10.) Watch Dogs 2
Watch Dogs 2 is everything the first Watch Dogs should have been, and that’s not just the lowered expectations talking. The sequel’s first important course-correction was selecting a significantly more engrossing environment than its predecessor. Similar to the Grand Theft Auto series, Ubisoft found a way to make the city of San Francisco and its surrounding areas feel tangible. Even for those not familiar with the location, Watch Dogs 2 is certainly far more alluring than any tourist brochure. The game is dripping with vibrant details that make it hard to stop sightseeing and exploring after you’ve been dropped into its open world.
Watch Dogs 2 also delivers on its underground hacker story this go-round. Each mission embraces technology in a way that the original never did. This starts with a colorful cast of characters, chief among them Marcus who possesses more charisma in his left pinky than Aiden Pearce did in his entire body. The story itself contains far more depth than anyone watching the promotional trailers probably could have anticipated. The cyber warfare at the heart of the game’s story is oddly prescient given the current state of the world, which also makes Watch Dogs 2 one of the most relevant games of the year. What a great turn-around for this franchise.
Firewatch is unnerving escapism. You play as Henry, a fire lookout stationed at Shoshone National Forest who investigates disturbances in the park over the course of a summer. During the game, Henry stumbles upon a mystery that seems to unravel more and more each day he explores his sector. It’s intriguing as much as it is frightening because as you learn more about what happened or is happening around Henry’s watchtower, things continue to get stranger. The isolation starts gnawing at Henry and you, as the player. The only human contact you really have is your boss, Delilah, who can only be heard over walkie-talkie.
Firewatch also draws players into its world with its superb scriptwriting, which forces you to choose how Henry interacts with Delilah. Their relationship is one of the most memorable of the year because you help shape it. Character development occurs very naturally through dialogue options. As a result, Firewatch feels like the next step in narrative-driven adventure games. It’s easily one of the most well crafted story’s of the year as well.
There are so many things that IO Interactive did right in Hitman, it’s hard to know where to start. The maps themselves are as intricate as they are open. The sheer scope of each level makes every assassination feel like its own, unique world. There are a myriad of ways to execute your objective — by either using different disguises, finding hidden paths, or by stealthily studying your target. Because of this, Hitman is perhaps the most replayable game of the year, and that’s not even scratching the surface of its gameplay possibilities.
The game also makes the strongest argument to date for the benefits of episodic gaming. Each week there were new missions, new elusive targets, and even new maps to download. It’s a game you can’t help yourself from coming back to. That’s not even factoring in the weirdness and shenanigans you can create yourself. IO delivered the most pleasant surprise of the year with their latest Hitman. It is pure distilled joy.
7.) Dark Souls 3
Hidetaka Miyazaki’s swan song to his esoteric and punishing fantasy franchise absolutely delivered. The Kingdom of Lothric was vast, beautiful, and dangerous. Full of challenge and awe-inspiring levels, this was a great way for the series to bow out.
Perhaps the surprises weren’t there for Dark Souls veterans, but an awful lot of fan service was. And though Dark Souls 3’s design may have gotten a bit too formulaic for some, the risk/reward combat was improved yet again in this final installment. Ruthless but rewarding, Dark Souls has earned its place annals of RPG history. Thank you for the memories, From Software.
6.) Uncharted 4
Uncharted 4 was an unnecessary sequel that actually managed to make itself essential. The franchise had wrapped itself up pretty nicely with Uncharted 3, but players wanted more of their favorite wisecracking (male) tomb raider, and Naughty Dog abided. They constructed a story that filled in missing pieces of protagonist Nathan Drake’s backstory, which made him even more personable. That is saying something. They also fleshed out the colorful cast of characters around Nate, adding unprecedented stakes to this final adventure.
The worst thing a person could say about Uncharted 4 is that its gameplay hardly feels inspired. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a fun, competent third-person shooter. What helps is that Naughty Dog once again provides some of gaming’s most elaborate set pieces, including one chase sequence that’s probably the greatest technical accomplishment of the year. However, it was a few of the quieter moments between Nate and Elena that actually managed to steal the show. This was the perfect way to say goodbye to the series. What a ride it’s been.
