Whether you’re of the camp that viewed the entirety of 2016 was one massive dumpster fire or not, this was a pretty fantastic year for video games. From series reboots to concluding beloved franchises, I found deliberating what my game of the year was to be a more burdensome process compared to years past. So I decided I would compile a list of some of the best games I played this year, and while not all were technically in the running for GOTY, all were enjoyable experiences that I’d recommend to you.

Unless you aren’t into fun, which admittedly would be pretty weird…Weirdo. So before (or after, I can’t tell you what to do) you peruse this list why not check out my 2016 Game of the Year video feature. 

As always, Enjoy.

2016 GOTY Runner Up: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)

I never cared about Uncharted’s story until Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Previously , I had immensely enjoyed the previous three chapters in the Uncharted series, but I never felt very invested in the plot. Probably because I was too focused on killing nazis or monsters or the types of things Indian Jones probably fought at one point or another. But A Thief’s End made me care. Naughty Dog smartly decided to focus on examining Drake’s relationships and how living an Indian Jones esc lifestyle affects those in his life.

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This brought these characters to life in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Deviling deeper into Drake’s past and making the player experience key moments in his life that lead to him becoming Nathan Drake provides one of the best opening hours of any game I played this year. This paired with the seamless transitions from cutscenes to gameplay , made for a level of immersion that I’m unused to in video games. The pacing and the plot of the games first three hours made me feel like I was living in a big budget adventure movie, as I was watching and participating through flashbacks , moments later being thrust back in the current plot of Uncharted 4. Sure, at the end of the day its still a plot very similar to past Uncharted games, but the emphasis on character relationships made this a more personable Uncharted experience.

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Helping this immersion is Uncharted 4’s masterful graphical fidelity. This is hands down one of the best looking games to ever be released on the Playstation 4, and I’ll go so far as to say the best looking game I have ever played. At times I found myself so captivated by it’s graphics that I’d find myself staring at the screen for 5-10 seconds memorized by it’s graphical fidelity. As far as pushing a console to it’s absolute limits, Naughty Dog have proven to be leaps ahead of the competition in regards to squeezing ever last pixel and processing power out of the Playstation 4. This is a game that every person with a Playstation 4 needs to play, regardless if they’ve played previous games in the series. Uncharted 4 quickly catches the player up on past events, and while players unfamiliar with past Uncharteds may not pick up on all the references and easter eggs, they will never feel lost or confused as to the main story arch. 

Had a certain Texas based video game developer delayed their reboot of a famed first person shooter franchise until 2017 , Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, would absolutely be my game of the year.

Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

Until this console generation, I had exclusively been an xbox guy so I had never experienced Playstation classics such as 2002’s Ratchet & Clank. That is until this year’s HD re-imagining of it, and it turns out that I was actually missing one of the most uniquely original, and charming platformer action shooters ever made.

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Ratchet & Clank is a perfect example of a classic game whose gameplay has withstood the test of time, as this re-imagining has improved graphics, levels, weapons, but has left kept the gameplay faithful to it’s roots. Its gameplay is simplistic yet satisfying as the player dismembers robots and alien life forms across a number of unique and diverse planets, using an equally unique and diverse array of weapons. Memorable weapons include the Sheepinator (turn your enemies into sheep) and the Groovitron (a disco ball that renders enemies helpless to resist the urge to get , well, groovy) are not only hilarious to use but serve a strategic purpose in combat, instead of just feeling gimmicky. I didn’t expect to enjoy Ratchet & Clank half as much as I did, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that Insomniac Games hadn’t re-imaged what made the original so groundbreaking and fun.

Dishonored 2  (PC, PS4, XBO)

I’ll be honest, I didn’t love the original Dishonored. I enjoyed the freedom that its gameplay provided, essentially allowing  players to tackle assassinations in any manner they’d like, but from a story standpoint, I never cared. I never felt connected to the characters or particularly cared about what they had to say. And this is more or less my experience with Dishonored 2, but somethings different this time around. I am not finding myself engaged in the story or the games main characters ,but the world of Dishonored 2 feels more engrossing. Little details from notes found in abandoned bloodfly infested apartments gives insight into the lives of NPC’s inhabiting the world. This was done to a degree in the original, but it seems to be more prevalent in Dishonored 2, something that makes the various cities you will visit be places that you actually want to explore. 3064778-combat_01_web

As for the gameplay, the player still has the same amount of freedom in how they prefer to approach missions and the gameplay feels more refined this time around, which is great. The player has similar weapons and abilities at Corvo’s disposal, so those who have played the original Dishonored should have no problem getting back into the swing of things. There is also the option to play as Corvo’s daughter, Emily, but I have yet to experiment with her character, but I can appreciate the inclusion of another character whose playstyle differs from that of Corvo’s. Now, I have only put about five hours into Dishonored 2, far too little time to pass any sort of definitive judgment, but so far, I am really enjoying it. Granted I haven’t finished it, but I think it’s fair to say that if you enjoyed the original Dishonored you will feel right at home with it’s sequel. There are no groundbreaking evolutions within the Dishonored formula, but the overall experience has been made tighter and more concise to its predecessor.

