines seen this generation.
Its campaign is a uniquely framed take on the conflict, focusing on five different stories ranging from dogfighting pilots over London, to the sand dunes and horse-ridden warfare of the Middle-East. It works remarkably well, the only drawback being that you’ll clock all these sections in an afternoon, tops.
Granted, the multiplayer is where it’s at – and Battlefield 1’s cerebral, spectacle-filled dynamic battles are a sight to behold – it’s just a shame DICE didn’t have the development time to craft a campaign that could rival the likes of the legendary Medal of Honor games.
When done right, there’s nothing quite so memorable as a Telltale game. Yes, they’ve taken on so many projects now that the vast majority release in buggy states (Game of Thrones being a notable dud), but their work with Batman is outstanding.
Playing just as much as Bruce as the Dark Knight himself, it creates a unique duality that genuinely lets you feel the power of donning the cape and cowl. You’ll talk to criminals and dodgy figures as the fake-smiling playboy billionaire, all the while knowing you’ll be breaking bones to extract information later on.
The story itself remarkably manages to shake the foundations of what you think you know about Batman fiction, which in an age where we’re seeing the same old origin story thrown onscreen over and over, is a welcome and much needed change.
If you’re looking for a brilliantly enjoyable narrative set in one of the greatest fictional universes in entertainment history, Telltale’s Batman is their finest work since the first season of The Walking Dead.
Whilst it may not have had the same impact as the original Ratchet & Clank, developers Insomniac provided the definitive rulebook on how any studio should remake their beloved classics going forward.
Reverting back to a time when the R&C series wasn’t all about third-person gunplay, this revitalised Ratchet finds a happy medium by mapping targeting controls to the left trigger. Pull it at any point and the camera will lock behind you, or let go, and enjoy the standard platforming the series has otherwise.
It’s a remarkably simple and effective solution to the franchise’s identity problem, and when that results in sublimely enjoyable gameplay backed by some of the best graphics seen this generation, Ratchet & Clank’s return proves the third-person platforming genre will always have an immortal appeal.
Remember the first time you played Vice City?
It was a revolutionary step towards an era in GTA’s history that remains its all-time peak: One where Rockstar put just as much effort into crafting immaculate world aesthetics and soundtracks as they did gunplay, violence and the script itself.
Flash-forward to 2016, and phenomenal sound design is only the tip of the iceberg.
Mafia III is easily one of the most immersive and finest open-world titles in years, one that despite the repetition inherent in its basic gameplay loop of combat and stealth, excels thanks to fantastic writing, a risky time period and a cast of characters that all deserve their place in gaming’s history books.