2016 is already coming to a close. The world went through thick and thin, be it an overseas general election that did not end the way we expected to Leonardo DiCaprio finally winning a Oscar after for so long. Even the games industry has its fair share of rocky moments and triumphant epiphanies.
But we’re not here to talk about that. No, we are going to focus on the many games out in 2016. If you haven’t kept up to date with this year’s releases or just needed a quick shopping guide for the holiday season, don’t worry: we’re here to help you out. Here are this year’s best games, separated into two groups: “Blockbusters” are your triple-A high-budget publisher fare from your EAs to 2K Games, while “Indies” are your small doses of entertainment done up by small teams.
Doom (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
What Is It? A first-person shooter that isn’t like a Call of Duty. Featuring no reloading for weapons, arcade style fast-paced action, and lots of demons to kill in a Hell-infested space station.
Why It Rocks: Let’s start this list with a literal bang. Doom’s single-player shooter campaign is explosive, high octane-filled, fun, and has bouts of dark humor in its self-aware narrative. But mostly it’s about how twitchy and fast the game is. With giant arenas for demon-slaying set in a doomed (hah) space station and in the depths of a cool-looking metal Hell itself, you will mow them down with your plethora of weapons. Examples include your super shotgun, your high-end machine gun that can also shoot Iron Man-like missiles, and even chop them to bits with the chainsaw for ammo and health drops. They really don’t make shooters as good as this anymore, do they?
Iconic Moment: When you get the Berserk powerup for the first time and let loose with your punches. The results are anything but pleasant.
What The Critics Say: “It’s that campaign in Doom you absolutely need to see. The majority of Doom’s original creators may have moved on from id by now, but this game still looks, plays, and feels like it was made by a group of people who not only understand Doom but respect and love it.” –Giant Bomb
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)
What Is It? The fourth game in a long-spanning action adventure series starring likeable treasure hunter Nathan Drake. Turns out he had a long-lost brother that he didn’t tell his recent wife Elena about. Uh oh.
Why It Rocks: Nothing comes close to the perfect bookend to a sprawling action adventure series. Seeing Nathan Drake meet up with his long lost brother and bonding with him is fun and all.The more tender character moments between Elena and Nathan Drake also add a tad of respite in the thrill ride of looking for pirate treasure.
The action is also top-notch stuff. No platform and set piece was left unturned and untouched. Unlike in Uncharted 3, these action sequences work hand-in-hand with the narrative and flows smoothly as a result.
Iconic Moment(s): There’s a lot, but we’ll go with (i) Madagascar and (ii) The Ending.
What The Critics Say: “Uncharted 4 is very much worth your time. The best Uncharted yet? Check. Game of the Year contender? Check. A masterpiece? Most definitely. How would Naughty Dog top this? The Last of Us 2? A Crash Bandicoot reboot? Who knows but they have an immense challenge ahead of them.” – Geek Culture
The Last Guardian (PS4)
What Is It? An adventure game from the people behind PS2 classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. You play a boy who has to work together with his new pet friend called Trico to escape their prison set in an unknown ruins.
Why It Rocks: Yes, you can believe an adventure game about a boy and his fantasy griffin beast can make you tear up a bit. Behind all the puzzles and environmental navigation and pillar-jumping lies a mash-up story of an escape and friendship through trying circumstances. All while doing the “show don’t tell” mentality of telling a story; the environments, the ominous armor enemies, and Trico itself tells you all you need to know about what’s good and what’s bad.
Iconic Moment: When Trico figures out an escape route for you as you hang on for dear life. This happens halfway in the game, so watch out for it.
What The Critics Say: “Play The Last Guardian and you will most likely shed a tear or feel an emotional pull throughout the whole adventure. While not the most original tale on earth, its execution and its design is close to being perfect.” –Geek Culture
Overwatch (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
What Is It? A team-based multiplayer shooter featuring a vibrant art style, loads of characters, and a huge marketing campaign.
Why It Rocks: Overwatch is a damn well-made shooter tailored for both new players and pro gamers. The asymmetrical maps and combat are fun whether you’re attacking or defending. The plethora of characters ranging from ninjas to a giant talking ape have unique playing styles. The online gameplay & matchmaking is close to perfect, and there’s just so many pro-level events and seasons for you to rank up if you’re going incredibly competitive.
