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2016 Action Game Of The Year Awards

by Matt Miller on Jan 06, 2017 at 05:00 AM

Fans of the action genre had no shortage of great options to keep busy throughout 2016. The year transport us to distant fantasy worlds, pirate cities on forgotten islands, and strange post-apocalyptic futures. Explore our picks for the best action games of 2016, and share your picks in the comments below. 

Best Story: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Some narratives are made richer by the concluding chapter of the arc. That’s rarely been more true than with Uncharted 4’s thoughtfully constructed plot, which not only tells a great yarn in its own right, but builds on and enriches what’s come before in the franchise. Nathan Drake must face the challenging adventure of adult responsibilities and commitment, while simultaneously juggling the expectations of his oldest familial relationships. With deft storytelling, Naughty Dog wraps up the Uncharted series with a powerful and beautiful final scene that its players will remember for a long time.

Best Character: Trico (The Last Guardian)

A subtle skill is required to make a character worthy of empathy and emotional investment, and the challenge is magnified when the character in question can’t even speak. The towering creature at the center of The Last Guardian feels like a real animal in a way no other game has managed, expressing its own moods and needs in ways that demand the player’s attention. Over hours of interaction, Trico becomes a distinct personality that is easy to love, and without falling back on tired tropes or easy narrative conveniences. 

Best Setting: Dishonored 2

Arkane expands on an already believable fantasy world in this sequel, lending Emily and Corvo’s journeys a sense of lived-in history. Whether climbing through the port city buildings of Karnaca, infiltrating a madness-inducing Clockwork Mansion, or stepping over the threshold to a dark dimension to face your greatest foe, Dishonored 2 goes out of its way to immerse players in its imaginative fiction. Books communicate the sense of a broader world beyond the borders of your adventures. Wall-hanging art makes players believe that that they’re inhabiting a real culture. And conversations between NPCs frame the illusion that the world continues to revolve beyond the dangers at hand. 

Next Page: Our favorite handheld action game, and the winner for best graphics.

Best Handheld: Monster Hunter Generations

The Monster Hunter franchise has always been a little daunting to newcomers, but 2016’s entry went out of its way to be more accessible and rewarding than previous installments, and served up an offering that was equally tempting to both veteran and fledgling adventurers. More interesting companions for solo play and new ways to use weapons were all welcome additions. However, it was the integration of old favorite locations and monsters alongside new content that really helped Monster Hunter Generations shine as a standout part of the series.

Most Ridiculous: Dead Rising 4

Dead Rising has always been known for its zany approach to zombies and its often inane dialogue and characters. With the latest installment, the developer ups the ante by doubling down on the insanity. Frank West is a goofy son of a gun, fooled by one of his students into entering the fray because he thinks he’s going to play mini-golf. He wears a girl scout outfit, and uses a staff that summons an army of exploding garden gnomes. He takes zombie selfies. He drives a hybrid hearse/tow truck that transforms into a flamethrowing tank. And with each passing day beyond the real-life holiday, the Christmas theme of the game feels a little stranger. The fact that Dead Rising 4 also includes a contemplation of labor values in modern society somehow makes the whole affair just a little bit more bonkers. 

Best Graphics: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Gamers could be forgiven for getting lost in the characters and settings of Uncharted 4, which offer a level of detail, precision, and technical mastery unmatched within the medium. Breathtaking environments like the Madagascar countryside and a lost pirate haven are impressive enough. But it’s the quiet character moments, with the incredible attention paid to animation and lighting, that really cement the game’s graphical excellence. 

Next Page: Who won best cooperative multiplayer? And which indie game was our favorite?

Best Cooperative Multiplayer: Overcooked 

In a year dominated by excellent shooters, it’s telling that a small game about making tasty food became our overall pick for best cooperative multiplayer, making it a shoe-in within the action genre. Overcooked strips away complexity in favor of clever mechanics in a  party-game atmosphere, where constant communication and coordination is essential for success. Proving that not every great game needs to be characterized by fancy graphics or storytelling, Overcooked is a simple and delightful serving of fun to be shared with friends.

Best VR Action: Chronos 

In their first big year on the public stage , the various new VR platforms each tried to capture public attention, but often did so through tech demos, shorter games, or experimental concepts. Chronos had a subtler approach to VR integration, offering up a taut and rewarding combat and exploration experience, and enriching it through the immersion of a VR headset. Chronos didn’t dramatically innovate away from the traditions of previous action games that spawned it, but instead made an excellent case that existing genres can be accented and made more compelling when played through a virtual lens. 

Best Indie Action Game: Hyper Light Drifter

Developer Heart Machine had a consistent vision that guided Hyper Light Drifter to completion, presenting a bleak and quiet world in which actions speak louder than words. Tight, challenging combat systems demand precision and attention, especially as bosses telegraph complex patterns that must be learned. The pixel art style and enigmatic approach to story help Hyper Light Drifter lend a strangeness to the time players spend wandering its world. And the uncertain final moments don’t provide the pat conclusion that most action games eventually reach. 

Next Page: Which action game had the coolest bosses? And our choice for the best action game of 2016

Best Replayability: Dishonored 2

Take time to explore Arkane’s latest game for a second playthrough, and you discover that the experience is far more than a reskin with a marginally different character. The dialogue and narrative shift in important ways depending on whether you play as Emily or Corvo. Equally important, the two potential protagonists have different power sets that allow for new ways to interact with the game. A single playthrough provides a complete and rewarding adventure; a second run with the other character is like an alternate history of the same core events. 

Best Bosses: Dark Souls III 

From Software has often set a high bar with its large and incredibly challenging enemies. The developer continued to outdo itself with Dark Souls III, a project that saw major boss fights that were engaging for multiple reasons. Of course, many of these titanic confrontations were extremely difficult to defeat, but for longtime fans, it’s the way many of those bosses played into a long-term mythology that really helped make them memorable, from an epic battle in a sky arena with the Nameless King to a hauntingly beautiful battle with a deadly dancer.

Best Remastered Action Game: Ratchet & Clank 

It’s easy to recall the fondness so many of us had for the original Ratchet & Clank games, which set a high bar for character-driven action games of the PS2 and PS3 era. Insomniac seems to have taken everything it learned throughout the long life of the series, and used that wisdom to fuel this remake of the original. Incredible visuals feel like an animated movie at your control, and the weapons, enemies, and stages all echo with the unrestrained humor and fun that has characterized previous installments. 

Action Game of the Year: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End 

Naughty Dog’s unfailing tradition for excellence continues unabated in the closing chapter of Nathan Drake’s story. It’s easy to sing the praises of the game’s technical mastery, engaging storytelling, and responsive controls. Ultimately, perhaps the biggest success is how those varied aspects of the game all come together to serve a greater purpose – a fitting and emotional send-off to one of modern gaming’s most relatable heroes.