2016 was an absolutely ripper year for games – we saw new franchises emerge and older ones hit their stride, we got our hands on some long-awaited gems, and we had our minds blown by the potential of virtual reality. Here’s a rundown of some of our favourites and least favourites of the year. We’ve definitely missed a few, so if we left out something you love, let us know in the comments, and in the meantime, enjoy:
The Game We Never Thought We’d See
Fumito Ueda‘s The Last Guardian (PS4), the follow-up to the legendary Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus, spent so long in development that it skipped an entire generation of consoles, but in December, we finally got our hands on it. As with Ueda’s previous titles, this one takes place in a solemn, dreamlike world. You play as a young boy who wakes up in a crumbling castle and encounters a giant, feathered creature somewhere between a dog and a griffin. This is Trico, who will be your companion as you navigate the many puzzles and mysteries to come.
Much like a real dog, Trico often needs to be bribed with pats and food before he’ll do what you want, and getting to know him, understand his quirks and form a bond with him is one of the real joys of the experience. Despite the occasional stickiness of the controls and camera, The Last Guardian is a charming and beautiful game, and I can see myself returning to it every year or so just to spend a few hours with it.
The Other Game We Never Thought We’d See
There’s a lot to love about the big, eccentric mess that is Final Fantasy XV (PS4, Xbox One). It’s the first game in the long-running series to take place in a largely open-world setting – inspired by western RPGs like Witcher 3 – but it has enough classic elements that fans will feel right at home. There are fearsome creatures to summon, there are chocobos, there’s a wildly incoherent plot that makes no sense dozens of hours in … ahh, Final Fantasy, we’ve missed you.
In terms of difficulty, Final Fantasy XV is extremely forgiving, which may be a problem for hardcore fans of the series. I vividly remember having my arse kicked by the turn-based bosses in Final Fantasy X, whereas the slick, action-based combat in this instalment really only requires you to thump enemies repeatedly until they die. While the level of challenge is low, there’s plenty to do, and by the end, I found myself getting so attached to the core foursome of characters that I realised I was going to miss them when it was all over.
The Game That Made Shooters A Blast Again
Overwatch (PS4, Xbox One, PC), from developer Blizzard, brought a dose of real excitement to the multiplayer shooter genre. Sure, it features a bright, neon-colour scheme and cool, stylised character design, but the pleasure is more than surface-level. A bevy of wildly different characters with wildly different abilities make it just as much fun to hunker down with a machine gun as it is to flit across the battlefield as a healer. Try ’em all and see which one fits. Even if you get your arse completely handed to you, you’ll probably love it.
The Action Game Of The Year
Nothing’s ever final these days, and every beloved film, TV series and video game is apparently fair game for a reboot, re-imagining or re-whatever-the-fuck. That said, if Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4) really is Nathan Drake‘s final adventure, as developer Naughty Dog promised, it’s a fitting send-off. The game world is as stunning and richly-detailed as anything we’ve seen in games this year, the level design is precise, the shoot-outs are as tense as ever, and the story backs a real emotional wallop. In a similar action vein, Playstation owners finally got to enjoy Rise Of The Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration Edition (PS4) this year. The re-release of the former XBox exclusive came packed with thrilling challenges and bonus content, including VR support.
The Most-Improved Game
Despite its great open-world hacking concept, the first Watch Dogs was a bit dull. In approaching Watch Dogs 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC), developer Ubisoft actually listened to the complaints, and came back with something more fresh, more vibrant, more interesting and more alive than before. The game takes place in the bustling, colourful city of San Francisco, as new character Marcus Holloway, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, fights the power with his collection of misfit buddies. Hopefully there’s a lot more to come.
The Game That Took Us Back To The Stone Age
Ubisoft had another win this year with Far Cry Primal (PS4, XBox One, PC), a fun stand-alone lark that took the established first-person franchise and kicked its butt back to the stone age. The game arms you with primitive weapons like clubs and bows, then has you take down sabre tooth tigers and woolly mammoths with the help of your animal companions. Those who love to be transported back to another era will get a real kick out of Far Cry Primal.
The Game That Showed Off What VR Can Do
It’s entirely reasonable if you can’t yet justify ponying up for your own virtual reality setup, but you should definitely try and convince one of your mates to do it so you can get in there to have a go. The Playroom (PS4) is a collection of augmented reality party games for the PlayStation 4, and while they’re all pretty basic, they hint at interesting things to come.
My favourite mini-games involved busting ghosts in a haunted mansion and shooting at robots in a sci-fi version of an old west saloon while my friends sat around shouting instructions. I had no idea how immersive the experience would be until I strapped on the headset, and when Resident Evil 7 arrives next year on PlayStation VR, we’ll really see what this thing can do.
The Game We Don’t Talk About Anymore
Pokémon GO (iOS, Andriod) was undeniably one of the biggest games of the year, and for a while there everyone we knew was glued to the damn thing, but the craze seemed to cool off pretty fast. After a few weeks, folks simultaneously seemed to realise that the game wasn’t quite the social experience they were hoping for, and there wasn’t a heck of a lot to do after your Pokédex was mostly full.
Fortunately, Pokémon Sun and Moon (Nintendo 3DS) arrived in November with all the polish and pizzazz that fans of the series could possibly ask for. There is a rumour that they will be spun off in some way onto Nintendo’s next home console, the Switch, which is headed our way in 2017, and whatever form they end up taking, I’m pretty keen.