Simply put, this is the de facto online game of 2016 that will unseat longtime champs like Counterstrike, DOTA, and League of Legends.
What The Critics Say: “Overwatch is an exercise in refined chaos. There are multitudes of layers hiding beneath the hectic surface, and they emerge, one after another, the more you play. This is a shooter that knows how to surprise, one that unfolds at a frantic pace, one that takes a handful of great ideas, and combines them into something spectacular.”-GameSpot
Dishonored 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
What Is It? A first-person stealth game set in a steampunk-esque fantasy world where whale blubber is a prime source of energy. And witchcraft and black magic also exists.
Why It Rocks: The first Dishonored wowed everyone for its art style and how a developer can make a stealth game with multiple choices on tackling missions. The sequel is an extension of all of that, but with a brighter and colorful (yet still dreadful) region called Karnaca, a second playstyle in the form of a grown-up princess Emily Caldwin complete with new tricks and magics, and new levels with more creative ways to approach them. You’ll be amazed at how the Clockwork Mansion and a museum full of witches can become the talk of the town in a first-person stealth game.
What The Critics Say: “Arkane Studios gets yet another notch in their game design belt; Dishonored 2 is this year’s masterclass example of a great stealth game that rewards flexibility and diligence.” – Geek Culture
Final Fantasy XV (PS4, Xbox One)
What Is It? An open-world fantasy RPG where you control four guys who looked like they came out of an X Japan concert
Why It Rocks: It’s the 15th numbered game the long-running Final Fantasy series – that alone is enough for many to buy and play the heck out of it. But really, what makes this entry fun is that it changes up a lot of its past mechanics and tropes. Battles are now in real-time, the world is completely ripe for exploration, and your party members can benefit you outside of combat with their cooking, survival, and photography skills. There’s a story about a Prince Noctis trying to regain his kingdom and amassing royal powers, but you’ll be too busy doing hunting jobs and helping mechanic Cindy out in souping up your ride.
What The Critics Say: “The burden of expectation weighs heavy and in that sense Final Fantasy XV is not a cure-all that will please everyone. At the same time, the game feels like a leap in the right direction. At its end, we aren’t thinking about story inconsistencies or derivative side quests. We’ve found ourselves attached to a group of four friends and we’re thankful for the adventure.” –Easy Allies
Civilization VI (PC)
What Is It? The sixth game in the turn-based strategy series laid out by renowned designer Sid Meier.
Why It Rocks: Because the sequel to the best 4X strategy series around has necessary upgrades while also retaining its key gameplay aspect: to lead your chosen civilization through a peaceful/violent victory. New features that help make this game a standout include districts within Civilizations, Great People who pop up in your cities if you’re big enough who can give one-time boosts, and a nifty card-based global policies system that cater to your own play style. With even new bonuses and additions like the ability to speed up research progress by completing relevant tasks, Civilization VI proves that even a long-standing 4X strategy game can learn a lot newer tricks.
Standout Moment: When you realize that you have access to bigger and better nukes midway through the game. Or if you were hardworking enough to read up on the super-long tech tree.
What The Critics Say: “The updated religion system, the new Eurekas and Inspirations, and all the other additions and revisions round off what I consider to be an excellent update to the series. Will Civilization VI pick up its own set of awards? You bet it will.” – GameAxis
Street Fighter V (PS4)
What Is It? The fifth iteration of the renowned 1-on-1 fighting game that broke new ground in the 90s until it couldn’t count past 2 at one point. Features lots of playstyles and eSports goodness.
Why It Rocks: Because Capcom is doing its darndest to make its “one Street Fighter forever” plan work with new seasons, new characters, and fresh updates. The eSports scene itself is very hype-worthy, so there’s no way to ignore that.
True, it had a slow and incomplete start most likely due to the game made and pushed out just for this year’s Evolution Tournament. As it stands right now, the game does feel complete with a story mode that ties up loose ends of the Street Fighter story and new playstyles in the form of Ibuki (rushdown & bombs) and Urien (technical). And we have to confess: the V-Trigger and V-Skill system makes each character stand out a lot more than usual.
