“Now hopefully 2016 has less of the doom and gloom and more of the bright and shiny and we’ll be all good.”
That was the final line of my introduction paragraph last year for my “Top 10 Games of 2015” list. Jeez…that optimistic Chuck sure had a hell of a gut punch coming. The year 2016 would turn out to be one of the most difficult of the last decade for me personally and, generally, for the world it would seem. Or at least the country. And while past me might have been looking hopeful into the year 2016 current Chuck is a hell of a lot more pessimistic and depressed, at least in terms of reality and my current status.
However, when it comes to entertainment, and games in particular, 2016 wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was pretty darn great! From a shooter renaissance to a continuation of fantastic indie darlings and some big surprise hits from AAA developers, 2016 was a pretty remarkable year for gamers of every ilk and the momentum doesnt seem to be stopping anytime soon with both February and March of 2017 packing some terrific looking games as well as console launches.
No matter how painful and worrisome things may seem in reality, at least we gamers will always have amazing artists to deliver to us some truly amazing escapism and for that we are truly lucky. But while we enjoy and talk about these incredible games to one another, we rarely share our love with the creators themselves. Instead we allow negativity and trolls to get to them first and to bring them down. One of my goals for this new year is to help spread appreciation and to let the hard working folks behind our favorite games, the ones that rarely go noticed, know that their games helped me and brought me joy, in both good times and bad.
Thank you devs. Your work and time means more than you realize.
“Chuck’s Top 10 Games of 2016”
10.) Rainbow Six: Siege
Yes, this is a cop out of sorts but its also an entirely justified one. Ubisofts Rainbow Six: Siege was a game that launched in that often overlooked month of December. A time when gamers everywhere are busy playing the titles released earlier in the overcrowded holiday shopping season and a time when parents everywhere have already purchased their kids Christmas gifts. It also didn’t help matters that the game shipped somewhat broken and unfinished…
Fast forward to the middle of 2016 and the game has had several large and free content updates as well as numerous patches to iron out the kinks and it hadn’t gone unnoticed. After the games July update the title received a surge of new players and its active users more than doubled its initial launch months peak counts. It was as if the game had been in early access up to that point and had finally reached its 1.0 launch. Rainbow Six: Siege was finally beginning to realize its potential.
Siege is a tactical first person shooter that emphasizes teamwork and proper planning. You are discouraged to go guns blazing and instead encouraged to use remote cameras, spy drones and strategically placed explosives to get the better of your enemies. This is a game of slow movement and quick deaths. A game where you will be holed up in the “perfect” safe room only to be taken out seconds later by a single bullet that tore through the one wall you had forgotten to secure, from an enemy that is hanging upside down outside the building after he rappelled down from the roof.
It can be a discouraging experience.
But for those that are steadfast and stick with Siege this is one of the more rewarding multiplayer titles of the year. And yes I said multiplayer because unfortunately Siege’s single player content is incredibly underwhelming offering only a limited “Terrorist Hunt” option that is also better as an online cooperative experience. But if you do have a team of other operatives to group up with Rainbow Six: Siege is one to give a look and with another season of content forthcoming throughout 2017 its one that will continue to improve.
Hitman Absolution was a huge misstep from IO Interactive and after that disappointing, and oddly linear and “cinematic” sequel four years ago, I wasn’t sure if the Hitman series could rebound, or if it would even continue, or whether or not it should. Luckily my fears were for naught because with this new pseudo reboot Agent 47 is back in fine form. The biggest mistakes found in Absolution have been either retooled or removed and the series trademark level design and freedom, both of which were heavily criticized the last outing, have been set back on track.
While the missions 47 must take on still aren’t as exciting or creative as those found within Blood Money, still the series finest entry, they are immensely fun to play around in. Environments are incredibly large and laden with intricate details and secrets to discover and this craftsmanship ensures that players will keep returning to see all that the game has to offer. Stalking your prey as you scour the environment for new and inventive ways to take out your target is still just as darkly humorous and fun as its ever been. The episodic format, initially criticized, proved to be the right choice this go around and with features such as Elusive Targets and Escalation Missions being added in at regular intervals Agents had plenty of reasons to keep donning 47’s many disguises and keep poking at the games intricate systems all year.
