As game development becomes more and more accessible, more and more people are making interesting and different games. From indie studios, we’re beginning to see highly polished innovative experiences that challenge the traditional definitions of what it means to be a video game. While the AAA scene continues to pump out sequels for decade old IPs I continually find myself drawn to the new and different games, many of my most anticipated games of 2017 are first time titles for those teams. This year delivered incredible passion projects and massive, ambitious adventures. I hope you enjoy our 10 favourite games from the past year and I would love to hear what some of your favourite games were in the comments!
10 – ABZÛ (Giant Squid)
I loved Journey, it was an experience that perfectly captured the emotion of the Hero’s Journey, a storytelling formula passed down for centuries. So when I heard Matt Nava, one of the developers on Journey, was working on a similar project set in an underwater wonderland I was instantly on board and I was rewarded for my eagerness with a delightful and gorgeous adventure. What is essentially the spiritual successor to Journey, ABZÛ hits all those same notes and feels so familiar and comfortable. That’s not to say ABZÛ doesn’t do anything new, the swimming mechanic is entirely different than Journey’s caped traveller yet somehow feels just as smooth and just as intuitive. If you’re interested and want to learn more, be sure to read my full impressions in our review.
9 – Pokémon GO (Niantic Inc.)
Pokémon GO isn’t a good game, it’s an alright game at best. The battle system blows, there’s no trading, catching Pokémon is repetitive and there’s not a whole lot to do to level up besides spend hours and hours walking around and spinning Pokéstops. But goddammit if I didn’t have the most fun I’ve ever had on my phone this past summer playing Pokémon GO. I’d play it on my walk to work through Victoria Park in Kitchener, I’d play it in the evenings with my girlfriend, this game consumed me along with millions and millions of other people around the world.
Niantic and Nintendo created the perfect mobile experience, one that with any other property than Pokémon would have been an absolute bust. But because it had those creatures that we all had such a strong connection to already I couldn’t wait to catch ‘em all in real life! While the AR left a little to be desired, walking around places I’d been for years suddenly had a whole new reason to go to when there were Pokémon to be caught. I found places I’d never been before because there were Pokéstops there, I met people I never would’ve talked to but did because we were both playing Pokémon GO. For those couple of weeks, we all gathered around this one silly little game and it was beautiful. No other video game has ever reached as many people as Pokémon GO did, and I think it will be a long time before any game does again, if ever.
8 – Darkest Dungeon (Red Hook Studios)
I’m bad at strategy games. I play Fire Emblem on phoenix mode and I play Civilization on Settler. So you’d think a ridiculously hard, gruelling turn-based strategy game wouldn’t be something I’d enjoy. Well, I would’ve thought so too, but Darkest Dungeon seems to prove me wrong. The game starts with this message: “Darkest Dungeon is about making the most of a bad situation… the game expects a lot out of you.” Needless to say, I was sceptical, I never like when things expect a lot out of me it’s usually just an opportunity for me to fail. And I did fail, a lot actually. But what makes Darkest Dungeon different is that I really, really enjoyed coming back from my failure and trying again.
Darkest Dungeon overwhelmed me at first. There are so many stats to keep track of, from each character’s position in your party, how many supplies I have and need, how much torchlight I have left. I typically don’t play games that ask me to remember more than my ammo count but Darkest Dungeon was a challenge that made me want to get back after getting knocked down. I grew attached to characters and my heart broke as they developed self-harming quirks and ultimately died, never to respawn. It’s brutal, and maybe that’s what I love so much about it. While other strategy games give me a false sense of hope Darkest Dungeon knows I’m going to fail and is designed to let me fail over and over until I get it, and come back slightly better than the last time until I overcome- and that’s kind of nice.
7 – Severed (DrinkBox Studios)
The last, great PlayStation Vita exclusive, Severed is an interesting game, to say the least. Severed is a first person dungeon crawler done in the style of DrinkBox Studios’ last game Guacamelee! Starring a one armed Latino woman named Sasha searching for her lost family in the land of the dead, Severed offers an emotional, personal story that connects the player to this woman and her desperate plight to reunite her family. Making great use of the Vita’s touch screen controls in a way that feels neither gimmicky or forced, dismembering monsters never got old. And those puzzles? Hot damn, that’s the shit. Like I said in my review, Severed is “a marvellous game and a must play for Vita owners.”
6 – Ratchet & Clank (Insomniac Games)
If you were looking for a love letter to the best of mascot action platformers then this is the holy grail. A remake of the 2002 title that started it all, Ratchet & Clank looks like the best Pixar animation you’ve ever seen and feels like the best third person action game you’ve ever played. It’s a brilliant revamp of a series that with over 15 titles was starting to lose its appeal. But Ratchet & Clank is a return to form that wins back lapsed fans like myself and serves as a great starting point for players who’ve never met the charming Lombax and robot duo the rest of us have come to love.
