Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Everybody needs to know, IT'S THE YEAR OF THE CAPS

It seems appropriate that after over-ambitiously taking months to (mostly) get around to writing individual reviews of my top 10 games for 2015, I would nearly skip it entirely this time around. So without any ado, my top 10 picks for 2016 in short form.

10. Devil Daggers
Devil Daggers was a tough one to review for its bite-sized brevity. But that’s OK - I enjoyed my (very brief) time with Devil Daggers more than the many hours I spent trying to love could-have-been’s like Civilization VI and Dishonored 2.

9. XCOM 2
I’ve warmed up to this one significantly in the months since they started ironing out its rampant bugs. Yes, it’s more XCOM, but it’s more XCOM and a better helping of it at that.

The Total War that totally got me. Turns out I really am just a sucker for smashing demon hordes as a dwarf lord. Whether it’s that or the streamlined strategy layer, there’s a certain something in the flavor and variety of Total Warhammer’s factions that lured me in in a way the historical entries of the series never quite did. Shame on them for having the guts to charge DLC money for the game’s blood and guts graphical setting.

7. Titanfall 2
I feel a bit bad for Titanfall 2. In a year without Overwatch, this would have been the multiplayer shooter extravaganza. It’s still a thrilling and unique FPS in a year where the genre really made a comeback, and its freerunning, robot-quipping campaign is a blast in its own right.

6. Sorcery!
The same folks at Inkle who gave us last year’s singular 80 Days have managed to take the best of the 80s gamebook genre and turn it into an epic RPG with an old-school sense of danger and a new-school layer of mechanical polish. Sorcery’s ever-unfolding world of weirdness and wonder sets it apart from the increasingly stale “narrative” RPGs of today, which (Witcher 3 notwithstanding) have a tendency to promise player choice and consequence but rarely deliver it on this level.

Oh look, another stylish short-form shooter evoking the thrill of the genre’s bullet hell roots with the style and innovation of a 2016 showstopper. This is the best of them. Play SUPERHOT.

4. Firewatch
A poignant, breathtakingly beautiful story game that has stuck with me over the year even more than I expected it to.

It really was the year of the CAPS LOCK key, wasn’t it? I held off on INSIDE much longer than I should have because at a glance it looked like just another Limbo (which I loved). It kind of is, but it’s such an improvement on its predecessor’s mechanics and such a brilliant piece of world-building that no degree of familiarity is an excuse to pass over this one.

2. Dark Souls 3
There’s not much more to say about this one except that I’m surprised it’s not my #1. It sure was close, but there are four (OK, five) Souls games now and only one Overwatch.

1. Overwatch
Overwatch is what happens when you throw Blizzard science at all the best elements of a genre, polish them to perfection, then layer on top of them a series of innovations so elegant in their simplicity that they set the new standards for multiplayer gaming overnight. Overwatch is more than just Team Fortress 3 or first-person Dota. Overwatch is lightning in a bottle. Overwatch is the future. A vibrant, frenetic, candy-colored future of boundless joy and infinite addiction.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine 
    • I’m still playing the third-best RPG of 2015, which also happens to be the second-best RPG of 2016. I just haven’t even finished the Hearts of Stone expansion yet, let alone Blood and Wine. This game’s scale is goddamn ridiculous.
  • Oxenfree
    • A particularly pretty piece of interactive storytelling more than a bit undone by its overwrought ending and underdeveloped characters.
  • Stardew Valley
    • I didn’t play it, but I watched my partner play it. I spent enough years adoring Harvest Moon to recognize very quickly that Stardew Valley is the definitive version of that formula and could only be improved a mobile edition.
  • BioShock 2
    • Obviously this didn't come out last year, but its remaster did, and I finally got around to giving this formerly underappreciated sequel a go (albeit on the non-remastered version). BioShock 2 really is quite good, mechanically perhaps the best of the trilogy. I'm not sure I buy the revisionist hype that it tells a better story than the first or Infinite, but I quite enjoyed a familiar foray back into Rapture nonetheless.

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