The screenshots are not illustrative of the games being discussed until I get to the list proper.
I made a list for you, because it’s 2016 and that’s what people do. Suffice it to say, I won’t be completing any other games this year. Everything is too long to finish today, or something I don’t feel like playing yet. This is quick and dirty, because I have things to do.
Lots of people do these lists in different ways. For my part, I completed 156 games. That’s 52 games actually finished, if those games could be considered finished, 4 expansions, and 100 games I abandoned. This does not include any games I played but have not finished. I’m nearly done with Far Cry Primal, for instance, but I’m not done, so it does not get on the list. Same goes for a ton of other games. EDF 4.1. Forza Horizon 3. Doom (the original). Pikmin 3. Pokemon Sun. You get the idea.
I rate games on an A/B/C/D/F/X rating scale. X is for games that didn’t interest me enough to ever continue. F is for games that I felt a strong, emotional dislike for. D is for poorly-made games. C is average. B is likable. A is a game I feel is exceptional in some way.
Most games I finished this year were in the B category. Homefront: The Revolution, for instance, is a solid Far Cry clone with some great characterization, wonderful levels, and cool weapons. The story is underrated but kinda need, with a few shortcomings. I enjoyed it so much that I completed it in a mere two sittings, which was around 35 hours of playtime. But it had some serious bugs, especially in co-op (which is really cool, by the way!), the story felt a bit incomplete, and, like so many open-world games, it relies a bit too heavily on repeatable systemic minigames instead of bespoke design, so it can feel repetitive, even when the combat itself is top notch.
Forza Horizon 2 took me two years to complete, because I kept it as my rest and relaxation game. It’s a good racer, in a lot of ways, but it lacks that compelling spark of the first game. Driving around an open world seeing a bunch of random Xbox gamertags isn’t as immersive or satisfying as taking down racers who actually talk smack. Forza Horizon 3 is now the game I’m using as my rest and relaxation game. I don’t expect to finish it for two years either, but I’ll play it a few times a week, every week, for those two years.
The biggest surprise for me was my return to Mad Max, this time on the Xbox. It was one of my favorite games of 2015, a game so enjoyable that I dropped The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V to play it. Like Homefront: The Revolution, it’s too focused on the repetitive minigames, which really kills the anticipation and surprise that makes games so fun, though it makes an admirable and partially-successful attempt at keeping things varied. And sometimes, checking off lists is exactly what I want to do.
What surprised me the most about Mad Max, and still does, even now, on my second playthrough (I never do second playthroughs; this is an anomaly for me), is the characterization. There’s depth and personality here; the only person who isn’t interesting is the hooker with a heart of gold, whose name I can never remember. Chumbucket, Gutgash, Pinkeye, Scrotus. All fantastic characters in a fantastic world, rich with history and personality. The environmental storytelling on display in Mad Max is so much better than in any other game. Nobody writes in blood on the walls. But you see things, manmade things, out in the world, and you try to piece together its strange and wonderful history. No game in existence has ever been as good at this as Mad Max is. I think it’s because Mad Max is a racing game, so the world design can be more naturalistic.
This game has character in spades. People, places, things, all of it, rich with character. There’s a whole world here, more believable and real than most games, wrapped around a satisfying but rote core. I haven’t finished my second playthrough yet, but I’ve abandoned everything to play it through again.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was easily the biggest disappointment of the year. It segregates a bunch of systems and basically goes “I have a way for each player to complete this mission.” It ate a 19-hour save and the preorder bonus items. It ends during a dramatic rescue mission with an awkward cut to a cutscene two weeks later. The game doesn’t even begin until something like 20 or 30 minutes after you load it up. The load times are bad. The game clearly wants you to play it as a nonlethal stealth game. The story is an awful mess that goes nowhere and says nothing. The world is not alive. I made a video about it.
