It is no secret that 2016 was the whole world’s Gas Leak Year. Between all the celebrity deaths, political upheaval, the great Samsung Galaxy Note 7 catastrophe, and three of the worst films ever that all had something or the other to do with Batman, 2016 has been a terrible year. And while the 2016-blaming is a necessary, even healthy coping mechanism, we at Absolute Geeks also believe in remembering the good things that happen. And whatever else might have happened during this legendary stinker of a year, you can’t argue that it’s been an amazing year for videogames.
And with that, here’s our gaming writers talking about their favourite games of the year. These are not ranked lists and there’s no definitive winner here. We love games and we love talking about games and so the only winner here is you, the gamer, who gets to be alive in a time where The Last Guardian is finally out.
I’ll be honest, I never really felt the hype of the Uncharted series. I quite enjoyed Drake’s Deception but the other the two were sort of forgettable; like really forgettable. The combat system up until the third installment felt weak, and added to this was a pervasive storyline marked by weak characterisations. But then Uncharted 4 took a turn in the right direction. Not only did you end up having a game with strong mechanics all round, but you had a story that drew you in and showed the characters and the ethos in a whole new light that was engaging. The Uncharted series always had the potential to have a deep storyline especially given the cast but the games were too focused on the gameplay (even though at times that even felt subpar). Uncharted 4 really went the extra mile to do justice to both, and it was fitting to see it as the rightful end to the story of Nathan Drake.
AAA shooters can get so immensely boring at times. It tends to be the same tired formula on repeat. Of course, at times they try to spice things up and have you battle in the void of space but it still somehow manages to lack depth. The majority of these games fall within the ranks of corridor shooters and they rarely pose a challenge. DOOM was the antithesis to the status quo. Everything from level design to maneuvering felt reinvigorating. To those familiar with the franchise, none of this was new but it was refreshing given the current climate of games in the shooter genre. DOOM challenged the way you played shooters. No longer could you stay in one place and pick enemies off, they would swarm you and they would swarm you fast – really fast. With that movement came brilliant level design and weapons that allowed for players to tear to the demon horde at their own creative pace. Oh, and a brilliant soundtrack to boot as well. It was one of those games that were surprisingly great even though it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Speaking of surprises. When I heard that Titanfall 2 was getting a single-player campaign, I was greatly happy but at the same time, I didn’t want to get my hopes high. I was afraid it would be another run-of-the-mill corridor shooter that wouldn’t embrace its uniqueness. However, what we got was nothing less than remarkable. The single-player campaign had some great story telling and moment-to-moment writing. Added to this was a level design that was centered around the mechanics, which is how it should always be done. Thus, players would end up using all the skills available to them and the space in which they played allowed for that. The Titan gameplay was amazing and at the same time, it was punishing (in a fair way). Personally, I feel Titanfall 2 is one of the most underrated shooters of the year and it deserves a lot more credit. This game is the first stepping stone for the franchise and it shows potential on Respawn’s part to let the franchise grow even further.
Also, if there was an award for the best level in a game, Titanfall 2’s level ‘Effect and Cause’ would easily be in the running.
The Last Guardian
If you’re dead inside, this is the game for you. You will feel emotions that you haven’t felt before. It’s one of those games that doesn’t feel like a game because it transcends its medium to give us a greater experience. In its simplicity, the Last Guardian portrayed to me a narrative that was more heart-warming than most games this year could pull off. Every moment Trico or the protagonist nearly stumbled or brushed close to death, you would catch your breath and your heart would wrench. And this is just within the first thirty minutes of the game. Yes, it had a dated appearance and the controls were sort of badly tuned, but even with these snags in the design, the game was spectacular. Great level design and character interactions only pushed this game further. Sure, it wasn’t exactly a game that was ten-year worth the wait but it was shining example of when simple game design can go a long way.
Darkest Dungeon (PS4)
If you’re a fan of turn-based combat then Darkest Dungeon is the game for you. Sure, you have the likes of XCOM but there is something so sinisterly appealing in Darkest Dungeon that it definitely deserves a shoutout on this list. The basic premise is that you venture through a set of procedurally-generated dungeons with your band of heroes in order to reach the final dungeon. What makes the journey of this game so interesting is the fact that gamers have to keep an eye out for mental stress that your heroes.Your heroes can literally die from heart attacks brought upon from the trauma brought about from fighting the horde of monsters in these dungeons. The game is relentless and truly unpredictable, and this makes for some punishing gameplay. Don’t expect to finish this in a weeks time or so. Coupled with this is some great narration and Lovecraftian inspired monster design. Heck, the overall art style of the game is morbidly gorgeous. Turn-based combat games can start to feel like a grind after a while but what Darkest Dungeon keeps it fresh because of its procedural generation. You may die a hundred times but you’ll keep coming back because you don’t know what you’re going to get on your hundred-and-oneth try.