8.) Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
With the first Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare Electronic Arts and Popcap took a popular and simple tower defense game and successfully transplanted it as a third person shooter. That is no easy task and so after nailing down the ideas and gameplay with the first, Garden Warfare 2 was the time to throw everything and the kitchen sink in and deliver a bigger and more explosive product.
With more modes, characters, maps and a brand new single player campaign, Garden Warfare 2 delivers in all areas, however it is the fact that this is still an all ages online multiplayer shooter that makes Garden Warfare 2 so special. In a genre that is dominated by realistic military combat or grotesque arena shooters, Garden Warfare allows for both children and adults alike to battle it out in fun cartoonish ways and is a perfect game for families to enjoy together. To help bolster this fact the folks at Popcap have made sure that the game allows for both local splitscreen and online splitscreen in its modes and provides both competitive and cooperative options as well as custom games and rulesets.
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is the perfect example of a sequel done right. It fixes up the areas that needed fixing, it adds new ways to play and it bulks up its content in ridiculous ways. Its hub world is riddled with mysteries to uncover, its cast of characters ooze style and charm and its various modes are each fun and interesting. If this is the last entry in the series, as I’m not sure what more PopCap can add to this franchise, then it has gone out on a high note, although I still feel more gamers should have given this one a look.
What more can be said about Playdeads sophomore release, Inside, that hasn’t already been said? The game is tense, full of dread and questions as well as beautiful and enthralling. The puzzles are well done, resting comfortably between too easy and too difficult, and the game doesn’t overstay its welcome, finishing exactly when it should and with one of the most left field and exciting conclusions that I have seen in some time. Games rarely stick the landing but in the case of Inside, I don’t think it would have nearly the same impact without its fascinating finale.
When Inside works, it works, but there are times when the game is just a little too much a game as well, relying on old tropes and cliches in between bouts of greatness. As a cinematic experience, taking you from point A to Point B, that is when Inside is at its best. It is the times when it veers off this course, when it tries to slow you down unnecessarily or with brutal violence that I found the immersion was broken and the hold loosened due to tiresome “game” mechanics that are ultimately unnecessary. However, as an experience, Inside is surely one of the top titles of the year and one that every gamer should give their time.
6.) Total War: Warhammer
Creative Assembly and their Total War series have dominated the PC Strategy scene for years, with new entries appearing regularly and each garnering both critical and fan acclaim and selling well. But even so it was no question that the realistic game of domination needed a shot of adrenaline to help spark up conversation and excitement again. Creative Assembly needed to do something unexpected and veer off course whilst also slamming its foot on the gas and going all out. The creative juices needed to get flowing again and that is when a deal with Games Workshop comes in handy.
Total War, a series known for playing with history, allowing fans to take control of famous civilizations and ancient battles was now stepping into a world of fantasy. The games hallmark epic battles are now even larger and more exciting and its strategies improved as multiple factions and races wage battle to claim ownership over the land beneath their feet. Whether playing as Dwarf, Empire, Wood Elf, Greenskin, Chaos or the chilling Vampire Counts, there are always new strategies to learn and new tools to discover.
Gone are the drab battles gamers have come to expect from the series, with the same ancient machines and basic units doing battle time and time again, instead replaced with exciting skirmishes consisting of giant spiders, flying dragons and epic heroes standing their ground as they take down dozens upon dozens of soldiers themselves in a last ditch effort to turn the tide. The roars of ferocious Ork and the explosions of Dwarf firearms will echo from your speakers as you try your best to manage hundreds of units and counter your enemies strategies with surprises of your own.
The battles look great whether you are watching up close or staring down from the heavens and the consistent drop of new units and new weapons as you improve your kingdom ensures that each battle is just a little more interesting than the last. With multiple factions, each with their own winning conditions, units and special abilities, there are always new opportunities to take advantage of and new strategies to explore. Whether playing solo or dueling with a friend online Total War: Warhammer is the refreshing change of pace that the series needed and the allure of more races and units and lords in the future ensures that I will continue to return to this desolate war torn land for some time.
