The Dean's List: Mike's Top Ten Games of 2016
Waypoint Senior Editor Mike Diver knows a good game when he's played it.
Welcome to the Waypoint High School Class of 2016 Yearbook. We're giving out senior superlatives to our favorite games, digging into the year's biggest stories via extracurriculars, and following our favorite characters through their adventures together in fanfic. See you in 2017!
Just a note before we go any further: I've played plenty of Obviously Great Games in 2016, but not to the extent, progress wise, where I feel comfortable categorizing them as favorites. See: Titanfall 2, Dishonored 2, XCOM 2, and a few others that aren't sequels ( Overwatch and Hyper Light Drifter, for example). Rather, what's collected here are ten games that have lit up my home with joyousness, be that through solo play or shared with family, or proved memorable for more menacing qualities. These picks aren't necessarily The Best games I've played this year; but they've nevertheless impressed enough for me to still be thinking about them, now, positively.
DOOM proved to be both a riot of wild color and cacophonous sound, and a horror of sorts in a year without many traditional chillers, stepping up to the plate when it comes to video-nasty-style gruesomeness. So far as shooters go, this reboot was the best I played in 2016: firmly old school of no-reload simplicity, but designed for speed, for efficient slaughter rather than the chunkier, more haphazard battles of the original. It's almost like a racer, the way stages encourage you to scream through them on a line of best fury—to rip and tear through them, using your hands to scoop out eyeballs and smash through demon skulls. Brutal.
Similarly loud was Thumper. Drool's rhythm-aggression beetle 'em up is best experienced in VR, with the twisting strip running straight through a limbo full of contorting, organic-like appendages and alien architecture right up close under your nose, the silver bug's wings flitting against your eyelids. Intensity has rarely been so senses rocking in a video game. I got comparable chills, albeit without the same retinas-slamming thrills, from both Inside and Oxenfree: The former for its troubling visions of mankind playing gods, and truly unsettling underwater creature (the monster of 2016), and the latter for sound design and music that had me almost always on edge.
I've complemented such heart-racing fare with a few games that take me somewhere nice, calm and contented. Abzû, with its stunning deep-sea environments and Austin Wintory's enveloping score, has been a go-to for whenever I've wanted some of that essential escape. Forza Horizon 3, too, has offered an exotic break from both real-world headaches and more stressful forms of interactive entertainment. I'm no racing game buff whatsoever, but its stunning Australian landscape and catch 'em all approach to car acquisition has me fairly firmly hooked.
And then there was The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine. Yes, it's DLC. But it packs so much in that it almost feels like a sequel proper to CD Projekt's amazing RPG of 2015—my favorite game of last year by a mile and more. I'm almost sad that this is, apparently, the last time we'll—that I'll—be able to step into the soggy boots of the ever-growly Geralt of Rivia. But what a way to go, with a cracking story about vineyards and vampires, family conflict and unrequited love, with more care poured into it than any other DLC I've played, perhaps with the exception of The Last of Us: Left Behind, but that's a different beast entirely.
Related, on Waypoint: Make sure to check out Managing Editor Danielle Riendeau's favorite games of the year, next!
Just three picks left? Dang, as I've got several more titles here that have been firm friends across the past 12 months. Watch Dogs 2, for example: a rare case of a triple-A game actually surprising the majority of its players by being just so, so much better than expected. ( Final Fantasy XV, too.) I really enjoyed the aggression-rewarding momentum of Quantum Break: if you were approaching it as a Gears of War-like cover shooter, you were playing it wrong. And, if we're sticking to the big-money blockbusters for a second, you can't overlook just how amazingly presented Uncharted 4 was. It mightn't have done a lot new under the hood, but what a looker. Shout out to Ratchet & Clank, too, for brilliantly manifesting my memories of that series in its PS2 days, rendered anew in almost-Pixar-like gorgeousness.
Okay, The Last Guardian. I've not finished it yet (at the time of writing, anyway), but its hold on me is strong enough for it to earn a place in bold—and that's all because of Trico. I've never played a game with such a fantastic, frustrating, real-feeling AI companion. I admire its makers for not putting the beast on rails, so that it genuinely will just sit there sometimes unless you work hard to get it up and moving. It's a game that requires patience, no doubt, and some won't have enough—but as a game to just be with for half an hour at a time, it's wonderful.
Hue, Virginia and Reigns all did things in games that I'd not seen before: an innovative, color-swapping twist to 2D platforming; some proper cinematic editing in a narrative game with no dialogue; and an effortless-to-use Tinder-like interface attached to an often uproarious fantasy narrative, respectively. (I do always have a place in my heart for games that make themselves so easy to play, and Reigns totally does that.) And then there's Dragon Quest Builders, a mash-up quite unlike any preceding it, fusing Minecraft-like construction with role-play adventuring. It's regularly bumped Lego Dimensions from my small windows of father-and-son gaming, and definitely deserves a "favorite", accordingly.
Final call, and as tempted as I am to claim the NES Classic Mini as a qualifying compilation package, rather than a piece of hardware, or Rez Infinite's hypnotic Area X as a game in and of itself, I'll instead celebrate the terrific puzzler Picross 3D: Round 2, which has taken up residence in my 3DS recently and immediately put both Pokémon Sun and Fire Emblem Fates in the shade. There's not much to it, conceptually: break blocks away from a three-dimensional cluster, a great big brick essentially, to "carve" objects, ranging from lobsters to escalators. It can be played entirely chilled, meticulously chipping away without any care for how long it takes; or against the clock, where the smallest mistake totally messes up your score. I didn't play The Witness at the start of the year, but even if I had, I suspect this would have trumped it as my personal puzzle title of 2016.
Yeah, games have been OK, eh?