Best Competitive Multiplayer
Runner-up: Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 does everything Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare does, but better. The way the platforming and shooting combine on incredibly well-designed maps makes for some of the fastest and most fun competitive battles of the year. And that’s even before the titans start falling. Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is always a thrill, and it deserves a spot in your library if you consider yourself a fan of shooters.
Runner-up: Battlefield 1
No one delivers large-scale warfare quite like the developers at DICE. Battlefied 1’s maps foster a controlled chaos that no other game out there can match. The destruction is perhaps grander than it’s ever been in this latest installment. Instead of the “level-ution” events seen in Battlefield 4, buildings, terrain, and other parts of the landscape are destroyed more organically this time around. It’s incredible that a game this large and hectic also features such smooth gameplay and remarkable visuals.
Nothing took over 2016 quite like Overwatch. That’s thanks to its rich, varied gameplay, colorful cast of characters, mode-tailored map designs, and intricate team-based cooperation. The game encourages teamwork through its intelligent interface designs, which makes it fun for newcomers and experienced players alike. Couple this with a diverse group of characters, each of them bursting with vibrant personalities and style, and it’s no wonder why Overwatch became a phenomenon this year.
Best Cooperative Multiplayer
Runner-up: Forza Horizon 3
There’s too much for me to rave about in Forza Horizon 3. It gets everything right, and part of its package includes an intelligently integrated cooperative campaign, which is why it’s here. Maybe the structure itself isn’t anything special, but getting to drive through a gorgeous open-world with this many different types of races is pure joy with a friend.
If there was another game this year that required more cooperation to succeed at than Overcooked, I simply didn’t play it. No matter how much things broke down in the kitchen (or wherever we were cooking) the game always remained fun. That’s despite the yelling and incessant communication required to actually complete each stage. As long as you’re not playing with Gordon Ramsey, it’s a pretty good time no matter who you have around.
Winner: Gears of War 4
Gears of War as a series has always embraced coop. Gears 4 is no different. Playing the campaign with a friend is always a good time, but no one really does horde mode like Horde mode. Gears 4 adds classes to the mix, which proves to be a nice touch as now players have roles to fill in order to achieve success. It’s just a great way to hangout with friends online when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of competitive multiplayer. It can be quite a challenge too on higher difficulties if your goal is to survive all 50 waves. The formula remains great five games in, and I’ll likely keep going back for more in 2017.
Best Game Under 5 Hours
Runner-up: That Dragon, Cancer
It’s difficult to even call That Dragon, Cancer much of a game. It’s more of a means of artistic expression for two grieving parents who lost their son to brain cancer. In that regard, it’s a tough recommendation for anyone who’s against experiencing a fair amount of pathos. But here’s the thing: of all the releases this year, this is the one that may have pushed the medium forward the most. Here’s this utterly heartbreaking story, built upon love and loss, and it hits you in all these places — places you didn’t know existed. And I think it does that better as a video game than it would have if it were a book, a movie, or anything else. Empathy is something that I value, that I think we could use more of in this world, and in that regard I don’t think I learned more from any other video game experience this past year than I did from That Dragon, Cancer.
I’ve never played a relationship simulator before, and while Firewatch isn’t exactly billed as one, I’ll remember it for exactly that. Though you’re mostly isolated as Henry for the entire game, you spend most of your time shaping a relationship with another fire lookout named Delilah via walkie-talkie. I will oddly cherish that relationship because of the role I had in building it. Add to that the rather suspenseful mystery at Firewatch’s core, and you’ve got a pretty rich experience overall.
Every frame of Inside is a work of art. It’s beautiful, morose, mysterious, and evocative like its predecessor Limbo, but even more memorable. That’s in large part thanks to a setting dripping with atmosphere, but also because of a twist at the end of the game that still has me scratching my head. While the puzzle-platforming might not be all that challenging, it creates for plenty of harrowing moments along the way. Inside is one of those games that gets under your skin, but in the best possible way, and I couldn’t recommend it more.
Best Remake or Remaster
Runner-up: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered
Modern Warfare is the high point of the Call of Duty series for me, and Activision did a great job updating a lot of the textures and assets for this remaster. Multiplayer is refreshingly scaled-back compared to what the franchise has become. It’s a nice change of pace, and begs the question: why does Activision keep piling on more junk to this once supreme shooter? Nevertheless, Modern Warfare Remastered is a nice trip back down memory lane, and the extra work the developers put into updating the visuals is far more than most other re-releases.
