Let’s face it: 2016 was a bad year in so many uncountable ways. But when it comes to video games, it was a great year to have some relief with the escapism that games offer when you need a break from the real world.
We’re blessed to have another year of great games, and that makes the process of putting them in order on my favorites list difficult again. These games gave me moments of wonder, joy, sadness, and fun. They’re both as complex as they can possibly be and simple at the same time.
And I’m pretty sure that there’s not a gamer out there who will agree with my full list. I based it on what held my attention for the longest time and what gave me the best moments in gaming this year. It’s not a list of the critically acclaimed games that I should like or a list of the most innovative titles.
The core console and PC game makers were once again at the top of my list. I didn’t play any single game for hundreds of hours, as I did last year with Total War: Attila. But I finished every one of the games (at least those that had a single-player campaign). Of the titles that I spent the most time with this year — Pokémon Go and Clash Royale — only one is on my list.
I was disappointed in games like Mafia III, which was a contender for the best story in a game. But it was flawed in its execution, gameplay, and quality. I was also disappointed in Tom Clancy’s The Division, which I felt looked so good in previews but played clunky in the end.
I carved out as much time as I could, given a busy writing and travel schedule. I can’t pretend to say I played a large sample of games, but I judge quickly which games I want to play, and I preview a great many as well. I zeroed in on the ones that I liked.If I had to pick a trend here, I’d probably say it’s the year of the blockbuster shooter, since so many of my picks are in the first-person or third-person shooter genres.
I’m sure that many readers will find this list to be uninspired. It’s full of commercial blockbusters, but I am glad to have a mix of PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and mobile games this year. Virtual reality made it onto my radar this year, if you check out the honorable mentions. I would love to get excited about more indies titles and games on new platforms, such as virtual reality. But there’s always next year.
For the sake of comparison, here are my favorites from 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011. And be sure to check out the GamesBeat staff’s own votes for Game of the Year and the best individual favorites of the staff soon. The links go to our reviews or major stories about the games.
1) Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Developer: Naught Dog
Platform: PlayStation 4
Once every few years, Naughty Dog shows up with an outstanding game. Uncharted 4 is one of the best video games ever made, with a narrative that winds up the adventures of Nathan Drake, a light-hearted adventurer who started out as a Lara Croft clone and became something bigger. As the inscription on Drake’s ring reads, “Sic Parvis Magna: greatness, from small beginnings.” The game was full of spectacular set-pieces, like scenes from a Hollywood action movie, such as when Drake is saved by his wife Elena as his jeep goes over a waterfall. Elena is the opposite of the sexy vixen characters from video game history, and, as a fairly regular person, she’s one of the most memorable female game characters ever created.
It’s a beautiful game, with scenes where you can see for miles above dense jungles or cities. The story is also enthralling, as Nathan’s lost brother Sam shows up, and he keeps getting them into situations where one brother could be killed. The contrast between the more mature Nathan, who has already gone on enough adventures, and Sam, who thirsts for more, sets up some difficult choices for Nathan. Much of this story is told through the gameplay, as the characters converse with each other in the middle of gameplay scenes.
The game also has a much improved combat system, with plenty of new elements, such as swinging around with a grappling hook. So many things come together in Uncharted 4. It has better gameplay, graphics that push the power of the platform, a signature story that is worthy of Naughty Dog, diverting puzzles that aren’t annoyingly over-complicated, adventures in faraway jungles and cities, and a certain finality in knowing that the series is coming to its end. That ending is fitting and crafted well, no matter what you expect to see happen, and it wraps up the story of characters that I feel I’ve come to know so well. And add points to this for the funny Crash Bandicoot mini game that gets worked into the story.
2) Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Developer: Infinity Ward
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One
Infinity Ward did some soul searching after the weak performance of Call of Duty: Ghosts in 2013. That game was rushed, but with a new studio helping out, Infinity Ward had three years to work on Infinite Warfare. The studio took the risk of setting the game in outer space, with a leap from modern warfare to science fiction. But the gameplay and performance of the guns was clearly evocative of other Call of Duty games.
One of the best decisions Infinity Ward made was to double down on the story. It hired two leaders from Naughty Dog, maker of the Uncharted series, and it used them to instill a much more interesting narrative. This is also why, after many years of repetition, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare feels like a brand new experience. You can fly Jackal fighters in space, use a grappling hook, run on walls, and mow down dozens of combat robots.
The story follows a surprise attack launched by the Settlement Defense Front — a rebellious military group that has colonized the solar system — against its home planet Earth, held by the United Nations Space Alliance. It is an interplanetary war for resources. But Infinity Ward it tells the tale of that war in a personal way, following the path of Lieutenant Nick Reyes, a brave special forces soldier and pilot who gets promoted on the battlefield. The great insight of the developers in improving the story and characters — including a military robot that is funny as the one in Star Wars: Rogue One film — is that it makes you care that much more about the action sequences.
Multiplayer is quite intense, and it comes with a wide variety of customization. This game was also the bargain of the century, as it included both the Zombies in Spaceland co-op experience and the full game of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered in the deluxe version. Since this game is so high on my list, I would argue that Call of Duty isn’t out of gas yet.