Game of the year 2016 will mean something different for all of our writers, but, to me, these honors shouldn’t be handed out to the seven new releases with the highest Metacritic score. During a year where so many high-profile sequels failed to ignite the imagination of gamers, here are seven personal selections that were both awesome to play and an influence to our industry’s future.
Pokémon Go: One of the aspects I consider when deciding my personal games of the year is taking stock of which titles prompted the most discussion. On that barometer alone, Pokémon Go succeeded like no other. We all thought a mobile game based on such a valued IP would do well, but nobody quite predicted the absolute phenomenon that took over the world this summer.
Make no mistake. Pokémon Go is not a fantastic game in the same way as others on this list, but it introduced hardcore and casual gamers alike to an augmented reality experience that truly works. Despite its bugs and basic mechanics, the collection-based skeleton of Pokémon Go will be copied for years to come.
Overwatch: Overwatch flew under in the early months of 2016 as it fought to separate itself from Gearbox’s Battleborn. Both were shooters with cartoony art styles and hero-like characters, but it was Blizzard’s winning formula that stood out from the pack. Prioritizing pure skill over weapon upgrades, this is a game that anyone can get into at any time. There are no skill tiers leaving noobs behind and no intrusive microtransactions to detract from the gameplay.
Beyond that, however, Overwatch has succeeded in creating the type of multiplayer-only service that so many other titles have failed to cultivate. With continued support through holiday events, constant communication and an already thriving eSports community, Overwatch clearly left its mark on 2016 and beyond.
Battlefield 1: 2016 was a year full of mechanically sound shooters like Titanfall 2 and Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare, but Battlefield 1 succeeded in rising above that stiff competition because it gave gamers something new in addition to that solid gameplay. World War I had never been used for an FPS before, but DICE dared to be different by blending historical accuracy with some modern concessions. As if that wasn’t enough, a truly meaningful campaign markedly improved the Battlefield franchise in one of its most lacking areas.
Simply put, the minds behind this game recognized demand for a return to retro military action, and they are now reaping the benefits of that foresight in a huge way. When Call Of Duty inevitably returns to World War II, it will be because Battlefield 1 set the standard first. [Our review]
Oxenfree: This game probably won’t get too many game of the year nods, but I think it should. Crafted by a team of ex-Telltale developers, Oxenfree took cue from that tired formula and expanded on it significantly. Similar to Netflix’s Stranger Things, this game nails that ‘80s Twilight Zone-Goonies tone. It also tells a fantastic story that encourages plenty of replay value well below the $60 price tag.
Even if it’s not your thing, Oxenfree stands as a shining example of how a narrative-based game can have deeper mechanics than quicktime events and dialogue options. In addition to experiencing a branching story, you can also explore a full environment with tons of collectibles and characters that actually react to your physical movement. It came out in early 2016, but this was still one of my favorites.
Inside: In that same category of indie darlings, Playdead’s Inside was in development for a very long time. However, just a few minutes with this puzzle platformer will show you that those many months didn’t go to waste. The gameplay mechanics, while basic, are immaculate. On top of that, every single environmental object feels deliberately designed to facilitate puzzles that are just challenging enough to still be enjoyable.
Surrounded by such amazing dressing, we were also let in on a great narrative with dark themes of conformity that’s simply too good to spoil. Using just the puzzles as a primary canvas, it’s amazing how much depth and lore was squeezed into this short, silent experience. This game was successful because it didn’t set out to do too much, and it accomplished its mission perfectly. In an industry full of triple-A juggernauts, Inside was a breath of fresh air.
Uncharted 4: On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Uncharted 4. You can’t get much more triple-A than Nathan Drake, and his final chapter definitely didn’t disappoint. In true Naughty Dog form, we were treated to a narrative filled with action, betrayal and loss that exceeded the standards of current-gen storytelling. Its gameplay didn’t revolutionize much, but, with so many stellar performances and raw emotional moments from the entire cast, it’s hard to care about that.
In terms of larger impact, Uncharted 4 is also the PS4’s best looking game and maybe the most beautiful console game ever made. Now it’s up to everyone else to see if matching its visuals is even possible. [Our review]
Pokémon Sun And Moon: We started this list with Pokémon, so why not end there? Pokémon Go helped to make 2016 a historic year for the franchise, and Sun And Moon solidified it. It’s difficult to keep a franchise going for 20 years, and but this generation proved it can be done.
With the backdrop of a gorgeous region, Game Freak and crew created a masterpiece by capitalizing on everything that makes this series great. The hunt-and-catch formula of yesteryear was kept intact alongside Alola Forms of beloved monsters. But nostalgia is just the tip of the iceberg. The removal of the antiquated gym structure, HMs and party rules relieved frustration to make this journey enjoyable from start to finish. Sun And Moon are two of the best Pokémon games ever made. [Our review]
What do you think of these picks? Are there any I missed? Sound off in the comments section!