Thursday, December 01, 2016

Top 10 Video Games of 2016

Looking over my list of my favorite video games of 2016, one thing is clear: It's been a great year for storytelling.

I'm so glad voice actors garnered some long-overdue time in the spotlight and kudos to those supporting them by using #PerformanceMatters in their social media posts. Because I'm drawn more to story-driven material, it goes without saying that my list would be very different without the talents of some incredible actors behind the mic (except for a couple, but we'll get to that later)

As important as I believe it is to continue to shine a light on the #PerformanceMatters movement, I definitely don't want to take away from the rest of the team who toiled hard behind the scenes to bring us a lot of really incredible moments in gaming: Directors, artists, writers, developers...everyone whose name is included in the final scroll of the end credits. 

Choosing my ten favorite games of the year was actually a fairly easy task. The ones that stood out to me really stood out (apologies to Far Cry Primal, an amazing game that just narrowly got edged out), but as far as ranking them from best to worst...I don't wanna do that. They're all incredible works and all of them deserve a place on your shelf/hard drive. That being said, I'll be listing them not in order of least-favorite to favorite but instead very simply the order in which I played them. Also note I'll only be including games that were released in 2016 (you know...since it's the Top 10 of 2016).

I went into Oxenfree not really knowing what to expect, and I believe that's the absolute best way to go into it. If Telltale gave birth to the Duffer Brothers, they may have made a game like this (Yes, I'm aware a video game company can't give birth to humans. Work with me).

A well-written script is brought to life by an outstanding cast of voice actors (prepare to hear that phrase a lot as you read through this list) and you can't help be drawn in as you join the motley crew of explorers as they try to figure out just what in the world is happening.

A mysterious island. Secret experiments. LOST-like hints that take their wonderful time revealing to what it is they're pointing. What are we dealing with here? Aliens? Ghosts? Science gone wrong? Never have I enjoyed being so confused so much.


The first of two games I alluded to in my intro that managed to move me without a single word being spoken aloud, I'm not ashamed to admit Unravel gave me more warm fuzzies than a bucket of cute kittens watching YouTube videos of even cuter kittens. You wouldn't know it from my super-tough exterior (I'm writing this smack in the middle of No-Shave November, and my beard has given me an overblown dose of machismo), but I can be a pretty sentimental guy and this one got me right in the gut.

Beautifully animated, the adventures of Yarny are a gorgeous metaphor for the memories we hold dear and how easily they can, well... unravel with age. Each level is a quest for a memento that triggers thoughts of an earlier, simpler time, slowly filling the empty pages of a photo album as we go. The visuals of the game are presented in a filter that encapsulates nostalgia in a way that would make Instagram jealous.

Simply put, it's wonderful. Prepare to say "Awwww." A lot.


There's a reason TellTale games keep popping up on my end-of-year lists: Plain and simple, they make really good games. 

Although I've been quite vocal about finally giving up on the TV show that's certainly not the case when it comes to The Walking Dead series put out by what I consider to be the Pixar of video game studios and The Walking Dead: Michonne did not disappoint.

TellTale has an amazing group of voice actors they - for good reason - continue to invite back to the party and this time around is no different. Director Kent Mudle perfectly blends the talents made available to his hands and he manipulates them with impressive dexterity, much like a puppeteer making an impossibly-complicated marionette spring to live with a natural ease.

As in the source material, what poses the highest threat of danger isn't the legions of undead lumbering through the landscape, but those still alive trying their darndest to stay that way. Cissy Jones steps behind the mic to breathe life into Norma, one of the baddest baddies you'll love to hate, and she seems more than eager to dole out the consequences coming your way based on choices you make.

If you only know Michonne from the television show, you'll be pleased to witness how the writers have chosen to present her backstory. We're jarringly thrust into flashbacks when we least see them coming; painful, heart-wrenching glimpses into what haunts her waking hours that make the walking dead seem like a walk in the park.

If you're a story junkie like myself, Quantum Break is your Disneyland and I had a blast running through the park. A game experience like none I've ever witnessed, the game makers have pacing down to an art form. It's like they understand how, after a particularly stressful boss battle, I need a bit of downtime to get my heart rate back down to normal, and I'm rewarded after each chapter with a live action mini-movie (each episode has a running time of about 25 minutes).

I was genuinely surprised by the number of people who complained about this alternate approach to cut scenes and I sincerely appreciated how Remedy Entertainment broke out of the box to give me a unique adventure. Even more impressive was the replayability of the game and watching how the live action sequences changed slightly depending on different choices I made during my gameplay. I appreciated the hard work and multiple storylines the writers had to balance while at the same time moving things along in an exciting way.

