Favorite Games of 2016

As I did last year, let me start out by stating that due to the fact that this is strictly a labor of love that relies entirely on what I can afford to pick up in rentals and the occasional purchase or gift I obviously was unable to play every single new game that came out in 2016.

That said when I do a year in review or award the top game in a given category it is based entirely on what I personally experienced this year.

While many will view 2016 as a dumpster fire of a year one thing is certain, it was an amazing year in gaming.  This was one of those years (like 2011 for example) that so many brilliant games came out or where improved upon with DLC that I feel quite sad that I couldn’t experience them all but I did get to play quite a few excellent games and I can’t wait to dive into this list.

So let’s get this started and get the negative “awards” out of the way first.

Most Disappointing Game

As always this is the game that I had the high expectations for but was ultimately disappointed by.

This year that game, and I know I’m not alone in thinking this way, was undeniably No Man’s Sky.

I was generally optimistic about the game when it came out, giving it a provisional score of an 8 out 0f 10.  At first I really enjoyed the relaxing nature of exploring new planets, cataloguing the flora and fauna and renaming everything when I had the chance (including a plethora of PolyNerdia planets).

In around three weeks time I grew bored with the game.  I started finding less and less joy in emptiness of space and the bizarre creatures I continually found on mostly barren planets.  Learning the alien languages held my attention for a little longer but the haphazard nature of the temple sequences began to grate on me before long too.

Yes the internet more or less overreacted to the unfulfilled promises and yes Hello Games has a lot to answer for and yes they’ve added base building and a number of other improvements in a recent patch but I with all the other amazing games at my finger tips just can’t bring myself to go back to No Man’s Sky.

Maybe in the future as more content is patched in I’ll find my way back but for now it sits collecting dust next to the PS4.

Most Disappointing Ending

As always this is the game that I enjoyed overall but was left deflated by the ending.

Hands down no game better encompassed the feeling of being let down after a while ride than Gears of War 4.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of love for Gears 4 but holy shit was that ending bad.

Bad on a level I haven’t seen since HALO 2.

The whole game was a wild, action packed ride that culminates in a great sequence where as you invade a massive hive.  In the hive you fight a boss that while a fun fight doesn’t feel like a final boss fight (hell an earlier battle with a Swarmmak in an enclosed room was much more “endbossy”) followed by a cinematic that also lacks the feel of an end game scene and then credits.

I get the idea of setting up a new trilogy but this can be done while still delivering a satisfying end to the first chapter.

Hell Marcus even says words to the effect of “this fight ain’t over” shortly before the credits roll unfortunately to me this meant there is more fight RIGHT NOW not in two years or more when the next game drops.

Honorable mentions go to two other games I loved immensely this year: Doom and Call of Duty:Infinite Warfare.  Both games were amazing rides from start to finish and both ended in ways that left me in disbelief.  Doom suffers from the HALO 2 effect, setting up a sequel without satisfyingly resolving the story at hand while Call of Duty takes the opposite tact and closes out the story in a way that puts a bow on it and leaves next to no hope for a 2nd game with the characters you have spent an entire game with.

Worst Freebie

Monthly free games have been a thing for a while now, with both Sony and Microsoft giving at least two free games out to their premium subscribers every month for some time.

Most of the the time these games are either older Triple A titles or new(ish) indies that are often times at least worth a look.

This year Microsoft did the unthinkable though and unleashed on their completely undeserving Gold subscribers the atrocity that is Goat Simulator.

I can appreciate dumb.

I can appreciate a good glitch.

I can appreciate good old fashioned jank in a game.

I can’t appreciate a game that isn’t even trying to be functional.  Goat Simulator is utter garbage and isn’t worth the time it took to download for free.

A dollar is too much for this garbage fire game.  In fact, I think Microsoft should pay people for having played it.

It really is that bad.

Best Music

Until today I was 100% certain that this was going to be all about Doom and Doom alone.

The soundtrack to Doom is AMAZING.  It is an aggressive industrial metal grind that is used in a pitch perfect manner to accentuate running around a facility on one of Mars’ moons slaying demons like the killing machine Doomguy is.