Batman: The Telltale Series (PC, PS4, XBO, ios)

I’ll start by saying that Batman: The Telltale Series is a monumental technical failure. Honestly, the game runs like shit and it’s inexcusable considering it’s neither graphically demanding nor a technical marvel 

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(technical marvel being somethinglike 2004’s Crysis). There’s absolutely no excuse for the amount of slow down, crashing, and texture pop in, and moving forward Telltale needs to seriously considering doing away with their current engine, in favor of one that is somewhat competent. Now, moving on from that. Telltale has given us one of the best new Batman video game narratives in recent memory. This unique take on the Batman universe, changing various characters origin and creating brand new lore for Gotham City and the Dark Knight is as refreshing as it feels natural.  But by far the most empowering factor in Telltales Batman is that it gives the player the choices to play the Batman they want to play as. Will you have Batman break a villains arm during an interrogation or leave him unscathed for the police to deal with him? Player choice is at the core of all Telltales games, but in Batman I found the impact of those decisions to be not only more noticeable but also encourage a second play through. Not every episode in this first season was a home run, but the overall story arc of the five episodes is a memorable Batman story and by far, one of the strongest games in Telltales episodic portfolio.

Clash Royale (ios)

I spent an asinine amount of time playing Clash Royale. It kind of became a problem. Clash Royale captivated me with it’s surprising amount of strategic depth and speedy pick up and play nature. The games quick match lengths and paired with the card collectability of Pokemon, made for an addictive experience that found me staring at my phone far more often than I’d care to admit. The only reason I uninstalled the app was that after spending 3 months with the game I had a point where  my cards couldn’t get stronger without spending money or wasting another 30 hours grinding for specific cards. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there are many free to play mobile games that can claim to be consistently fun for several months at a time. 

Reigns (ios, Android, Pc)

Game of thrones meets tinder. That’s all you need to know. Actually, another thing,. It’s only $3 on ios, android, and PC. Take a day off from McDonalds or Red Box or 40 oz’s and buy Reigns instead.

 

Dud of the Year: No Man’s Sky (PC, PS4, XBO)

Hello Games is only partially responsible for the disappointment that was No Man’s Sky. Numerous promises were made as to certain features that would be included in the game that simply were not there on launch. That’s their shortcoming, and to be fair, it’s evident that this indie studio got caught up in the undeserved hype that this game was receiving from the media. Some might interpret that as nefarious intentions by Hello Games, but I’d chalk it up naivety. Personally, I think that the media is more to blame for shining the spotlight on a game that made grandiose promises from a small indie studio that was promising an experience that would rival AAA experiences. Don’t get me wrong, Hello Games is compromised of very talented individuals, but the idea that a team of 16 developers would be able to provide an experience that would include features found typically in games published by industry titans is a preposterous notion. 

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Did you enjoy exploring this outpost? Good because their’s a handful of carbon copies on every planet.

But, media hype and broken promises aside, the game itself simply was not fun to play. Initially I was taken aback by the vastness of the planets and giving the player the ability to explore the galaxy at their own pace was very empowering. Was empowering. this empowerment quickly leads to announce after playing for more than a handful of hours, once I realized that there are no major distinguishing features or locals on any of the planets. Other than a different environmental color palette, planets turned out to be more of less the same. There were similar creatures, environments, resources , and landmarks to discover.

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See that planet in the distance? Prolly same as this one.

Ah, landmarks, let’s discuss these for a moment. There are only about four or five unique types of landmarks present on planets, usually an obelisk, alien settlement, or an abandoned outpost of some sort.  Here the player is likely to find some type of equipment upgrade, an alien to communicate with, or earning a rare resource. And that’s it. No Man’s Sky is basically the player procuring and crafting new and improved items but with no compelling end goal. Now, No Man’s Sky was never meant to be the next great space opera, ala Mass Effect, BUT I would argue then that these types of gameplay elements should never have been included in the game to begin with. If Hello Games wanted to make a game that focused on exploration and discovering unique planets with diverse and varied ecosystems and inhabitants than they should have actually focused on the planets themselves.

The emphasis on quantity of planets verse their quality is painstakingly apparent, as planets themselves are barren and bleak with no real emphasis to venture to other planets which will more or less house the same contents of the current planet the player is on. Now there has been a rather large content patch that I have yet to play- And honestly, I have no interest in returning to-  so since it’s release there may be new features or objectives that I am not aware of. But in it’s current state at launch, No Man’s Sky was easily the most disappointing game I played this year.

Dud of the year runner up: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (PC, PS4, XBO)

I could not have been a bigger fan of 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, so it’s unfortunate that this years sequel Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, feels dumbed down to it’s predecessor. Frankly, Mankind Divided feels like a lazy, half assessed sequel. Technically, the game isn’t broken and it even looks pretty good, but every other aspect of it is either far too similar to Human Revolution or less developed. The games story could not be more paint by the numbers and fails to include any incentive for the player to care about what’s unfolding within the world of Deus Ex. Missions also feel much more simplified, and considering that Deus Ex has built it’s legacy on player choice, moving forward the franchise should build upon this not limit it. A majority of missions have one or two simplistic approaches to infiltrating mission locations, which left me relying on the same one or two strategies for a majority of my playtime.

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Deus Ex sequel or Orwellian Axe hair gel ad?

Developer Edios Montreal also decided to include open world hubs for Jensen to explore, but it’s the standard case of a developer spending time developing an open world and then failing to fill that world with interesting things to see or do. Human Revolution had smaller hub worlds, that while not massive in scope, were detailed and made the game world like a thriving place. Whereas in Mankind Divided a lot of the time it feels as if the player is running through a large theme park that is devoid of any rides.

There has to have been countless games released this year that didn’t perform or play nearly as well as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, but I find it hard to look past the lack of innovation and overly simplistic game design made this one of my most disappointing games of the year.

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