et geekera’s Ten Favourite Games of 2016
We’ve reached the end of another year and I forgot to do last year’s list because I didn’t set aside enough time for it. I’ve been busy in real life and crafting a small niche on YouTube as a retrogaming let’s player. I’m trying to craft myself more time to write but winter is a bad time for that since I have to add snow shoveling to all the other day-to-day that I do.
Picking the top game for the etg top ten list was surprisingly difficult for last year year. 2016 was a top-heavy year for games. Even to this day, I think it’s a toss-up between Uncharted 4 and Overwatch for Game Of The Year but if you tried to make an argument for Doom or Ratchet & Clank or Stardew Valley or Dark Souls 3, I could completely understand it. I’m not sure that there’s the same depth in games as you get beyond the top ten so I’m not going to call. Look at 2015’s top fifteen, for example. Top to bottom, it’s an astonishingly good list of games. I don’t think that I could put together a list of fifteen or sixteen games this year that I think is as good as 2015’s.
So better late than never, here is our list of our ten favourite games of 2016. They may not be the best games of 2016 but they are the ones that I loved the most.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
I’ll talk about the lofty expectations of Doom in a moment but I think that Uncharted 4 might have had the most pressure-packed development of any game this year. The Uncharted franchise is Sony’s flagship series with gamers and critics alike. Add the overwhelming success of The Last of Us and you have a game expected to match or exceed everything that Naughty Dog has produced in the past.
Being a triple-A video game, development was far from smooth. Uncharted’s franchise creative director Amy Hennig left during development to land at EA to do a now-cancelled Star Wars game. Game director Justin Richmond, lead character artist Michael Knowland and art director Nate Wells also left during the production of the game. The top spots in production were handed to The Last of Us creative duo Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley. This resulted in a massive overhaul of the game which saw massive parts of the story re-written, roles re-cast and millions of dollars of work scrapped and replaced.
Did it work out for the best? Well, we’ll never know how good Hennig’s vision of Uncharted 4 would have been but we do know how Druckmann and Straley’s vision turned out. It’s at the top of this list for a reason. It may not have been the best game from Naughty Dog or the best in the Uncharted series but it’s still a magnificent game. The visuals are gorgeous. The story didn’t hit anywhere near the emotional highs and lows as The Last of Us but it was still a more serious adventure than the first three games. The AI was turned up to 11, likely with some programming pulled from TLOU.
From start to end, Uncharted 4 is one of the defining games of this console generation and probably the first proper system seller of this generation.
While many people gave Overwatch their game of the year awards (or equivalent), Overwatch really petered out as time went on. I was all over it early in the year but the lack of updates caused it to stagnate in my eyes by mid-summer. At that point, we had maybe one new character since launch. After Ana, we’ve seen one new map and character with more promised for 2017.
The problem is that you need that new content to keep the game going. While Overwatch has a rich lore, the game itself never does anything with it. Sure, we have the videos and comics that flesh it out but there is no single player campaign or even arcade levels that tie into the lore.
What separates Uncharted 4 from Overwatch is the story. While I had fun playing both, and maybe even more fun playing Overwatch, Uncharted’s story was far and away superior to Blizzard’s title which is something that is seldom said for Blizzard games.
Over the course of the last seven or eight months, Blizzard has been tweaking characters and game modes to try to improve the game and it’s commendable. However, their long-term plan seems to be making Heroes of the Storm appeal more to me than Overwatch and I’m better at and enjoying Overwatch more than HOTS. While there’s a delicate balance when it comes to creating characters and maps in a game, Blizzard can’t drag out the process because people will return to the likes of CS:GO, Rainbow Six: Siege and TF2. The game’s fun but people need to stay stimulated to keep playing.
I played this year’s Doom concurrently with the original Doom from 1993. In my review for this game, I said that I preferred the original to the reboot. Having since played Doom II: Hell on Earth from 1994, I would rate Doom 2016 as the third best in the franchise that I’ve played.
Does that mean that Doom is a bad game? No, it’s absolutely fantastic. Doom is a franchise that started the first-person shooter genre. FPS games were originally called Doom-clones before being given their own genre name independent of Doom. Unlike many shooters which are closer to Halo-clones, Doom stayed fairly close to the original with classic mechanics such as pickups, no regenerating health and no reloads. Sure, there are some new mechanics that I didn’t like such as spawning enemies rather than pre-placed enemies and the over-reliance on combat arenas rather than more naturally occurring combat.