In many ways, ABZÛ is like an underwater version of Journey. And if you’ve played Journey, you know you’re set for one memorable and emotional experience. It’s hard to describe ABZÛ, simply because it isn’t your conventional game; you don’t fail, or die, or follow goals and objectives. Instead, you just exist in this underwater world, and you venture forth to explore. You get acquainted with many underwater creatures, you pull some chains and open doors, you swim through currents accompanied by a wonderful music score, and find yourself in breathtaking set-pieces that you’d remember for a long time to come. The narrative, atmosphere, and music all draw you into this unique world that will be your go-to place should you ever want to unwind.
Dark Souls III
Dark Souls III is the opposite of ABZÛ. That’s not to say that it isn’t a beautiful world that draws you in; on the contrary, it’s a well-constructed labyrinth of a world interweaved with the lore. But you’re not here to unwind and relax; you’re here to kill or get killed. And you’ll get killed – a lot. Each encounter with an enemy is a battle of attrition and skill, and the choice of pushing forward into the dungeons or scurrying back to a bonfire to bank in your precious souls is always a dilemma. What is most wonderful about Dark Souls III, though, is that – like its predecessors – you only proceed further if you’re worthy. This cycle of exasperation and exhilaration is the life and blood of the game. While many games these days hand-hold you and shower you with achievement points and trophies, Dark Souls III requires you to earn it, and the sense of accomplishment after you manage to finally proceed to the next section is what is missed in all other mainstream games.
If you’ve played Limbo, you know what to expect from INSIDE: a harrowing, creepy tale of a boy’s escape. Atmospheric, foreboding, and downright scary at times, INSIDE toys with your emotions as you navigate a helpless child through forests and strange facilities. Every failure is a dreadful experience that you’d never want to repeat. And as you proceed further into the game and the mystery starts to unravel, the stakes become higher and the game begins to truly reveal its sinister plot. By the end, you’re left mortified, shocked, and talking about what had happened for a while to come.
DOOM is one of the most iconic games ever made, so when this re-imagining of the series hit shelves, I was quite apprehensive at how faithful it would be to the original experience. I am happy to say that all my expectations have not only been met, but exceeded. DOOM is an exceptionally excellent game that translates the original, pseudo-3D experience into the modern era while maintaining the exact exhilaration, fear, and power that you wield with every new weapon. Each area is perfectly made for the enemies you’re facing, ammo and health drops are strategically placed, and the music pumps the exact amount of adrenaline required to blast through the demons. The icing on an already perfect cake is the final boss fight, bringing the game full circle with what has come before it.
The Last Guardian
It’s hard to describe The Last Guardian to someone who has never owned a pet or have had to raise children. In all conventional games where you have to control more than one character, usually that character will follow your orders. Not Trico, the cat-bird-dog thing that follows you around. Trico has a mind of its own; it sniffs and explores, plays in water, casually points you to the right direction, needs, petting, and will eventually follow your command by the third or fourth time you issue it. Understanding and accepting that Trico is a living, breathing, independent creature is what makes The Last Guardian a great and unique experience. The emotional connection you develop with Trico is real, and as frustrating as Trico can be, you’d find yourself relieved when he appears from hiding as danger approaches, and you’d feel the pressure of the clock ticking as you scurry to free it from entrapment. By the end of the game, you’re so invested in Trico’s well being as you are in yours. Just like a pet in real life, once you understand the nuances, Trico becomes your companion and your best friend. While the Last Guardian has a story that has a beginning, middle, and end, the actual journey is that of developing your relationship, not that of reaching the end game.
Ah yes, the granddaddy of the FPS rears its head in this list. From the time I heard of its remaster, I was sold. I had my hunches right that Bethesda and ID software were going back to its roots and make a shooter flavored for this year but keeping the parts that made it fun in the previous iterations of the games. Doom’s no nonsense formula for giving gamers exactly what they wanted, a shooter that looked spectacular, a story that provided lore but wasn’t intrusive and of course, the BFG. The Multiplayer elements of this game though didn’t quite hit the mark for me which is why it’s a shame that I’ll never be able to get the 100% achievements on it.
