Listen, it’s been a crappy year for almost everything. There’s no getting around that. Video games, though? Video games had a hell of a year. It was a borderline Royal Rumble getting my list of top games down to ten this year, and I still feel incredibly guilty that there are games that came out — that I really enjoyed — that had to get cut, because there were somehow ten games released that I found more substance in. In seven years of writing GotY lists I have never, never had such a hard time cutting games, but for all its crappiness, 2016 has been a great year for video games. The following list hurt me to make, but good lordy-lord it contains some bangers.
Honorable Mention: Diablo 3
It’s my true game of the year every year, and continues that trend in 2016. I’ve spent no fewer than 300 hours rolling around Sanctuary this year alone, across two platforms, and when Season mode (and a new Necromancer class) comes to PS4 in 2017, I suspect I’ll double that count.
10. SUPERHOT (SUPERHOT Team)
The tagline says it all: Time moves when you do. But that’s not all there is to SUPERHOT. Beneath the surface layer of the first-person combat puzzle game is a series of bizarre mini-games and story beats that add so much depth to the experience you’ll end up at the centre of gravity. One thing you’ll realize quickly about my Top 10 list this year is that it comprises only of the kind of video game experience I adore, in which the player chooses how to approach everything, with little to no scripted theatrical sequences to remove that empowerment. SUPERHOT opened the year as a leading contender of all time in this category, and if puzzle combat is something you’re even remotely interested in, it should be on your list too.
9. Dead Rising 4 (Capcom Game Studios Vancouver)
Talk about the right setting at the right time. After a weird year across all of life’s spectrum, Dead Rising 4’s Christmas theme was so welcome I had a holiday smile permanently displayed across my face. Every design decision made with this thing was impeccable. Menu music? Jazzy Christmas jingles of famous Christmas songs. Weapons? Already Dead Rising-level crazy, but with the addition of holiday-themed accompaniments. There’s literally a spear that fires exploding Christmas elves, it’s called the Gandelf, and when you slam it on the floor it does exactly what you’d expect from a spear called the Gandelf to do. There’s been some criticism that Dead Rising 4 has strayed away from the idiosyncrasies that make Dead Rising games special, and there’s certainly some truth to that, but that doesn’t detract from just how fun this Christmas toy box is. I, for one, will be treating this game like my favourite Christmas movie from here on out: Playing it every December to get in the holiday spirit.
8. Trackmania Turbo (Ubisoft Nadeo)
This year saw the release of several really great driving games, among them, Forza Horizon 3, a game I really like. I’m not a sim-racing guy, though. I enjoy those games a lot, and Forza Horizon as a series has always done right by me, but this year my favourite racing franchise of all time came to PS4, and I have played so much of it that the hour count is well into the three digit range. The traditional campaign tracks are fine, and it was somewhat fun for a couple of weeks to fight the leaderboards for best times, but this game’s true centre is where Trackmania has always been at its best: Online Racing. When fifty or sixty people are racing for the best time on a massive stunt course, pulling out all the stops to experiment with checkpoint skips, performing backflips and barrel rolls for no reason other than to have fun, and going out of their way to use the elegant one-button social interface to welcome new players to the room and wish everyone a ‘gg’ at the start and finish, it proves that the joy of Trackmania — previously exclusive to PC — can exist just as wholly on console. The speed is intense, the drifts are near-infinite, the community is amazing, it’s an incredible package from top to bottom. Still not quite up to the level of customisation that PC players have, but even without the mod community, Trackmania Turbo has been at the core of some of the most fun I’ve had all year.
7. Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix)
What an absolutely beautiful, glorious mess of titanic proportions this game is. Stuck in development hell for years, eventually pushed out the door with the majority of the story being offloaded to external media (see Kingsglaive), and ultimately proving that an absolute mess of a video game can still be a joyful ride. There are so many things I love about FFXV, and just as many things that I hate, and while that may seem to indicate that it doesn’t belong in my top ten, I couldn’t help but keep playing it, because the things it gets right, even if by accident, are so good. Maybe it’s because I haven’t played a new Final Fantasy game (beyond the first hour) since the PS2 was still the console of choice? Maybe FFXV has somehow rekindled my love for the series simply out of a bit of fan service? I don’t know, honestly. Despite sinking more than sixty hours into the game, I still can’t put my finger on why I like it so much when I hate it so much. It’s an enigma. That’s all I have to say, really. I love this game… Not sure why.
6. Dishonored 2 (Arkane Studios SA)
Given my known opinions on its predecessor, it might be a struggle to figure out why Dishonored 2 would miss my Top 5, if not my Top 2, or even 1. Here’s the thing: I think Dishonored 2 is almost as good as the first, it’s damn-near on the same level, even in spite of Corvo’s awful VO portrayal. The combinations of powers still cause glorious chaos with every play session, allowing the player to simultaneously feel like a genius problem-solver, while also testing the limits of the developer’s QA thoroughness. The gameplay and world-building remain the two strongest pillars, with the story unfortunately letting this entry down compared to its predecessor, which isn’t to say it’s bad, just a little shallow. I adore this game, and alongside Dishonored it definitely ranks up there in my all-time favourite games list. So what could possibly have outshone it five times, dropping it to sixth place on the list? Enter the Top 5.