Still, this is the most fun that I’ve had playing a single-player FPS in a long time. Doom is one of the elite franchises of video gaming and any reboot of Doom had lofty expectations to live up to. I think that everyone expected Doom 2016 to miss those expectations by a wide margin but it lived up to the classics while adding a modern twist. When Doom 2 (or would it be Doom 5) comes out, it should be in the conversation for the best games of that year as well.
Ratchet & Clank
As a child of the 90s, I grew up on platformers and especially 3D platformers in the late 90s. I spent many an hour playing the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon series that thrived on the PS1 and fizzled out when that generation ended. And with that genre dead, I moved on to different games and genres on the PS2 so I missed out on Ratchet & Clank which was Insomniac’s follow-up to Spyro.
Ratchet & Clank 2016 is part movie tie-in with 2016’s film of the same name and part remake of the original game in the series. Unfortunately for the franchise’s future, the movie half of R&C’s two-pronged approach to 2016 failed spectacularly with a 17% Rotten Tomatoes score and box office receipts that didn’t cover the movie’s budget. The game, however, was almost the complete inverse with an 85% Metacritic score and ranking among the top-selling PlayStation Store games in its release month.
Even though this might be a remake, Ratchet & Clank is the sort of game that we were missing in gaming. It’s a classic 3D platformer with bright colours, enemy variety and interesting characters. When I write it out that way, those core elements remind me of Spyro. The world design, controls and story all help to differentiate the game from the Spyro trilogy. While people are hoping for a Spyro trilogy remaster in the style of the Crash N. Sane trilogy, I wouldn’t mind the Ratchet & Clank PS2 trilogy done in that style because I want to play more R&C after playing this. It could be nostalgia for the genre but my enjoyment of this game wasn’t based on nostalgia.
To put it simply, Stardew Valley is what happens when someone wants to play Harvest Moon on their PC. It sounds so simple but it has to be more than just the platform that has made Stardew Valley a top game for 2016 when Harvest Moon perpetually languishes in the world of gaming also-rans.
Stardew Valley sounds like a fairly simple farming simulator game but the variety of activities and the number of well-written characters that populate the world set Stardew Valley apart from the Harvest Moon franchise. If people liked Stardew Valley just because of being available on PC, it wouldn’t have taken off on PS4, Xbox One and Switch. There’s depth to the game that I wouldn’t associate with the Harvest Moon games that keeps people playing Stardew Valley for hundreds of hours.
EA might have tried their damnedest to kill Titanfall 2 off by burying it between Battlefield 1 and CoD: Infinite Warfare and giving no promotion other than on Doritos bags and Mountain Dew bottles but damned if Respawn didn’t put out a good game that addressed criticisms of both the first Titanfall and the sequel’s pre-launch open beta.
Sure, as with any triple-A release, Titanfall 2’s initial buzz is giving way to criticism. However, the campaign was a much-needed addition and improvement to the game. It wasn’t anything mindblowing but it was fun for the five or so hours that I put into it and it certainly kept you on your toes by mixing up the enemy types and situations you found yourself in all while not being painfully difficult.
While multiplayer was really the totality of the first Titanfall, it was the core component of T2. While the core components were similar to the original and I found it lacked a little in the permutations of customization, I still liked the different approaches to multiplayer, both in terms of pilot and titan loadout, that you could take so you could make it fun.
The first Titanfall left me a little bored with the uninspired and confused hybrid of multiplayer with the campaign. The strength of T2 is that it separates the two and you get a compelling story with great levels, such as a level that allows you to bounce between the present and past, that wouldn’t be possible in a just multiplayer title.
So even if Titanfall is a relative financial flop and EA decides to sever its relationship with Respawn after this, there is a silver lining. An old LA Times report suggests that Respawn will retain the rights to the Titanfall intellectual property. Even if EA is done with it, there is a chance that Respawn could take it to another publisher and I’d imagine no one would pass on that opportunity. Unless it’s Activision. I doubt Respawn will do business with them given how less than amicable their parting was.
