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Brian's 10 Favorite Games Of 2016

by Brian Shea on Jan 05, 2017 at 11:19 AM

Going into 2016, there's no way I could have guessed how great the year was going to be for video games. When I try to think about the last time a year was as strong for gaming as 2016 was, the best guess I can venture is 2011, which featured the likes of Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, and Portal 2. I look back at 2016, and even games I really enjoyed missed the cut on my personal top 10 list (see the honorable mentions section at the bottom).

For the sake of comparison, here were my top 10 games of 2015:

  1. Batman: Arkham Knight
  2. Fallout 4
  3. Super Mario Maker
  4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  5. Assassin's Creed Syndicate
  6. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
  7. Splatoon
  8. Mortal Kombat X
  9. Yoshi's Woolly World
  10. Rise of the Tomb Raider

And now, here are my 10 favorite games of 2016. For the full list of games I completed in 2016, head here. For my favorite rock albums of 2016, head here.

10. Pokémon Go
Pokémon Go was easily one of my favorite games of 2016... when it worked. I love so much about the game – venturing out to new areas to find the monster you need, collecting candy to evolve your Pokémon, and meeting new people in the process – that it was heartbreaking how often the game didn't work. That said, several of my biggest and most memorable gaming moments I had in 2016 were thanks to Niantic's mobile app. Despite its flaws, Pokémon Go helped define my year in gaming, and for that, it earns a spot on my top 10 games of 2016.

9. Clash Royale
No other game in 2016 gave me such a love/hate relationship as the genre-twisting mobile game from Supercell. Clash Royale is built on such strong gameplay that I overlooked the blatant and insidious pay-to-win mechanics found just under the surface. I was never a Clash of Clans player, so I didn't have any love for these characters going in, but after months of playing this game for at least an hour daily, I started liking much of the cast. That said, no game made me want to cast my iPhone into Lake Superior like Clash Royale when I'm on a losing streak (I even deleted the app for several months because I was getting frustrated to the point of not enjoying it). However, after a few months off, I redownloaded it and am now more into it than ever.

8. Pokémon Sun & Moon
Growing up, I obsessed over Pokémon Red & Blue, but I struggled to move on from the first generation of games. Once they introduced the wider cast of monsters, my interest fell off. It wasn't until X & Y that I jumped back on board with the Pokémon series, and I'm glad I did, otherwise I probably would have skipped Sun & Moon. While none of the changes are groundbreaking (aside from the subtraction of gym battles), Sun & Moon alter the formula enough to make it feel fresh. I also enjoyed the nods to past games, like references to the Kanto region and its characters.

7. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
The first time I heard about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, I had the same reaction you likely had: "Call of Duty in space? Alright, they've jumped the shark." The more I saw of the game, however, the more intrigued I became. The space combat gameplay shown at E3 truly put the game on my radar, and ensured I picked it up upon release. I was pleasantly surprised by the campaign. The variety in the mission pool combined with a Mass Effect-esque mission select system drove me to complete every single side-mission in the game. All of these factors combined to deliver my favorite Call of Duty campaign since Modern Warfare 2.

6. Doom
Creating an old school shooter that looks and plays like a 2016 shooter is no simple task, but id accomplished that feat with Doom. The retro mentality and design conventions were found around every corner, but the strong gunplay, fun traversal, and brutal executions make it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other first-person shooters that released this year. Few 2016 games provided more satisfying moments than masterfully clearing out an area in Doom.

5. Titanfall 2
If you're looking for a poster child for the success that shooter campaigns had in 2016, look no further than Titanfall 2. Many lamented the absence of any kind of single-player campaign in the franchise's 2014 debut, and with Titanfall 2, Respawn showed exactly why fans wanted this team to put together a campaign. The movement and shooting in Titanfall already felt good, so when combined with the innovative level design, the result is a campaign that is as enjoyable as it is varied. The narrative may have fallen a little flat, but it was difficult to find a more well-designed level than Titanfall 2's "Effect and Cause." 

