2016 was a year of adjustment. I was adjusting to a new family dynamic, and trying to work out the best solutions to a variety of problems I had never encountered before due to now being a dad for the first full year.
The first half saw me have to give up writing for a time, as I didn’t have the energy or the time to play games effectively for the site I was working for, while also going away a lot for my main job. The second half had me figure something’s out, and start to plan around my now much more limited spare time.
In all this, however, I did manage to play a few games. While I did play more than eight, a couple fell a bit flat, so rather than contradict the reviews I had written in the interests of giving an actual top ten list, here are the eight games I felt were the ones that made 2016 a great year for the hobby.
1.That Dragon, Cancer
This was one of the first games I reviewed/played this year, and the fact that it shows up as my number 1 pick says a lot about how it has stuck with me.
Every time I thought about games I have played over the year, my mind always wandered back to the often surreal, deeply personal and emotionally affecting That Dragon, Cancer. The story of a four year olds battle against the eponymous disease, told from his parents eyes, will stick with me for years to come. The emotional barrage entailed, especially for a new parent, is relentless and all I wanted to do after finishing it was hug my daughter.
One scene in particular had me almost in tears, and ask my wife if you want to know how often that happens. A haunting game that shows the type of stories the medium can tell, this is one that will hit you hard and a leave a permanent mark.
My number 2 pick has no right to be as good as it is. Doom 3, frankly, lowered everyone’s expectations. It fundamentally altered what Doom was, taking on a more survival horror slant that not everyone liked. I enjoyed it, but freely admit it was a different take on what the series is.
Doom 2016 scraps all that and reverts back to what made the original games so good. It’s blazingly fast, revels in gore and blood, has a metal soundtrack Iron Maiden would be proud of and actually provides an engagingly goofy story. The multiplayer and snap map features aren’t great, but the campaign is everything you want out of a Doom game.
I don’t have a lot of time to play multiplayer games these days, and I especially don’t have many friends that play them, but with Titanfall 2, I can play with randoms and feel great afterwards.
The feel of the game is pitch perfect, and battles are intense without being overwhelming. Add to this a campaign that introduces good characters, builds on the universe and is a hell of a lot of fun, with some fantastic levels and sequences thrown in, and Titanfall 2 is a brilliant package.
This game made me want to go and spend a lonely summer in a watch tower in Wyoming. The slightly cartoon visuals take nothing away from the stunning vista’s Campo Santo crafted as the background to a personal and well written story.
Playing as Henry, only communicating with fellow ranger Delilah via radio, it effectively feels like you're isolated, while at the same time developing a relationship that could become slightly more than friendship. Nothing fantastical is required, as the mystery that unravels as you progress delivers a compelling reason to keep going.
5.Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
As the final (potentially) chapter in the Uncharted franchise, A Thief's End is a fitting swan song. The action is as top notch as ever, Naughty Dog have finally listened and not included any supernatural elements, and they have taken all the things they learned from The Last of Us and applied it to Nathan Drake.
In that lesson, Uncharted has benefited the most. The story is stunning, with well realized characters that interact in a believable fashion. Nate’s relationship with his wife Elena, his restlessness with life they have built and the return of his brother are portrayed with the deft touch only Naughty Dog can muster.
6.Dark Souls III
I came to the souls games very late, starting with the re-release of Dark Souls II on PS4. The third game is an evolution that has taken inspiration from spinoff Bloodborne, giving a faster spin on the already great gameplay.
That's not to say that this has suddenly become Devil May Cry, you will still die, brutally and often, unless you proceed carefully and plan your battles well. As always there are some stunning bosses, and the atmosphere almost seeps out of the screen. Since all the souls games are self contained, Dark Souls III is a great place to start your adventure if you haven’t ever played.
7.Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4
This is a game I wouldn’t normally play, and I went into it thinking it wouldn’t be particularly great. How wrong I was. The story mode is a spectacle of nonsensical Anime, featuring giant multi-tailed foxes, ninja’s with the ability to clone themselves and world destroying fireballs.
It assaults your senses with color, light and sound, leaving you bewildered as to what the hell just happened and presenting cut scenes that rival Metal Gear Solid in terms of length and total confusion, and is all the better for it. This was a genuine surprise in 2016 and while I still couldn’t tell you what happened in the story other than “They Won!”, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Naruto and co.
8.Gears of War 4
More than a few classic franchises were revitalized in 2016, but Gears of War 4 was one of the bigger names. Unfortunately it had mixed results. The core action is still brilliant, and it took less than five minutes for me to feel right at home with the new generation of gears.
The problem is that they brought back the locust. The opening few levels had you fighting the current COG government and their robotic DB’s as outsiders, but soon everything falls back to old ways, leaving a much more compelling and interesting story in a grave. That, coupled with the ‘Hey this is a trilogy!!!’ ending, left a bitter taste in my mouth. Using the Lancer to chainsaw through bad guys is still just as fun and gory as ever though, and that was more than enough to earn it a spot on my list.
There you have it, my top eight games of 2016. If you haven’t played any that sound interesting, do so and let's have a chat about them, see if you agree with me!