The Golden Barrel Awards 2016

2016 may go down as a terrible year for many reasons but video games won’t be one of them. As the below list will attest, we have seen some spectacular games this year – and this is just a sampling.

Like previous years, I asked Team BRB to vote on their personal favourites for the year. In total, 29 games were nominated (the remaining titles being Skyrim: Special Edition, Destiny: Rise of Iron, MAXIMUM CAR, Hitman, Fire Emblem: Fates, Enter the Gungeon, Final Fantasy XV, Mystic Messenger, Inside, Mother Russia Bleeds, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, Pokemon Go, Plants VS Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, Unravel, Duelyst, Subnautica, Watch Dogs 2, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare/Modern Warfare Remastered, The Last Guardian).

An additional 11 games given honourable mentions (Rise of the Tomb Raider, Trackmania Turbo, Bioshock Collection, XCOM 2, Dishonored 2, Stardew Valley, The Little Acre, Tyranny, No Man’s Sky, Worms: WMD, Batman: The Telltale Series) because we simply had too many games to praise.

Without further ado, here is Team BRB’s favourite games from 2016:


 

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10. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (Richard Kirke)

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided picks up where 2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution left off with Adam Jensen, more full of hardware than your average B&Q, trying to make sense shadowy forces that are manipulating global events for their own ends. A decent first person shooter paired with RPG elements, Mankind Divided has built on its predecessor with improved cover mechanics and new augmentations that offer new ways of exploring the rich, if limited, environments and thwarting the machinations of the Illuminati.

In contrast to the best entries in the Deus Ex series, Mankind Divided suffers in the story, which seems very short and leaves the player wondering what was the point of everything they have just done. The game’s 30-hour campaign finishes not with a showdown with the villains it has been establishing, nor with unravelling any of the mysteries that surround Jensen but with is a somewhat anti-climactic battle with a B-list character. This disappointment aside, Mankind Divided was compelling, beautiful and exciting.

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09. Firewatch (Alex)

In the land of so-called ‘walking simulators’, Firewatch nails the balance between narrative, exploration and interactivity within its environment. The start of the game is also one of the most emotional beginnings to a video game I experienced in a while, which is especially impressive, considering how simply it is presented: through a little text adventure.

In Firewatch, you follow the story of Henry, who takes a job as a Shoshone National Forest lookout, to escape personal problems he is not willing to deal with. While the job promises to be no more than hiking around gorgeous forest, observing its wildlife, with ample time to dedicate to the typewriter, Henry soon finds himself deeply connected to a conspired mystery that occurred in lookout station years before he arrived. Together with his supervisor, Delilah, who he only communicates with through a walkie-talkie, Henry tries his damnedest to figure it out.

While the gorgeous art style is the first thing to notice about Firewatch, the story is equally on par with well-spaced mystery and compelling characters, brilliantly voiced by Cissy Jones and Rich Sommer. In fact, the success of the story is deeply rooted in relationship between Henry and Delilah, that can be shaped by a player through dialogue options. They are funny, vulnerable, flawed, but most importantly, feel like real people in the way their dialogue has been written and voiced. The open world environment of Firewatch is just big enough to enjoy exploring (and occasionally get lost), but not overwhelming with things to get sidetracked with. I had a lot of fun walking through the Shoshone Forrest, especially finding little easter egg references, be they in the name of the books on Henry’s shelf, or, my favourite, a jaw bone necklace hidden in the lookout, that belongs to Solas from Dragon Age: Inquisition (Jane Ng, environment artist for Firewatch, is a fan). Only a slightly rushed ending, brings this game down. Even so, I couldn’t recommend Firewatch enough.

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08. FORZA Horizon 3 (Coleman)

When looking at the line-up of winners for this year’s Golden Barrel Awards there’s definitely a brilliant selection of captivating stories or flawless mechanics, and in the case of FORZA Horizon 3, it definitely has the latter covered. While the Horizon series has been known for taking the driving sim built for hardcore digital petrol-heads and building a friendlier mainstream experience, this third instalment may well have filled the gap left by the long-absent Burnout series.

Jumping behind your chosen wheel out of 350 vehicles, it’s down to you to ride around the stunning open world backdrop of Australia and compete in races, challenges, stunts and more. Not only has Playground created a game that is easy to pick up and inviting to newcomers of the series but there are enough customisation options to tailor your experience, should you need a bigger challange.

