GOTY 2016: Tom's Picks

I want to start this article by deftly side-stepping the worn old cliche that 2016 was a very bad year. I mean, it was, but every cloud has its silver lining and in 2016 the vast majority of those silver linings were video game related. I mean, why pay attention as both your global and personal situation go right down the toilet when you have these fine beasts to play!

Before I drop into the vertigo-inducing thrill ride that is my top 10, I want to briefly talk about the "almost" games - with the idea that there was so much quality on display this year picking only ten seems like a bit of an insult.

10+

These are the near misses this year - the games that affected, confused, addicted and amused me, without quite having that unknown quality that pushed them into the top ten.

First up is Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. I was a fan of Human Revolution, and MD delivered more than was expected from a sequel - even down to a legit excuse as to why your augments were not working after the first game. Neo Prague was a joy to behold and I reveled in the choices that were laid before me - the fact that playing a stealth/non-combat build is not only plausible but fun is a rare joy. The game dragged me through its 20-30 hours of story with no real complaints, but in the end I felt it fell prey to the "Iron Man 2" problem - being the middle installment in a trilogy with no real resolution.

I also really enjoyed Hue and Headlander. Hue was very much the anti-Limbo  - fun, colourful and tough without being frustrating. Headlander is a much overlooked explore-em-up set in a well-realised 70s lava lamp aesthetic. Made by Double Fine, but published by Adult Swim, this is a criminally underrated game - the new Stacking, unfortunately.

Virginia was another game that only just failed to make the cut. Brave, weird and psychadelic, Virginia goes places that many other stories won't. Despite the many nods to X-Files and twin Peaks, Virginia has more to say than you would expect and warrants more than a single play through.

I also want to raise a glass for Hitman. IO have really knocked it out of the park with this new release, and is probably my most watched game of the year. I own the season pass, but haven't played past the first mission because I've been having so much fun providing remote intel for Rob on his elusive targets and special missions. It is a game that I'll never tire of watching, even if I am rubbish at it myself! 

The last game missing from my list is a biggie - Battlefield 1. In all honesty, the single player campaign blew me away - even the pre-credits cold open  has an emotional heft not seen in many games. Everything about BF1 is awesome, but the real reason it didn't make it onto my list was simply due to diminishing returns. I have played hundreds upon hundreds of hours of Battlefield multiplayer, and with each successive game I play less. From 300 hours on BF Bad Company 2 down to 80 hours on BF Hardline - this new installment didn't hold me for even 50 hours - not because it is bad, simply because I have played too much.

Now, enough of the also rans - it's time for the main event. The following 10 games have floated my metaphorical boat over the last 12 months and it's my duty to tell you about them!

 

10 - DOOM

There has been a seachange in the shooter genre in the last year or two - heralded by the resurrection of Wolfenstein with New Order - old school simplicity woven seamlessly into new generation potential. DOOM 2016 refined this into an almost insanely great experience, making the most of a full on campaign that combines epic violence, calm little moments before the storm and fun hidden collectibles. When the going gets tough, the tough equip an instakill chainsaw and an all out metal soundtrack and carve through wave after wave of demons. Slap a remarkably solid multiplayer and a robust and easy to use level designer on top, and you have a winning formula for one of my games of the year.

 

9 - Lichtspeer

Hurling a future viking light spear into the top 10 is Lichtspeer. If you don't like the idea of spearing hipster viking giants in a fast and frenetic skill game, then I'm afraid you're off my Christmas card list!

Violence, techno, and just enough German language to make you feel uncomfortable, Lichtspeer is tough but fun enough to keep you coming back to speer just one more wave. The enemy design is great - seals on skateboards, giant flying snakes and dapper zombies are all out for blood. Using the power-ups bought with LSD can buy a little extra time, but death is never far away. DAS IST COOL!

 

8 - Firewatch

I have idly dreamed of taking a firewatch job ever since I read Desolation Angels by Kerouac when I was a teenager. Firewatch finally allowed me to live out that dream in all its melancholic, poetic glory. 

Gentle, with a strong story - second only to Gone Home as a game whose best characters never appear on screen - Firewatch evokes more than feelings, it evokes a sense of place. Every area of the game feels real, and the relationships feel human, even the books laying around your cabin add to the ambience.

The art is phenomenal, the sound sublime. I don't want to say too much about the story as to do so may lessen some impact, but if you haven't played it yet, I command you to do so!

 

7 - Abzu

Another "experience" that seemed tailor made for me this year. I have a degree in marine biology and I loved flower and Journey, so getting to play a fishy exploration drift-em-up from the art director of Journey and flower is a no-brainer.

