It's that time of year again. Time to reflect back on the year, not in terms of 'IRL' because frankly it's been a pretty awful year all told (F**K YOU 2016), but instead let us consider all the awesome and amazing videogames that have been released in the last twelve months. And there have been a lot of them!! Boasting quality as well as quantity, 2016 has been a very strong year for videogames, and I'm grateful of the escape they provided through all the brexits and trumps. So, here's my own personal pick of the very best videogames released this year and why I loved them so much. But firstly...
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
We didn't get Persona 5 this year, as it's been delayed again (and recently AGAIN!!), but we got a Persona-lite game from Atlus anyway in the form of Wii U exclusive Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Centering around JPop and bursting with awesome tunes supplied by Avex Trax, the game was colourful and had a great battle system, as well as some interesting dungeon designs. It didn't fill the hole but it scratched the itch nicely.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
I absolutely loved Human Revolution a few years back on the PS3, and have since picked up the 'Director's Cut' on Wii U, so was excitedly awaiting the release of its follow-up. What we got feels more like part one of an episodic title, but it was well designed nevertheless, and a damn good videogame! As usual for things in the stealth genre, I played through completely non-lethally and achieved the "pacifist" trophy, which ranks among one of my prouder achievements this year.
No Man's Sky
Keeping involved with the No Man's Sky subreddit has almost been as entertaining as the game this year; a real rollercoaster of hopelessly out of proportion expectations, crushing disappointment and rage, through to eventual forgiveness and optimism. Personally, I went in with an open mind upon its release and it became my game of the summer. I loved the free-form exploration and trippy 70s sci-fi stylings. It was and still is a great game that's only getting better.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
One of my highlights of the last few years has been the re-release of a Zelda game, remastered for a new audience and console generation. Whereas I might not have played previous entries, I already had fond memories of Twilight Princess, and playing it again I was glad to see it hold up all these years later. One of the best narratives in The Legend of Zelda in my opinion, it still gets me at the end, and the HD remaster onto Wii U has improved the visuals spectacularly.
I played a fair few "walking simulators" this year (I actually really enjoy the genre especially to break up the action-packed pace of many 'AAA' titles) but Firewatch was the best. I think what separates it from the rest is that not only does it have a strong narrative, which is experienced in real time rather than after-the-fact, but also it's got a good cast of characters who grow and develop during the game.
Top 10 Best Games of 2016:
Before I picked up DOOM, I hadn't played a first-person shooter in quite a while; it was a genre that I'd grown tired of, and which seemed to have moved firmly into 'multiplayer only' territory, which doesn't interest me in the slightest. This combined with Bethesda's review embargo lasting until the last possible minute meant that DOOM wasn't even a blip on my radar, until a friend played it and recommended it wholeheartedly as something I would enjoy. I'm glad I listened! As a huge fan of the original game back on my 486, it is incredible to see the new take on a classic formula, to me this modern iteration 'feels' like DOOM, but with all new twists that reinvigorate an old-school game design and make it feel like the freshest single-player shooter in years.
Inside is the long awaited follow-up title to Limbo, one of my favourite games of the last generation, which originally released as a supposed Xbox One exclusive, and which I *almost* bought an XBone S in order to play. It received so many absolutely glowing 10/10 reviews it sounded simply amazing, and it is *amazing*, although it takes a while to reveal exactly why. The game does a great job of ramping up both the environmental puzzles and mystery surrounding its core narrative before a final act really turns everything on its head and cements this as one of the best games of the year; I went straight back in for a second playthrough immediately upon finishing it first time!
8.) Dishonored 2
As a huge fan of the original Dishonored, I was seriously excited for the follow-up game. I won a competition that gave me the chance to play it earlier in the year, and so I knew what to expect for the final game, even though it still had a few surprises left up its sleeve (such as that infamous level similar to Titanfall 2's piece-de-resistance). The sequel builds on everything that made the original such a standout title, and gives you many options and available paths through each level, as well as interesting and unique abilities to explore. Like Deus Ex, this was another game that I completed completely non-lethally and was a ton of fun.
7.) Hyper Light Drifter
What a f**king game!! I have to admit I was dubious about whether or not I would like Hyper Light Drifter, which was initially sold to me as similar to the original Legend of Zelda or Link to the Past but with a very high level of challenge, which I crave. However, the idea of pixel-art graphics, a chiptune soundtrack, and other more technically impressive games like ABZU coming out made me think twice and I almost canceled my PS4 preorder... which would have been a *HUGE* mistake as this has been one of the best videogames I've played all year and this was definitely the best game I played over the summer holidays.