5.) Stardew Valley
At six am every morning it’s time to jump out of bed, stretch, and then turn on the weather report to see what nature will be bringing before changing channels to see what your fortune states. Then it’s time to step outside and get out your trusty watering can for you have to make sure to show some tender loving care to your growing crops before setting out to do some fishing at the town beach. After that it’s about time to hit up the local market to purchase some profitable seasonal seeds and talk to some of the local residents that you have been losing touch with recently. Cant let that special someone in your life feel like you’ve forgotten about them!
Now that it’s noon you can either head into the local mines to help rid them of some nasty slimes and critters, hopefully finding some neat treasure while you do, or you can take a leisurely stroll about town, foraging while you do, looking for rare plants and fruits or discovering lost relics from the towns ancient past that you can donate to the local museum. Or you can always use some of that savings you’ve been building up and finally start work on your home, expanding it by adding a new story or decorating its look with new hardwood floors or stylish new wallpaper. On second thought, you could really use a new barn out back to finally get some cattle on this newly cleared field you slaved over the other day. Or maybe you should head to the local blacksmith to help improve your tools? They are a little ragged with age and that will surely help cut down on the hours needed to work the land. Every minute counts.
There are many choices yet to make and much work yet to be done but the life of a farmer is never easy. But it is rewarding.
Stardew Valley was the indie darling of 2016 and it is easy to see why. Created by just one man, Eric Barone, including the diverse soundtrack and all art assets, the game took over five years to finally realize his vision, but it was worth it. A successor to the Harvest Moon series which fans have been unsatisfied with for years now Stardew Valley fixes that series long time faults and adds more features and creativity to an already expansive experience. Players are allowed to take the game at their own pace and choose how they wish to play and with consistent updates and content being added regularly since launch, Barone has done an excellent job not only making a game millions have come to love but also creating a community of rabid and pleased fans looking forward to his next game.
4.) Forza Horizon 3
Its not every day that a racing game can claim a top spot on someones “Top 10 Games” list. Its even more surprising when said racing game is also one of the best games and exclusives available on a console. Yet Forza Horizon 3 makes it all look so easy.
Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games Forza Horizon series had a great debut when the original released on the Xbox 360 and while I played that game a tremendous amount I was unfortunately quite disappointed with its sequel a couple years later. It was no doubt a step backward and a large reason for its sophomore slump was its choice of location. Gone were the gold and orange hues of Colorado’s mountains instead replaced with empty fields and boring vistas. For Forza Horizon 3 Playground Games took the criticisms to heart and decided to not only make this the largest environment the Horizon series has seen to date, but also make it the most varied and exciting. This year the Horizon festival moved to Australia and solidified itself as the racing game to beat.
Forza Horizon 3 features one of the most beautiful environments yet seen in a game this generation. Gorgeous vistas surround you in every direction and environments take you to never ending deserts to claustrophobic rain forests to breezy beaches and dangerous rocky canyons. Your choice of transport within these breathtaking terrains is just as varied with hundreds of cars at your disposal ranging from top of the line speed machines to slow and clunky relics and powerhouses of off road terrain. The amount of content on offer here is impressive and the amount of time you can lose yourself in the open spaces frightening.
Whether choosing to barrel through its lengthy campaign, moving from race to race, or just driving lazily throughout its open world searching for secret cars to find or billboards to smash, the game allows you to do so both solo or cooperatively. You and up to four friends can put it all on the line in competitive races or create convoys as you make your own fun in the open world. Back at the Horizon festival the auction house and custom liveries return along with some new features such as tweaking races by adding laps or changing requirements and each car allows for you to edit and tweak to your liking.
While Forza Horizon 3 doesn’t break new ground what it does do is deliver one of the most complete and polished racing experiences yet seen and definitely delivers as the best racing game of this generation. Whether a returning vet or jumping in for the first time everyone deserves to get behind the wheel of this new king of the high speed ring.
3.) Uncharted 4: A Thiefs End
When Uncharted 4 was announced I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Uncharted 3, no matter the naysayers, was a terrific conclusion to the Uncharted trilogy, revealing new layers to Drakes personality and focusing in on his flaws as both a partner and friend. The series had provided us some of the greatest characters in gaming and some of its most breathtaking moments. How could a fourth game continue to keep things fresh while also delivering to us more of what we loved? A Thiefs End had to prove its existence was warranted.