No joke, I have unironically listened to the Doom soundtrack while doing chores, while writing  and while playing other games (makes for an interesting companion for racing games).

I love the Doom soundtrack.  I love it a lot.

But then today I took a look at a game I had had my eye on for a while and….well now Doom gets to share the Best Music throne.

Slain: Back from Hell has an absolutely incredible soundtrack.  While still very metal the tracks differ in ways that Doom’s do not, giving a wider range of kick-ass demon slaying music.

Again no joke here, I’ve been listening to a 13 track playlist from Slain while I’ve been writing the last several categories of this post.

Slain’s music is fantastic and deserves its spot on the proverbial throne with Doom.

Honorable mention goes to a game that couldn’t be more different than Doom and Slain and that is Stardew Valley (unless the endgame goes off the rails).  Stardew’s music strikes a perfect cord for what it is.  Different music in different seasons and locations and no music when appropriate (like at night with the crickets chirping) add a layer of enjoyment to the throwback nature of the game.

Best Rhythm Game

Truth be told I don’t play a lot of rhythm games and never have.  I’ve never really enjoyed the Guitar Heroes, Rock Bands, PaRappas and Amplitudes of the world but this year I stumbled upon a great game that just so happens to also be rhythm based.

Thumper for the PS4 is an incredible and very difficult game that relies on your sense of rhythm to guide a scarab looking vessel along a twisting and turning track.  The look and sound of the game is dark and tense and often after an hour or so with the game my hands would be hurting from the way I was gripping the controller trying to nail the button sequences as they game faster and faster at me.

I can only image how amazing the game is in VR but even on a standard HDTV the game is beautiful and really fun to play.

Best Indie Game

While I have admittedly yet to finish the whole but I have no doubts that the best indie game I’ve played all year is Stardew Valley.

I never played the Harvest Moon games but I understand that Stardew Valley is very close in spirit to those games.  If that is true I feel that I truly missed out on something great back then by not playing those games.

I read a lot of praise for the game when it released on Steam at the start of the year and spent the entirety of the year checking to see when it was going to come to consoles.  As it only recently made the jump my time has been limited but the game is so good that it has become my go to off-stream game (and a few times my on-stream game over games I’ve already started).  Stardew Valley has completely surpassed my expectations and is head and shoulders above some other games I love quite a bit.

Best Cooperative Experience

No game better encompassed the spirit of this category than Overcooked.

I picked it up on a whim for Extra Life 2016, figuring it would make for an excellent addition to the games I would be playing with my buddy Sean and I immediately fell in love with its brand of frantic cooperative gaming.

Scrambling around absurd kitchen setups, trying to prepare meals and get them out to the customer while the environment or building design tries to impede your progress doesn’t sound fun but it actually is incredibly entertaining.

We had a blast playing it here for Extra Life and later on I talked my partner in nerdy pursuits to join me for a few rounds of it and she fell in love too.

There aren’t many excellent couch co-op experiences to be had these days but this is definitely in the upper tier.

Game that Fell Just Short of its Potential

I’ve always been a Battlefield guy in the great shooter rivalry of the last decade so this pains me greatly but I have to confess that I feel that Battlefield 1 fell well short of its potential.

Not that its a bad game, I actually quite enjoy it when everything is clicking and my team of random strangers are performing like a well oiled machine…unfortunately that is usually not the case.

I loved their decision to go back to World War 1 as it is both way different than the future war settings of nearly every other shooter and is a time period rarely utilized in games.  I liked the campaign…well parts of it.

The hit or miss nature of the campaign definitely hurts the game a lot as the other big three shooters I played this year all had campaigns that were good all the way through.  Battlefield’s has a few really entertaining stories to tell (the tank crew, fighting along side T.E. Lawrence, the old Italian veteran telling a story to his daughter) and some great set piece moments (the battle with the armored train, the aerial battle with the zeppelins, the opening of the game) but the quality not only didn’t hold story to story but often faltered within the stories (too much stealth, crappy narrative devices used out of the blue in the final cutscene of a story, dashing back and forth over the same plot of land in the runner story).

