There was a lot of good and bad in 2016, and I’m not just talking about within the gaming world. However, at an attempt to pretend that beloved celebrities aren’t dying in their hordes as the year draws to a gasping close, I’m going to focus on the games of 2016. Disclaimer, these are my favourite games, of those that I’ve played from 2016. Chalk any glaring omissions up to limited free time, or a difference of opinion.
In no particular order, here we go.
Originally starting off as a prototype for the 2013 7 Day FPS Challenge, Superhot was met with wide internet acclaim, hitting Steam Greenlight and launching a Kickstarter campaign. The game has a unique central mechanic, wherein time only moves when you do. It’s a hook that carried it through the FPS challenge through to a full console release, but the real surprise of Superhot lies in how this mechanic is extrapolated upon, and placed in a unique story of virtual reality, hacking, and AI bundled within a unique ASCII interface. You can’t help but feel that Superhot is playing you, as much as you are playing it.
All that weird Sci-Fi nonsense would go to waste if the game itself wasn’t fun to play, and thankfully, Superhot is a sheer joy to behold. The minimalist colour palette of whites on greys, with weapons highlighted in black and foes in red make each encounter easy to figure out.
The missions start out simple enough, with only a few foes and basic melee weapons, but as more and more enemies join the mix, and firearms are added to the encounters, things turn fiendishly difficult. Superhot also offers bonus survival challenges and an endless mode for those who want a challenge beyond the central storyline. It’s a truly unique title that fans of all genres should check out that is astonishingly satisfying and cerebral in action.
One man’s labour of love, Stardew Valley takes the formula of the long stagnating Harvest Moon franchise and brings it into the modern gaming world. Gorgeous pixel art and idyllic music bring life to a world full of vibrant colour, where you can choose exactly how you want to spend each day.
Fishing, farming, improving your home, and chatting to the locals to build relationships are all fulfilling, fun tasks, and on top of that, you can dungeon crawl and mine if you fancy your past times a little more spirited. Your tasks in Stardew Valley start small. You might be growing a handful of strawberries while saving up to get your first chicken and grain silo, but as the seasons pass and the gears go on, you get new recipes to automate the boring stuff, and have a huge, thriving farm that does most of the work on its own.
On top of that, you can build your relationships with the townspeople, going from an outsider who nobody wants to dance with, to a central member of the community. You can even marry and have kids, if you so choose. Stardew Valley takes a range of established systems from other games and franchises, and makes them gel together perfectly. It’s a game full of wonder and exploration, where every day in game ticks by full of tasks to be done, while the hours in the real world fly by. This game will possess your heart.
Blizzard Entertainment can do no wrong, it seems. Heroes of the Storm was a top notch MOBA that worked for newcomers and veterans to the genre alike. Hearthstone took the trading card game formula, made it work as a free to play title, and then crafted it into a worldwide phenomenon.
So did we really expect anything other than sheer perfection from Overwatch? And they delivered in spades. It’s a team based shooter in the vein of Team Fortress 2 with vibrant levels, and a stunningly diverse and colourful cast of characters that seem to spawn every nationality and orientation. Plus, each of the 23 characters plays entirely different. Mercy is a traditional healer that can also boost damage output to enemies.
Tracer, the games mascot, is a speedy, low health character who can rewind time by a few seconds, and teleport in small increments across the map. Mei can freeze foes solid, make ice walls, and heal herself with an ice cocoon… I could go on and on, but there truly is a role for everyone, with each character easy to get to grips with, yet incredibly difficult to master. Blizzard has also been excellent with supporting the game, adding new heroes, game modes, free maps and seasonal events frequently since release. Overwatch looks set to continue to excel in 2017, and its vibrant graphics belie a deceptively deep, team based multiplayer experience that is truly unique.
DOOM shouldn’t have been good. I know that’s not fair to say, there are plenty of games every year that are hyped into oblivion and then fall astoundingly short of the mark. DOOM, however, was one of those titles that seemed bound to fail from the start. Consistently revamped from a sequel to DOOM 3 to a Call of Duty rip off to a complete reboot, it seemed that every time the game was scrapped and restarted, there was slimmer and slimmer chance of it being worth playing at all.
With ID Software back at the helm of the title, some gamers dared to hope for a return to form, but what would work for a title that hadn’t been great since its 2D days at the birth of the first person shooter genre? Doom 3 was a decent title in a survival horror style, let down by the fact that it missed much of the point of the franchise in the first place.
Cue DOOM releasing in 2016, to rave reviews, and massive fanfare. Can you believe it? Every review seemed to scream at you, it’s better than good, it’s great. But what made it so great? It seemed with the reboot of their much cherished franchise, ID Software understood what made the original games so great. They were stupid, over the top, and gory. They were a dumb and bloody cocktail of horrific beasts, stupid weapons, and gore. That’s where DOOM went right back to, introducing enough modern day hooks to keep things fresh. However, the stroke of genius wasn’t modernising DOOM to be like other shooters, it was in eschewing modern day shooter trappings and evolving DOOM in its own way.
The result was a gorgeous bloodbath of hellish levels, over the top weapons, ridiculously satisfying glory kills, and large, open levels with plenty of opportunities to explore, and a range of fiendish secrets to find. Each level introduced collectibles, rune challenges, and hidden upgrades that made key differences to the core gameplay, allowing you to tailor your weapon upgrades and your unlocked abilities to fit the way you wanted to play the game.
The game also emphasised movement in an incredibly satisfying way. DOOM wasn’t about taking cover and aiming down sights, it was about double jumping around demons, slaughtering them with overpowered weapons, remaining constantly on the move. It was an exhilarating, bloody thrill ride with incredible music, and art direction. The tacked on multiplayer was a decent distraction with a few good ideas, but the single player was where the real guts of the game was, and boy, was there a lot of guts.
It took a while for Playdead - creators of the stellar LIMBO to come out with a new title, and within five minutes of playing INSIDE, it’s easy to see why. LIMBO was one of the first main stream indie darlings of the Xbox360 and PS3 era, alongside the likes of Super Meat Boy, Spelunky and Fez, that made gamers start to realise that there were exciting things happen in the bedrooms and tiny studios of independent studios across the globe.
While LIMBO was a simple, rough around the edges, bleakly dark puzzle platformer kept low-fi because of its low budget; INSIDE showed that the brilliant minds from Playdead could conjure up with a little more money, and plenty of time. To try and explain what makes INSIDE so special is to tiptoe around a lot of surprises that will snatch your breath away in the moment. It’s better to focus on the sheer beauty of the game, moment to moment.
While it’s another side scrolling puzzle platformer, everything in it feels meticulously crafted. Each screen is brimming with background detail and clues about the world. Every animation on every character is impossibly fluid, making it hard to dispel the feeling that you’re watching real, living creatures. Eerie music, an almost entirely silent world, free of dialogue, sparse on sound, save for the pounding of your footprints as you flee from capture… everything about INSIDE is rich and evocative, pulling you in. The game is short, beaten in two to three hours, and it’s worth seeing it out to the end in one sitting. From the start, INSIDE grips you, holding you breathlessly, terrifyingly captivated until it spits you out at the other end, drained and full of questions.