4. Hyper Light Drifter
This Kickstarter-funded project scratched the old school Zelda itch for me in ways no game outside of Nintendo's beloved franchise ever has. The exploration of the bleak world is terrific and the combat is challenging and fun. Though I've never been a big fan of the Dark Souls/Bloodborne style of gameplay, I appreciate the elements of those games that Hyper Light Drifter implements. The critical path of the campaign isn't terribly long, but if you want to collect all of the items and unlock all of Hyper Light Drifter's secrets, you had better prepare yourself for the long haul.

3. Final Fantasy XV
I got into the RPG genre later in my gaming career than most, so my list of favorite role-playing games from my formative years with the genre consists of games like Pokémon Red & Blue and Final Fantasy X. I've continued following the Final Fantasy franchise even if I didn't care for most of the subsequent entries. I was curious about Final Fantasy XV, given its long development cycle and interesting take on the series, but I never imagined I would like it as much as I do. From the first few hours, I could tell that it was going to consume my life for a couple of weeks. Right off the bat, I began obsessively completing sidequests and participating in hunts to that point that I reached the 20 hour mark and hadn't done much of anything in the story itself. Eventually I did strap in and make my way through the story, finishing it just north of the 50 hour mark, but I'm itching to dive back in and play more. I loved my time exploring the world of Final Fantasy XV so much that it ranks as probably my second favorite entry in the franchise after X.

2. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
After Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the series became a must-play for me. I liked Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception more than most, but still struggled with which entry I preferred to that point. I can now say that Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is easily my favorite in the franchise. The action is great, the pacing is superb, and the send-off the game gives the player is unrivaled. I also enjoyed the little callbacks to not only Uncharted games of the past, but Naughty Dog's history through one of my favorite Easter eggs ever included in a game. Uncharted 4 is the culmination of one of the most consistently strong development studios in the industry's decade with its flagship franchise.

1. Overwatch
I originally thought Uncharted 4 would be unbeatable for my personal pick for Game of the Year 2016. Then Overwatch came out and the more time I put into it without it getting old in any way, the more I realized I couldn't pick anything other than Overwatch for my top slot for this year. As of December 31, I spent more than 100 hours with the colorful cast of Overwatch across both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It's become the game I spend at least an hour or two with nearly every night. When it first released, I had concerns about the lack of content, but team composition affects the way matches play out to the point that you could play the same map two times in a row and have them feel completely different. Nothing is more exciting than a frantic overtime period, and there is no feeling more satisfying than mounting a huge comeback with your team and landing a killer use of your ultimate to secure Play of the Game honors. For all of these reasons, Overwatch is my favorite game of 2017.

Honorable Mentions:

Forza Horizon 3 - One of my favorite racers in a long time. Nearly any other year, this would have made my top 10. The variety of race types plus the massive Australian setting make it a blast to cruise around in.

Inside - This one probably hurt the most to remove from my top 10 list. Playdead's astonishing puzzle platformer was inventive throughout, but the ending left me with my jaw wide open.

The Turing Test - Another one I wish I had space for. While not quite as brilliant as the Portal series, The Turing Test tapped into that same part of my brain with a challenging suite of first-person puzzles.

Dragon Quest Builders - This is a game I played around the holidays, and while I left it off my top 10 due to the repetition I started feeling during the second chapter, for a solid 30 hours I had a blast scouring for resources and building up my base. Think third-person Minecraft with a quest-based campaign and combat that resembles that of the top-down Zelda games.

Gears of War 4 - The Coalition introduced a new cast of likeable characters while keeping its world and story with one foot firmly in the past. In addition to being one of my favorite co-op campaigns in years, the reemergence of Horde mode was great to see.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 - I liked the first Garden Warfare a lot, and the sequel doesn't disappoint. The second entry adds a fun, open hub world, new single-player missions, and new classes while keeping the combat familiar to players of the first. It's a simple hero shooter than anyone can play and enjoy.

Far Cry Primal - This was the first game of 2016 that drove me to complete all of the sidequests. The world is easy to explore and the beastmaster mechanics are fun to develop as the game goes on.