2016 was a fascinating year in gaming. it was exciting, unpredictable, and filled with countless up and downs. There were amazing indie titles like Oxenfree, Firewatch, Inside and The Witness. It was perhaps the greatest year ever for 1st person shooters with the likes of Titanfall 2, DOOM, Call of Duty: Infnite Warfare, Overwatch and Battlefield 1. Mario went mobile, Pokémon took the world by storm, and both The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV actually saw release. There were probably more great games released this year than almost any other year in recent memory, but somehow we managed to put together a list of our favorites. Enjoy!
3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Nobody does blockbusters like Naughty Dog. They are the masters of epic action sequences and eye-popping set pieces. And while the final chapter of Nathan Drake’s story definitely delivers those, for the first time the action takes a back seat to the personal drama. New director Neil Druckmann (The Last of Us) definitely left his mark by bringing a much-needed humanity to the series. The relationship between Nate and Elena felt so real and was performed so well that it added an extra layer to the adventure that elevated this entry above and beyond the first three games. Plus…. it’s a pretty rad pirate story too.
2. The Last Guardian
The long-delayed (and one time cancelled) 3rd game from Team Ico managed to do the nearly impossible. It not only met, but exceeded years of expectations. Yes, the camera sucks. Yes, the controls can be frustrating. But it never bothered me enough to detract from what is otherwise a completely amazing experience. The relationship between the boy and Trico is masterfully done, and the world is beautiful and filled with fun puzzles. My family played through this game together and my kids were heavily invested in the story. They laughed, cried, and cheered throughout the game as they fell in love with Trico. It’s an absolute classic that is capped off with one of my favorite endings of a game in years.
From the moment I experienced the surprising and unique prologue in Firewatch, I knew I was in for something special. Video games have told emotional, heartfelt stories before, but never have they told a more “mature” story than this one. It tackles themes of responsibility and commitment that are so well done that they had me looking deep into myself to think about what I would do in a similar situation. The music is subtle but effective and the visual style drives home the feeling of isolation that’s felt throughout the game. Rich Summer & Cissy Jones also deliver two of the best voice performances I’ve ever heard in a game. It can be peaceful and serine one moment, and nerve wracking and terrifying the next. And at the end it leaves you with a powerful message that has stayed with me for months.
3. Pokémon Go
No video game this year left more of an impression on the world at large than this Summer’s Pokémon Go. While not a polished or particularly deep video game, I chose to acknowledge Pokémon Go because it provided an experience that transcended the screen and brought so many great moments to so many gamers and non-gamers alike. The time I had with Pokémon Go was so special because it was the rarest of games that I could enjoy together with my wife, who is not a gamer in the least. But Pokémon Go’s accessibility, simplicity and “get out there” gameplay entices even the non-gamer to have fun exploring the world with a friend. There is no denying the specialness of Pokémon Go.
2. Final Fantasy XV
I held my breath for the arrival of Final Fantasy XV. Over a decade in development limbo, FFXV was perhaps the biggest wildcard in the release schedule of 2016. My love for this franchise was red hot in the 90s. There was simply nothing better than a Square RPG when I was growing up. The last 4 installments of Final Fantasy however had severely disappointed me, and with the long and ugly history of FFXVs development it would have made it easy for me to write off these games for good. But I waited and I hoped for the best, and man was I pleasantly surprised by the results. With charming lead characters, exhilarating and deep combat systems, and a world begging to be explored behind the wheel of the Regalia; FFXV breaks many series conventions and sidesteps expectations to deliver a wonderful Final Fantasy for longtime fans and newcomers.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
The crowning video game achievement of 2016 is Uncharted 4. There is no denying the polish and mastery of Naughty Dog video games. We’ve become accustomed to their graphical prowess, intuitive controls and masterful storytelling. None of this is new or unexpected in this fourth adventure of Nathan Drake. But Uncharted 4 elevates every element to the highest degree. The stakes are more personal, the journey more exciting, and the characters more real. But for me, the reason Uncharted 4 hits the highest of marks is because it is the definition of fun. From open to close I had the greatest time playing this game. It is a rare treat to play a game that never lags, never hits a lull, never makes you frustrated or bored and never stops firing on all cylinders. Uncharted 4 hits its stride and only gets better and better until the end. It is not only my favorite video game of 2016, but one of my favorite games of all time.