The production value is quite impressive and never did I feel like I was watching a video game but instead this was a full-blown big-budget Hollywood production. Special kudos to the stellar cast, highlighted by the likes of Shawn Ashmore, Lance Hendrick, Aidan Gillen, Patrick Heusinger, and Courtney Hope just to name a few.

For as long as I can remember I've wondered what it would be like to find myself as the hero in my own action/adventure. Quantum Break made it happen.


This is the game that will no doubt be at the top of most Best of the Year lists, and for very good reason. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End blew me away at every turn with its stunning visuals, clever writing, and thrilling gameplay. Nathan Drake, one of my favorite protagonists since Han Solo smirked his way onto the screen, once again finds himself in over his head and soon danger lurks at every turn.

Unlike our favorite Star Wars scoundrel, though, the writers do an incredible job of adding weight to the proceedings. Each of the relationships Nathan holds closest to his heart are jeopardized in one way or another and some of my favorite moments in the game didn't come during a thrilling mountainside jeep chase scene, a stunningly beautiful puzzle inside the workings of an old clock tower, or during a nail-biting final flame-surrounded pirate-y duel. Instead, it was the quieter moments that stuck with me. An awkward conversation on a couch. A heartbreaking revelation in the jungle. A phone call with a loved one that's more lie than truth.

Naughty Dog marvelously weaves all of this together into one seamless adventure that consistently caught me by surprise time and time again. When it comes to this game, my only regret is that I'll never be able to experience it for the first time again.


I realize I'm jumping the gun on this one, but I've learned to have faith in the Telltale team. The game isn't actually completely released yet (they just released episode 4 of 5 but since it's halfway over I've decided to put this one on 2016's list instead of saving it for next year) but so far the journey has been incredible.

When I first heard that Batman: A Telltale Series was going to focus more on Bruce Wayne as opposed to his Dark Knight alter ego, I admit to being slightly non-plussed. "Oh cool, what am I gonna do, sit in my manor by the fireplace taking inventory of my priceless Japanese sculptures and Mayan artifacts?"

But as Roland the gunslinger might say, I'd forgotten the face of my father. This is Telltale we're talking about and they've brought me some of my favorite games of all time (Have I mentioned Tales from the Borderlands lately?).

Here we're shown that being Bruce Wayne can sometimes be just as perilous as donning the cowl, and as you navigate the interpersonal relationships between thugs, goons, deviants, liars, thieves, killers, and politicians - characters often landing in more than one of these categories - the fact that you know your decisions will affect how the story unfolds makes it nearly impossible to tread lightly.

With the characters brought to life by a stellar acting cast (#PerformanceMatters), it's possible the bat signal has never burned so brightly.


Hey, remember that time I mentioned there were two games on this list that managed to tell amazing stories without the use of voice actors? Well, Mr. Robot is the second one and Telltale (again!) has managed to spin an intriguing web using only a handful of JPEGs and some well-timed texts.

The premise is simple: You've come across a phone (played in this game by your actual phone) and soon you're pulled in by a hacker group (fsociety, the same group from the Mr. Robot TV show you don't need to be familiar with to enjoy the game (but you should be)) who've decided to recruit you for a job or two and they're not taking no for an answer.

You begin exchanging messages with a mysterious contact and soon you find yourself pulling off cyber hacks you never thought were possible from your phone. One of the reasons the game works so well is how it unfolds in real time. If the person you're texting says, "I'll be in touch later" they mean it. It could be hours, sometimes a day or two before hearing back, and that's how they hook you. I genuinely found myself wondering about the game throughout the day, why I hadn't heard from anyone, and what would unfold next.

And then...then you hear back.

And it's not just a text saying hello, it's URGENT. They need you to jump on this RIGHT NOW and then you'll get a text from someone else and you're suddenly juggling three conversations at once and wait, did I get a clue about how to do this or am I just supposed to wing it and oh man I'm doing it, I'm doing it, I'm doing it and....


The texts stop.

Radio silence.

And you realize that without any voices, animation, or musical score this game really sucked you in and got your heart pumping.

And then your phone buzzes again. Here we go!


For years my pal Gabe would talk about going into stores and feeling like he was being watched. I always thought he was just being paranoid.

"What do you mean 'they're watching you?'"
"Because they think I'm gonna steal something."
"What? Why? You're crazy. I've never felt like that."
"Of course not. You're not black."
"Dude, they're not watching you just because you're black."