Of course it did because Naughty Dog.
Uncharted 4 provided me some of my favorite moments of the year, and unlike in past games, these weren’t bombastic set pieces, no, they were quiet somber and beautiful moments. These were moments that touched and warmed my heart, not moments that made it beat faster with thrills and excitement. Chapter 4 of A Thiefs End will stick with me as one of my favorites of the series, and not just because of a fan favorite return, but because of its humanity. Because of the human interactions and the little touches that only Naughty Dog can deliver. Because of the love that the team put into the product. Because of the characters.
These are the things that make Uncharted 4: A Thiefs End the perfect conclusion to Drakes and Elenas and Sullys story. The heart of the series has always been the connection between the player and the characters on screen and that is ultimately why Uncharted 4 exists, because we needed a true farewell to these characters whether we realized it or not. We needed to say our goodbyes with a small smile on our face and a tear in our eye and that is exactly how I finished Uncharted 4 and closed the book on this fantastic franchise.
2.) The Witness
In many ways The Witness is my true Game of the Year for 2016 in that it is the one that I am most in awe of. It is the game that I respect and appreciate the most. It is a game truly unbelievable in its details and the intricacies of its systems. A game many could label as simple but a game that is absolutely anything but.
Development on The Witness began in 2008 and for those that give it their time it is absolutely apparent why it took just so damn long to come to fruition. The Witness is absolutely breathtaking in every way. Its visuals are some of the best I have seen in recent memory and its puzzles are unforgettably brilliant, able to elicit a scream of frustration as they are a giggle of pure elation. Nothing in this world is here by chance. Every tree is planted exactly where it needs to be and rotated just right to deliver its creators intent. From the shadows on the ground to the clouds in the sky, nothing in The Witness should be ignored by players journeying into its world.
Those that scoff at this game and state that it is simply “line puzzles” are missing a world full of wonder and expert craftsmanship. It is simply staggering just how well put together this game is. I cannot count the times I was left shaking my head in both puzzlement and appreciation at just how far this team went to present their puzzles and their solutions, oftentimes right under the players nose in the most clever of ways.
And in that moment where the world truly opens up to you, when you realize just how good the environment is and just how painstakingly it was created, that moment is one of the best I have ever had playing a game. It is the moment Neo truly sees the Matrix for what it is and just how he can manipulate it.
The Witness is one of the most perfectly crafted games that I have ever seen. Awe inspiring in its simplicity but astonishing in its depth. Simply play it.
After development failed for another attempt at a Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game the incredibly talented folks at Blizzard Entertainment decided to not just scrap years of hard work but to also take some of that work and craft it into an entirely new title, Overwatch. Not just a brand new genre for the developer, a first person shooter, but also the studios first new IP in over a decade, Overwatch was surely a huge gamble for the team and something that was not a guaranteed success, but as often happens for the developer the gamble payed off and the game turned out to be another fantastic hit for the studio.
Overwatch borrows heavily from popular titles but as is often the case with Blizzard, they fine tune it into perfection. There is no studio better than Blizzard Entertainment at taking common ideas but then polishing them into truly blinding gems and Overwatch might just be the pinnacle of this example. Combining fast paced arcade shooting with brilliant characters and heavy team play Overwatch was always going to find an audience but it is the developers knack for making things so simple and user friendly that truly makes this game stand out.
Overwatch is a constant joy to play (outside of Ranked) and is so simple to pick up that anyone can figure it out. Much like Rocket League before it Overwatch is a game of simple mechanics but sublime depth. A game that can be played by both the hardcore and the casual, Overwatch has something for everyone and with constant updates and new items to unlock and strategies to discover, it is a game that keeps on giving long after the hundredth hour. I don’t know how Blizzard does it but it doesn’t matter what genre they tackle, be it strategy, role playing, action or shooter; the developers always know how to take basic ideas and shape them into something special. They also make it look damn easy doing so.
While The Witness deserves all of my respect Overwatch is the game that I keep coming back to time and time again. From its terrific level design to its fantastic characters that have now become so iconic in such a short amount of time, Overwatch is a game that is easy to fall for and one that is difficult to leave behind.
Let it Die
Killer Instinct: Season Three
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