Feature

The 2016 Shooter Of The Year Awards

by Matt Bertz on Jan 05, 2017 at 10:25 AM

What year ranks as the best ever for shooters? Many convincingly argue this honor belongs to 2004 – featuring a deep catalog including Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Far Cry, Star Wars Battlefront, Battlefield: Vietnam, Doom 3, UT 2004, Counter-Strike: Source, Painkiller. Others cite 2007 as a major contender thanks to gems like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, BioShock, Team Fortress 2, Halo 3, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Unreal Tournament III, and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. Thanks to an amazing lineup of its own, expect 2016 to be in this conversation moving forward as well. 

Shooter fans had something to look forward to in 2016 regardless of their preferred play style. Campaigns experienced a resurgence thanks to games like Titanfall 2, the Doom reboot, and even Battlefield 1. Cooperative players could dive into the juicy campaign of Gears of War 4 or the complex events of Destiny: Rise of Iron, which demanded constant communication to overcome. And multiplayer fans welcomed a new top-tier competitor in Blizzard's Overwatch. 

With no shortage of praise to dispense, our 2016 shooter of the year awards were tougher to come to a consensus on than any previous year. Check out the accolades below:

Best Campaign: Titanfall 2

This proved the toughest category to award an outright winner because we had two games deserving of the award. Doom's throwback campaign is pure, blood-drenched bliss, but ultimately Respawn's return to building campaigns won out thanks to its pitch-perfect pacing, strong mechanics, and continual commitment to introducing new mechanics. The time-bending Effects and Cause mission in particular stands out as one of the best in all of gaming.

Best Setting: Battlefield 1

While nearly every other major shooter franchise ran like lemmings to the space race of sci-fi settings, the clever Swedes at DICE seized a perfect opportunity to differentiate the Battlefield franchise by diving further back into history than it has ever done before. Trading laser guns and space fighters for bolt-action rifles and biplanes proved to be a major boon, as the World War I setting brought gamers to an era ripe for storytelling (and multiplayer battles) they have seldom visited before. 

Best Character: Tracer (Overwatch)

We could have picked just about any Overwatch character for this honor (Hanzo and Bastion being the obvious exceptions), but ultimately decided on the first face that greets you in the game's tutorial. Tracer is a lot more than just the lovable poster girl for Blizzard's critically acclaimed shooter. Her Blink and Recall abilities give her a unique attacking role never seen before in shooters. She may be fragile, but her quick pace and ability to fade in and out of combat in the blink of a second make her a truly formidable foe when in the hands of an expert.

Best Graphics: Battlefield 1

DICE's Frostbite engine is so good that EA decided to make it the de facto choice for the vast majority of its games, including BioWare RPGs and sports games. Battlefield 1 is a great showcase for why that seems like a smart decision. The graphics are jaw-dropping thanks to best-in-class weather effects and a welcome return to more destructible environments. If you want to treat your eyeballs to a spectacle, fire this game up in 4K. Considering Star Wars Battlefront took this award last year, this marks back-to-back wins for DICE. 

Best Audio: Overwatch

Battlefield 1 and Doom could have won accolades for their bombastic sound effects and memorable soundtracks, but we ultimately chose Overwatch because of how seamlessly Blizzard blends audio cues into the action of its fast-paced shooter. Listen closely, and you can tell what is happening based solely on characters’ unique audible tells, from ultimate callouts to Reinhardt's thunderous footsteps. The volume scaling smartly alerts you how close the incoming threat is, letting you either prepare for your pending doom or man up for a defiant defense. 

Best Weaponry: Doom

As far as I am concerned, there is only one shotgun you should carry into battle in a first-person shooter game, and that's the iconic original from Doom. Developer id Software wonderfully recreated this boomstick along with several other memorable Doom weapons (with a few new ones to boot). The rocket launcher, BFG 9000, and chainsaw gun are all showstoppers, and most of the weapons get even better in this reboot thanks to modifications you can find by locating field drones in each level.

Best Gunplay: Doom

Reloads are so 2015. In 2016, id Software flew in the face of modern convention by getting rid of weapon reloads, cover, a sprint button, and making players follow an NPC through a linear level design. By going back to its roots, Doom discovers the joy of the original with fantastic guns, open environments, and lightning-fast movement. When you see a mouth of hell in the middle of a room just waiting to be activated, you know it's time for a metal-driven ballet of death and destruction. And when your guns are low on ammo, it's time to embrace the Itchy and Scratchy-style close-quarters glory kills.

Best Remaster: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered

The remaster of the best shooter from last generation was arguably more desirable than the game it shipped with, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. While those who bothered to check out Infinity Ward's space-faring campaign were ultimately rewarded with an underrated experience, you couldn't fault those who pre-ordered the game from popping this Modern Warfare into their disc drives first. This all-time classic received a welcome makeover including new textures, higher resolution, and high-dynamic range lighting.