Addictive by yourself and an absolute blast with friends, FORZA Horizon 3 is not only one of this year’s best games but it very well could be the most fun release of 2016.

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07. Pokemon Sun/Moon (Smashsoul)

I’ll be honest, part of me never expected to see Pokémon Sun/Moon on this list, but inevitably my fellow Big Red Barrelers enjoyed it just as much as I did.

After 20 years, Pokémon Sun/Moon are the first games in the series to seriously shake things up in when it comes to gameplay formula. It feels vastly different from any of its predecessors due to the refinement of old game mechanics, addition of new ones that change the pace of the game such as Z-moves and a genuinely interesting (if somewhat dark) story as well as nostalgic nods to generations past.

There are over 800 Pokémon to catch now as well, and if you’d told 10 year old me that would be the case in 2016 then my head would have exploded. Pokémon Sun/Moon truly feel like a culmination of the journey that began in 1996 with Pokémon Red/Green. I couldn’t have asked for a better duo of games to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Pokémon with. Here’s to 20 more!

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06. Battlefield 1 (Josh)

World War One was an ambitious leap from the recent games in the Battlefield franchise, many people (myself included) showed concern towards the subject matter and how it would be handled. However, DICE managed to pull it off spectacularly.

In the single player, they’ve managed to balance the sombre setting and entertaining game-play. From running through a town as it’s being bombarded by artillery, to the dread of being stuck alone after being shot down in no man’s land, each chapter of its war stories show powerful representations of what it meant to be on the different front lines across Europe.

Battlefield‘s signature multiplayer continues to shine with welcome changes each of its classes, vehicles and game modes. The Operations mode is still the one that I play most, the tide can change so quickly it gives the sense that every point captured, teammate revived or vehicle destroyed is earned. In addition, when you’ve been battling to take an objective in close quarter trench combat, then hearing the whistle blow and the whole team charging as one across an open field is an experience like no other.

Combining an impressive single player with a Battlefield‘s large multiplayer battles, solid matchmaking from day one, Battlefield 1 was one of my most rewarding purchases from last year.

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05. DOOM (Kev)

DOOM (2016) should not have been a good game. At best, it should have been middling, uninspired, vacant of depth and soul. id Software has pulled off a magic trick of world-changing proportions with this year’s sort-of-reboot-sort-of-sequel. The moment the game starts, the player is thrown into a demon-slaying frenzy of glorious delight, after which the story attempts to make itself come off as what we’d all feared — some sort of serious take on a Hell invasion — only to be literally thrown across the god-damn room by the DOOM Marine, hands-down the greatest anti-hero to appear in media in 2016.

As the DOOM Marine, you have one objective: slaughter demons. Yet, as one-note as it sounds, DOOM incorporates so much depth, between three different load-out customization systems, and possibly the most detailed and yet simple-to-navigate map in the history of video game world exploration. The core loop of multiplayer arena-style combat, to searching for secrets, to a meaningful sense of empowerment, and back to combat, just never gets old, and the situational soundtrack comes off as both an important factor in the attention equation and a piece of genius-level audio programming.

The theme is spot-on irreverent to the franchise’s roots, unashamedly owning its silliness and somehow making it come off as legitimately great, and the gameplay feel and pace is spectacular and second-to-none this year. The opening words of the game really say everything you need to know about DOOM: “They are rage. Brutal, without mercy. But you… You will be worse. Rip and tear, until it is done.”

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04. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Diarmuid)

It’s an unenviable task for any creator – how do you sign off on a franchise that not only have you yourself put your heart and soul into, but also has developed its own loving audience that wants everything and the kitchen sink from it? How do you satisfy people who simultaneously want the story to go out on a high but also don’t want it to end?

Personally, I believe people will look back on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End in years to come as the perfect example of how to achieve this. The game is simply fantastic, from top to bottom. The game-play, traditionally considered the weak link in the series, is much improved, with numerous new systems introduced that feel natural. The stealth system works far better than many expected and the rope slipped seamlessly into the game, feeling like it somehow always existed in the game.

However, what people come to Uncharted for is the story and characters. This was the part of the game that worried me most, especially when news broke that Amy Hennig had left the project. Straley and Druckmann manage to steer the ship perfectly though, giving Nate and his compatriots a fitting send-off whilst not completely shutting the door on the franchise. When The Lost Legacy releases later this year, I look forward to jumping back into that universe as it will be a good barometer for whether further entries, without Nate, will work.