Multiplayer sports a beautiful look that is offset with some questionable design choices (behemoths that are cool in theory but absolutely ineffective 90% of the time, the scoring system change, medics having ineffective weapons and being rendered useless by the aforementioned scoring system).  I also experience frequent hiccups in how the game runs from lag to stuttering animations to shots not making contact when they should.  In fact an hour before I wrote this portion of this post I had a match where enemies were spawning in on recently killed squadmates on a regular basis.

I’ve gone on record as saying that this game feels like the best Battlefield since Bad Company 2 or maybe Battlefield 3 (I didn’t care much for Battlefield 4) but in a year with so many better shooters Battlefield 1 was definitely a stumble for the folks at EA and DICE.

Favorite Sequence/Quest/Moment

My personal favorite moment in all of gaming came during Titanfall 2 as the Effect and Cause mission unfolded before my eyes.

Spoilers for those who still haven’t played it but Effect and Cause has you arriving at a battered research facility and shortly after you get inside you start experiencing bizarre time loops that flash you back to when the facility was operational.  Very quickly this mechanic is applied to combat as you hop from the past to the present battling armed guards and predatory beasts simultaneously in two timeframes.  This mechanic is also applied to the traversal puzzles the game leans on, forcing you to switch time periods in order to navigate the level.

It has been a long time since I experienced the sort of open jawed wonder in a game and no  other moment in 2016 surpassed it.

Honorable mention goes to the motorcycle sequence of Gears of War 4 and any number of intense fights in Doom.  The Gears sequence is just good over the top fun while the many pulse pounding battles of Doom had me on the edge of my seat and out of breath when they were done.

Most Surprising Game

Speaking of Doom, was there any bigger surprise this year than how freaking amazing that game was?

Did anyone expect it to be half as good as it was?

I know once I read that review outlets weren’t getting advanced copies my immediate thought was “oh no, Doom is going to suck like Duke Nukem Forever”.

I have never been more happy to be wrong about a game.

Once I had it in my hands I could hardly put it down, playing through it almost non-stop over the course of a couple of days.

Say what you will about the story, its pretty barebones, but the game just feels amazing.  Running around the levels at full speed, shooting, punching and tearing into demons with your barehands was something I didn’t expect to feel as pleasing as it did.  The great gameplay coupled with amazing graphics and a soundtrack that does as much to get your blood pumping as the combat were all things that made for an experience I couldn’t stop talking about for weeks afterwards.

Sadly the multiplayer just wasn’t good and in the months that followed an avalanche even better games were released but if the year had ended in May, Doom would have been my game of the year.

Honorable mention goes again to Gear of War 4.  When the closing credits of Gears 3 rolled I was pleased with how the story wrapped up and was content to leave Marcus and company in the past.  Gears of War: Judgement gave me a little more time with the Gears universe and while I enjoyed the game I didn’t need it to exist.  When Gears 4 was announced I admittedly sort of rolled my eyes at the idea of continuing the story with fresh characters but I was also cautiously optimistic that it could be interesting to see the world of Gears a couple of dozen years down the road.  Aside from the aforementioned ending I was pleasantly surprised by the revelation that I was actually ready for more Gears when I thought that itch had long ago been scratched into submission.

Most Improved Game Since Launch

While it has become the darling of the gaming world, garnering many GOTY awards over the last month, I have to admit that I was in the minority when it came to Overwatch at launch.

If you follow me on social media (and if you don’t you should fix that) you may remember the garbage fire that I experienced nearly every time I tried to fire up a match.  You may recall how I was stuck in endless “launches” of matches (as seen here) and how I was later penalized with a 75% reduction in experience once the game started working as a result of “quiting” the matches I was never fully loaded into.

It goes without saying that for most of the first month I was not happy with my purchase and regularly debated trading the broken game in.

I’m happy to say that I never did trade it in and over time Blizzard has molded Overwatch into a fine little video game.  I still find it ridiculous that people are calling it a game of the year, it is a very good game that I came back to for months on end (falling off around Halloween and not yet going back) but isn’t even in my top 5 for 2016, hell it wasn’t even in my top three shooters.

