The Best Games of 2016 | reviews, news & interviews
The Best Games of 2016
The Best Games of 2016
theartsdesk's gamers choose their personal highlights of the year
It was the year of Pokémon Go, and it was the year the mainstream offered sequels. There were also some gems on console and mobile platforms. Steve O'Rourke and Steve Houghton look back on the developments in the world of gaming in 2016.
The year 2016 was certainly not a vintage one for mainstream videogames. In a risk-averse industry where it is so much easier, cheaper and commercially safer to roll out another sequel, the release roster would often read more like high-scoring football results: Civilisation VI, Street Fighter V, Gears of War 4, Dark Souls III.
The majority of the top big-budget games were follow-ups or new instalments to long-running franchises. This doesn’t mean that the quality bar has dropped to limbo levels, but it certainly builds anticipation for the likes of virtual reality and increasingly big budget indie games that are benefitting from higher sales figures due to more players being prepared to support new ideas on different platforms.
But some thoroughbred titles didn’t fail to impress. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a title worth mentioning first as it is a confident contender for game of the year. Masterful storytelling, stunning graphics, great combat and edge-of-seat acrobatic action made this Indiana Jones-style adventure a PS4 gem of a game in a fitting finale to the nine-year-old franchise.
Skylanders Imaginators ruled the roost for games aimed at kids and took the toys-to-life genre one step beyond by enabling gamers to create their own digital characters in addition to using the familiar physical figurines that can be purchased separately. Mix in a quality slice of shooting action brimming with side quests, mini games and a rollcall of fun and interesting characters and you’ve got a noteworthy children’s title offering innovation and quality in equal measure.
Innovation and quality could also be found in Overwatch, a slick team-based online shooter set on Earth in the near future. Every match is an intense multiplayer showdown pitting a cast of soldiers, mercenaries, scientists, adventurers, and oddities against one another in epic firefights. Hailing from a studio best known for benchmark strategy and MMO titles (Starcraft and World of Warcraft) this fresh take on a well-worn genre delivered a refreshing jolt to the trigger fingers of many.
Taking the team shooter genre one step further was Battlefield 1, EA’s stunning reimagination of 32-player a side World War I battles spanning multiple theatres of war in a gritty, at times emotional, conflicts that could span multiple maps, a plethora of vehicle types and a host of different objectives, was great fun to play in single player and mouth agape good when taking the fight online. From channeling your inner Lawrence of Arabia and galloping across sand dunes on horseback to street by street guerilla warfare or forest firefights, this beautifully realised outing set a new peak in the realistic solider shooter genre.
Soldier shooters that had a less than firm grip on reality were led by the hugely impressive Titanfall 2. This futuristic first person shooter offers much more variety to running and gunning by placing you in two very different character’s shoes. Firstly, the graceful jetpack-enabled stealth slippers of the Pilot, a one-man hit squad; part assassin, part parkour enthusiast who can run on walls. Secondly, the gigantic metallic mech boots of a Titan, a huge pilotable 20-foot war machine, wrapped in armour, complete with multiple weapon loadouts, an array of special projectile attacks and a devastating melee function. This sequel had an engaging and engrossing single-player campaign (absent from the first game) in conjunction with one of the most sophisticated multiplayer modes for the genre. Depth and destruction in equal measure and buckets of fun to play.
The breakout mobile hit of the year was surely Niantic's Pokémon Go - a genuine phenomenon that has probably been responsible for more kids breaking their parent's phones than any other game this year. Although the actual "gameplay" (wander around, find a virtual creature on a map and flick a ball at it in an augmented reality display) was simple to the point of barely existing, the game caught people's imagination and a viral hit was born.
The success of Pokemon Go caused Nintendo stock to soar, despite the company having nothing to do with the game. To add to the irony, Nintendo's first major foray into mobile gaming, Super Mario Run, actually had the opposite effect as gamers reported mixed feelings about the game and its pricing structure. SMR is a perfectly decent Super Mario game but confusing marketing and the need for an always-on internet connection meant it hasn't quite been the triumph Nintendo were hoping for.
The dating app Tinder was the unlikely inspiration for one of 2016's best games. Reigns puts you in charge of a medieval kingdom that you must govern by swiping left or right on cards representing decisions. Rather than playing the king or queen of your realm, you control an entire dynasty with your decisions potentially affecting outcomes generations after you make them. The swipeable interface makes this a game uniquely suited to mobile play.
Minecraft Pocket Edition may not be a new game but 2016 saw its biggest updates yet and brought the pocket-sized version of the game almost to a par with its console and PC flavours. Gamers can now enter The End and defeat the Ender Dragon at the heart of the game and integration with Xbox Live makes it easier than ever to join online games with friends. If you haven’t tried Minecraft yet (where have you been?) then you now have no excuse to get on board.
Mobile platforms continue to be a natural home for storytelling games and interactive fiction. Telltale Games’ Batman: The Telltale Series offers a unique spin on superheroics by giving players the chance to play as both the titular hero and his alter ego Bruce Wayne in a complex tale, presented with all of Telltale’s usual flair. Inkle’s adaptation of the classic gamebook series Sorcery! finally ended with a magnificent fourth chapter. If you enjoyed the choose-your-own-adventure games back in the Eighties, Sorcery! is a polished and ambitious take on the genre with more replayability than you would think possible for a game based on a multiple-choice book.
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