Without question, 2016 was one of the best year’s to be a gamer. There’s never been a more diverse array of games to play, and the same goes for platforms on which to play them, and I might even go as far to say that 2016 was the best year in the history of the gaming industry. There was something for everyone this year, from a long-awaited Harvest Moon clone on PC to Blizzard’s beloved reinvention of the first-person shooter genre. Even Dota 2 was overhauled in 2016, transforming the popular MOBA in a way we haven’t seen since 2005. But the year is very quickly coming to an end. So, what better way is there to put a cap on 2016 than diving into the absurdly oversized pile of video games from the last 12 months and coming up with a list of the best seven released in 2016?
Here are my picks.
I wasn’t sure whether or not to include Overwatch on my 2016 GOTY list. There’s still plenty about the game I don’t like, particularly what I believe to be an over-emphasis on ultimate abilities and last-second comebacks. That said, it seems silly to ignore the game’s popularity, not to mention the fact that I’ve reinstalled Overwatch to participate in all three — Olympics, Halloween and the going Christmas festivities — of this year’s timed events. I’ve also taken the time to participate in all three ranked seasons, spent $30 on loot boxes and adopted a new VOIP client just to improve my average performance while playing Overwatch with friends who don’t live here in Colorado. Overwatch may not be perfect but it’s the breath of fresh air the first-person shooter genre has needed for several years.
6. Planet Coaster
Planet Coaster managed to grab my attention in a way that I never expected. The game has a campaign, where players are asked to overcome a series of challenges and circumstances to build, staff and fill a series of partially-constructed amusement parks. But the real meat and potatoes of Planet Coaster are its open-ended offerings, Sandbox and Challenge, both of which are bolstered by an impressive (and ever-growing) array of user creations. And all of that content can be built in-game, via tools made available to any/everyone in the Planet Coaster community. Everything from park decor to full-size roller coasters can be built and shared with other Planet Coaster fans, giving players access to thousands of new buildings, decorations and rides to use in their next park.
Despite their ongoing popularity, couch co-op games still don’t get released nearly as often as many people would like. So we’ve got to savor the ones that do see the light of day. Particularly when they turn out as excellent as Overcooked, a new one- to four-player party game that asks participants to prepare and cook an increasingly difficult array of menu items. I originally bought the game to see if my girlfriend would like it and we finished the whole campaign in two sittings, with a third dedicated to the game’s existing DLC. And we’re both hoping to see more in the near future. Overcooked won’t be for everyone but it’s an easy recommendation for anyone in need of a new game to play the next time friends are over.
In a year of great shooters, DOOM remains the one I’d recommend to any fan of the genre who only had time for one 2016 release. The game’s multiplayer component remains a tremendous disappointment. But DOOM’s campaign is incredible; invoking the pacing and chaos of the first game in the series without shying away from the task of modernizing the aging franchise. Add in the Arcade mode, which encourages players to push the pace a step above the campaign, and you’ve got a recipe for a shooter that I’ll be playing for years to come.
3. Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley was easily the biggest surprise of 2016. Sure, DOOM’s excellence was kind of shocking, given how long the game had been in development. But Stardew Valley exceeds its inspiration in so many ways that even Harvest Moon’s creator, Yasuhiro Wada, is on the Eric Barone hype train. Stardew Valley remained a constant temptation throughout 2016. A game I couldn’t keep installed on my machine during busy periods because I’d find myself tending to crops as often as I would playing whatever game I was currently reviewing. Now that Stardew Valley is available on PS4 and Xbox One too, with a PS Vita port still on the way, there’s are increasingly few excuses for you not to give it a go.
2. Dark Souls 3
In any other year, Dark Souls 3 probably would’ve claimed the top spot on this list. Not everyone loved the final entry in the Dark Souls trilogy. But I enjoyed the game enough to get within a few boss battles of finishing the campaign a second time. And I’m one of those people who usually won’t replay a game for several years, if ever. I’d be lying if I claimed to understand everything that happened, even after a second run, but that’s genuinely part of the fun for me. Dark Souls is full of information about its world and setting. But the only ones who will claim that knowledge are the players willing to throw themselves against the game’s challenges again and again. The franchise won’t appeal to everyone, and it’s probably safe to assume most players know where they stand by now, but I look back fondly on the 70+ hours I spent with Dark Souls 3 in 2016.
Like many, I was skeptical when Square Enix and Io Interactive announced plans to adopt an episodic format for their next Hitman release. And I couldn’t be happier to have been wrong.
Hitman is the obvious choice for 2016’s Game of the Year. The first episodic series in franchise history delivered the stealthy murder puzzles that longtime fans crave. And Io Interactive does so while simultaneously finding ways to make Hitman more approachable. The studio did a phenomenal job of keeping the community engaged between episodes, via Featured Contracts and Elusive Targets, while also adhering to a release schedule that delivered all of Season One in less than a year. Season Two is probably what I’m most looking forward to in 2017 and I have no doubt I’ll continue to reinstall the game, for a quick contract or two, every few months until the next season of Hitman begins. If you play no other game from 2016, make it this one.