2016’s Best 2015 Game
Runner-up: Halo 5: Guardians
It was an impressive year for 343 Industries despite not releasing a new Halo game. This is exactly how you support a multiplayer shooter after launch. Halo 5 introduced an onslaught of new modes, maps, and downright good ideas as the multiplayer experience continued to evolve throughout 2016. And, oh yeah, they were all free. The return of Firefight was great to see, but maybe even more exciting were some of the variants added to existing game modes that paid reverence to the franchise’s storied roots (e.g. Halo 1 and Halo 2 SWAT). Halo 5 was perhaps the multiplayer game I returned to most in 2016, and that’s saying something given the other brand new first-person shooters that were released this year.
Runner-up: Rocket League
Similar to Halo 5, Rocket League delivered more maps, modes, and customization in 2016 as well. All of this was also free. It may not have been on the same level as what the previous runner-up had on display, but any excuse to play more Rocket League is a good one. The formula remains fresh, and playing soccer with cars will likely remain a thing in 2017 as well. To be clear, that’s a very good thing for us all.
Winner: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This category is mostly to acknowledge the games that were underrated or underserved last year, by me. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was a game that I simply did not connect with in 2015, likely because I was burnt out on open-world RPGs at the time (thanks, Bloodborne). After revisiting The Witcher 3 in 2016 to play the excellent Blood and Wine expansion, everything clicked. Not only was the new content exceptional, worthy of being its own stand-alone game due to its strong narrative and length, but it also renewed my interest in the game as a whole. I started up a new campaign, on Death March, and had a ton of fun learning the combat and crafting systems with the correct mindset this time. So, to CD Projekt RED, my sincerest apologies. This was probably the best game of 2015, if not of the entire generation so far, and I missed the boat. But, better late than never. And, to be clear, if Blood and Wine was a stand-alone game it would be one of the year’s best.
The DOOM soundtrack shredded its way through the hearts of demons and into mine this year. There was no other score released so worthy of its visual imagery. That cocked shotgun paired with those crunchy riffs at the beginning of the game was maybe the greatest moment of pure joy and excitement I had in 2016. God, this thing is metal as you know what. Listening to it right now makes me want to play DOOM, again. Be right back.
Runner-up: No Man’s Sky
There’s been a lot of hatred thrown at Hello Games, Sean Murray, and No Man’s Sky this year. Whether it was warranted or not isn’t worth getting into right now, but I seemed to have enjoyed the experience more than most. Nevertheless, what’s not as controversial is the game’s stellar soundtrack provided by 65daysofstatic. It’s so good in fact, that it may have kept me playing well after the game’s exploration loop had gotten a bit stale. The music cues in this game are what compelled me to keep going, just so I could hit another milestone and hear that beautiful chime once again. The soundtrack is the one thing we should all be able to agree upon as an unmitigated success when it comes to No Man’s Sky.
This is a tough category because there was a ton of great video game music released this year. However, what set Virginia apart was that the music in the game provided most of the emotion. There’s no dialogue in Virginia, which means a lot of the story comes from the visuals and the game’s stellar score. It’s quite an accomplishment that a narrative-driven game, absent of any text and dialogue, can be so evocative based solely on its music. Also, I have a soft spot in my heart for anything that’s resembles Twin Peaks. This is music that I will continue listening to outside of playing the game too. And, holy crap, that song in the bar? A-maz-ing.
Runner-up: The Last Guardian
This pick will likely enrage someone, if Someone actually reads through this. The Last Guardian isn’t a bad experience to be perfectly clear. I might even recommend it to the right person. It’s a gorgeous game for one, and Team Ico absolutely delivered on the bond between the boy you play as and Trico, the adorable bird-cat-dog that accompanies you on your journey. However, what’s not so good is actually playing the game. Unless you can consistently forgive the poor controls, bad camera angles, and how difficult it is to get Trico to behave accordingly at times, it’s a chore to get through. Even as someone who still found the overall experience worth it, this was simply inexcusable and deserved far more criticism.
Runner-up: Tom Clancy’s The Division
The Division is an average game at best. The story teeters between bad and inconsequential, the enemies are bullet sponges that never offer any real challenge, and the end-game for this MMO-lite shooter never actually turned into anything. It was basically Destiny, another deeply flawed game, but without the addictive raids. Hopefully Ghost Recon: Wildlands fares better, because playing another third-person cover-based shooter that doesn’t offer the multiplayer or cooperative gameplay that fans of more tactical experiences are expecting would be a real shame. There’s a dearth of these types of experiences currently, and while The Division may have been taking aim more at Destiny, this didn’t much appeal to either fans of Tom Clancy games or sci-fi shooters.
Winner: Final Fantasy XV
To be clear, I’m a relatively new fan of Final Fantasy. I loved XIII for its gameplay, even if the characters were goofy and its story made little sense without opening a Wikipedia page. It was beautiful, the music is still something I regularly listen to, and the paradigm shift mechanics were strategically engaging. Then, I played Final Fantasy XIV after getting my PS4. Again, I loved everything about it, which is why I was so excited for Final Fantasy XV that appeared to blend the open-world exploration of XIV as an MMO, and the production values of XIII. What could possibly go wrong?
