3) Battlefield 1
Developer: DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One

Zara Ghufran, a fictional character who fights for Lawrence of Arabia in Battlefield 1, is based on real female rebels.

Above: Zara Ghufran, a fictional character who fights for Lawrence of Arabia in Battlefield 1, is based on real female rebels.

Image Credit: EA

Speaking of taking risks, Electronic Arts and DICE were brave to take Battlefield 1 in a completly different direction, setting the game in World War I. This risk paid off far better than the crime-oriented Battlefield Hardline, and DICE created a game that is respectful of the memory of The Great War, which claimed 17 million lives.

There are all new weapons and vehicles, and I didn’t miss the modern weaponry at all. EA took some liberties with history, but I appreciate that the goal was less about being historically accurate and more about re-creating the visceral feeling of being in the war. In that way, EA created one of the best history lessons ever for a new generation of people. Even as a history buff myself, I appreciated learning new things about the war that I didn’t know.

You follow the stories of a half-dozen different people, from a tank crew in the battle of Cambrai in France, to the disastrous beach landings in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey, to the guerrilla fighting in the desert with Lawrence of Arabia. Perhaps my favorite part was the mountain warfare in the Italian Alps, where you could look down on the beautiful landscape and see the action far below. There were some crazy things in multiplayer, like piloting a big Zeppelin over the battle, but they added to the fun.

The stories of the soldiers should have been longer, making this game feel like it was either rushed or too short. But this game clearly left me hankering for more.

4) Titanfall 2
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One

In a big mistake, EA launched Titanfall 2 in October, wedged in between Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. That probably hurt demand for what is really an excellent sequel to the 2014 Xbox One exclusive. The original game generated more than $500 million in sales and cemented Respawn as a big player in shooters. Titanfall had the original concept of high-mobility infantry, who can run on walls and jump to the top of buildings, pitted against giant mechs. If you score well enough in the infantry fighting, your pilot can summon a mech, or Titan, that drops from the sky. Then you can engage in devastating combat against the infantry or other mechs.

The sequel took that further, with six different mechs, and a host of interesting game play additions, such as grappling hooks and batteries that you can steal from atop a Titan. If there’s a difference between this and other shooters, it’s a hyper-kinetic experience, both in the excellent single-player campaign and the multiplayer fighting. The game has a big twist in the middle, where it introduces a new mode of fighting that I won’t spoil here. But it added to the fun. The smart thing they did was to make the hero’s robot into a character, and to create a touching relationship between them. The story still felt like it was second fiddle to gameplay, but it was an interesting attempt in a game that also introduced good gameplay. The title might get overlooked during the holiday season, but if you’ve still got bandwidth after the holidays, this is a great game to play.

Titanfall 2 is a sci-fi epic.

Above: Titanfall 2 is a sci-fi epic.

Image Credit: EA

5) Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Linux, OS X

Adam Jensen is the hero of Deus EX: Mankind Divided.

Above: Adam Jensen is the hero of Deus EX: Mankind Divided.

Image Credit: Square Enix

This series has crept up on me, as I wasn’t much of a fan prior to Eidos Montreal’s latest take on the near future of human augmentation. The game is set in 2027, two years after an “aug incident” where a nefarious man caused augmented humans — those with artificial abilities such as prosthetic arms — to attack “natural” humans. The world has divided into factions, with natural humans discriminating against augs and putting them into ghettos, as if all of them were terrorists. It’s a sci-fi story, but a good mirror for the real world. Adam Jensen, the augmented hero, tries to uncover the plot to further drive a wedge between humans and augs.

Interestingly, the game had a science advisor who believes the augmented future is quite possible, and he instilled real-world connections in the game. You can, in fact, order Jensen’s prosthetic arm from Open Bionics and use it as your own in the real world. This story is yet another cautionary tale about the risks of technology and what happens when fear drives society. The atmosphere of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is disturbing and oppressive, and it foretells what our own world can become while living under the threats of terrorism, cultural and racial segregation, corruption, and Machiavellian politics. It is a serious examination of the consequences of cynically pitting one group of humans against another, and it’s a lesson for us all on how to avoid a future of oppression and shadow. The game is long, easily stretching for more than 25 hours.

This provides a great backdrop for the new game, which has more of an open world feel. But the gameplay is a very interesting blend of stealth, action, and role-playing. Not only do you get to use Jensen’s augmentations to creep around in stealth mode, you can also go on the attack using increasingly devastating augmented powers. The final boss battle is tough, but if you’ve leveled up and learned how to play it correctly, you can use your augmentations to outwit your foe. The game could have used more polishing and the ending seemed like it was just setting up the next game in the series. But I’m glad that the developers chose to deal with such a serious subject, and it inspired the theme for our upcoming GamesBeat Summit in May 2017.

6) Overwatch
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: Windows, PS4, Xbox One

Overwatch beta

Above: Hanzo, offering some stylish defense.

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

Overwatch doesn’t look spectacular, with its cartoon-style characters that resemble things we’ve seen before, like Team Fortress 2. But it’s a wonderfully balanced, no-frills team shooter that really delivers outstanding gameplay. It has funny moments and characters. You can choose from close to two dozen characters, including some that fit into characters such as stealth, defense, tanks, and sniping. Six human players square off against another six, with one team on offense and the other on defense. The time-based battles have lots of different paths and cover, and each character can build up abilities that can be unleashed with brutal but temporary effect.

You have to team up to overwhelm the enemy, with one in the role of protector while another carries out an assault. But you also don’t have to have a headset and constantly communicate in order to get things done, since the battle maps are designed in a way so that it’s obvious what you have to do. When the clock starts counting down the final moments of the game, your team is often battling for control of a victory location. It helps that when you start a battle, the game points out if your team has too many offensive players and not enough defensive ones. When the battle is done, you see the stats, as well as “the play of the game” where one particular player performs a great feat. It’s touches like that which make Overwatch so accessible and fun to play.

7) Quantum Break
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft
Platforms: Windows, Xbox One

Quantum Break Strikers can zoom around the battlefield in an instant.

Above: Quantum Break Strikers can zoom around the battlefield in an instant.

Image Credit: Microsoft

At nearly five years in the making, Quantum Break took far too long to get done, with zig zags in the development schedule that were as complicated as its time travel plot. And when it came out in the spring, many gamers complained that it wasn’t the same game that Microsoft showed off at an E3 press conference. But if you look past that, the title was one of the most innovative to come out in the Triple-A space. You could play the episodes of the game as the hero Jack Joyce, and then watch the villain’s point of view in an episodic video. At the end of each episode of gameplay, you make a choice. That changes the video that comes next, and it ultimately leads you to some very different endings.

Joyce gains the ability to stop time and manipulate it, stopping people and bullets in mid-stride, and that gives him the ability to fight large numbers of enemies at the same time. But he has to square off against his former friend, Paul Serene, who has seen the end of time and wants to save only a handful of people in the world. Joyce opposes him, believing that the outcome Serene has seen can be changed. Solving time puzzles is cool. You may find a security gate locked. If you rewind time and find a time when it was open, you can switch to that time, go through, and then return to the present. The performances and the writing are good, but the game was a bit buggy, the final boss was way too tough, and the fighting could get repetitive. Overall, though, the ambitious game was original and memorable.