And then Gabe would just stare at me and raise one eyebrow as if to say, "Please." I realize now I was being quite naive. I just couldn't grasp why. Mafia III helped me understand what he was talking about, if only just a bit. It may seem like an exageration to proclaim a video game helped me look at racism from an angle I hadn't seen before, but it's true.

This isn't the first game to include a black protagonist but it is the first one to remind me of my skin color (or my avatar's skin color) on such a regular - and realistic - basis. The game is set in the South in the 1960s, and it doesn't take long for you to pick up on the NPC citizens of the city and their conversations and what they're muttering about you.

You can only hear so many "We don't want your kind around here"-type phrases (most of them actually much much worse than that) before you just want to scream, "But I'm not doing anything! I'm just walking by!!"

And God forbid you stumble into a store or shop whose employees and patrons are standing firm in their bigotry. Again, I'm not saying I experienced anything in a video game that even begins to compare with what people experience in real life...but I got a glimpse. And it sucks. And because I felt how much it sucked, it's a testament to how well the developers succeeded.

I would be remiss not to mention the other aspects of the game. Each mission was thoroughly enjoyable and the writing really kept me guessing (Be sure to watch through the end credits!). All of that, as excellent as it was, was made even better by a stellar voice cast.

Finally....that soundtrack. Oh, MAN that soundtrack. I could happily drive horribly (I am NOT a good driver, Rain Man) through the streets of New Bordeaux blaring Sam Cooke for hours on end. Especially if I knew I was on the way to shoot some racist hillbillies.


I really enjoyed the original Dishonored. But I reeeeeeeeally enjoyed Dishonored 2. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that as soon as I finished I opened up a new game save and started all over again.

This time around you can choose from two different characters to play: Corvo, the lead character from the original, or his daughter Emily who is now grown up and has developed some impressive powers that put her dad's to shame. I played as Emily the first time around and the new skills play like driving a finely-tuned sports car (and yes, making the switch back to Corvo felt like getting behind the wheel of a classic. It's not as slick or flashy and may not have the same get-up-and-go but it sure feels good while you're behind the wheel).

The storyline this time features the appearance of a heretofore unknown family member looking to cash in on the family's claim to the throne (not unlike "those" family members who pop out of the woodwork as soon as they hear of your lottery windfall). Depending on which character you choose to play, the other finds themselves in a position of needing rescue and thus the chase is on.

One of the beautiful things about this game is it lets you choose what kind of experience you'd like. Are you, like me and my MTTG co-host Tim, trying to sneak through as stealthily as possible? And, on top of that, make it with as few casualties as you can? Then go for it.

Or are you looking to mete out your own brand of justice, slaughtering anyone and everything in your path? The go for that.

Either way you're awarded with  an ending appropriate to your gaming style. More importantly you're rewarded with some fantastic gameplay. Each level is massive in size and those who like to take their time and snoop through others' bathroom cabinets will be paid handsomely. As of this writing I am halfway through my second go-around.

And yes. There will be a third.


2016 was definitely the year of highly-anticipated sequels. And not just that, but highly anticipated sequels that really paid off. Watch_Dogs 2 fits perfectly into that classification. Don't get me wrong. I loved the original and was happy to don the conductor's hat on the hype train. But this time around... (Picture me pinching my thumb and index finger together, kissing them, and making a "MUAH" sound). That's a spicy meat-a-ball.

This time Ubisoft took what really worked (the clever hacking puzzles) and amped them nicely (now 3D geographical puzzlers) and introduced a couple of new mechanics I quickly fell in love with (I couldn't get enough of the new drone and hi-tech RC car). What didn't really click with fans last time (Digital trip, anyone?) seems to have been left behind in Chicago.

What really sets this one apart is the incredible DeadSec team voiced by some actors who are really throwing down some impressive work. I laughed out loud. I empathized with them. I yelled "No!" at a completely unexpected turn. And I called the villain with a man-bun a douche. A lot.

Ubisoft really excels at presenting you with a massive map to explore and they did not disappoint this time around (Although I admit I was waiting for the moment the map would open and expand even wider than you originally expected. And yeah, I miss the "Free the outpost/Unlock the map" missions that were in the first one as well as the Far Cry and Assassins Creed series).

I'm looking forward to playing this one again and since I'm not a Final Fantasy-er, I'll have a few hundred hours to spare.


And there you go. My choices for The Best Video Games of 2016 According to Ed. Visiting them again for this write-up has only solidified my choices. It was a great year for games. It was a great year for great writing. It was a great year for incredible performances.

2017, you have your work cut out for you.

Ed is a co-host on the Married to the Games podcast and a regular contributor to the MTTG YouTube channel.

No comments: