The People’s Choice
Good fucking riddance.
I kicked around my number 10 spot for a while; previous iterations of this list had Modern Warfare Remastered or No Man’s Sky bringing up the rear. But none of those games played with genre expectations quite like Superhot — and Superhot has the added bonus of not costing $80 or being sold on false promises.
When we say a game plays with genre conventions, we’re usually referring to the story — a Spec Ops-style subversion with a big twist that recontextualizes everything you’ve done up to that point. Here, Superhot instead plays with how you expect a shooter to feel, hanging its campaign on a time manipulation gimmick that expertly blurs the line between puzzle and shooter, all bolstered by a stark monochrome cyberpunk aesthetic. If the game was just a unique shooter, that would be worth praising; that it also manages to make each gunshot feel immense and each gunfight feel satisfying is a major bonus.
9. The Division
I like games where I can make my own fun, with bonus points if the game is fun by itself to begin with. Hey, that sounds a lot like The Division! The campaign has all the trappings of a great loot shooter, except applied to real-world objects — getting a rare, super powerful AK-47 with its name in bright purple letters really cracked me up, a novelty that persisted throughout my time in the quarantined New York City.
Those are surface-level pleasures; what makes The Division special is the Dark Zone — a walled-off PVP area, filled with tougher enemies and sadistic players, where everyone is constantly on edge, waiting for a betrayal. The Dark Zone has given me no end of pleasure this year, especially when I went in there with my friend Andi. We even had a secret code — the jumping jack emote was our signal to betray whoever we were running with. The core game has an excellent loot grind, thanks in part to the familiarity of the weapons on offer, but for me, the sheer volume of potential contained in the Dark Zone was more than worth the price of admission.
I haven’t had a chance to look at the game’s expansion, or its many patches, otherwise I suspect it would have been much higher on my list. As is, the launch version of The Division scratched my loot itch better than any other RPG/shooter in recent memory.
8. Watch Dogs 2
I think once I finally hit my 30s (nine years to go!), I’ll look back on Watch Dogs 2 as a prescient, maybe even formative tale. Certainly not to the extreme of the baby boomers and, say, American Graffiti, but as a young person living in an uncertain time, I found DedSec to be a very relatable bunch of youngsters. Marcus and the gang are energetic, opinionated, and proactive — and, most importantly, likable. They’re fully rounded characters, raging against a machine that feels all too prescient this year. DedSec isn’t worried about respectability politics or taking the high road, they’re interested in results. God bless millennials, am I right?
Watch Dogs 2 is also a very good video game, don’t get me wrong! It encourages players to approach the open world like a puzzle game, prioritizing hacking over rote shooting, leading to some of the funniest emergent gameplay I’ve ever seen in an open-world setting. I would call the police on gang members, then call gang members on the police, and so on until I could slip right by the warzone, unnoticed by the preoccupied combatants. Watch Dogs 2 has all my favorite things: improvisation, emergent gameplay, and strong writing, each good enough to carry it on their own. But it’s that writing that pulled me in, giving me a game where characters I liked had fun conversations all while bankrupting some of the most obvious corporate strawmen this side of an environmentalist animated film.
7. Civilization VI
You should take care when comparing a sequel to its predecessor — context is always important, but in some cases, it’s best to let a title stand on its own. However, in the case of Civilization VI, its direct ancestor Civilization V was a gateway drug for many players, introducing them to the world of strategy and 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) — for those people, a 1:1 comparison is the only way to start. Personally, I never even thought about strategy games until Civ V got its hooks in me deep, so my expectations for Civ VI were very high.
High, but not insurmountable — Civilization VI is everything I wanted it to be and more; a rewarding strategy game that feels satisfying on every level. Everything you do on a micro scale feeds into the macro, where you’re given larger choices that will define what you do on a turn-by-turn basis, and so on and so forth, both sides of the game constantly influencing each other without ever confusing the player. Civ VI surfaces the necessary information in a concise, digestible manner, crafting a strategy experience that feels both accessible and deep. It’s almost like magic — a familiar magic to any veteran of Civilization V, but still wizardry nonetheless.
6. Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest
Oh, speaking of a strong relationship between the macro and the micro: Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest. This game kinda feels like a story about the army that lives in a Civilization VI game where the player is a monstrous despot, in that you’re playing as the bad guys, steamrolling over the peaceful, honorable heroes. Considering that I usually play my first game of Civilization as the USA, is that on the nose or what?!
Good news: in a year filled with amazing sequels, here’s another one of them. Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest may not feel as special as Fire Emblem Awakening — my first outing in the world of Fire Emblem — but it’s arguably a better game, with a greater variety of win conditions and a cast of interesting characters to pair off. It loses points with me for giving players the option to go all Folgers commercial with your siblings (I don’t care how you spin it), but otherwise the social links are fun and flirty in all the right ways, often endearing you to the members of your Homestarmy. In Fire Emblem, permadeath is more than an inconvenience — it’s the end of the line for a beloved character. That’s a clever way to combine mechanics and storytelling, and I wish it would make its way over to the rebooted XCOM.
(I did not have time this year to dig into Birthright or Revelation, although I hear very good things. For the purposes of this list, suppose this spot goes to the Fire Emblem Fates Special Edition until you hear otherwise.)
5. VA-11 HALL-A
I don’t think VA-11 HALL-A found its way onto this list because of my newfound adoration for Spike TV’s reality show Bar Rescue, but I bet that association certainly didn’t hurt. Jon Taffer taught me to take pride in my bar, and god dammit, that’s exactly what I did in this Cyberpunk Bartending Simulator. VA-11 HALL-A was consistently entertaining, with a simple cooking-lite mechanic that rewarded attentive players.