5. Subnautica (Unknown Worlds)
This game isn’t even finished yet, so it’s a bit of a cheat really, but there are few games I’ve put more time into this year than Subnautica. One of the many members of the survival game trend, Subnautica drops you in an alien ocean, expecting you to dive into its depths to harvest resources that will allow you to explore deeper, until, ultimately, you can figure out a way off the planet — which incidentally, I don’t think is actually in the game yet. The mining/collecting/crafting/exploring loop is the backbone of all of these games, but there’s something about Subnautica that makes it stand out above the rest for me. It helps that when you start a new game you can opt to remove the starvation and dehydration mechanics, allowing you to explore, harvest, and build without having to worry about feeding your character — a mechanic that I’ve never particularly cared for in any game. You can also opt out of the O2 meter if you wish, though the persistent threat of drowning adds so much to the exploration part of the loop, I consider it a mistake to turn that off. Every update to the game has been huge, adding new craftable vehicles, making changes to the crafting recipes to make the game progression flow smoother, and just in the past few days an update was released that dropped a metric tonne of story into the world, as well as all new cave systems to explore, and the underwater ruins of an ancient civilization. With every update I tell myself that I need to wait for the 1.0 release before starting again, but then off I go five minutes later, starting a new game and happily dropping another ten to twenty hours. Subnautica is beautiful, serene, meditative, intriguing. It is everything that this kind of game should be — needs to be — and I’m 100% certain I will invest a lot more hours into it prior to its official release.
4. Sid Meier’s Civilization VI (Firaxis Games)
Civ VI is my new favourite 4X game. Period. It is complex enough in its system depth to make me concentrate on micro-management without getting complex enough — as some 4X games do — to make me begin losing my mind to near-infinite scope. It’s also the most simple, casual to pick up 4X game (on a surface level at least), since Civ Rev. The art is great, the musical score is incredible, the game is as simple or as complex as you want it to be, and barring the continuing problems with AI opponents in 4X games, it’s just about the most perfectly made game released this year. Add all that to the smooth, soothing voice over of Sean Bean, and you’re on to a winner. Well, a fourth placer.
3. Dark Souls 3 (From Software)
Dark Souls 3 was — if nothing else — an interesting reaction to the respective fan receptions of Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne. Leaning further into faster combat than previous entries in the series and aggressively pandering to the Dark Souls  canon, Dark Souls 3 came off as somewhat odd to me — not ‘bad’ odd, just odd. The bizarre character identity crisis aside, Dark Souls 3 gave me everything I wanted out of a FromSoft game, far more so than Bloodborne had a year previous, as this game allowed enough customisation of playstyle to keep the player coming back for multiple runs. I’ve probably beaten the game 10+ times this year, at least once across all three platforms I — arguably foolishly — bought it on. The first DLC content, Ashes of Ariandel was middling, to be sure, but the core game absolutely blew me away in a lot of moments. The appearance of Gwyn’s Black Knights and the carefully-crafted reveal of Anor Londo hit me right in the feels, but it was moments like the discovery of the Untended Graves and the walk onto the cliffs of Irityhll Valley that really won me over, proving once again that nobody can impress me on a design level quite like Hidetaka Miyazaki.
2. Hitman (IO Interactive)
I remember going to a Hitman presentation at EGX a couple of years ago, watching a bit of gameplay from the now-renowned Paris level, and walking out of that room thinking, ‘Huh, that looked pretty good. Dare I be excited for it?’ I was not a fan of Hitman: Absolution, a game that quite possibly missed every mark of what made Blood Money a cult classic, and I’ll admit that even after watching what I considered to be an impressive demo, I was hesitant to allow positive expectations into my mind. Fortunately, my misgivings could not have been any more misplaced, as 2016’s episodic Hitman managed to not only nail the formula perfectly, but improve quality-of-life gameplay over its predecessors, and arguably most impressive: Managed to handle an episodic release plan without even the slightest hiccup. Every piece of content, be it free or part of the season pass, has been downright phenomenal. Even the less-interesting levels are better on their own than many triple-A games. Hitman is back on top of my list of favourite Hitman games of all time, after being supplanted previously by Dishonored.
1. Doom (idSoftware)
From the moment the Doomslayer awakens to rip and tear through the demonic invasion in progress, it becomes clear that id’s decision to cancel their more serious Call Of Duty-esque Doom 4 was the best decision a development team may have ever made. Even the absurd story is incredible, and what makes it more incredible by far is just how little a sh*t the Doom Marine gives about it. The moment that Dr Samuel Hayden is trying to deliver exposition to the player, and the Doom Marine’s response is to lob the monitor across the room so he can get back to killing demons — that was where I fell in love. That the overall story happened to be good in and of itself was moot at that point. This game showed its hand in the opening seconds of immediate gameplay: You’re the Doom Marine, there are demons, you want to violently kill demons, any obstacles or consequences to your actions be damned. The soundtrack is perfectly aggressive, the action is edge-of-your-seat good, and the pacing is determined by the player, who can opt to sprint from encounter to encounter or clear a room and spend some time searching for secrets, often leading to significant empowerment. It even manages to somehow do a FPS boss fight right, which I’m not 100% sure has ever been done. I could honestly drool over this keyboard all day reminiscing over Doom, but I kind of just want to go and play Doom again now. Rip and tear, until it is done.