Standout Moment: Finally mastering your character by doing a simple combo, then a V-Trigger cancel to open up big damage and mix-up opportunities.
What The Critics Say: “Street Fighter 5 is deep, endlessly fun, and immensely inviting, but local competitive play is currently the primary way to enjoy it.” –GamesRadar+
The King of Fighters XIV (PS4)
What Is It? The 14th game in the legendary 3-on-3 fighting game series that can go toe-to-toe with Street Fighter. It also features lots of play styles and potential eSports goodness.
Why It Rocks: Because it’s a worthy competitor to Capcom’s crown jewel. KOF XIV brings in a 50-plus roster, a simple-yet-hard-to-master fighting mechanic that owes a lot to KOF ‘98, and it feels and plays like a dream. But mostly that huge roster will keep you busy and figuring out great 3-person team combinations.
True, it does look like a low-grade PS3 game, but everything else from its Mission and Trial modes to even its elaborate multiplayer online modes make up for that. Besides, SNK will be updating the game with more content and even graphical patches in the future.
Standout Moment: When you see mid-boss Antonov fight for the first time and hear his anthem.
What The Critics Say: “With 50 fighters (17 of whom are all-new), 19 stages, and a host of gameplay modes, SNK is coming out swinging with King of Fighters XIV. […] As the beginning for a whole new era of SNK, King of Fighters XIV is a win.” –US Gamer
Titanfall 2 (PC, Xbox One, PS4)
What Is It? A shooter where you’re an agile wall-running soldier called a Pilot and also pilots a giant mech called a Titan. It’s set in a distant future where wars are waged in space and on different planets with these Pilots and Titans.
Why It Rocks: The multiplayer of Titanfall 2 is frenetic, chaotic, and a mess-load of fun with all these expanded modes and grouping system. New Titans like the Ronin help introduce new high risk, high rewards playstyles while new gear like the grappling hook can help Pilots in a pinch.
But where Titanfall 2 rises to the occasion best is its short-but-so-sweet single player campaign. There are just so many great level design moments and action beats that supercede the typical “man befriends AI machine in the thick of battle” storyline.
Standout Moment: When you get to the “Effects and Cause” mission. It’s mind-blowing to say the least.
What The Critics Say: “With bolstered progression, customization, variety, and a fleshed-out story, Respawn has made good on its original vision with Titanfall 2. And bottom line, it’s just damn fun to play.”–IGN
VA-11 Hall-A (PC)
What Is It? A visual novel set in a cyberpunk future. You serve drinks to customers and hear their stories.
Why It Rocks: VA-11 Hall-A offers a simple premise and even more simple gameplay -you mix drinks and listen in to conversations – but it’s all of the tidbits and tales and overarching storyline played out in 90s PC visual novel aesthetics that make the experience sensational. You get to hear what journalists in this cyber-utopia have to say about the general state of things, and even bond with a cat-eared rich girl and a loli sex robot over their favorite drinks.
What Critics Say:
“[VA-11 Hall-A] made an even smarter decision to pick a setting that most would fill with combat, megalomaniacs, and the usual Heroic Journey guff, and instead populate it with interesting people and that thing we do best but talk about least: alcohol. I mean, friendship.”–Rock Paper Shotgun
Masquerada: Of Songs & Shadow (PC)
What Is It? An isometric story-focused RPG set in a Venice-inspired fantasy world of Ombre where magic masks determine a person’s status and class in the city.
Why It Rocks: Would you like a personal take of the Baldur’s Gate series? Then you might want to try out this title from Witching Hour Studio. You control a detective named Cicero as he gets to the bottom of a politically-charged kidnapping in the fictional city of Ombre.
The sometimes-messy-unless-you-pause-a-lot combat isn’t enough to hinder our enjoyment of this adventure in a bold new universe we want to see more of. The boss fights here are great and your mask skills and elemental spells are practical and flashy enough to warrant repeated casting. It cuts off the excess fat of most RPG experiences and goes for storyline gold. And of course, the stellar voice acting from Matthew Mercer and Jennifer Hale (among others) help carry this game’s narrative across far and beyond other indie RPGs.