Was it worth the pain to get all of the single player achievements on the hardest difficulty possible while endlessly dying and getting the game to tell me to stop torturing myself? Yes, absolutely.
Now here’s a game that everyone wanted to succeed. Respawn learned a lot of mistakes from Titanfall 1, a fun shooter that missed the mark while focusing on a multiplayer experience. Mistakes were made in the beta that were quickly rectified too. It’s one of the long standing favorable relationships that the developers forged with the community. Turns out, EA missed the memo.
In what appears to be a case of a publisher sending a game to marketing hell all came down to its release schedule that was sandwiched between Call of Duty and Battlefield which ultimately became a reason for the game’s poor success sales wise despite getting fantastic reviews, a single player campaign that explained the Titanfall universe and an adrenaline filled multiplayer experience.
However, the player base was significantly fractured because of other shooters including Blizzard’s entry Overwatch. Titanfall is currently on sale and isn’t doing too well which casts doubts on whether we’ll see a Titanfall 3. Some may say that this is the best shooter of 2016, and it should be.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
Speaking of developers listening to their community, Ubisoft’s The Division was a work in progress. One that continues to keep going on. In its present state, the game is actually quite fun and a good cover based tactical shooter.
It’s a cause for concern on this game’s shelf life with the arrival of Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands that may take some of the audience away to a newer title but despite the several criticisms such as exploiting players, bullet sponge enemies among other things. The Division is actually a challenging shooter that will reward you if you keep playing it.
What happens when a labor of love becomes a video game? You get Stardew Valley. This Farming simulator with RPG elements and expansive story is the result of one. Stardew Valley is one of the most intriguing and engaging games you’ll play in 2016, and maybe even 2017. This is a game that will let you actually play at your pace and reward you for being patient. Buy it on PC and now Xbox.
Stardew Valley was created entirely by American indie game designer Eric Barone, under the alias of ConcernedApe in what appeared to be a simple C++ programming exercise which became a great title, one that he spent his waking moment developing for four years. It was all because he wanted to play something similar to another excellent title, Natsume’s Harvest Moon series with many deep, overlapping elements from farming to dungeon crawling. Since he didn’t find it, he made one. And he now has my money.
Forza Horizon 3
A great Xbox play anywhere title Forza Horizon 3 from Playground games came to the PC for the first time. It was the best looking arcade racing title that gave you tons of freedom. Freedom being the underlying element of Horizon 3 let you race the way you wanted and with whom. Racing in the outback with a phenomenally great soundtrack made Forza Horizon 3 an enjoyable experience. There are tons to do and it’s not necessarily all about getting the fastest car to unlock. It’s a must have game for any gaming motorhead.
Honorable Mention: Firewatch
Campo Santo’s Narrative/Walking simulator brings back memories of similar games like Gone Home and Dear Esther. It brings a constant debate if games can be art. I won’t be getting too much into the story since it’s the primary experience of playing such a title. At $12 right, Firewatch is a title that you would want to get if you’re into narrative experiences.
Overwatch – The Ana Experience
Ana is probably the most versatile hero in Overwatch as her ability kit composes healing, damage, crowd control, friendly buffs and not so friendly debuffs. Playing as Ana means you’ll have to keep track of twenty things at once from ability cool downs to health to sneaky Genji’s hoping to get up in your business. Basically, it’s a hero designed for teenagers who excel at multitasking and as a result, transforms Overwatch into a First Person Shooter version of Overcooked.
Overwatch – The Zarya Experience
Zarya has never skipped a day at the gym. If you’re a gym nut who cares about reps, squats, weights and who then proceeds to post numerous “leg-day” images on Instagram, please stop, you’re clogging up my feed. Back to Zarya. Armed with a particle cannon and life saving shields, your job is to stay on the sideline until you build enough energy to wreck the enemy team. Or you might have a not so helpful D’va on your team shielding you from damage, preventing you from building up energy, and ultimately costing you the game and a lot of rank points. Whatever.
Overwatch – The Rheinhardt Experience
Rheinhardt players have the toughest job possible in the game. Holding up a big magical barrier to help protect their teammates, they often witness said teammates walk around the barrier and proceed to get mowed down by the enemy team. As a Rheinhardt I then proceed to engage in a game of footsie, debating whether to advance or stay in position, transforming what I thought was a first person shooter into a very toned down version of Dance Dance Revolution.