Fourteen games received an A rating from me this year. These are the games I will write about now, in the order they were completed.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a game I didn’t want to stop playing, but since it ran out of things to do, I kind of had to. As a stealth game, it’s okay. As a game about using a lot of really cool toys to do really cool things, it’s incredible. I thought the story was pretty neat–the villain is a naturalized American citizen who feels that he’s lost his culture and seeks to destroy America’s through its language.
Then there’s Quiet. Yes, Quiet’s character design is kind of bad, but she was an amazing ally, a literal supersoldier who chose to work with, and ultimately sacrifice herself, for me. Losing her is something that mattered. The only other ally I’ve ever felt sad about losing was Chumbucket, from Mad Max, and my dog from Fable II.
I love that you can play as literally any person you kidnap. I love that you can kidnap people. I spent most of my game playing as some random lady. It made me feel like I was part of an army, instead of just some important figure who, for gameplay reasons, had to do menial tasks. Playing as my own subordinate, working alongside Quiet, feeling like I was earning her respect and the Boss’s, was cool.
Having a helicopter flying in while blasting X Gonna Give It To Ya was incredible.
It was an open world without all the repetitive side content. I mean, there was repetitive side content, but things like weather, loadouts, partners, playable characters, and the massive complexity of Kojima’s mechanics means that things were different each and every time. Metal Gear Solid V is a game of equal parts mastery and unpredictability. You can get good at the systems, but the interrelation of systems can still surprise and delight.
I put a hundred hours into this game.
I wish there was more to do.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is so strange. The original developers of a beloved masterpiece returned, ripped out the one thing that made the game so interesting (full 3D space strategy), and delivered the best real-time strategy game since Homeworld 2. Yeah. This game is better than Starcraft 2 and Company of Heroes and Dawn of War 2, kids. It’s a stunning reminder of why traditional RTS mechanics matter, and it still manages to feel like Homeworld, despite the change in setting.
Anyone familiar with Homeworld’s story knows how it ends, yet Deserts of Kharak remains an effective mystery. The missions are some of my favorite in an RTS. The vehicles and units are enjoyable. There’s a sense of tactile presence that this RTS has that I’ve never seen in a game before.
There’s just something magical about being in that game’s world, something engrossing about completing its missions. Oh, the things I would do to convince you that Deserts of Kharak is one of the most important games you could possibly play. It’s about 12 hours long for the campaign. You need to play this. Please play this.
The Division did not get an A-rating, but it came so close. The lack of a good endgame, the weak combat, and inconsistent writing (anything related to the Cleaners is fantastic, and everything else is vanilla game storytelling) hold it back, but heck, did I have a lot of fun co-opping it with my friends. Some of those missions are beautifully intense, and it’s the most tactical game I’ve played in years. Playing the story, while leveling up the first time, at the highest difficulty was exactly what it needed to be, but the game has never managed that kind of intensity again. That was 50 amazing hours.
Doom is perfect. It is my game of the year. I loved Rage, and I have a special place in my heart for Doom 3, but I felt like id was no longer the studio that made games everyone paid attention to. There was a time when every single new id game was a sea change. Doom feels like a return to that era.
It is a game that realized that players want to play the game, not sit around waiting for things to happen, and it let players know that it wanted the same thing through its clever nonverbal communication of the player character.
Doom is close to perfection.
Could you make it better? Yes. The shotgun needs a bit more range to feel right. The enemy variety doesn’t let you perform as much tactical manipulation as Halo does, which is why Halo is still the king. The whole “lock you in a room and fight all the demons” thing would be bad in a game with lesser combat.
I would uproot my life to make games for id Software. I would give everything I have to have the chance to make games that we could be proud of.
Doom is enthusiasm. Doom is passion. Doom is everything right with video games. Doom is everything I want a game to be. I’ve written more about it for Kotaku, and I’ll write even more about it here on Stomp soon.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is the greatest first person shooter of all time. So of course I played it almost immediately after Doom. I think the greatest video game level of all time is The Silent Cartographer. I think 343i has effectively ruined Halo. It’s too bad that Anniversary actually follows 343i’s trend of ruining Bungie’s great visual design with too much busywork, but it’s a minor quibble, because no game has had a better combat sandbox, a better mix of weapons that break the traditional shooter paradigms (that NEEDLER, friends!), a more iconic enemy than the Elite, or a more brilliant twist than The Flood.