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03. Dark Souls III (Smashsoul)

Whilst Dark Souls III ultimately finished third after we’d tallied up all of the Golden Barrel awards, it was my personal favourite game from 2016.

The Dark Souls franchise as a whole has captivated me these past 12 months and Dark Souls III sucked me in with its satisfying combat, deep lore and back story, epic musical score and genuine challenge (though, this is Dark Souls so that much should be expected). It’s a fitting final game in an amazing trilogy and it goes out with a bang.

Dark Souls III isn’t for everybody and is in no way meant for the more casual gamer and I absolutely love it for not pulling any punches in that regard. I felt accomplished after the credits rolled because I invested hours and hours travelling through Lothric and died many, many times along the way. But, you know what? I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

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02. Titanfall 2 (Reuben)

In a year where the FPS genre redefined itself, Titanfall 2 holds its own against the Overwatchs and the DOOMs. The game plays like Call of Duty‘s recent sci-fi re-brand taken to its logical conclusion – only mixed in with all of the military iconography and design are 20 foot tall robots armed with laser cannons. The titular Titans elevate an already fun game head and shoulders above its competitors. They have enough variety and customisation in their load outs that you can tailor them to your personal taste but you’ll always know how an enemy will respond when you see them.

Although the multiplayer is enough to keep you coming back for weeks at a time I found that the story was far better than it had any right to be. Think Bad Boys via Iron Giant, with a little Star Wars thrown in for good measure. None of the levels in Titanfall 2‘s campaign outlive their welcome but leave a hell of an impression. Effect and Cause seems destined to live on as one of the most perfectly complete experiences in this or any other console generation. BT-7274 is possibly my favourite new character in a video game in 2016, and Titanfall 2 is probably one of the best games of last year.

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01. Overwatch (Alex)

If at the beginning of 2016 someone would tell me, a first-person-shooter agnostic, that Overwatch, a multiplayer-only first-person shooter, would be the game I sink into close to 200 hours and even get sucked into its competitive and e-sports scene, I would probably laugh. Yet here we are, a game that is so charismatic, colourful, fun and challenging, that I play match or two almost every day since it has come out in May, and yet to be tired of it. This is also partly due to the ongoing support for the game from a dedicated Blizzard team, who add new characters, maps, modes and holiday events on consistent basis and for free.

While the concept of the gameplay is incredibly simple – squad-based combat between two opposing teams – it is the characters that add incredible depth and replay-ability to the game. Whatever you preferred gameplay style is, you can find an Overwatch character to satisfy it. Each hero has their own unique abilities and specialities, that can be also combined with powers of other characters for more powerful attacks and tighter defenses. Most heroes have their own learning curve, with some arguably easier to master than others, however it is hard to stay indifferent to them and not to have favourites.

As a primarily a multiplayer game, having a community or a group of people to play Overwatch with contributes to the enjoyment of the game. I will not lie, I love playing Overwatch as much as I do partly due to a group of friends that jump in the matches with me to bring on banter, swears and laughs. They also saved me from encountering some toxic players, that unfortunately, but not surprisingly, plague the Overwatch community. The player base of Overwatch is huge (over 20 million people) and still growing, so it should be fairly easy even for newcomers to find a group to join in and show them the ropes.

Despite other unpleasantness in the the world, 2016 has been pretty good on the video game front. There was something for everyone to enjoy, even the unexpected games. Overwatch is not a perfect game by any means. It comes with its own downsides but it is also hard to deny how enjoyable and fun it is and continues to be. It is a deserving winner of many awards this year, including our own The Golden Barrel Award.


Do you agree with our list? Of course not, that’s not how this works! Let us know in the comments what you would pick.

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Comments

  1. stingo

    Where’s PMPB on this list? I’m surprised Superhot and Hitman aren’t on this list but all of the above are fine choices.

  2. Most of my picks did not make the top 10 and the ones that did (Ovewrwatch, Battlefield 1, Doom and Titanfall 2) other staff members called the write up on before I could.

    Hitman, Final Fantasy XV, Duelyst, Stardew Valley, Tyranny, and XCOM 2. Oh and Uncharted were among my fav games this year.

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