Iconic Moment: When a party member comes out of the closet, followed by the aftermath.
What Critics Said: “The story of Masquerada isn’t owned by the player; they are an audience, a silent passenger, following along as the ensemble cast bickers and discusses, flirts and jokes, struggling through each battle. This is certainly a D&D campaign, inspired in the same manner as its predecessors, but you are only meant to participate in the most ancillary means, to ensure the party’s survival so they can hear more diatribes and quiet asides.” – VICE
Firewatch (PC, PS4)
What Is It? A walking simulator of sorts set in a forest reserve where you have to uncover a bunch of strange happenings tied to a conspiracy.
Why It Rocks: While its art style is a sight to behold, it’s the relationship between the player character Henry and his supervisor Delilah that sells it. Everything’s all done with walkie talkie so you’ll only hear Delilah. But man, the voice acting is convincing and is boat-loaded with emotion and heart without coming off as hammy. The exploration bits too are fun, but the narrative and character development bits are what make Firewatch memorable.
What The Critics Say:
“Firewatch is among the very best of the first-person narrative genre, and it reminds us what video game storytelling is capable of in the right hands. It’s a game I can see coming back to every year or two just to revisit its beautiful sights and memorable characters – just like a good book.”–IGN
Furi (PS4, PC, Xbox One)
What Is It? An action game with lots of boss fights and bullet hell dodging. More fun than it actually sounds. Also difficult as heck.
Why It Rocks: Because they don’t make games as hard as they used to. Furi is a great throwback to the days when you had more boss rush fights than actual stages. The controls are slick, the dodge function is purposely tailored so that you don’t abuse it, and each fight is memorable. You have bosses who turn invisible, generate forcefields when appropriate, or even fart out a bullet hell sequence or two when it feels like it. Recommended for twitch-game fans.
Iconic Moment: The appropriate electronica music thub-thumping while you’re trying to survive. Pure arcade bliss.
What The Critics Say: “Furi lures you in with a cool lead character and a powerful soundtrack–qualities that are easy to appreciate–but its the journey to become a better fighter that defines the experience.” –GameSpot
Hyper Light Drifter (PC, PS4)
What Is It? An adventure game with 16-bit graphics, a dystopian background, and insane action.
Why It Rocks: No game is as somber, as beautiful, and as mysterious as Hyper Light Drifter. From its 16-bit art style, moody Disasterpiece-composed soundtrack, and brutal-yet-exhilarating gameplay and combat, this adventure is a cure for the common easy games out there. There’s a moody and sombre story to be discovered within hours of visiting treacherous ruins, fighting monsters and big bad bosses, and solving a jumping puzzle or two.
It also receives props for being one of the very few Kickstarter projects that saw fruition and lived up to expectations even after a delay or so. Wish most games this year could do that.
Iconic Moment: When you killed your first boss after much dying and practice. It’s a good feeling, eh?
What The Critics Say: “Hyper Light Drifter replaces traditional narrative structures with moods, but punctuates those contemplative, quiet moments with constant scenes of breakneck, pitch-perfect action. Getting those two elements to not only coexist but thrive together is a needle that Hyper Light Drifter confidently threads.” – Polygon
Stardew Valley (PC)
What Is It? Mix a farming simulation game like Harvest Moon with 2016 conventions, features, and tropes.
Why It Rocks: Because it plays on your tendencies to want to improve and cultivate your farm and befriend the denizens in Stardew Valley. And yes, the game goes beyond mere farming: you talk to your friends in the village, you romance one of them, you help them out in predicaments, and you bond with them. There’s just a fantabulous amount of content for you to plow (hah) through; you are going to spend a minimum of 70 hours farming and doing mundane chores while also faffing about and doing odd jobs in Stardew Valley. And because of its charms and bright aesthetics, you won’t feel bored or obligated to do so.
Iconic Moments: When you realize that it’s 3am and you are still pressing on to improve the town and do more harvesting and plant-watering.
What The Critics Say: “My time with this game has only become more and more rewarding as I go on, and there’s still no end in sight. Like with any game, I’ll eventually set it down and move on, but I have no doubt that I will have strong, happy memories of Stardew Valley for years to come.” – Giant Bomb