Welcome! It’s been one heck of a year, and the biggest hits just kept hitting. Shooters have made their way to the top again, games who have been in development for far too long have finally released, and sensational new IPs have begun their legacy.
This year’s been big for me, too. 2016 marked the first full year of managing my “Aldure” Facebook page, and it has seen me grow into a more talented and dedicated writer. I also played more games than ever before this year, although still not as many as I would have liked. Though, let’s be honest, it never will be.
A couple things to note about this year’s awards:
- I haven’t played everything. I’ve left a list of games that may not have received enough attention below. I hope you understand that, try as I might, I just can’t play everything. Maybe, in the future, if I can collaborate with enough other industry aficionados, we’ll be able to come up with a more satisfactorily complete listing.
- Some categories are missing. I would love to select winners for every kind of category, but, sadly, I don’t always feel qualified to do so. For instance, I won’t be able to name the best Xbox One game because, well, I really haven’t touched my Xbox One much this year. I also can’t name the scariest game of the year because I haven’t played enough horror games for the prospects to have healthy competition.
- Pay attention to the nominations. This has been a VERY tough year to judge, as there have been so many quality experiences. Please know that the nominations are chosen just as carefully as the winners.
- Games are judged based on their launch version. Barring small bug fixes and general maintenance, I want to make sure that games that come out earlier in the year don’t have an advantage over later-released games. This judgement is particularly important to remember during one of the later awards, as it will surely be a controversial pick.
Okay, without further ado, here are my picks for the best of the best in 2016!
Game of the Year 2016
Runners Up: Dark Souls III, Final Fantasy XV, Abzû
PlayDead’s INSIDE is, quite honestly, a perfect game. During my playthrough, I felt a wide range of emotions, as the game not only encouraged immersion, but also knew how to play with you once you were there. The confidence behind the game’s abilities was complimented by the immaculate audio design, with every click and bang telling you just as much as the gorgeous visuals. Not once did I get frustrated, confused, or stuck. I did not encounter any bugs, the game never slowed down or failed to nail its timing, and the entire thing felt more like a thrilling amusement park ride than a game. I can’t stress enough how solid the game is, and I would recommend it to everyone.
However, this was a tough call! Dark Souls III showed me some of the tightest and most intense gameplay I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, and the crushingly tough co-op adventure was just a great time through and through.
Final Fantasy XV, meanwhile, would have won if not for the few problems it had. The last dungeon in the main adventure was just an awful grind, and the story seemed to have a few holes in it. There were a handful of times that I found myself disappointed by the lack of a character’s reaction to something – that, or the game just seemed to gloss over a some important details. Besides that, the game itself was a pure delight, however, and the now-beloved characters will surely stick with me for a long time.
On this list, Abzû is the game most like INSIDE: it’s a short, bold adventure with stunning visuals and engaging gameplay. Abzû evoked emotions, told a beautiful story without the aid of dialogue, and will remain one of my favorite games of all time. However, when it came down to choose, INSIDE just hit harder.
Best PlayStation 4 Game
Runners Up: Dark Souls III, Final Fantasy XV, Abzû
As mentioned above, I really have a hard time criticizing INSIDE on anything. As a reviewer, that’s actually frustrating, but it can’t be ignored when it comes to Game of the Year selections.
Best PlayStation VR Game
Winner: RIGS: Mechanized Combat League
Runners Up: Thumper, Job Simulator, Battlezone
RIGS seemed like a gimmicky kind of game when it was first announced, but when you strap into your rig and are lifted up into the stadium for the first time… it’s really something special. Being able to hear the roar of the crowd, see the larger-than-life arena, and listen to the announcer talk about you and your team as you engage in fast-paced mech combat is just the most wonderful thing to experience in virtual reality. This is far and away the best VR game of the year, and a great way to kick off the new medium.
Best Wii U Game
Winner: Star Fox Zero
Runners Up: Pokkén Tournament
While it’s true that I didn’t play many games on my Wii U this year, these two games were exceptional. Star Fox Zero, especially, was one of my most anticipated titles of the year, and it delivered on what I wanted and more. I dare say it improved on the beloved Star Fox 64, and that the addition of the controversial aiming controls was something that brought the series to new heights. Of course, it wouldn’t have been as good as it was without awesome boss fights, chaotic levels, and plenty of paths to explore.