The Game That Put Mario On Your iPhone
Super Mario Run (iOS) has been controversial thus far, for charging players big bucks to access the full game, and requiring them to always be online. If you’ve paid real money for a game and can’t play it when your train goes into a tunnel, what’s the point? Still, it’s a pretty big deal for the super protective Nintendo to put its biggest hero onto someone else’s hardware, and only time only tell if this endless runner-style game is a gamble that pays off.
The Games That Kept On Giving
The best games are often those that keep on rewarding you with new content, and this year, we got some killer expansions for older titles. The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine (PS4, XBox One, PC) was a poignant final chapter to one of the greatest RPGs ever made, and a fitting send-off for the infinitely bad-arse Geralt of Rivia. CD Project Red does not currently have another Witcher game in development, so if this is really it, it’s a hell of a way to go.
Meanwhile, the pun-heavy Grand Theft Auto Online: Cunning Stunts (PS4, XBox One, PC) turned the original game’s already above-decent racing element into a bonkers free-for-all that completely embraced GTA‘s ridiculousness by shooting impossible floating racetracks kilometres into the sky. Plus, given that it’s online-only, it’s infinitely replayable, which is remarkable given that the game originally came out a full three years ago.
The Cutest Gosh Darn Game Of The Year
You might think from the sickeningly chirpy voice-overs and the hyper-stylised characters that World Of Final Fantasy (PS4, PS Vita) is some kind of a kids’ game, BUT YOU’D BE WRONG, BECAUSE IT HAS A TURN-BASED BATTLE SYSTEM THAT HARKS BACK TO THE ORIGINAL GAMES AND A LEVEL OF CHALLENGE THAT YOU JUST DON’T GET WITH MODERN TITLES THAT HOLD YOUR DAMN HAND ALL THE WAY. Y’know what? This game kicks arse I’m done explaining myself.
The Game Where Japanese Pop Idols Kill Demons
The Wii U is such a neglected console that it feels like a small miracle that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii U) was even released in the first place, let alone that it’s so good. I’ll say this: if you only play one game about teenage Japanese pop idols who battle their inner demons by day and actual demons by night, make it this one.
The animations are colourful, the dungeons are varied and complex in their design, the turn-based battles are fast and fun, and just when you’ve come to grips with one combat mechanic, another one comes along to keep things spicy. In the later levels of the game, there’s something tremendously rewarding about targeting an enemy’s weakness in just the right way, then watching as your party members obliterate said enemy with a series of follow-up ‘session’ attacks, perhaps even busting out a song or choreographed dance routine in the process.
The Games That Made Us Long For The 90s
This year, fans of old-school Super Nintendo classics got a real treat in the form of I Am Setsuna (PS4, PS Vita, PC). The first game from the newly-created Tokyo RPG Factory, it shares a good deal of its DNA with the ’90s classic Chrono Trigger, and offers a tough but rewarding level of challenge.
Then, of course, there’s Stardew Valley (PS4, Xbox One, PC), a deceptively simple farming simulator with a charming world to explore and a wide variety of RPG-like side quests. The 16-bit graphics and the emphasis on sowing and reaping crops through the seasons are a twist on classic games like Harvest Moon, and the combat adds an unexpected and satisfying twist.
The Game That Captured History
Quite aside from is beautiful graphics, Battlefield 1 (PS4, XBox 1, PC) did an incredible job of capturing the sombre element of the First World War. The latest instalment in the popular series feels like a memorial as much as it does a genuinely good game, and it’s also massively chaotic on a large scale,which isn’t something that’s easy to create in a game that relies so heavily on multiplayer.
The Game That Could’ve Been So Much Better
No game promised more or delivered less in 2016 than No Man’s Sky (PS4, PC). In the build-up to its release, Hello Games had us expecting a living, breathing, procedurally-generated universe, where you could meet other players, fight in big-arse space battles, explore gorgeous, primordial worlds and get close enough to magnificent space dinosaurs to kick them in their space cloacas and sniff their steaming space droppings. What the hell happened? Well, basically, this happened:
A recent update apparently beefed up certain elements of the game, but I wouldn’t know because my copy’s in the back of a drawer waiting to be traded in, if they’ll give me more than a buck fifty for it.
The Games That Are Still To Come
An office straw poll confirmed that we all loved the hell out of Metal Gear Solid V, and we’re all excited as hell for Hideo Kojima‘s next game, the mysterous-looking Death Stranding, which features Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen and some creepy AF-looking babies. There’s no confirmed release date so we have no idea whether it will be out in 2017 or whether we’re looking at another Last Guardian situation, but either way, mark us down as keen.
In 2017, we’re also hanging out for some other big games like Ni No Kuni 2, Pesona 5, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Mass Effect Andromeda. Of course, the biggest news is the Nintendo Switch, the home console-handheld hybrid that launches in 2017 along with the gorgeous-looking new Legend Of Zelda game, Breath Of The Wild. The quicker we can get our hands on that one the better.
Stardew Valley was one of our faves of the year, if you want an agricultural experience that will really firm up your carrot, then Farming Simulator 17 (PS4, XBox, PC) is very obviously the game for you. It’s the first entry in the series to add soybeans, sunflowers and oil seed radishes as growable crops in the base game. So many options. What are you waiting for?! Get right amongst it.