Dear readers, I'm sorry that I haven't been writing nearly frequently enough to satiate you. Before 2016 comes to a close I would like to give you something to look over. I am, of course, speaking of my game of the year award. For your entertainment, I have listed my 10 favorite games to release in 2016. Please read, discuss, and violently throw shit at each other as one does on the internet.
Overcooked is the best couch co-op game since Diablo 3, and there have been many good ones between then and now. What makes Overcooked special isn't some set of complex systems or depth of gameplay. It's the emphasis on cooperation and more importantly, communication. Overcooked will test your friendships and will cause more yelling than a bullshit Mario Party minigame. At its core, Overcooked is simple enough to be some dumb smartphone game but, when you layer in the level design, you get a fast, frenetic, chaotic kitchen full of stressed out cooks who were friends at one time but are now plotting to kill each other with lava. Couples beware, this is how domestic violence starts.
9) The Witness
There are few games that have occupied my mind in the same way that the Witness has haunted me over the course of this year. The Witness challenges players and approaches the concept of puzzle solving along a path untaken by those before it. The puzzles within The Witness build into its own sort of language. You are taught the basics of moving a line through a maze and then are introduced to certain symbols that change the win conditions or the way you have to approach a specific challenge. These rules are all folded together, creating greater and greater challenges. It is a game about learning and will quickly make you aware of your aging mind.
If The Witness is a test of learning aptitude, then Thumper is a test of sensory tolerance. Playing Thumper in VR is akin to going to a progressive metal concert and taking all of the hallucinogenic drugs, ALL OF THEM. I'd be lying if I said that Thumper was comfortable to play for hours but DAMN is it good. Self-described as "rhythm violence," Thumper takes a simple music rhythm game and uses VR and a psychedelic aesthetic to create an experience that is both beautiful and frightening. There is a sense of speed with Thumper that many other VR games simply don't have. Hurtling along the track hitting all of your thumps, turns and all of the other moves is accompanied by a meaty percussive soundtrack and some of the most abstract art I've seen in a video game.
7) Darkest Dungeon
Coming out of Early Access and to a full release (which doesn't happen often, am I right?), Darkest Dungeon tackles the dark truth about being an adventurer: It really REALLY sucks. It isn't even about the physical damage. Darkest Dungeon hones in on the mental toll of fighting horrendous monstrosities and how rare virtue is in a stressful environment. There is a very hopeless tone to the game that is exemplified by the expendability of your characters. You are encouraged to let go of characters that have become damaged beyond repair, and then usher in fresh meat in the form of recruits. Darkest Dungeon capitalizes on an addictive gameplay loop of going out on an adventure, fighting beasts, and coming back to town to recover and upgrade things. That's probably why I've logged over 40 hours on my Vita. Also, I'm a sucker for punishment and Darkest Dungeon does it well.
6) Final Fantasy XV
So here's where I'm just going to have to ask you to shut up and hear me out. Final Fantasy XV is the best Final Fantasy since nine. I know, that's not saying much unless, like me, you enjoyed 10. Final Fantasy XV is the modernization that the series so desperately needed. Shut up. No, you can't get away with making a AAA budget game with classic turn based mechanics. You simply won't make enough money with that formula. This is the natural evolution of Final Fantasy and one that I am all in for. Some have complained about the linearity of the back half of the game. Those people are short-sited. This is just how a big RPG works. You start with an open world with a shit-ton of stuff to do in preparation for the main story. Even if the game breaks off and becomes linear, what does it matter when you can simply go back to the open world at any resting spot? Sure, the story has holes, which will be patched (an admittedly stupid decision) but, the overall arc and the brotherhood of the party make it a journey worth going through. I didn't even mention the combat and deeper systems, which are arguably the best parts of Final Fantasy XV.
5) Ratchet & Clank
Normally I groan about remasters and re-releases but, Ratchet & Clank is different, and better. I grew up with Ratchet & Clank. I've seen the evolution, the rise, and the fall of the franchise. This year, Insomniac revived Ratchet & Clank, not by going in a new direction, but by recreating a game that so many players loved. It is the greatest example of what a modern third person action platformer can look like. Visually stunning, I found myself in awe and disbelief as I made everything explode into colorful bits and pieces. Seriously, this game looks like a Pixar film. Too bad the movie didn't live up to that. The weapons have personalities of their own and I found myself using the entire arsenal because of how they changed the way I approached combat. The witty callbacks to the original are funny and bring back comforting memories of when I could enjoy video games and not think about them critically. Those were the days, huh? Ratchet & Clank made me feel like a kid again for a few hours and I love it for that.