Best Nintendo 3DS Game
Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon
No Runners Up? Yeah… I didn’t exactly play too much on my Nintendo 3DS this year. That said, I was considering not giving this award away. However, after playing the new Pokémon game, I was blown away. This entry in the classic series is easily the biggest step forward made by it in awhile, and I would say that this is the best Pokémon game to date. I will gladly revisit Alola in a sequel to Sun & Moon, if there is one.
Best iPhone Game
Runners Up: War Tortoise, Tsuro, Rodeo Stampede, Mobius Final Fantasy
Reigns’ dedication to their art style and choice-based gameplay made it stand out among this year’s mobile offerings. The seemingly light-hearted and colorful dilemmas that appear before your royal court are often times hiding dark or disturbing meanings. The difficulty is impressive, as it always remains fair and honest when you mess up, forced you to learn or lose again.
War Tortoise can’t go unmentioned, however, as the game completely took the genres of clicker and tower defense to the next level. Playing as a little army mouse astride a tortoise suited for battle, you and your hirelings must defend against frogs, skinks, flies, and other assorted animals for as long as you can. What makes this game work its flexibility with the advisable strategies – there’s not just one clear way to do well, so you get to have fun with whatever tactics you want to employ!
Don’t let the platform fool you. Both of these games are absolute gems.
Best Original Music
Runners Up: No Man’s Sky, DOOM, Final Fantasy XV, Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon
This was one of the most difficult decisions of the year. Before I talk about Abzû, you have to understand that every one of these games’ scores are phenomenal. If buying soundtracks is your thing, then I would highly recommend them all.
Abzû’s soundtrack, by Austin Wintory, is an obviously successor to the music heard in thatgamecompany’s Journey (also composed by Wintory). The story and emotion told with Abzû’s music is breathtaking, and the way it crescendos right as your character emerges into a new expanse is worth every penny, in and of itself. Bravo, Mr. Wintory, and bravo, Giant Squid Studios.
Best Audio Design
Runners Up: Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, DOOM, Kismet, Thumper, The Last Guardian
Sound design made INSIDE the incredible game that it is. I might even say that the sounds are what pulled it ahead of everything else this year. PlayDead teaches you to never ignore even the smallest sounds, and the audio practically becomes a character, itself. The terrifying growl of a dog, the intimidating boom of a mysterious superweapon, the eerie silence when you know there should be sound, the satisfying squish as wet flesh hits pavement… these memories will stay with me just as long as the gameplay, the visuals, or the story. Really, what an experience.
Winner: Battlefield 1
Runners Up: Final Fantasy XV, DOOM, Dark Souls III
Battlefield 1’s graphics were astounding. While the runners up are all impressive, the sheer accuracy of the video game counterparts to real people, weapons, places, and vehicles is really what sets Battlefield 1 apart. It may not have the flashy colors or the flamboyant atmosphere better suited for creating stunning visuals, but the grittiness, attention to details, and the level of skill found in the modelers is remarkable and can not go unnoticed.
Best New Game Mechanic
Winner: Prompto’s Photography (Final Fantasy XV)
Runners Up: Powerball Scoring (RIGS: Mechanized Combat League), Working with Trico (The Last Guardian), Aiming (Star Fox Zero), Summoning (Final Fantasy XV), Mind Control (INSIDE)
Ask any fan of Final Fantasy XV what the best part of the game is and they’ll tell you it’s the characters. Noct, Gladio, Prompto, and Ignis were written so well that the four protagonists will always be remembered as some of the best characters to come out of 2016 and the entire Final Fantasy franchise. This moving game with its intensly vivid characters was complimented beautifully by the photos taken by Prompto. As you progress through the game and slowly add your favorite candid, climactic, and sometimes goofy shots of his to your photo journal, you’ll find that you are indeed chronicling your journey in a touching way. As the story gets emotionally heavy, looking through the journal recalls memories of your earlier, more light-hearted moments and perfectly reminds you of the long journey you’ve been on with your friends.
Winner: Delilah (Firewatch)
Runners Up: Trico (The Last Guardian), Henry (Firewatch), Ardyn (Final Fantasy XV), Mickie (VR Worlds: The London Heist), Kismet (Kismet), Prompto (Final Fantasy XV)
The character of Delilah is a profound one. The writers for Firewatch have done a wonderful job at fleshing her out and creating not just a memorable character, but a memorable person. Strangely enough, my time in the Colorado forests feels like a real adventure I went on, and she feels like an old, complicated friend.