Digimon Cyber Sleuth is a JRPG, and I don’t like JRPGs, but I liked this one a lot. The story’s kind of all over the place, but, like, it’s better than most game stories too? It’s a game about raising and fighting monsters, but there’s this beautiful zen to going around and planning evolutionary routes for your monsters in order to build the perfect team to go take on some of the game’s insanely challenging DLC missions. I liked it, but I’ve always liked Digimon. It’s got some great characters and humor, and it does some neat things with its gameplay, despite being limited so much by the Vita system.
I’ve always loved Digimon, though. I’m not going to get too autobiographical, but I saw a commercial for it one day at a friend’s house, and later, I got to watch it on television. My parents would’ve killed me if they’d known. Watching it helped me learn a lot about myself. It’s what helped me become my own person. I love my mom, but she’s the kind of person who makes food for the nutritional value, listens to music for religious reasons, and reads books for the historical value. She doesn’t really do fun, and she was raising me to be that person, and I knew it wasn’t me but I didn’t know what else there was until I started sneak-watching Digimon. I owe the series a lot.
The game was fun. Grinding is an awful concept that should have never been created, but it’s so easy in Digimon that it doesn’t really matter. In the end, it was a charming, fun game with a cool take on the monster-raising genre. Even if it doesn’t seem like it’s your thing, try it out, and don’t be put off by the slow start.
My 120 hour save should tell you how much fun I had.
Ratchet & Clank is proof that Insomniac knows how to make guns more interesting than anyone else in the video game industry. It’s funny, it’s sharp, it’s varied. This is the kind of game everyone should learn from, because it does everything right. I don’t really know how to write about this game at length. I have tried to. It’s just pure, whole, and good, and one of the best-looking, best-playing video games ever made.
Gears of War 4 shouldn’t be possible. Fourth entries in a game series rarely go well, especially when they change hands to another developer. It helped that the co-creator of the series, Rod Fergusson, was at the reigns. And man, this game… like, where do I even begin? Gears of War 3 perfected the formula. It had the perfect weapon selection, the perfect enemy composition, and some of the best encounter design in video games.
Along comes this game that gives us new protagonists (though it spends too much time alluding to past depth rather than providing present depth, but that’s a side-effect of the ‘it takes place in 24 hours’ narrative), new weapons (the Overkill is one of the best-feeling, coolest weapons I’ve ever seen in a video game), and new enemies.
The encounter design is beautiful and varied, and while I feel the game has toned down some of its enemy/weapon variety (no corpsers, no serapedes, no maulers, no kantus, etc), there are some moments that left me and the friends I played with just being wowed at what happened.
I think Gears 3 is still better. I prefer Horde 3.0’s duration and map variety, but Horde 2.0’s enemies and lack of player classes makes it way more fun. The best gaming memory I have is a 7-hour 50-wave match in Gears of War 3. I really don’t like 4’s class system, because it forces you to start to play in more specific, and therefore more predictable/less interesting ways. The jazz is gone.
But dang, does it have some of the best feedback in a video game. The story is pretty tight, the ending has me asking questions, the jokes were on point, and, wow. Just. I needed this. I needed a game with a strong, linear campaign, great characters, incredible pacing, and flawless feedback. I have no idea how long the game was, just that I played it twice this year, once solo, and once with a friend.
Titanfall 2 is everything.
My favorite moment in the game was when I rushed toward some columns, shotgunning half the enemies, and hitting the bulk with a well-timed grenade. I rushed around the corner, turned right, shotgunned two guys, and then took a hit so hard I almost died. I turned to face my would-be killer, and I would’ve died if not for my robot pal BT, who came THUNDERING around the corner and punched the man into nothingness.
