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2016 was packed with a wide-variety of high-quality video games. We saw some outstanding platforming games, military shooters that put an emphasis on storytelling, and a bunch of games that dared to think outside the box and take real chances. Unlike last year, I couldn't narrow my Best of 2016 list down to just five games, so here are my ten favorites games of this year:
Insomniac Games' over-the-top third person shooter franchise has been a PlayStation staple all the way back to 2002, when the first game debuted on the PS2. The latest release, simply titled Ratchet & Clank, is a crazy, beautiful sci-fi romp filled with tight platforming, fascinating characters, and the ridiculous weapons that Insomniac is known for. The game is stunningly beautiful throughout both gameplay and cutscenes, and I haven't seen even a hint of a framerate drop. It's one of those games that never feels like a chore to play, the difficulty is well-balanced which makes for an enjoyable experience.
The Lego video game formula remains relatively unchanged since making its debut all the way back in 2005, but that's okay because they've been fun to play from the start. This past summer's Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens took the momentum generated by the movie and propelled the story it told forward, fleshing out the situations and characters that the film simply didn't have time to fully-explore. The result is a mix of fun, yet familiar gameplay and fresh story, making the game feel almost like a director's cut of the film as it fills in lots of gaps. With plenty of DLC available the game delivers countless hours of fun for the whole family.
Life is Strange was available in an episodic format in 2015, but the collection version on disc released on January. The game is about a teenage girl that develops the ability to manipulate time and how that ability affects those around her. It’s a well-done story with interesting characters, and while I raced to the end because I couldn’t wait to see the resolution I was immediately sad that I didn’t get to spend any more time in the world. A sequel is already in the works and I can’t wait to see where developer Dontnod Entertainment takes this franchise.
Read my Life is Strange Review here!
While I love long, narrative-driven video games sometimes I just want to enjoy a bite-sized, twenty minute experience. No game delivered that better in 2016 than Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, which ended up being the perfect way to game when I only had a handful of minutes available. Months after I finished every maze I'm still chasing high scores, and with one trophy away from achieving a platinum I find myself going back to the game at least once a day. The challenge is high, but given how familiar everyone is with Pac-Man the game should be accessible to everyone.
Read my Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Review here!
When I first heard that Telltale Games was developing a Batman game I was skeptical. I love their work, but the reason their past games have found success is because of the storytelling. I've always found the action-heavy sequences to be awkward and clumsy, so I wasn't sure they'd be able to strike the proper balance given how essential hand-to-hand combat is to how Batman does his business. But Batman: The Telltale Series is able to make it work because of how unique and strong the story is, I was able to overlook the cumbersome gameplay because I was so engrossed in the narrative. I won't spoil anything here but the game goes places that no Batman tale has ever dared to enter before, and the result is a game that I'm still thinking about weeks after I've completed it. The action stuff can be frustrating and Telltale's engine is ancient at this point, but Batman: The Telltale Series shows how easy it is to overlook such problems when the writing is so good.
Driving simulators usually get old pretty quick, so playing one that has vehicles with a top speed of 80 miles an hour and is full of realistic traffic laws couldn't possibly be fun, right? American Truck Simulator proves that theory wrong as it has provided me with over 60 hours of entertainment. The premise is simple: your job is to get a load of cargo from one destination to another as quickly and safely as possible. The game progresses nicely as you work your way up from being a simple hired driver to the point where you can buy your own trucks and pay people to drive them. From managing your resources to figuring out which RPG elements you should level up, there's just so much challenge to be found here beyond simply turning a wheel.
Read my American Truck Simulator Review here!
Something about Firewatch grabbed me from the moment I saw the first screen shots almost a year ago. The game is beautiful and has an aesthetic so unique that there's no mistaking it for another game. Firewatch puts you in control of Henry, a guy that's going through a rough patch and chooses to deal with it by isolating himself at a ranger station for the summer. He quickly discovers that he's not alone at all, as mysterious happens occur that distract him from keeping an eye out for fires in the Wyoming wilderness. Giving away any more would risk ruining the plot, but if you enjoy story-driven games then Firewatch would be a great way to spend 5-6 hours.
Read my Firewatch Review here!
The sequel to Crystal Dynamics' 2013 Tomb Raider reboot finally found its way to the PlayStation 4 this year, and it was worth the wait. The game wisely sticks to the core gameplay mechanics of its predecessor while throwing in a couple of new wrinkles, but it's the story that steals the show. The game takes Lara Croft through a very personal journey set against some of the most gorgeous graphics I've seen in a game, and with plenty of side quests still remaining I'm still finding reasons to return to her world. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End got all the PlayStation treasure-hunting buzz this year, but there's a lot of things Rise of the Tomb Raider actually does BETTER than its rival franchise.
The last Battlefield game I truly enjoyed was 2010's Battlefield: Bad Company 2, since then the franchise has been stuck in an endless loop of mediocrity as it tried to match the success of its rival Call of Duty. This year developer DICE wisely chose innovation over imitation, setting their game in the little-explored territory of World War I instead of following CoD into the future. The result was a spectacular journey into the past that feels grounded in reality, the game shows the horrors of war and how it impacts the men and women forced to participate in it. Battlefield 1 proves that a military shooter can have great multiplayer AND an excellent single-player campaign. Call of Duty may have the big-name actors and the bigger marketing campaign, but the stories they continue to tell are as empty and cold as the ridiculous outer space setting they placed their 2016 game in.
With new people in charge this game was under tremendous pressure, even if it managed to produce a "good" experience people would've disappointed. But Uncharted 4: A Thief's End delivers beautiful aesthetics and a deep story that explores just what it means to be a gunfighting treasure thief. The game shows that not everything is glorious, that there are consequences for those that choose such a lifestyle, and it works like a charm. Developer Naughty Dog's connections with Sony and their understanding of the PlayStation 4 are on display here, this is the best-looking and best-performing video game I've ever played. The gameplay is great, the globe-trotting takes you to some amazing virtual places, and the end of Nathan Drake's tale couldn't have been handled better.
Read my Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review here!
Read about my favorite moments from the Uncharted franchise here!