Best Art Direction
Runners Up: Battlefield 1, Kismet, INSIDE, Furi, Firewatch
Abzû is gorgeous. With an art style similar to that of Journey, Abzû has blown me away with its beautiful visuals and gorgeous animations. Oftentimes, I found myself lost in the adventure as my character fluidly navigated a surreal underwater paradise and braved ominous alien waters. This game, above all others in the year, produced the most magical, awe-inspiring world.
Best Level Design
Runners Up: Battlefield 1, Abzû, Overcooked, INSIDE
All of the nominated games are excellently laid out for the player, but Firewatch was on another level. No matter where you looked in that game, the scenery in front of you will surely resemble a static set piece. The placement of the trees, the cliffs, the vistas, and the story elements is near perfect, and the fact that you get to walk around these “natural” installations and see them from every gorgeous angle is nothing short of magnificent.
Most Immersive in a Non-Virtual Reality Environment
Runners Up: Abzû, Battlefield 1, Firewatch
INSIDE’s ominous setting is easy to get lost in, especially when PlayDead makes sure to teach you that one misstep can easily lead to your character’s demise. You play as a young boy, which I think automatically garners some sympathy during his adventure. As you explore the world and learn more of the harsh and often disturbing reality of the world and, more importantly, as you help your character survive through a host of trials and traps, you really start to feel for the boy’s plight. The consistent quality of every set piece, enemy, and challenge also plays into the realism of the world in that no segment of the game feels like filler or segue; everything is intentional, gritty, and real.
Best Add-On or Update
Winner: Overwatch 2.0 Update
Runners Up: Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel, Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Welcome Amiibo, Rocket League’s Rumble Update, Smite’s Odyssey Event
With the addition of Sombra, new game modes, and, most importantly, the no-duplicate-heroes limit, Overwatch’s 2.0 update completely revamped the game. Luckily, the reaction to the update has been mostly positive, and the new hero is well-loved. In all honesty, this update saved Overwatch in my eyes, and made it closer to being the shooter I knew it could be.
Best Virtual Reality Experience
Winner: VR Worlds
Runners Up: Kismet, Job Simulator, RIGS: Mechanized Combat League
I get very excited when I have the opportunity to show off my PlayStation VR; in fact, I have the whole presentation down to a science. First, I explain to them some of the rules of play with them, then I go over the headset itself and how to operate it. Once I’ve got them all set up and comfortable, I put on VR Worlds and let them experience the opening menu cinematic. I always get a good reaction about of people when they see the sparkling orb circle around the room, highlighting the different games in the bundle and triggering various visual effects to dazzle first-time users. Once they’ve gotten a taste for it and have made their necessary adjustments to the device, I launch them into the Shark Encounter level of Ocean Descent. That experience is incredible, and it’s easily the best way to introduce someone to the immersive effects of virtual reality.
Runners Up: Abzû, The Last Guardian, INSIDE
Firewatch is a masterpiece, full of gorgeous set design, wonderful dialogue, and a thrilling story. Throughout the game, you, as the player, learn much about your character and his budding relationship with Delilah. As the two of you grow closer, you put through trials of both physical and emotional forms. Physically, Henry and Delilah uncover secrets in the forest – ones that have unfortunately discovered them right back. Emotionally, the two characters grow closer to one another and their wants and their needs clash in fantastic form. As I mentioned above, the characters are made so real by the down-to-Earth writing that it’s hard to not get emotionally involved yourself, and that right there is the goal of any game’s narrative.
Runners Up: Abzû, Grow Up, Lunar Flowers, VR Worlds
Every so often, a game comes along that is just a perfect bite of bliss. This year, Kismet released, and was instantly recognized by its fans as one of those games. Kismet presents you with three activities and a charming fortune teller. You can ask the cards about your fate, see your fortune in the stars, or even challenge her to a game of Ur, the board game famously played by Egyptian royalty. It’s a relaxing escape into a quaint world of fun mystery and lovely banter.
Winner: Dark Souls III
Runners Up: Battlefield 1, RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, Thumper, Final Fantasy XV
Dark Souls III. Man. What a game. This was my go-to Game of the Year for most of 2016 until INSIDE showed up near the end. I honestly didn’t expect anything to take its place. The crushing gameplay presented throughout the Dark Souls series is better than ever in this third installment, and with online connectivity only getting better, the Dark Souls experience reached its pinnacle. The terrifying venues, intimidating enemies, and unforgiving mechanics have proven that this game is the paragon of difficult action games.