4) Forza Horizon 3
When I was a teenager, I crashed my car three times. Twice into mailboxes, and one time hydroplaning into a ditch. Somehow both the car and I survived. How was I so stupid? Racing games. I was a jackass. I drove like a jackass. There's still that little part of me that wants to be in a Jackass movie. (Hey Bam Margera, I'm cheap) But until then, I have video games. Forza Horizon 3 lets me be that teenage jackass driver while not putting anyone else in danger. I love this condensed version of Australia, bringing a diverse range of environments and racing surfaces into play. Although the vehicle selection isn't as large as I would like, the diversity in the types of vehicles you can drive is astonishing. This diversity in cars is serviced by the fact that you can race pretty much every event in any type of car thanks to the race builder. Multiplayer is taken to the next level too with a co-operative campaign and building your team of drivatars. Nothing says friendship like firing your friend for not playing the game enough, right? I love how the game steers hard into the goofy stuff. Playing tag, doing impossibly long jumps, and smashing as much shit as possible being objectives in the game is some of the most pure fun you can have. By the way, Forza Horizon 3 has THE BEST licensed soundtrack of 2016.
Time to reveal my shame. I was not a believer in Overwatch when it launched. Heck, I didn't even play it until a month later. There has always been somewhat of a barrier to me enjoying Blizzard's games. Something about Blizzard just feels wrong to me, like it's trying to steal my soul and sell it to the devil. It didn't take long for me to identify Overwatch as the best multiplayer shooter since Call of Duty 4. If you didn't know, that's VERY high praise. Overwatch's cast of characters are the obvious highlight of the game. Immaculate design, voice acting, and animation bring these characters to forefront of an already beautiful world. Not only do the characters look and sound unique and awesome, the weapons and skills they wield tie directly into the "personality" of each hero. IT ALL MAKES SENSE! The maps and game modes play to the strength of the gameplay. That is of course, team fights. The symbiosis of player/character roles shines best when a team is stacked up against the opposition. Team composition is half of the battle but, if people refuse to play their part, then your team is absolutely screwed. Normally this would lead to toxicity and shit throwing but, in my experience it has led to flexibility and learning to play a new way on the fly. Zenyatta deciding to play offensively while our tanks get chewed up? Well then I'll switch to Mercy because "heroes never die!" Also, because I have an amazing skin that I received from one of my first loot boxes. Blizzard's support of Overwatch will ensure that I enjoy this game for a very long time.
2) Uncharted 4
Naughty Dog did the thing where they make a game that's supposed to be the last in a franchise that I want more of. DAMN YOU! I loved the narrative, despite the hell it likely went through when changing hands from Amy Hennig to Neil Druckman. The way it connects thematically with the previous games and in introducing Sam, highlighting the ways that Nathan Drake has changed, is probably the smartest and most impactful example of character development this year. The relationships between the characters is brought to life with the best performers and performances in video games. While the acting was unforgettable, the world in which it happens is equally as breath taking. Uncharted 4 is the most technically impressive game I've seen on the PlayStation 4. Whether it be graphical fidelity, attention to detail, or just the scope of some of the levels, I did not think this is where we'd be with video games in 2016. When it wraps up I am left with tears of joy and hope that Uncharted may continue, with or without Nathan Drake.
Doom. I can't talk about Doom without using words that your mother wouldn't like. Doom is a damn good game. Doom is special to me in the most fucked up way imaginable. Within the first minute, you're killing shit and you don't stop killing shit for more than a couple minutes at a time. I know, this happens in a lot of shooters but YOU DON'T GET IT! In Doom, you are not afraid. You do not hold back and fight tactically. You push forward and carve a path of carnage. You strike fear into the legion of Hell. You are the Doom Slayer...and this game does everything to make you feel that way. Glory kills encourage the player to be aggressive against a horde of demons. Demons that are equal parts insane, disgusting, and iconic. The arenas encourage a fast paced fight, utilizing verticality and multiple paths as you slice through at an impressive 60 frames per second. How about that soundtrack, though? I don't remember a game that pairs music and gameplay as seamlessly as Doom has done. (STFU with your music rhythm game comments) Just as much as the game design pushes you forward, the music motivates you to go out there and kick some ass. When hearing the music while not playing the game, I WANT TO PLAY THE DAMN GAME. There's a certain sense of power I am given when hearing and playing Doom. I want to feel powerful and Doom serves me that. I have never felt as good as I do when I play Doom.