When racing, driving and sports games came up in the year-end awards, F1 2016 got nary a mention. I can understand why. Unlike a Forza Horizon or Project CARS, F1 2016 focused on a very narrow scope of motorsport with the 11 teams, 22 cars and 21 races of Formula One. Doesn’t sound like fun compared to the other games’ hundreds of cars and dozens of tracks.
However, if you’re an F1 fan, F1 2016 is about as close to perfection as Codemasters has gotten. The driving model has improved. The racing is a little better. The weekend features the sort of work that real teams might do during a race meeting. It’s a racing game experience for people who want a game that’s getting ever closer to the real thing.
Unlike Forza Horizon 3, Codemasters still hasn’t figured out multiplayer. It’s honestly more of a detriment to the game’s experience than a benefit which holds it back. If Codies can figure out how to make online fun rather than frustrating, F1 2017 might actually win an award next year.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve reviewed the mobile versions of Motorsport Manager. I reviewed the first one with the PC version ahead of us and reviewed the second mobile game with the PC game in the rear-view mirror.
Motorsport Manager fills a niche that racing fans have been missing since the Grand Prix / F1 Manager games of the late 90s. Not everyone can drive a race car but that doesn’t mean that you can’t win in racing. With an increasing emphasis on tyre strategy and car / aero development in determining race winners in Formula One, Motorsport Manager might be the best Formula 1 racing sim today. It’s kind of sad that the game that lets you drive F1 cars doesn’t simulate the sport as well as the game that puts you on the pit wall rather than in the cockpit.
Compared to the mobile versions of the game, it is far more detailed which makes the actual races feel almost auxiliary to the rest of your work rather than the primary purpose of your efforts. However, that’s almost a perfect simulation of real racing. Everything at the factory and during practice and qualifying leads to a race where the job might be less stressful from lights to flag so long as everything goes to plan. The PC version feels less dependent on luck which makes it better than MMM2 but I also feel less like I can punch with the heavyweights than MMM1.
As a motorsport fan, though, Motorsport Manager is probably the best sim game on the market. The continuing development of add-ons / DLC and the Steam Workshop along with the ability to tweak some of the rules might just make this the most accurate motorsport sim on the market. Poor iRacing. Real drivers use it for practice when they aren’t in the car and it’s still not the best simulator in gaming.
As I often mention with walking simulators, they’re very divisive games in a very divisive genre. When you have an entire genre whose classification as a video game is question by a not insignificant portion of the potential player base, to call the genre divisive is an understatement. Yet here we are in an era when games like Gone Home and Her Story are nominated for and winning major awards while being criticized for not being a game.
And that brings us to Firewatch. I may not have explicitly called it the best of the walking simulators but it is. It combines the best aesthetic of a game in 2016 with two great characters and a compelling relationship between them despite never meeting. Granted, Camp Santo could have just included characters and character development and that would be an instant improvement over most walking simulators because most of the walking simulators that I’ve played fall apart when it comes to characters.
At the risk of spoiling the game, Firewatch often acted as a game about subverting expectations. You expected the relationship between Henry and Delilah to play out a certain way. The plot kept twisting and twisting which kept you enthralled. Sure, it was a linear experience but it wouldn’t have worked as a Telltale story that keeps pulling you away from your narrative to their narrative. By telling their story, their way, Campo Santo told a spectacular and atmospheric tale. What’s it really about? Does it matter?
And, no, I’m not going to bring up the whole PewDiePie thing. Disavowing someone over anti-Semitic “jokes” shouldn’t be controversial nor should it start a massive backlash but in today’s tribal society, it shouldn’t surprise anyone.
The Last Guardian
And here’s the part of the list where I insert a game that I haven’t played but has earned merit to make my to-play list and therefore this list. While I haven’t played The Last Guardian, it’s tops on my 2016 to-play list. Unfortunately, it’s still on my to-play list because 2017 has been an amazing year for video games.
The Last Guardian is a hit and miss game for critics. While it picked up 15 Game of the Year awards (4th most among critics and 5th when including fan awards), it was slammed for performance issues, camera problems and issues controlling Trico, the big animal around which the game is based. However, as a story and relationship between the boy and his giant bird-dog-thing, The Last Guardian shines. As a fan of narratives in games, that makes it sound like it’s up my alley. Well, as long as the ending isn’t too depressing.