Everything, is the answer. The story is incomprehensible even for someone who watched Kingsglaive, which should have been included (or been the actual game itself). The gameplay fell well short of what I enjoyed about the thoughtful paradigm shifts of XIII. Different is fine, but there was no challenge to this new system, which tried to be more about one-to-one controls. Then there were the characters, which were largely insufferable and never evolved beyond their boy-band archetypes. That’s not even mentioning the stealth segment later in the game, which is incredibly tedious and frustrating to play. This is something that will supposedly be fixed in the future with a title update, along with one of the game’s huge plot holes, but as someone who has finished the story the damage is done.
It’s baffling how this game got a pass, even as someone who is still discovering the splendor of JRPGs, and is relatively inexperienced with the genre. Despite this, I have played games like Lost Odyssey, Ni No Kuni, and Eternal Sonata, and know better.
Recore is a pleasant surprise and a disappointment all wrapped into one. As a platformer and third-person shooter, it is incredibly fun to play. The world of Far Eden is beautiful, intriguing, and a joy to explore. The story feels like it’s going somewhere too, until it doesn’t. I fell in love with Recore, and then became very confused when I hit the end of the game. Simply put, it didn’t stick the landing, and that’s a shame. Had the last third of the game lived up to earlier parts, it would have been one of the best values and the biggest surprise of 2016. But instead, Recore simply feels unfinished. That being said, if you keep this in mind and have a reasonable tolerance for some of the game’s technical flaws, you’ll likely still get a ton of enjoyment out of this one. All it needed was a bit more time in the oven. It’s a flawed experience, but one that I will still cherish.
Runner-up: Far Cry: Primal
Primal is another great Far Cry game from Ubisoft. Maybe that’s slightly underwhelming for those who have gotten tired of the formula, but the prehistoric setting did put a fresh spin on things. The combat has a different feel to it as a result of the more primitive weapons, and the control the player has over various wildlife is a really neat touch. It doesn’t hurt that Primal is gorgeous to look at on top of these smart changes.
Winner: Quantum Break
The winner, however, is Quantum Break. No, it is not Alan Wake 2. It’s an experiment that tries to blend a game with a television show, and for the most part succeeds. The game itself has some great characters, and the time travel mechanics provide some visually stunning set-piece moments. Meanwhile, the show does a nice job filling in the backstories of side characters and supplying a hefty dose of lore for those who are interested. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you love narratively dense experiences, it’s worth a shot. The game and show might not congeal as well as one might hope, but there’s still plenty to love about Remedy’s latest if you know what you’re getting into.
Runner-up: Beth Wilder (Quantum Break)
Speaking of Quantum Break, Beth Wilder sort of steals the show. She’s the protagonist that Remedy probably should have structured the game around. Maybe the only thing preventing Quantum Break from achieving Alan Wake status was this choice, because Beth really goes through some stuff that blew my mind and captured my imagination. Nevertheless, Quantum Break remains a great game with a strong narrative, mostly thanks to the events surrounding Beth.
Runner-up: Trico (The Last Guardian)
While at times he made me shout at my television for misbehaving, I really connected with Trico. The Last Guardian absolutely would have failed as a game if it didn’t deliver on this bond, but it did. The end of the game—without delving into any of the details—was as suspenseful and touching as it was because of the relationship I’d formed with Trico over the course of my journey, and I’ll likely still remember this game fondly despite its poor controls because of the attachment I had to this giant bird-cat-dog thing. Who’s a good boy?
BT-7274, however, managed to do everything Trico did without the annoyances. His blunt takes on figures of speech provide several humorous moments throughout the game, similar to Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. He learns new mannerisms and gestures that are incredibly charming. Not to mention, BT aides and assists you at multiple points during the game’s campaign, sometimes to his own detriment. He is what makes Titatnfall 2’s story memorable. By the end he earns his place among some of the best robots in video game history.
Best Use of Selfies
Runner-up: Final Fantasy XV
Despite my problems with Final Fantasy XV, Prompto does take some pretty great pictures. Even when they are bad they’re actually kind of good. Every time I sat at a campfire, with characters that I didn’t like, I was still excited to see what moments Prompto had captured, especially the corny ones.
Runner-up: Watch Dogs 2
Watch Dogs 2 lets you take pictures at anytime, at any place, and it produces some truly wonderful results. You can get photo-bombed, agitate the people around you, or just take pictures of some wonderfully depraved things. It feeds into some of the larger systems in the game as well, providing followers that can give you new abilities depending on your use of the ScoutX app as you explore San Francisco.
Winner: Dead Rising 4
This category is just my excuse for recognizing Dead Rising 4 for being ridiculous. It does everything that Watch Dogs 2 does, but it’s that extra bit of weirdness that gives it the edge. Seeing self-obsessed Frank West jump in front of a camera, wearing a Christmas elf costume, and making a stupid face with a horde of zombies surrounding him simply deserves an award. Congrats, Frank West, or Hank East, or whatever you call yourself these days. Nice shot!
This concludes part 1. I have more pointless awards to give out in part 2, as well as my top 10 video games of 2016 list coming soon.