BT is up there with Chumbucket, Quiet, and Dog as one of the companions who actually matters, not just for his fantastic quips, but is awesome gameplay value. Playing with him felt like I was really on this tight, two-person team. Whenever we separated, I felt lonely; our reunions were joyful.
This is the kind of game that requires you to want to play along. Some games require nothing but skill. Other games let you define your character. Respawn, the guys who gave us Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, make games where you choose to embody a specific character, and then you take that journey along with them. Many have tried, but few have actually managed it. Respawn is the only developer capable of making games where the player feels like they are inside a movie. Other games may be more watchable, but nothing feels this great.
And then, of course, there’s the fact that the guns are fantastic, the levels were creative (there’s not a bad or unmemorable level in the game), the fights with pilots feel like proper duels instead of target practice against disposable troops.
It was short, maybe five hours long, but I loved every second.
Do I have complaints? Yeah, of course. The third person transitions are awful. The level design in the multiplayer isn’t as good as the first game. Like Gears 4, the class system is infuriating. I have literally no desire to touch the multiplayer ever again, thanks to these shortcomings. It’s just not happening. So that really sucks. But the campaign is literal perfection, so it’s all good.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare features space combat. Like, actual, bona fide, space combat. Total freedom to X-Wing it up and shoot some baddies. It’s crazy. The combat gear was cool and creative–I loved how the gravity grenades could pull enemies out of cover, which helped improve the pacing of the combat greatly. The optional missions were all a blast, fighting giant robots was cool, the characters were surprisingly great… like… man, this is everything Call of Duty should be. This is the best Call of Duty since… Modern Warfare, maybe?
The multiplayer, I hear, isn’t that good. Nobody I know owns it on PC, so I haven’t got to try Zombies in Spaceland, but it looks solid as heck.
That campaign, though. It nails the sense of being outgunned and outmanned. Space combat is just… like, wow, this might be the best space combat in a video game ever? It nails that arcadey sense of control just so well. Like, I know it’s a first person shooter, and I should talk about the first person shooting, but… I love the space combat SO MUCH.
Narratively, I had some problems with it, but the core story itself is pretty great, and the ending “goodbye” messages are heartbreaking.
This was ambitious, different, and wonderful. It was everything an AAA game should aspire to be. Too bad about the bad PR. I worry that Activision will learn the wrong lessons, and we’ll get more awful refuse like Black Ops 3 (the weakest level design in the series and the worst stories).
I think Infinite Warfare also reveals a need for Call of Duty to actually consider changing up its gameplay formula. Ghosts was so poorly received that, apparently, they weren’t allowed to make Ghosts 2. That game’s bad reception was almost entirely thanks to the abysmal multiplayer (AGAIN! INFINITY WARD’S MP IS THEIR BIGGEST WEAKNESS, AND HAS BEEN SINCE THE RESPAWN GUYS LEFT!) and the awful, embarrassing Xbox reveal (Fish AI!). The campaign itself was a really solid story set in a cool world with some of my favorite gameplay moments ever… but… well, both it and Infinite Warfare have me thinking things need to change.
I dunno, the wallrunning almost never worked for me, and after playing Titanfall 2, that’s kind of disappointing. The space combat was so good not just because it’s literally the best execution of space combat I have ever seen in a video game (full six degrees of freedom flight? amazing), but because it breaks up the flow of the combat.
Plus, there are all these amazing tools, y’know? Gravity grenades are my favorite, and I loved the remote snipers and Riley in the previous game. I just can’t help but wonder what a Call of Duty that takes inspiration from Crysis and Metal Gear Solid would feel like–a game that maintains the cinematic set pieces when it needs, but is more about tools and more interesting AI.
Sorry, this is going weird places. Suffice it to say, Infinite Warfare was never less than fun. I loved every second of it. But getting to fly around had me wanting to do so much more. I think it was about 8 hours long.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Hearts of Stone, Blood & Wine are the best of the best. They deserve to go down as all-time classics. My relationship with The Witcher 3 is complex, and I don’t want to spend too much time on it here. I will say that it took me more than a year to finish in part because I couldn’t bear to let it go.