Runner-up: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
You know, Twilight Princess held up a lot better than I thought it would have. This HD version was a little bit more necessary than Skyrim’s too, which is mostly why it made the cut. Plus it came with a pretty cool Amiibo. It was a slow year for the Wii U, okay? And I never played the Gamecube version of Twilight Princess. While this might not be the most inspired pick, it was the remaster I probably spent the most time with this year. Whatever. Breath of the Wild looks pretty awesome though, right?
Winner: Ratchet & Clank
We’ve been living in the age of remakes and remasters for quite some time now. That’s why we should give Insomniac props for finally doing one right. Ratchet & Clank is a completely overhauled version of the first game — adding a few of the weapons and gameplay improvements from future entries — and it’s absolutely worth playing again or for the very first time. This feels like a PS4 game even if it’s based on a PS2 game. It wouldn’t bother me if Insomniac did the exact same thing with Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal. The formula is still fresh, and Sony could still use a mascot platformer. Why not? Who better than Ratchet & Clank? Well, okay, maybe Jak and Daxter. Please?
Runner-up: Ratchet & Clank
Hitman seemed destined to fail given its strange, last-minute change to an episodic structure before launch. Turns out, the game was made all the better for it. Each month or two there was a new episode, a new target, and a new sandbox to test your stealth skills in. The maps themselves hosted some of the densest and most replayable missions of the year. Couple this with user-generated assassinations and sporadic elusive targets and that is why Hitman was the gift that kept on giving in 2016. I can’t wait for season 2.
Winner: Uncharted 4
Uncharted 4 is one of the best games of the year. Naughty Dog’s latest is a technical powerhouse. The characters are as fleshed-out as ever. Nathan Drake’s final adventure is undoubtedly his best, so of course it wins this category.
Runner-up: Fire Emblem: Fates
Birthright, specifically, was my first Fire Emblem game, and I now get what everyone has been talking about. While I can’t exactly draw comparisons to other entries in the series, the tactical gameplay that required me to position the members of my squad carefully in order to survive each enemy encounter stayed immersive and nerve-wracking throughout my experience. Couple that with an incredible story where you’re trapped in-between families at each other’s throats, and this is quite possibly one of my favorite portable gaming experiences ever.
Runner-up: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Like all great science fiction, Mankind Divided’s story is full of smart commentary, specifically with regards to “aug” discrimination, which plays host to numerous government conspiracies, corporate power struggles, and political divides. It’s a dense game, almost too dense, but the somewhat lengthy exposition is often so thoughtful that it remains fascinating throughout. Mix all this with a sleek art style, great stealth combat, and numerous augmented abilities, and it’s another strong showing for the series.
Winner: Dark Souls 3
The last Dark Souls game is also the most polished of the franchise. It’s grim, it’s beautiful, it’s twisted, it’s a fitting finale. Listen, I embarrassingly played through it six times this year, and that’s not just because I hate myself. There is nothing like the Souls series. From Software already belonged on the Mount Rushmore of fantasy RPGs. Now they’re just showing off.
Best Game Not Nominate For Anything
Runner-up: XCOM 2
I don’t play enough RTS games to warrant a separate category, but XCOM 2 kept me glued to my computer screen for countless hours. Despite being a save-scrubbing piece of filth, out-maneuvering and eventually toppling the punishing alien AI always left me with an undeserved sense of accomplishment. The game may have been a bit cruel at times, particularly towards the end, but it’s a punishment you endure when you’re all that is left of the resistance.
Abzu connected me to marine wildlife unlike anything else, ever. It’s a beautiful game, and Austin Wintory’s score only makes it that much more impressive. While it falls a little short of Journey’s grandeur, it’s still an awe-inspiring experience of its own that can’t be recommended enough.
Winner: The Witness
Jonathan Blow really built something special with The Witness. It deserves some recognition for breaking my brain alone. The game speaks its own sort of language through its line puzzles, and while learning it can be immensly rewarding, it can also be a bit maddening at times. To be clear, I loved the challenge even if it induced a few headaches along the way. This is the work of a genius, and if you consider yourself a fan of puzzles The Witness is an absolute must.
I understand that this has been an exercise in self-indulgence, but I’ll be posting my top 10 after this to put a definitive end to all the games I played in 2016 next. Thanks for reading my rambling.