Every swipe of an enemy’s weapon must be predicted and dealt with quickly, else another threat moves in to take you out. The set changes are offered at a satisfying pace, so as not to bog you down with boredom or the feel of a long grind, and the calm moments are often enough to make sure that the highs are noticeably high in comparison to the quiet lows. Playing with and against other players only makes the experience richer, as each new character onscreen can either be a great boon or a fearsome trial.
I can’t recommend this game enough, and it deserves all the love it gets.
Winner: Job Simulator
Runners Up: Firewatch, Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, Necropolis, Reigns, Pony Island
Job Simulator has a place in my heart as one of the first VR games I’ve ever played, so I’m happy to see that it has stood up to other great titles that came out this year. The whole story takes place in the year 2050, where you, as a robot in an entirely post-human society, are visiting a museum exhibit all about human jobs back in the 1990s. Luckily, you don’t have to just hear about these boring ol’ human jobs, you get to experience them through simulation! Plug into either Office Worker, Store Clerk, Auto Mechanic, or Gourmet Chef, and explore the wonders of the ancient human civilization!
The parody of modern(ish) business antics is hilarious, as Job Simulator will often make jokes about annoying customers, nosey coworkers, or awful bosses. It’s easy to relate to, easy to play, and a ton of fun to mess around with!
Best Use of Strategy or Management
Winner: Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon
Runners Up: Mobius Final Fantasy, Overcooked, The Dwarves, The Tomorrow Children
The newest Pokémon games have clearly shown why these games are one of the most popular strategy RPGs of all time. Not only do they have the fantastic cast of characters to capture, collect, and battle, but the actual gameplay itself is a well-tested system that requires you to take many different factors into account if you want to come out on top. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your Pokémon is the key to success, but you can also add to your combat effectiveness by giving your them love and attention, as they will try extra hard to impress and help you. This game requires you to keep an eye on everything to succeed against other players, but will still give you the leeway to mess up here and there in the single player mode. That kind of balance between the unforgiving nature of tactical decisions mixed with the leniency to learn from your mistakes makes this game a great strategy RPG.
Best Competitive Play
Winner: RIGS: Mechanized Combat League
Runners Up: Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1
The intensity of RIGS’ gameplay is already one of the most exhilarating examples of action of 2016, but the online mode was where things really turned up. Once I’d gotten the hang of things, most AI-controlled teams were relatively simple to defeat, but the same can’t be said about beating other players. Many of the tricks and tactics I’d developed against the bots were completely useless against enemy players, oftentimes because my opponents were attempting them, too. After only a couple matches, I determined that online matches were the most fun part of the game and the thrill of the action when I knew I was against people (with potentially just as much of a mind for tactics as I have) made it all the sweeter when I won. This game offers all of competition’s best elements with a fresh new IP, making it the best action experience of the year.
Best Cooperative Gameplay
Runners Up: Dark Souls III, Necropolis, Battlezone
Overcooked surprised me this year by reminding me of just how chaotic co-op games can be. Tasking the players with preparing and serving meal orders in a timely fashion seems easy, but then the shouting starts. As you and your team try to actually complete the level, you’ll ultimately need to start assigning jobs to people. Assigning who does what becomes a job in and of itself, and oftentimes having fewer people in the kitchen can help more than having additional bodies. I will gladly name this the best co-operative game of 2016 due to the sheer fact that this game got my friends and I yelling and laughing together as we tried to complete this completely insane and ludicrously difficult cooking game.
Most Surprising Game
Winner: The Dwarves
Runners Up: Assault Android Cactus, Reigns, Overcooked, Pony Island
The Dwarves came out one day, and I didn’t know anything about it. After watching a surprisingly good trailer, I was interested enough to purchase it. After learning the refreshingly thorough and well-presented lore via smooth animations and an entrancing narrator, I was excited to see what came next. After learning the gameplay and experimenting with all the different things you can do during the real-time tactical combat and the choice-based story progression, I was hooked. This game came from out of nowhere and truly impressed me with everything it had to offer. I’m excited to play through more of the game, and delighted that I have another developer to watch! Fantastic job, KING Art Games!