There is no fail state, and for the most part the game is the most serene thing I've played in 2016. There is something wonderfully therapeutic about latching on to a turtle and letting it lead you around underwater, or leaping gracefully out of a kelp bed with new dolphin friends. Some of the set pieces are jaw dropping in scale and although the game itself encourages you to relax and take things slow it still has enough darkness and excitement to lead up to a thrilling and emotional climax. The music is Austin Wintory, which basically means it sounds wonderful. Get it and spend a rainy Sunday afternoon exploring this undersea wonderland.

 

6 - Adr1ft

In space, no one can here you silently perish through lack of oxygen. Unfortunately neither can they see you drift wonderfully through the shattered remains of your space station, at once both terrified and ultimately peaceful. 

Coming on like a first person Gravity, Adr1ft is content to do away with the bombast and let the majesty of the void do the talking. While the premise is simple - reactivate 4 sections of your crippled station so you can get an escape pod working - the surroundings are so visually stunning and the atmosphere (or lack of it) so engrossing that drifting about is amazing. The experience is ramped up considerably by wearing a fat pair of surround sound headphones which means you can hear every shallow, panicked breath as you start to run out of oxygen.

Very rarely can a game be this awesome, desperate, peaceful and moving all at the same time. It would be higher up the list had I had time to play it on VR before making this list, but it remains one of the gems of the year. 

 

5 -  Overcooked

Team 17 have published/created some of my favourite games over the years, but I don't think many people saw the sucker punch of Ghost Town Games' Overcooked coming. It's no secret that local multiplayer is at the heart of GPT, but it's been a while since a game got us all laughing, swearing, slamming controllers and simply talking like Overcooked does. It's a game that has been played on Sunday mornings with partners, drunken Friday nights with friends (the ability to share one controller between two is a wise and hilarious move), and even in our 24 hour charity stream. It's hilarious, it's frustrating, it's inclusive and above all it's a whole heap of fun. Go play it right now! 

 

4 - Dr Langeskov, The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

A free 15 minute game that I ended up playing for four and a half hours, Dr Langeskov and the unnecessarily long title is the brainchild of Crows Crows Crows - the new studio formed by William Pugh and Dominik Johann. Now, I'm not going to waste our time by going all wobbly-legged fanboy here but I can safely say that Mr Pugh is my favourite game developer ever. From the Stanley Parable to The Temple of No to this game, there hasn't been a miss, and the fact that 2 of those games are free is both amazing and possibly insane. I'm not going to tell you about Dr. Langeskov - just go download it and see for yourself! 

 

3 - Overwatch

I played a competitive online only shooter for around 80 hours this year, and it wasn't Battlefield! Never the biggest Blizzard advocate - Diablo is the only game in their catalogue that ever kept me interested - they hooked me faster than Roadhog's chain with an almost perfect blend of fast-paced action, identifiable and colourful characters and great gameplay. Blizzard proved it's possible to keep a game interesting even without unlock trees and 100s of different weapons, and playing on PS4 means I wasn't exposed to the salty voice chat of the PC version. I stopped playing due to lack of time (and some slight missteps from Blizzard in rolling out the ranked mode)  but it's a game that I'm very happy exists and I will probably dip in and out whenever the mood strikes me.

 

2 - Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2 is an amazing beast. The sequel to a mostly online multiplayer games, it actually turns out to be one of the single player campaigns of the year. Don't get me wrong, the multiplayer is solid, fun and interesting, but the love story between man and machine at the heart of the well-paced and at times downright wacky single player is a joy to behold. Each section brings a new challenge - not least the individual mech on mech boss fight throwdowns that encourage you to play with loadouts and tactics - and there is more variety in gameplay mechanics in a few levels than a lot of games manage in their whole runtime. I played through on the hardest difficulty and it never felt unfair, it just felt like an awesome thrill ride. Full of cool little touches like entering your mech in different ways depending on angle of approach and actually replacing a previous weapon in a gun rack when picking up a new one, Titanfall 2 made me very happy this year!

 

1 - Final Fantasy XV

Just. Buy. This. Game. 

Best RPG, Best Road Trip Simulator, Best Friendship Simulator, Best Cooking Show. FFXV has it all. Having only ever played a bit of FFX and 12 minutes of FFVII I don't count myself a fan of the series, but FFXV introduces itself as a game for fans and newcomers alike, and at least in my case it's true. From the beautiful opening moments of Florence and the Machine's version of Stand By Me, you know that this group of friends is going to go far. I loved the journey I took with my royal boy band, and was as happy fishing or playing minigames as I was with some of the epic, frankly "see-it-to-believe-it" boss fights, and the ending broke my damn heart. As in, I actually cried. At a AAA video game. Do yourselves a favour and go play this game.

 

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