Ratchet & Clank stars an endearing cast of characters and a great reimagining of the original story. Whereas Ratchet and Clank didn’t really hit it off in the original game, this time around they immediately hit it off and it’s a much better origin story for these characters. So whether you’ve never played a Ratchet & Clank game or got tired of the countless sequels, this is absolutely the game to jump back in on and is one of the best games of 2016.
5 – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog Inc.)
Uncharted 4 was many things, some good and some not so good, but no one can argue that it was a great ending to Nate’s story. The epilogue had me so excited, every moment felt wonderful as I relived almost a decade of Uncharted moments. I had some big issues with the rest of the story. Too much Sam and not enough Sully, the use of Elena as an obstacle for Nate to avoid and the uncharacteristic way in which Nate lies and mistreats Elena. But despite all of that it’s still the most polished, most grand and impressive Uncharted adventure of them all. Infused with stealth and conversation mechanics from The Last of Us and featuring a deep and compelling multiplayer, it’s not my favourite Uncharted game but it’s, to quote Sully, a “helluva good one.”
4 – Firewatch (Campo Santo)
Firewatch had me hooked from the heartbreaking opening all the way to the poignant finale. Every beat, every step Henry took, every moment had me enraptured. The interactions between him and Delilah were the highlights. From moments of outright laughter to moments I got a little choked up, the writing and performances are exceptional. And let’s not forget this game lets you adopt a pet box turtle- me and Turt Reynolds were tight. While I did encounter very noticeable framerate issues as well as texture pop-in, it never really bothered me enough to detract from my experience.
This game breathes fresh air into a style of adventure game Telltale had been beating to death with their various projects since the success of Walking Dead. By placing the dialogue choices within the context of a walkie-talkie conversation with Delilah suddenly pauses while deciding what to say made sense, it felt natural and blended gameplay and story in a masterful way. With an incredibly gorgeous Wyoming woods setting, a strong story, characters and an incredible soundtrack by the one and only Chris Remo, Firewatch is a masterful game that everyone should experience.
3 – GoNNER (Art in Heart)
For many gameplay is king, and the gameplay in GoNNER reigns supreme. With a brutal roguelike progression system, challenging enemies and gorgeous procedurally generated levels, GoNNER is almost perfection. I loved every minute I spent in its bubbly, colourful world and while I’m not very good, I can’t wait to jump back in and die some more. That’s the mark of a truly well-designed experience- every death felt fair. Each mistake was an encouragement to become better, a lesson that allowed me to adapt and change so as to be a little bit better the next time. And that soundtrack… straight fire.
2 – Overwatch (Blizzard Entertainment)
A game I hadn’t read up on, hadn’t really paid attention to, Overwatch wasn’t on my radar at all at the start of 2016. But after my girlfriend convinced me to get it and I started my first match as Widowmaker I really got into it, to the point where Overwatch is without a doubt my most played game of 2016. I’ve been playing since May. I’ve played every season, every event, been there at the launch of Ana and Sombra, I’m so in love you could say I’m hooked. Overwatch is the first Blizzard game I’ve played that really appealed to me. Mainly because I don’t play on PC, but even playing Diablo III on consoles just never really grabbed me. However Overwatch is such a unique game, it’s such a definitive experience. There’s nothing quite like it.
It delivers on every front. It’s incredibly gorgeous, immensely enjoyable and endlessly replayable. After 150 matches I still find myself in new and interesting situations each and every match. And Overwatch stars one of the greatest cast of characters in any competitive game ever made. With such a broad range of diversity, every character has a charm and a personality that no other game ever has. The community that’s exploded around this game is incredible, they continue to amaze me all the time. And it’s now the most successful video game starring a lesbian on its cover, with a Metacritic of 91/100 and over 20 million units sold worldwide. Fuck yeah.
1 – Inside (Playdead)
As I said in my review, Inside is an experience that is better and more meaningful the less you know about it. So while I could tell you about all the moments that made me love this game, the puzzles that had me stumped but once solved blew my mind, I think it’s better just to say that Inside is one of the best video games I’ve ever played. From beginning to end, Inside never faltered, never lost its brilliance. It consistently wowed and amazed me and it’s an experience that will stick with me for a long, long time and it’s without a doubt the best video game released in 2016.
That’s everything. While there were certainly titles I had trouble leaving off this list like Overcooked and SUPERHOT, there’s no doubt that the games that made it are all amazing and well deserved. So what games were your favourite from the year? What games wowed you and kept you coming back for hours? We’d love to read about them in the comments and thanks again for reading!