Overwatch – The Mei Experience
The Devil incarnate. Blizzard may have tipped their hand, alerting us to the possibility that they’re actually Skynet in disguise by creating this character. For a character whose abilities revolve around ice, she may as well be clothe in the flames of hell, such is the they way she kill enemies. A necessary evil one may argue. Basically playing as her is similar to picking the Sith Empire in Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Overwatch – The Hanzo Experience
While Mei may be the Devil incarnate, Hanzo is the personification of memedom. Hanzo players often bear the letter “x” in their name, along with a combination of some numbers. Such players often blame their teammates, call enemies out as “noobs” and often end the game by either saying “rekt” or “gg ez”. Such players (I’m looking at you Koolboixxx69) also forget TO GET ON THE OBJECTIVE AND ACTUALLY CONTRIBUTE, but I digress. Just don’t pick Hanzo.
Final Fantasy XV
Doing this list was actually super hard for me because I played more games this year than any other year I can remember. And while I want to mostly focus on games I loved that didn’t get enough press (or got too much of bad press), Beautiful Boy Adventure is definitely one of my favourites and I’d be remiss if I didn’t put this game on here. The story of beautiful boy Noctis and his beautiful boy friends going on an epic, continent-spanning road trip in their beautiful boy car is at once too grounded to be a Final Fantasy game while also being too… Final Fantasy-esque to be realistic. It’s a great balance that earns the game its self-assigned badge of “a Final Fantasy for fans and newcomers.”
With a new, refined real-time combat system, and a massive world to explore, Final Fantasy XV tells a simple, easy to follow, and personal tale that actually makes sense (which is such a relief after the pseudo-philosophical gibberish of Final Fantasy XIII). It’s a tale that feels grounded with stakes that feel real and it has an ending that just… fits. There’s not much else I can say. If you like good games, you need to play Final Fantasy XV right now.
I love Dark Souls. I mean, I love all of gaming as a whole, but there are very few series that are as close to my heart as From Software’s tough-as-nails Souls series. Dark Souls is one of my favourite games of all time, so I’m very happy with the recent surge of Souls-like games. It began with Lords of the Fallen, and then continued with Dark Maus, Salt & Sanctuary, and will probably go on with next year’s The Surge. But the one Souls-like that stood out above the rest for me was Harebrained Schemes’ diabolical dungeon delve, Necropolis.
With a unique minimalist aesthetic, tight combat mechanics, and procedurally generated dungeons that change every time you start a new run, Necropolis was already set to provide endless hours of hacking and slashing for those who needed it, but over the course of several updates, the developers tirelessly added new content to the game and turned it into one of the finest games of 2016.
What can I say about Livelock? It’s gorgeous, has an interesting story that is told with lots of style, all wrapped around one of the tightest, most exciting co-op twin-stick arcade shooters I’ve played in some time. Honestly, this has been a great year for arcade shooters with Enter the Gungeon and Alienation, but Livelock so far above the competition that I felt kind of bad even bringing those other games up just now.
All of the above and what is, hands down, my favourite soundtrack of the year makes Livelock a worthy addition to anyone’s library. Get this game. Get your friends to get this game, and then lose some hours punching giant robots in the face. You can’t go wrong.
Okay, I’m going to break my consistency rule for a second. I didn’t review this game. It was one of the first games to come out, and while it was great and still has its fans, it quickly faded from the larger community’s minds once the with tentpole releases started coming in. That is a crying shame because Oxenfree is a genuine masterpiece of its genre. It tells a creepy and affecting story of a bunch of teenagers goofing around with sci-fi anomalies on an island with a bunch of beers. What starts off as some sort of modern-day retread of Stephen King’s Stand by Me slowly spirals into the heart of darkness and the end result is one of the most hauntingly beautiful ghost stories I’ve ever witnessed. Also it has a fantastic synth-wave soundtrack that would be my favourite soundtrack of the year if Livelock hadn’t come out. And just look at that art style!
No Man’s Sky
Yup. I’m still sticking with this one.
Hello Games’ cripplingly ambitious space sandbox may never live up to the developers’ promises and the audience’s expectations, but even in its current state, No Man’s Sky is a fantastic achievement and an absolute technological marvel, no matter which way you look at it. Its umpteen floppidygillion planets may not be as varied and unique as we had hoped, but the algorithm powering the game generates some truly interesting and aesthetically gorgeous terrain. This is one game where “if you can see it, you can go there” is actually 100% true and the sheer act of exploring these mountains and fields and caves feels like an adventure. If you’re like me and consider exploration to be its own rewards, No Man’s Sky is just the game for you.