It’s a short week for us in the States.  On Wednesday I’ll be flying to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with those close to me and I imagine others will be making their own journey to spend time with friends and family.  By the time I’ll come back we’ll be staring down the barrel of December and it’ll be about time for me to start writing my end of the year series “I’m Still Talking About…”.  That’s not to say the year is basically over or their aren’t any more games coming out – I particularly have my eye on KING Art Games’ The Dwarves as a late holiday entry.  But December tends to be a slower period for video games – especially indie games which tend to come out in the non-holiday season to avoid going toe-to-toe with titles like Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian.

So while the year hasn’t officially come to close, I’d like to take a long look back at the games that came out in 2016 and try to shine a light on a group of indie titles that I think deserve some time in the spotlight.  Hopefully, you’ll find a game or two on my list that you won’t see elsewhere.

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It’s funny how feelings on a game can change throughout the year.  As I look back I find that while certain titles have become more interesting to me (like Mother Russia Bleeds) and other games have lost some of what made them special (like Firewatch).  But inevitably every year there is a game like Owlboy, Pony Island, or Stardew Valley that begin off my radar and surprise me with experiences I’ll never forget – that is my favorite part about following games.

However, if there’s one observation I think sums up 2016, it has been the growth of the indie scene to finally replace the B-list titles that used to make up a large part of the games industry.  Titles likes No Man’s Sky or The Witness stood toe-to-toe with the biggest blockbusters in terms of hype and notoriety, offering the kind of experience that make games special with significant production value.  Sure, there are still indie games that looks like Stardew Valley or Owlboy, but indie games don’t mean cheap, small experiences anymore.  We’re starting to see the indie scene break into all genres.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it felt like 2016 was a bit of a down year – perhaps that was inevitable after 2015. Last year featured so many games that stood out I could barely narrow the list to fifteen of my favorites, this year it wasn’t so hard to get to ten.  I hate saying “down year” or “off year”, but there didn’t seem to be as many games that begged to be played.  Many games were fun distractions and interesting experiments, but true hits were hard to come by.

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It’s rare that I get to talk about AAA games, but I wanted to take a moment to call out a few games that were really special for me this year and even if you love indie games, these deserve a shot.  Watch Dogs 2 was the best open-world game this year, though Final Fantasy XV is on the horizon, so perhaps that may change.  The game’s reinvention from self-serious story set in Chicago to hipster love-letter set in San Francisco is a brilliant choice.  Ubisoft can be so hit and miss with these titles, it’s hard to say I’m interested in another Watch Dogs sequel, but the dispensable formula certainly works this time around.  

I also found X-COM 2 to be a joy – and I reveled in an opportunity to play as a renegade commander of a human rebellion.  I don’t know if it’s use of iconography is as sound as it was in Enemy Unknown, but I hope I can look forward to more X-COM.  

One game you might have forgotten about this year was Remedy’s Quantum Break.  I had my reservations about Quantum Break, as it looked like it leaned a little too heavy on action instead of Remedy’s smart world-building, but it is another solid entry from an excellent developer.  It might rank on the low end of the studio’s work, but it is still respectable.

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The same could be said for Naughty Dog’s much-anticipated Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  I don’t think the game compared with The Last of Us, and it still leaned toward the series’ tendency to overload itself with overly-long firefights.  But Uncharted 4 was the first game to give Nathan Drake an arc as character and leave him in a different place than we found him.

Lastly, the game everyone seemed to be talking about this year was Overwatch.  Blizzard’s ability to take a difficult genre and simplify it to perfection was truly on display with their team-based, multiplayer shooter.  With a wonderful cast of characters that are as interesting as they are fun to play, Overwatch is a game that we’ll likely be talking about for a long time to come.

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There might be more special games this year, if so I’ll be sure to call them out before the end.  But there were also some real duds.  Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was a hamfisted attempt at being a metaphor for racial issues, but felt so dated and clumsy I found it unplayable.  Alienation was a thoroughly disappointing entry from Housemarque – developers of Resogun – that showed none of the creativity that the studio had used in its previous arcade titles.  Amplitude was so forgettable and so uninspired, it made me remember why the game wasn’t a success in the first place.  Then there was Bombshell – which was Duke Nukem starring a woman – being one of the buggiest and most boring games I had the misfortune of playing this year.  But nothing was more painful than Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Chronicles.  Both the India and Russia entries came out this year and were a masterclass in everything that was wrong with the series.

Okay, I promise the negativity is done.  From here on out, I’ll only be writing about the best in video games from 2016.  Hopefully December gives me some games to make me rethink that which will be included.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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