Read on to find out which shooter we named the best shooter as service, cooperative game, and competitive game. 

Best Indie: Superhot

Given the high quality of the entrenched competition, we rarely see indie shooters outside of those that try to recapture the style and fast-paced gameplay of the genre godfathers like Doom and Wolfenstein. Superhot chose a different approach inspired by puzzle games to make a must-play shooter unlike anything we've ever experienced. Time moves only when you move, turning each gunfight into a chess match that requires more wit than twitch skills.

Best Comeback: Doom

The last time we played a new Doom game in 2004, YouTube and the iPhone didn't exist yet. Think about that for a second. A Doom 3 follow-up that took many cues from popular modern shooters like Call of Duty was in development for years, but id and Bethesda ultimately felt it was the wrong direction for the franchise, scrapped it, and started over. It proved to be a wise decision, because this campaign skillfully captures the essence of the original FPS that put the genre on the map while at the same time bringing it into the modern era with subtle design touches. 

Best Shooter As Service: Rainbow Six Siege

What a difference a year can make. When I reviewed Rainbow Six Siege last December, I praised the stellar design of its foundational multiplayer mode but decried the poor infrastructure around it. I knew there was a brilliant game in there somewhere, Ubisoft just hadn't quite nailed it. Over the last 12 months, Ubisoft continued to hone the experience, fixing hit detection issues and other technical hiccups while delivering a steady stream of free maps and new operators players can unlock by spending the in-game currency known as Renown. Now the game has a well-earned following and healthy eSports scene, and Ubisoft just teased plans for another year of support.

Best Cooperative Multiplayer: Gears of War 4

This was another tough award to bestow. A vocal minority believed Destiny: Rise of Iron deserved the kudos thanks to its best raid to date that forced players to work together, the sophisticated cooperation necessary to obtain the Outbreak Prime Rifle, and new strike scoring system that rewards teamwork. But at the end of the day, the nod goes to Gears of War 4. New studio The Coalition erased the bad taste Judgment left in our mouths, delivered a strong cooperative campaign, and improved Horde mode with a new class system and the ability to construct new defensive fortifications. 

Best Competitive Multiplayer: Overwatch

Overwatch didn't just carve a nice niche for itself in the months after its debut. This multiplayer-focused shooter from the masters at Blizzard blew the doors wide open on an already packed and ultra-competitive genre. Like Blizzard's forays into the MMO, MOBA, and digital card game spaces, Overwatch is a master class in balance. Each hero brings distinct and useful skills to the battles, well-crafted maps keep the battles frantic, and the friendly post-game recaps and play-of-the-game highlights make for a wonderful way to wrap up a match.

Best Multiplayer Map: Hollywood (Overwatch)

Editors sang the praises of several Overwatch maps (mostly based on how their mains perform in those spaces), but the hybrid attack/payload map Hollywood got the most votes. Like many of its brethren, it has a great mix of interior and exterior cover locations, verticality, flanking routes, and choke points. It earns extra points for the light storytelling touches found throughout the map that give you a small glimpse into the wider Overwatch universe. Battlefield 1 also had a strong showing with standouts like St. Quentin Scar and Monte Grappa. 

Best Innovation: The Dark Zone (The Division)

Bold choices have become a rarity in triple-A games this generation, likely due to the immense cost that goes into making these games. One big miss could mortally wound a publisher. This is why The Division's Dark Zone is so refreshing. Don't get us wrong, it's not for everyone. Many are rubbed the wrong way when another player wipes them out and steals the hard-earned loot they were trying to extract. Developer Massive has also wrestled with finding a balance between having raving packs of PvP groups and a punishment for going rogue so severe that no one wants to even bother. But no other shooter has a space that offers the harrowing experience of sneaking and shooting your way through enemies for high-end gear, then having to announce your presence to the wider community via a flare and hoping you can extract your loot before others come to claim it as their own. 

Biggest Disappointment: Battleborn

Given the pedigree of Gearbox Software (Borderlands, Brothers in Arms) we had high hopes for the studio's new IP, which promised to remix the first-person shooter with MOBAs into a new style of game. We even put Battleborn on our cover. Unfortunately, the project did not come together in a compelling way. 

Shooter of the Year: Overwatch

If you read our Best of 2016 article, you already knew this was coming. No game, shooter or otherwise, captured the attention of Game Informer editors in 2016 like Overwatch. The refined balance, fantastic controls, and compelling cast of characters got us through the door, and Blizzard's steady stream of improvements and holiday themed loot kept us coming back for more. Overwatch is here to stay, and we wouldn't have it any other way.