I’ve never felt so intimate with other people as I did in The Witcher 3. I’ve been playing this series for nearly a decade. What a happy sadness I feel saying goodbye, after a hundred or so hours.
Also, Gwent is the only good minigame ever.
Dishonored 2 will be getting a proper review hopefully this coming week. I’ve been struggling to say everything I want to say, and I don’t want to overlap too much here.
It’s proof that first-person melee combat can be amazing. It’s proof that level design is an art. It’s beautiful and mysterious and even infuriating at times (the zapper in the penultimate level, omg). The heart is one of the best ideas I’ve ever seen in a game. Sometimes I just sat there and soaked in the world, letting it become a part of me.
It’s over? I wish it wasn’t over. I wish there were more new things to do. Right now. Right this second. This is the new game I want to play. Maybe I should return, this time as Emily. More–much more–to come later. The first playthrough was 16 hours. I’ve talked about how I don’t replay games before? Well, this one’s getting a second playthrough, that’s for sure. Wow.
I know some of the reviews say there are technical issues, but, hey, it’s got 70% positive reviews on Steam. I’m one of the many, many people who had no issues in my 16 hours of play. The game itself is wonderful, and everyone ought to play it. More to come soon.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is everything it should be. It’s a faithful improvement on the original game that makes it look absolutely stunning at times. I love it. I’ve always loved it. Nine years hasn’t changed that. You can read more of my thoughts here.
Pokemon Moon is what happens when Gamefreak finally decides to evolve the series. So much has changed that I don’t know where to begin. Is this the best Pokemon game? Is this just one of the finest video games ever made? I… I think it might be. I have like a hundred hours in this thing. The story was kind of cool–and, like, it’s an actual story–the characters were fun, the monsters were awesome, and the elimination of gyms was awesome. Dang. I had a lot of fun, man. If you’ve never played Pokemon before, or haven’t played it in a while, get in on this.
Devil Daggers deserves to be played. It’s an endless game, lasting as long as you can survive without being killed or falling off its one, flat level. It’s a game that makes me feel sick and aggressive and tense and panicked and wonderful. It’s a midnight-black euphoria, a plague full of joy. A beautiful tumor.
Well, that’s the list.
I played other stuff. I played Overwatch a bunch, but it gets a B because it was missing something I can’t define. House of the Dying Sun isn’t finished, so it’s not on the list, but it would be if I had actually completed it. Uncharted 4’s first hour is boring and awkward, an uninteresting game with (so far) weak storytelling and mediocre combat. Planet Coaster is pure joy, but its lack of variation (this problem can be seen in Frontier’s other park games, Screamride and Zoo Tycoon) holds it back. Clockwork Empires disappointed me because it is awful at city building. The Order 1886 taught me everything I know about how to make a bad third person shooter. Adr1ft is the Platonic ideal of the walking sim, a breathtaking game with one of the best moments I’ve personally experienced in a video game. Killzone Shadowfall is so bad, it makes me wonder why Guerilla is still in operation; this is their fourth bad video game.
SUPERHOT thinks it’s cleverer than it is. INSIDE thinks cleverness is in not saying much, and a lot of people have taken its muteness for profundity. Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm helped me grok the Zerg. Quantum Break might be a bigger disappointment than Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
I played a lot of things. I have a lot of thoughts. Not all of them are capable of forming an essay. I wish they were. I wish I could write so much material for you to read. I wish I could earn more with my words.
2016 was a good year with great games.
It was the year I lost my dogs–both of them. It was the year I graduated, six years later than I’d hoped, seven years later than originally planned, in full defiance of an illness that tried to kill me. It was a year when I faced some of the worst depression ever. A year when I made some friends and lost some friends. A year that has brought me so much pain, but a year where I’ve grown so much.
I hope I will survive 2017, and I hope I will have even more wonderful games to keep me afloat during it.