6.) Titanfall 2
DooM had proven to me earlier in the year that I could still very much enjoy single-player first-person shooters, and I didn't think it would be topped in that regard, but against all odds I think Titanfall 2 at least equaled it. The campaign was absolutely fantastic and demonstrated some of the best game design of 2016, and the narrative made me connect with and genuinely care about a robot character, despite the rather cookie-cutter military shooter premise. Still, it was being proven wrong regarding the online multiplayer that was the most outstanding feature of Titanfall 2 - I actually found myself enjoying playing a shooter with other people for the first time in *years*.
5.) Final Fantasy XV
I'd played and immensely enjoyed the 'Episode Duscae' demo back in 2015, so was looking forward to Final Fantasy XV anyway, but it was still surprising just how damn good this 10-years-in-the-making game turned out! While not without its flaws (Chapter 13 *is* as awful as everyone says believe me) the game is just so endearing with its dude-bro cast embarking on a coming-of-age story like no other, and a plot that had me fighting back tears by the end. The combat system, providing you enable 'wait mode' is extremely satisfying and the promotional material like Kingsglaive and the Brotherhood anime just added to the overall feeling I was playing something special. One of the best Final Fantasy games in my opinion, up there with Final Fantasy X and VII (my two personal favourites).
4.) Dark Souls III
The tone of Dark Souls III is even more somber and apocalyptic than usual, if you can believe that, and this time the first flame is *really* about to snuff out... for good. So, as the "ashen one" it's your task to kill the previous Lords of Cinder and use their powerful souls to link the fire once more, and keep everything ticking along as usual. As the third (discounting Demon's Souls and Bloodborne) iteration of a successful formula the game is incredibly solid, and with a faster pace to combat along with an expanded moveset, Dark Souls III is in many ways the zenith of this series. I played it through a couple of times when it came out and am just waiting for the release of all DLC before diving in again.
3.) Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
It's Uncharted 4's outstanding characterization that drives along the strong storyline involving Nathan Drake and his brother trying to find the lost pirate colony of Libertalia, whilst also outrunning Panama drug cartels and corrupt private military companies; it's this amazing narrative that elevates Uncharted 4 above most other games. It's all very cinematic without being hands-off, and the gameplay has seen a substantial overhaul and improvement over previous entries, with a page taken out of Metal Gear Solid V's book and including large open areas benefitting a stealthy approach, as well as offering different (often very vertical) tactics for all-out combat. Overall, Uncharted 4 remains one of the high watermarks this year, and the best game in an already outstanding series.
2.) The Witness
A complete surprise for me this year has been the impact of Jonathan Blow's The Witness. I really liked Braid (Blow's first game) but didn't think it was the masterpiece it was made out to be, and from The Witness trailers I just couldn't see how a whole game could be made out of a series of line puzzles, especially one that supposedly lasted around 20-30 hours! Yet, upon the games' launch early in 2016, it was met with 10/10 scores and tons of praise was heaped upon it; so I stuck it on a "to play later" list and waited for a gap in my schedule. After playing The Witness, and can honestly say I think it's one of the greatest videogames I've ever played, so profound was its influence upon me that I was kept awake at night thinking about solutions to puzzles, or what the messages behind the game could be. The Witness is one of my favourite videogames this year, and in my opinion one of the very best puzzle games ever made; it's certainly a game that has got me to think about it long after I stopped playing, and only just missed the top spot of Game of the Year.
1.) The Last Guardian
When people ask me what my favourite videogame of all time is, to this day I still answer with Shadow of the Colossus. Regardless of whether it holds up as well nowadays, Fumito Ueda's masterpiece was so profound and transformative upon its release back on the PlayStation 2 that it stuck with me for many years, and I still break it out every now and again to experience its unique setting and narrative structure once again. I was also a *huge* fan of ICO, and have been eagerly awaiting the third and probably final game in this quasi-trilogy ever since picking up a PlayStation 3 for The Last Guardian - yes I bought a PS3 for this game. When the much-anticipated game finally released right at the end of this year it was with a massive degree of trepidation that I fired it up on my PS4, I just didn't think it would be able to live up to the long development cycle and associated hype; I braced myself for disappointment.
What I got instead was an experience I'll probably never forget and one of the highlights of videogames as an art form. The Last Guardian is a masterpiece, there's no two ways about it, it's a work of genius. The setting, music, narrative structure, sense of foreboding and mystery but central of all the relationship that you build with the character of 'Trico' is just unforgettable. By the end of the game I was in absolute bits, never have I been so moved by a videogame... or so I thought, then the epilogue played post-credits and I broke into tears. I'm still moved whenever I listen to the parts of the soundtrack that went with those last fleeting moments, and even though I'm desperate to play it again I think the emotions are still too raw.
It has its detractors, and you must have a certain mindset and patience to experience this game as it was intented, but there simply wasn't anything this year that even came close to the punch The Last Guardian gave me right in the feels! An outstanding videogame, one of the best of all time and easily Game of the Year 2016.