Favorite Single Player Campaign in a FPS

I played a lot of games in the “shooter” genre and as great as many of them one campaign edged out its competitors in the single campaign side of things.

Call of Duty:Infinite Warfare had what was possibly my favorite single player campaign since the original Black Ops.  I’ve played almost every Call of Duty since World at War (with the exception of Advanced Warfare) and most of their campaigns feel like afterthoughts or like primers for the multiplayer (something other franchises are guilty of too, looking at you Battlefield 1) but this time the single player is the star of the show.

The setting change made it easy to scoff at the game as “Call of Duty in Space” but the “Space” part is what makes the game as good as it is.  The addition of space combat in vehicles and outside of it and the optional “side-quests” on top of a largely satisfying (but not quite perfect) story gave CoD:IW just the edge it needed to best its competitors, amazing single player games like Doom and Titanfall 2.

If only the multiplayer was worthwhile.

Favorite Multiplayer in a FPS

In a year full of excellent shooter games one game more than any other had the multiplayer chops to keep pulling me back in.

Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is absolutely fantastic.  From the insane mobility on foot that feels so much smoother than the clunky version found in CoD to the immense feeling of power that comes with piloting the titular Titans around the battlefield the game just clicks on all cylinders.

I love the map design, I love the gun-play and how much it reminds me of CoD’s glory days, I even love the bullshit skins for the pilots, Titans and guns (stuff that irks me in most games).

Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is hands down my favorite of the year which makes it all the more tragic that the player-base is constantly dwindling when I’m on in the early morning hours after work.

Favorite Episodic Game

I didn’t play all of the episodic games released today and for many of the ones I did I only played a few episodes but I can say even with my limited perspective I’m 100% certain that Hitman was the best episodic game of 2016.

I’ve long been a fan of the series and initially scoffed at the idea of the missions being released one at a time, dreading the inevitable delay between installments.

In one of the year’s biggest surprises the game ended up being quite good and very entertaining with the regularly released installments.  It gave players time to really dive into the levels, learning all the ends and outs, finding different ways to accomplish the missions in increasingly absurd ways.

The game was also one of the best supported games of the year, with new content being meted out through one time missions available for a limited time and missions that get progressively harder as you repeatedly knock off objectives and targets.

The game is brilliant, striking just the right amount of absurdity and dark comedy with a violent story.  It’s all available now for download and will soon be available on disc and is definitely worth your time.

Favorite Game of the Year

I’m going to do things a little differently this year, giving you my game of the year followed by an ordered list of my top ten favorite games of 2016.  I’m doing it this way because there were a crap-ton of excellent games this year that I feel all need their spotlight, even beyond the ones that are already mentioned here.

Without further adieu (while this may have only taken minutes for you to read it has taken me days to write here and there in my free time), my personal favorite game for 2016 (as unpopular as this choice will be) is:

Titanfall 2

 

I’ve already established that I view Titanfall 2’s multiplayer as my favorite multiplayer of 2016.

Titanfall 2’s single player was damn near my favorite single campaign of the year as well.  If it wasn’t for Infinite Warfare’s absolutely killer campaign I would have Titanfall’s inventive and bizarre campaign at the top of that list as well.  For most of the year Doom’s campaign was my favorite but with the rapid fire releases of Titanfall and Infinite Warfare pushed it down the list a bit.

Despite being edged out by Infinite Warfare’s campaign I find Titanfall 2 to be more of a complete offering with a great campaign and a multiplayer that I can’t stop playing.

As for the complete top ten:

1.Titanfall 2

2.Stardew Valley

3.Hitman

4.Doom

5.Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

6.Overcooked

7.Gears of War 4

8.Battlefield 1

9.Dark Souls 3

10.Overwatch

2016 may have been a garbage year in the real world but it certainly was one hell of a great year for games.

There are so many games from this year that I’ve yet play but I look forward to getting my hands on them in the months to come.

Thank you for reading this long, long breakdown of my favorite games of 2016 and I hope you will stick around and join me in seeing what 2017 has in store.

-Shad (@PolyNerdic)

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