Best Marketing of the Year
Runners Up: Titanfall 2, World of Warcraft: Legion, Pokémon Go, Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon
Overwatch began, for many people, as a beautiful cinematic about two young brothers finding themselves in the middle of an epic battle between the forces of good and evil. After Blizzard released two montage videos showcasing most of the characters and their abilities, I was hooked, and I looked forward to this seemingly magical game’s release with an intensity I hadn’t felt for a game in awhile. More cinematics came out, and people were stunned – the quality of the shorts was SO good, SO memorable, that it has to go down as some of the best pre-release media to date. Every character seemed rich with personality, and the gameplay looked as solid as can be. This game’s marketing campaign during both 2015 and 2016 was legendary, and it easily took this award.
Most Disappointing Release
Runners Up: No Man’s Sky, The Tomorrow Children, The Division
But then, after the marketing had made it clear that Overwatch will not only be Blizzard’s next big success, but also the gateway into a brand new universe of wonder and excitement that fans could dive into and explore, the game released, and there was nothing left to wonder about. Please forgive the extra long blurb – I know that this isn’t a popular choice, and I would like to explain my reasoning.
Overwatch’s lack of a story mode was not a humongous surprise, as they had confirmed there would not be one shortly before the release, but it was nevertheless a huge let down when, aside from quickplay and the match of the week, there was nothing else to do. There were no heroes to learn about, no backstory to see, and no progression of the universe. In fact, the entire game was considered non-canon, where even arch-rivals like Reaper and Soldier: 76 could team up if the players wanted them to, something that would never happen if the game represented the character’s canon motivations.
Another issue with the launch was something they eventually patched out: the ability to have multiples of the same hero on a single team. Initially, I didn’t think that this would be too much of an issue, but as gamers quickly figured out the most unfair team compositions, it became clear that the decision to allow duplicate heroes was a mistake. Regrettably, most play sessions ended when people got frustrated at the game’s seemingly impossible odds when certain teams were fought against. As I explained above, I do want to contain these judgments to the launch or near-launch versions of games, so the fact that they provided an update to fix this issue unfortunately does not help their case.
Additionally, the player progression was very frustrating. While Overwatch is not a free-to-play game, I feel like it could learn a lot from common free-to-play models. If you have a favorite character in Overwatch, you can’t work towards unlocking more outfits for them. In fact, many players’ experiences were tarnished by unlocking a whole lot of awesome loot for characters they never play. The only way to select an unlockable, in fact, was to buy it with coins, which are a rare commodity in Overwatch’s Loot Boxes.
With all of those issues, it was difficult to enjoy any part of the game. In fact, I would much rather see more cinematics than play the game, as they give me, and many other players, more of what they actually want: rich story, interesting characters, and awesome animations.
Most Anticipated Upcoming Game
Winner: For Honor
Runners Up: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, The Last of Us 2, Detroit: Become Human
For Honor is a game I have been looking forward to playing since E3 2015, and this year has been a year of anticipation for it. I was lucky enough to be selected to play in the game’s Closed Alpha build, and the gameplay was already immaculate.
To be fair, all of the games nominated are must-buys for me in 2017, but I sincerely believe that For Honor will become one of my favorite games of all time.
Games I Have Yet to Play
It’s unfortunate that I can’t play every game every year, but that’s reality. I’m sorry to say that the following games either haven’t been played at all or haven’t been given a fair chance. Every year, I will attempt to make sure this list is as small as possible.
Batman Arkham VR, Call of Duty: Ghosts (campaign), Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2, DOOM, Dragon Quest Builders, FIFA 17, Fire Emblem Fates, Gary the Gull, Gears of War 4, Hitman, Hyper Light Drifter, King of Fighters XIV, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Let It Die, Lifeline: Crisis Line, Lifeline: Flatline, Lifeline: Halfway to Infinity, Mafia III, MLB: The Show, Monster Hunter Generations, NBA 2K17, Neon Chrome, Oxenfree, Pro Evolution Soccer 2017, Rainbow Six Siege, Ratchet and Clank, Robinson: The Journey, Severed, Skylanders: Imaginators, Stardew Valley, Tales of Zesteria, The Banner Saga 2, The Flame in the Flood, The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine, The Witness, Titanfall 2 (campaign), Total War: Warhammer, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Va-11 Hall-A, World of Warcraft: Legion, XCOM 2, Xenoblade Chronicles X