Top Ten Games of 2016

Last year I wrote a floating list of games I liked without ordering it. It was a cop-out; I was weak.
This year I wrote a top ten list that contains 13 titles. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

factorioHonorable Mention – Best Early Access Game: Factorio (Wube Software LTD.)

Factorio is a survival game. You start like every other survival game, by mining coal and powering a furnace. Then you build a driller and a robotic arm to the process of mining coal and feeding it into the furnace.  Then you build a conveyer belt to move other materials into the furnace, making a machine that will easily craft basic goods whenever you need. Then you build a robot that builds 100s of those machines. Then you build a train that shuttles in materials from the other side of the map because you’ve completely decimated your local resources with robots that build other robots.

Factorio is fantastic, and the only reason that it’s not included in my top ten is because it’s not finished yet. I’m looking forward to building more robots that will build the robots that build the materials to make more robots with.

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Honorable Mention – Best VR Experience: Tilt Brush (Google)

VR Hardware is here, but the software is still some ways off. This has been a year of huge innovation and experimentation with the platform, with some successes and many failures. “Tilt Brush” is one of those successes, purely by being a meditative art creation tool that focuses interaction within the digital space rather than the simple shock-factor of “hey look it’s like you’re really there.”

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Honorable Mention – Didn’t Quite Make It: Quadrilateral Cowboy (Blendo Games)

Due to a last-minute shake up, Quadrilateral Cowboy unfortunately fell from the tenth place this year. I liked Quadrilateral Cowboy quite a bit, but it’s worth noting that I came within the last two puzzles before dropping it. With a seemingly open-ended solution mechanic involving writing lines of code to accomplish an objective, many of the environments only lend to a single solution making most of the puzzles disappointingly easy. However,  Blendo Games’ lo-fi world building is charming as ever and Quadrilateral Cowboy still exists as a great way to introduce people to the basics of code-writing.

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  1. Ratchet and Clank (Insomniac Games)

I’m most impressed with Ratchet and Clank on a technical level. Even in the heat of its most chaotic combat, Ratchet and Clank never continues to look damn fantastic. As a newcomer to the Ratchet and Clank series (I was always more of a “Jak and Daxter” person), I enjoyed this enough to immediately start a second playthrough, and nearly earn the Platinum trophy for this Gen.

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  1. Let it Die (Grasshopper Manufacture)

Calling “Let it Die” a F2P Dark Souls clone is a bit disingenuous. Sure, it shares quite a few similarities with the stamina-based combat, return-to-last-death resource mechanics and winding/interconnected level structure. What Let it Die brings however is an arcade-inspired run-based dungeon crawler that is far better than it has any right to be. The weapons are unique and fun and the asynchronous multiplayer encourages competitive play without falling short due to network limitations (the latter of which solves Dark Souls frustrating and exploitive PvP problems).  On top of that, Let it Die fully features that insane Japanese punk-rock style that could only come courtesy of Suda51.

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  1. SUPERHOT (SUPERHOT Team)

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  1. Hitman (IO Interactive)

Hitman isn’t perfect. It’s only got 6 “full” maps, It’s rather janky in combat, and it’s Online-Only functionality was overly restrictive to offline players  (note: this was only recently patched out, but still a major factor through most of the year). Even with these caveats, Hitman nails exactly what made Blood Money so good. It’s a fantastic murder-sandbox-simulator, and one of the few games that makes getting caught and escaping genuinely fun, especially during the high stake “Elusive Target” challenges.  The episodic structure is a great fit for a game such as this, and IO continued support has kept this game high on my list for most of this year.

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  1. Oxenfree (Night School Studio)

Oxenfree’s teen drama and supernatural horror neatly fit within its clear influences of Stephen Spielberg classics such as Close Encounters and Poltergeist. There’s a lot of great moments here, supported by a smart dialogue system that allows for full conversations while exploring around the environment. This isn’t a scary game by any means, but the sympathy that’s earned by the characters early on by the excellent writing makes several of the moments genially creepy and unnerving. It’s my favorite narrative of this year.

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  1. Picross 3D: Round 2 (HAL Laboratory)

2016 will be defined by me as the year I discovered Picross. Starting late last year with Nintendo’s fermium “Pokémon Picross,” I worked through most of the numbered Picross games, ultimately ending on Picross 3D: Round 2 as it was released this September. It quickly became a nightly tradition for me, and after nearly 60 I’m still finding myself unlocking new puzzles to complete. Round 2 is huge, and the new multi-colored solution mechanic adds a challenging new mechanic to this rather additciting casual game.

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  1. Thumper (Drool)

Thumper’s tagline of “Rhythm Violence” is the most accurate way to describe it. It’s merciless and brutal, yet wonderfully gratifying every time a turn is hit perfectly. It’s completely playable on a screen, yet I found it far more impressive once I launched it in VR. In fact, it’s the only VR experience I’d recommend that is controller-focused. The exhilarating speed and impact of hitting the beats is dramatically increased once it fills around you. By far, it’s one of my favorite rhythm games this decade, much less this year.

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  1. DOOM (id Software)

I expected nothing from DOOM. After the lackluster RAGE, and the abysmal multiplayer test of DOOM,  it seemed likely that id Software’s forever delayed follow up to Doom 3 would fall flat. Within the first 10 minutes of DOOM’s campaign, it was clear how wrong we were. DOOM managed to capture the spirt of id’s original MS-DOS shooter while dressing it up for 2016. DOOM’s fast paced combat and ridiculously preposterous narrative keep its momentum through the entire campaign. It’s the most fun I’ve had with an FPS this year, with one exception…

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  1. Titanfall 2 (Respawn Entertainment)

Titanfall 2 is what got me to download Origin. Even after that, I bought Titanfall 2 a second time on Xbox so I could play it with friends. There’s something beautifully chaotic about Titanfall’s multiplayer as titans crash down upon groups of unsuspecting AI while Pilots dodge across walls and rooftops. The satisfaction of Titanfall’s guns, titan gameplay, and parkour-infused combat overpowered any anger I’d accrue by doing poorly or losing a match. It’s just too much god damn fun. On top of that, Titanfall 2’s single player campaign is well crafted, featuring lots of unique scenarios with new mechanics that play to the strengths of Titanfall 2’s combat and movement, often in surprising ways.

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  1. The Witness (Thekla, Inc.)

I wish I could clear The Witness form my mind. I’d give up that knowledge, the countless hours looking over puzzles, writing notes, and constructing miniature copies it’s puzzles out of cardstock so I could solve the most difficult ones without even being present in the game. I wish I could remove all that from my memory, just so I can play The Witness all over again, with no expectations and every wondrous moment relived. I honestly can’t think of any other game I could say that about.

The Witness is a game about maze puzzles. Crucially, every panel, every location of said panel, every seemingly meaningless set dressing, has something to do with maze puzzles. The small island where The Witness takes pace is meticulously crafted to teach the mechanics of every puzzle without ever saying a word, letting you tackle every puzzle at your own pace. Benefiting that, The Witness’s colorful landscape is absolutely breathtaking. Every time I launched the game, I found myself wandering around for several minutes before attempting to dig further into the next session, simply out of pure delight in existing in this space.

For a year with fantastic AAA titles, The Witness stands as one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had with a game.

Its beauty made me cry. I can’t explain this, you’d have to experience it for yourself.

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