2016 has been a big step forward for me and a massive step backward for humanity. I got married this year. My career took off in unexpected ways. I found a publisher for my novel. Outermode grew into a real community on Facebook. But lots of good people died. And fascism took hold in my country of residence. And France, the country I left behind to move to the US, descended into a horrifying spiral of terrorism and political regression.
Although everybody and their brother seems to agree that 2016 was a fantastic year for videogames, I actually have more intense pleasurable memories associated with games released in 2015: The Witcher 3, SOMA, Undertale and my discovery of Destiny (with it’s expansion The Taken King). I don’t consider any of the games below (with the exception of Inside) better than the aforementioned four. From my (admittedly limited) perspective, 2016 felt like a year with more good games and less great games. But really, none of that matters, because this list isn’t necessarily populated by the best games this year. It’s actually just a list of games that hooked me, reeled me in, and held me in their damp, dark arms for extended periods of time:
Inside (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
I played Inside incredibly late in the year — in December, actually — and I couldn’t be more glad that I got around to it. I remember navigating its bleak and moody predecessor Limbo from beginning to end on a laptop in an airport some years back, and that was quite an experience. Inside amps up the bleakness and moodiness and continues to deliver fascinating platformer-meets-puzzle-game mechanics that make you feel intelligent every step of the way, but its conceptual and narrative depth makes its older sibling feel like a rough sketch. Inside punches through its own (admittedly gorgeous) trappings and becomes something other in a way that only the best art is able to. Its soundtrack was literally re-recorded inside a human skull and all of said skull’s teeth fell out in the process. The game’s last half hour made me feel a wide range of concurrent emotions, and I realized after it was all over and the credits were rolling that the game hadn’t contained a single line of dialogue. Now that is a feat of environmental storytelling to say the least. Play it.
The Division (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
I have loved The Division, grown bored of The Division, asked myself whether I ever loved The Division, and then fallen in love with The Division all over again. At its worst it’s Tom Clancy’s dry, witless response to Destiny. At its best, it’s an atmospheric, gritty, and utterly engrossing massively-multiplayer third-person shooter that feels great to play and metes out progression in an intelligent way. Not to mention a stunning recreation of a devastated, post-apocalyptic Manhattan. Recent DLC The Underground and Survival have both been resounding successes, and the developers have gone out of their way in recent months to gather fan feedback and make the game better. It has paid off. Now if they could just provide players with interesting clothes to wear and pull the entire game into an alternate reality with either aliens, robots, or monsters of some sort… but hey, it’s Tom Clancy, and Tom Clancy is all about realism I guess. Either way, this is a game I’ve talked plenty of shit about, sunk dozens of hours into, and enjoyed a lot over the course of 2016.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
I finished this game. I did all the sidequests. I enjoyed the lore. I even came to love Adam Jensen for being a huge fucking loser. I had never properly played any games from the Deus Ex franchise before, and now I totally get why they’re a thing. Cyberpunk! Quests! Shooting! Creeping through air ducts! Hacking! Choking people out because you’re so morally involved that you can’t bring yourself to shoot them! Modifying your body with weird techno-gadgets! All of these things are good. Holy shit, this is the third game on my list and they’ve all been horrifying dystopias. What’s wrong with my brain?
Final Fantasy XV (PS4, Xbox One)
See? They’re not all dystopias! Some of the games I love are kinda goofy. I did not, however, enjoy this game until I watched the anime that actually explains the characters’ relationships to one another. Then I looked up a guide to combat and toggled ‘Wait Mode’ and played for a few more hours. Then, inspired by my warm memories of hearing Stand by Me playing during the introduction, I turned the game’s music off and turned on a spotify playlist with melancholy classical stuff by Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm and Debussy. And I can now honestly say it was all worth it. I love Final Fantasy XV. Despite the needlessly pornographic Cindy. Despite Prompto’s annoying commentary. Despite the haircuts. Despite Gladiolus’ abdominal muscles. Despite the screwy graphics and oftentimes disjointed mechanics. The game is at its best when bittersweet music is playing as my boy band fights a giant mech by flashlight. And chocobos. Goddamnit, I haven’t enjoyed a Final Fantasy this much since Final Fantasy VII, which is the best Final Fantasy and I won’t hear otherwise. I think the mix of fantasy, realism and cyberpunk really does it for me. I also quite like the banter between the characters, the driving bits, and Noctis’ dad. I sorta wanna play as Noctis’ dad.
No Man’s Sky (PS4)
Let’s just not talk about it, ok? People have a lot of strong feelings about this game. I enjoyed it a lot while it lasted. Then I stopped playing and never went back. Maybe by end 2017 it’ll have some replayability. Until then, I will say that I loved the colors; the taking off and landing on weird planets; the music; and the bizarre, all-pervasive calm. I SAID LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT IT.
Other games I enjoyed but that didn’t ‘grab me’ as much, for whatever reason: Rise of the Tomb Raider, Mafia 3, Titanfall 2, Skyrim Special Edition, Civilization 6, Watchdogs 2, Pro Evolution Soccer 2017.
Here are some games that sucked me in this year but weren’t released in 2016: Destiny, Diablo 3, Path of Exile, Neverwinter, World of Warcraft. What can I say? I’m a loot slut. Anyways. Happy new years you beautiful animals.