As 2017 begins, I’ve been marveling at what a great year 2016 was for games. 2016 saw a huge variety of games coming out, as well as two major VR systems. I failed twice to buy the “correct” VR hardware, and nailed it the third time with the Vive. While I’ve extremely happy with VR’s hardware and how well it works, the games just aren’t deep enough yet. For that reason only three VR titles made it on my list this year, one of which, I’m combining with the standard PC version. Anyway, without further preamble, the list!
10. Ratchet and Clank (PS4) – This series is build on excellent platforming, a large selection of upgrade weapons, and some humor. As always the platforming, and combat feels fantastic. The weapon upgrade system encourages you to switch weapons, to try something new in order to upgrade everything. The game looks incredible, this is probably the best looking PS4 title I’ve played. All that said, the writing in the game falls flat. The jokes are written for a much younger audience, and dialogue is passable. The most clever bit is the framing for the story, having a character tell this to other prisoners in a jail cell. This helps to explain any differences between this game the original game, which this is rehash of.
9. Hitman – This series is one I have a long history with. I’ve played everything in the series, and thought it had hit it’s pinnacle with Hitman: Blood Money. Nothing about this game should work; it released with one level, it’s new levels were released episodically, and it follows Hitman: Absolution. I didn’t have very high hopes going into this, but was pleasantly surprised by how good it is, and how well supported it was. Releasing levels slowly actually helped to keep me interested in the game, and checking out what was new with it. Each level also had it’s own progression, so replaying the same mission and figuring out other opportunities felt worth while. The live events, elusive targets, were also brilliant. These caused you to want to specially fire up hitman just to see what the new target one. The biggest knocks against this games are that sometimes the AI can be finicky, spotting you through walls, or floors, and the controls feeling a bit unwieldy with keyboard and mouse.
8. Firewatch – I knew what kind of a game I was getting into with Firewatch. I knew it was a game similar to Gone Home or the Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and that it’d probably push my buttons or punch me in the gut. Even being prepared for this, it did a good job of doing just that. I don’t want to spoil to much of this, but it does a good job of making you feel alone and afraid in the wood. This is someone I don’t get from most survival games, so having a linear narrative like this do it to me was a nice touch. This game ranks in only at number 8 due to some technical issues I had with this game causing me to replay the first two days three times. Considering that’s a 1/4 of the game or so, it did change how I felt about it.
7. Overwatch – Another class based shooter using assets from a failed MMO? Good luck Blizzard. Oh, it’s excellent and even when you have a terrible game, it reminds you of the things you did right? They are taking steps to help prevent trolling? All the characters are varied in background and skills, and have interesting designs? Battleborn, a game I was much more excited for before release ends up feeling like a lesser version of this? It feels fast, and manufactures situations that cause overtime so you often feel that rush of a battle on the edge of victory or less? That does sound like a mighty fine game.
6. Job Simulator – I just want to simply say, I love Job Simulator. It’s writing, it’s look, it’s overall sense of style, and ever interaction. It’s all just great. Throwing stuff around in vr, making weird pizzas, and breaking peoples cars really doesn’t get old. The one thing I did find myself yearning for was some kind of depth. I know that’s not what this was meant to be, but some kind of management aspect to make the jobs into a campaign where you could make a profit at the store or the mechanic would have made this at the top of my list.
5. Ultimate Chicken Horse – I like platformers in general, and couch competitive games. Having a game where you actively work to help yourself and screw your opponents by building out the level as you go is amazing. As someone recently stated if Nintendo had any sense, which would have been a Super Mario Maker mode. This game is one of those that I want to break out anytime we get people together. The loop is just perfect, and come behind victories happen often enough to make sure you never know if you’re about to win or lose.
4. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – Yes, Jon was right. Sorry 2015 Jon, I should have played this then. MGS V is an amazingly fun game to play, wrapped around a story that sounds like a Sci-fi channel original movie. I’m not going to bother retelling the plot since it’s the least interesting part of that game. The overly dramatic cut scenes, the lack of real conversations between the characters, and the woman sniper in a bikini round out the reasons why I shake my head at this game. That said I’m a huge fan of games where you need to scout and takeover bases. You can also, of course, attach fulton balloons to people, shipping containers, and vehicles to be taken back to your base. So I spent hours and hours running around and hoisting everything I could into the sky to build my solider and jeep collection. This game was great, but spending 140 some hours in it took way too much time from other games.