Inside is the spiritual successor to Limbo, one of the best two-dimensional platformers ever created. Inside is also better than Limbo in every conceivable way, which should be enough to sell most people. The world is dripping with atmosphere, the art-style is downright stunning, and the puzzles are increasingly clever as the game progresses. It’s a game that’s dour and occasionally grotesque, and everyone should definitely play it.
Perhaps what’s most striking about Inside is its aesthetic. You can take a screenshot at any moment in the game and it would likely be worthy of its own painting. Seeing it in motion can be completely arresting at times. That’s not even mentioning the grander mystery at the center of the game, which is obtuse and yet impossible to stop thinking about. It’s unclear what Inside actually has to say because its story is deliberately ambiguous, but it will likely stick with you for a very long time.
4.) Titanfall 2
As far as multiplayer games are concerned, Titanfall 2 delivered arguably the best competitive online multiplayer this year (I said, “arguably”). Building on the original game’s responsive gun mechanics, speed, and agility, developer Respawn took things to the next level with their sequel. New abilities like the grappling hook made movement a constant joy, and there is no other shooter that brought the reflex-based firefights quite like Titanfall 2 did. And that’s neglecting the titans themselves, which aren’t even a necessary part to making the online battles addictively fun.
Aside from the competitive experience, the sequel added a single-player campaign that went above and beyond expectations. Titanfall 2 not only has one of the best shooter campaigns in recent memory (I said, “one of”), but it’s also an incredible platformer. It puts games like Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst to absolute shame with its running and jumping mechanics. Not to mention, the story itself is actually pretty stellar in its own right. Focusing on the bond between a pilot and his titan, the campaign has both heart and a fair amount of humor. In what was perhaps the best year ever for shooters, Titanfall 2 definitely earned its place near the top.
The smash hit of the year, Overwatch features some of the best class-based shooting in an online arena, ever. Each character in the game feels distinct — not just because of their different guns and abilities, but because of their unique personalities. Despite being a multiplayer-only game, each character you can play as in Overwatch bursts through the screen with their own unique brand of charisma. The game is guaranteed to charm your pants off, even if you’re not very skilled at competitive online shooters.
Underneath the colorful exterior lies a fairly deep game rewarding teamwork. Overwatch doesn’t simply require a quick trigger-finger in order to excel, but cooperation and coordination. Finding a team that balances DPS, healing, AOE abilities, and a strong tank to hold things together is essential for success. The game’s smart UI does a great job suggesting roles to players, so even lone wolves can group up with strangers and generally have a good time. Easy to pick-up and tons of fun to master, there’s a very good reason Overwatch is at the top of many game of the year lists.
DOOM kicks ass. That’s probably all that needs to be said, but to elaborate: Doom really kicks ass. With a single player campaign that shoots, kicks (ass), and punches its way into your heart, id Software resurrected the grandfather of first-person shooters in a big way this year. DOOM features some of the most visceral combat of any game in recent memory, and has one of the best single-player shooter campaigns possibly of all-time. Oh, and it’s quite the looker too.
Let’s be clear, the story itself is no revelation. A portal to hell has been opened on Mars and it’s up to the “Doom Slayer” to literally stop all hell from breaking loose, again. It’s dumb, but man is it fun. The way the game forces players to constantly move with its up-close-and-personal glory kills, which get paired with an explosive arsenal of weapons, makes for some of the most exciting combat ever experienced in the FPS genre. It’s just too bad that multiplayer feels like a missed opportunity. If that irks you, see above. That still wasn’t enough to stop id Software from completely redefining what was a monumental year for first-person shooters.
1.) Forza Horizon 3
Forza Horizon 3 is the best racing game that I’ve ever played. Go back and try Burnout: Paradise right now if you’re having any trouble believing that, I’ll wait.
With a map that features multiple biomes, a huge roster of cars, intelligent interface designs, and a blend of arcade and simulation driving mechanics, from top to bottom, Horizon 3 is the most complete racer that has ever been released. It’s a driving game for everyone, casual fans and gear-heads alike, which also features some of the best moment-to-moment racing gameplay thanks to its rewarding skill chains and track designs. The leveling mechanics grant both numerous cars and abilities, making each race its own kind of reward. Oh, and there’s coop racing alongside addicting competitive multiplayer that will aid toward your overall progression as well. If none of this interests you in the slightest, then you are probably not a fan of racing games.
The Horizon series has been fully realized in its third installment, and has cemented itself as the undisputed king of its genre. Long may Playground Games reign.