VA-11 HALL-A’s story branching system was so delightfully subtle that I want everyone to steal it as soon as possible. Of course you can get certain characters absolutely blotto and of course they’ll change to suit their state of sobriety — this is a great idea, pulling not from a player’s time with the game, but rather the player’s time with a hypothetical Uncle Jonathan after he’s gotten into the spiked eggnog at Christmas; we all understand what happens when people get too drunk, and you have the option of poking those buttons or leaving them alone.
In case I haven’t quite hammered this point home with my entries for Watch Dogs or Fire Emblem Fates, I’m willing to overlook a lot of faults if a game boasts a strong cast of characters — thankfully, VA-11 HALL-A doesn’t have much to overlook. Its core mechanic keeps things interesting, while your compelling patrons and co-workers provide a reason to get excited for work every day. VA-11 HALL-A boasts one of the best character-driven stories of the year, a small-scale cyberpunk yarn worth seeing more than once.
4. Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 is obscenely good, but you’ve already heard that from everyone else on the planet. It will certainly fall off the radar (much like its predecessor) thanks to Call of Duty, Battlefield, and the plethora of other great shooters that came out this year — this should be a crime, because it deserves so much more.
Everything about this game is polished to a mirror shine, with a campaign that’s as varied as it is entertaining. When we talk about Titanfall 2, we’re talking the best shooter campaign of the year, easily heads and shoulders above DOOM or Battlefield 1. There are so many ideas on display that I’m worried a hypothetical Titanfall 3 will have to really get wild if there’s any hope of it living up to that scene in the research building. Plus, the excellent multiplayer suite from the first Titanfall is mostly intact, with the addition of a brilliant clan system that ensures you always have liked-minded players to group up with.
Not only do you get to explore the world of Titanfall 2, you also get to play around with some of the tightest sci-fi military shooter mechanics this side of, well, the previous Titanfall. Everything from gunplay to movement to that radical grappling hook feels tight, responsive, and fun as hell. I know I’m gushing, but we’re starting to get to the top of this list — make no mistake, Titanfall 2 absolutely deserves this spot.
After the disappointing Hitman: Absolution, I never would have guessed a new Hitman game would be this high on my year-end list. But here we are, with an episodic release that managed to sneak up on just about everyone. Hitman provides the player with plenty of concise assassination and infiltration tools, to the point where even a modest obstacle can be vaulted if you’re quick enough on your feet, all in service of some incredible kill opportunities. I’m a stealth purist, so I would instantly reset to a previous checkpoint if I was caught in any way, but I constantly salivate at the potential heights I could reach if I would only just snap a bystander’s neck from time to time.
Each Hitman level is a meticulously crafted locale that practically begs you to get up to some bad business at every turn. These are worlds to get lost in (sometimes literally) as you’re trying to suss out their respective secrets. I almost felt bad, staining each level with a heinous murder and piles of unconscious bodies, but in most cases, the stain was there even before Agent 47 arrived. Ol’ Baldy was just more attuned to it than most.
Darkly comic, atmospheric, packed with detail, and gleefully violent, Hitman would’ve stolen the number-one spot in any other year. But this is 2016, and we still have to get through two of the best games I’ve ever played.
At press time, I have 114 hours played in Overwatch. I’ll likely be past 200 hours this time next year. No multiplayer game released this year or any other grabbed me like Overwatch did, as it constantly taught me more about competitive gaming than I thought I’d ever know. Right now, I could watch some competitive Overwatch and have informed opinions — and the crazy thing is, I know at least a dozen people who feel the same way. Overwatch made being serious about competitive gaming accessible, a Herculean feat, to be sure.
Without a doubt in my mind, Overwatch deserves to be the Game of the Year. It’s certainly the best full experience released in 2016, dominating the conversation months after release, proving the game has staying power beyond your average one-month fad. Maybe that’s due in part to the game’s regular free updates, but maybe the fact that it’s a peerlessly designed, nigh-unimpeachable multiplayer shooter had something to do with it as well.
1. Kentucky Route Zero Act IV
I said I wasn’t going to pull this move again, but here I am, presenting my personal Game of the Year to a single installment from the as-yet incomplete Kentucky Route Zero. Act IV was my first 10/10 on Destructoid — an appraisal I continue to stand by. I don’t know if it’s the best individual part of Kentucky Route Zero, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a transcendent experience nonetheless.
The game doesn’t impress because it has a cool gimmick, or because it presents a new way of looking at video games that will blow your mind straight out the back of your head. It’s a linear narrative-heavy adventure game, more in the vein of a classic LucasArts than a Telltale — nothing you haven’t seen or couldn’t imagine. But what Kentucky Route Zero does with that framework is nothing short of incredible, using it to tell one of the most atmospheric and emotionally resonant stories I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Kentucky Route Zero Act IV is rich and tangible, much in the same way its predecessors were. It continues to build on the world and style of the first three acts by dragging them underground, putting its own spin on the bayous and broken-down waterfront businesses of Americana. If you can get lost in the world of Hitman, you can almost certainly drown in the hypnotic melancholy of Kentucky Route Zero, a beautiful, sad, broken world resigned to its fate. These characters are so close to self-actualization, constantly eschewing that newfound consciousness because it would result in some unpleasant questions. We’ve all been there.
But none of that matters, because there’s one last job to do, and what comes after that last job doesn’t matter. Because you don’t want to think about what comes after that last job. Because you don’t know, and the not knowing is what’s slowly killing you from the inside. Maybe this game is a little more relatable than I’d like to admit.
Kentucky Route Zero Act IV is my Game of the Year for 2016. Maybe next year I’ll be able to cast my vote for the whole thing!