3. The Witness – If you were to tell me a puzzle game would be one of my top picks for 2016, I’d have thought you were mad. The Witness takes a very simple puzzle mechanic, you draw a line on a board, and it expands it to take in the environment around it. This was one of the few games in the last few years which got me to break out graph paper to sketch things and take notes. A few of those puzzles types were just amazingly inventive, and really got a bit grin out of me. While I didn’t finish this game, I plan to. While head-scratchingly difficult, the world is beautiful, and I love to wander around looking for puzzles to solve.
2. SUPERHOT / SUPERHOT VR – For most of the year, I thought this was going to be my game of the year. When I found and played SUPERHOT VR, that feeling was only strengthened. SUPERHOT is the kind of game that only comes along once in a while. It’s polished, it plays well, and it makes you feel like a bad ass. Dodging bullets, while you throw something at the shooter, grabbing their gun out of mid air, and shoot the three guys running at you feels amazing in first person on a PC. Playing this in VR is incredible, and one of the best VR experiences out there.
1. Stardew Valley – I really didn’t expect this to be my number one game, but here we are. I played a good deal of harvest moon on Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64, and have a lot of love for those games. I’ve tried every Harvest Moon, and Rune Factory game since, but bounced off all of them. Stardew Valley, for some reason, just scratches that inch in a way that none of these other games have. The art style, the music, the interactions and dialog it seems all setup to make you smile. The interlocking systems of not just farming, but fishing, raising animals, and crafting all work well together. This game even takes a page from the Rune Factory games and adds combat and treasure hunting to the mix. This whole game feels smart, happy, and well put together. I simply love it. I plan to play this game throughout 2017 as well.
Firewatch – Firewatch is a game about the relationship of it’s two main characters, and the vulnerability of not being able to change things. It takes place in the woods, an area where most people will feel especially vulnerable, and often events happen at dusk. This game is built to help increase your sense of being alone and vulnerable. It does of good job of this.
Fortified – I always feel bad putting any game in this slot. This year it’s no exception, I feel bad say what I’m about to about this game, but it’s true. Fortified is meant to be a 3rd person, action tower defense game. Sadly it misses that mark with buggy AI, weapons that feel void of power, and enemies that don’t have any gravity. I acutely feel this one because I saw this game in person two years ago at PAX East and have been looking forward to it since. I’m truly sad this game isn’t very good.
Job Simulator – This games humor is just fantastic. Making soup? It’ll turn from ingredients in a pot to a labeled can. Need to fix up some headlights? Just add headlight fluid. Full e-mail inbox? Just hit delete all. This game not having me breaking down laughing, but I smiled throughout.
The Witness – When I first bought a PC VR headset this year, this is the first game I hacked to work with it. The world created is so bright, colorful, and interesting, I couldn’t help but run around it. I really wish this was available for the Vive just to spend more time in that world.
Stardew Valley – “I just need to finish this day.”
Best early access game:
Space Pirate Trainer – This game needs a shout out, as it was one of the things that made me invest in VR. It’s got a simple premise;shooting robots using a variety of weapons while dodging shots. It’s presentation of neon colors and lights, and throbbing music is a perfect match to the action. This game is currently being cased by many impersonations, but this is the best by far.
The one that got away:
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine – I love the Witcher 3, and consider it one of the best games ever. I was really hoping to get to spend another 30 hours playing new content for this game. Sadly it was not meant to be, and this never happened. I’m hoping that 2017 or 2018 might be the year for this.
Of Course I’ll Rebuy that!:
Ratchet and Clank – As noted above this game isn’t a straight remake, it does have changes in it. They were all for the better but technically this is a game, based on a movie, based on a game.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – 145 hours. I played 145 hours of a game from 2015 in 2015, while I should have been playing anything else. I kept going until I found Quiet some pants, then I was done.
That Beat Tho’:
Stardew Valley – All the music is original, it’s mostly upbeat, and I use it as my alarm clock tones thanks to Dan Ryckert.
Destiny – I caught up on about 3 months worth of podcast backlog this year while playing Destiny. This game is just a great visual focus while listening.
The Future is Bright:
Horizon: Zero Dawn – This game’s promise is great. Hunting cyber animals in a post-post-apocalypse world? Sign me up. I’d go far as saying this game might not live up to what I’m hoping, but the game play I’ve seen invokes a similar mission design to The Witcher 3.