For anyone with imagination, enthusiasm for games and a soul, there were some amazing experiences to be had in 2016.
*Warning! Some spoilers ahead*
12. Firewatch – at the lake
One of the few interactions you enjoy with characters you actually see, and the moment where the game developers play with the genre as well as the audience expectations. Is this a horror? A thriller? Are you the bad guy? This scene brilliantly wrong-foots the player.
11. Virginia – The Jump Cuts
The jump cuts – which I reckon will be something we see more often in the future as games developers experiment with pacing, editing and mise en scene – were the standout feature of Virginia. An old narrative device applied to a new medium.
10. Inside – Being absorbed
The grotesque, mildly disturbing and brilliantly staged moment when you surrender your physical form. The way you lose your clothes one by one as you make your way (back?) to the creature is brilliant.
9. Overwatch – the ultimates
Overwatch is – from loading screen to match results – one of the most perfectly designed games ever made. The symbiosis of the ultimates – intentional design that nonetheless feels as if it’s author by the players themselves – is emblematic of Blizzards immense achievement.
8. Oxenfree – a darker-than-dark ending
The VHS visual effects are weaponised nostalgia for people my age, but it’s the ending that really hits hardest in Oxenfree. The tone of the game often feels lighthearted; the sense of imminent peril is ubiquitous but seemingly never materialises. Once you appreciate what the ending actually means for the protagonists at the very end though…
7. Titanfall 2 – a really good gun
“Effect and Cause” is a really fantastic level that was rightly discussed and celebrated amongst games critics, but even better was the moment when the game gave you a very, very good gun. I played this section over and over, not because I failed but because I wanted to experience it again and again.
6. Abzu – inertia and a cello
Evoking the best moment of Journey (swimming in sunlight), this section of Abzu almost reached those same heights of euphoria. Almost.
5. Dark Souls 3 – dancing the aurora
Dark Souls 3 had a slimmer story than its predecessors. The lore was spongier, aggregating the previous games content to evoke their best characters and moments rather than supplant them. Still, the boss fights were spectacular, with the Boreal Dancer a particularly haunting highlight.
4. Uncharted 4 – sticking the landing
How do heroes retire? If they live long enough, they settle down, put on a little weight, go a little grey and raise the next generations of heroes. I can’t think of a better ending for a game – or a series.
3. Pokemon Go – changing the world
A game that escaped our homes and pushed us out into the sunshine, affecting where we go, who we meet and how we perceive the real world. You could see the effects of Pokemon Go out your window, in any park in any city and in a thousand quiet street corners around the world that suddenly became hot spots for teenagers, Pokemon fans or people who just wanted to play a game about walking and catching animals.
2. No Mans Sky – A sense of wonder
I feel like I’m from a special mirror universe where No Mans Sky was strikingly, surprisingly similar to what the developers showed in the trailers and was pretty much exactly the game they advertised. Ok, they didn’t hit every mark, but they came closer than I would have expected them to. I didn’t expect to feel such wonder. I didn’t expect it to be this good. Maybe I’m a cynic. Maybe we’re all cynics in the mirror universe.
1. Darkest Dungeon – “You cannot learn a thing you think you know”
I finished Darkest Dungeon in 2016. It’s brutally difficult, sometimes cruel and frequently grotesque, but it’s also fantastic. I could highlight the great character designs, the challenging boss creatures or the carefully judged difficulty curve, but instead I will focus on the pitch perfect dialogue and it’s excellent delivery by Wayne June. “To fall for such a little thing… a bite of bread.” I think it’s the best written game ever made.
That’s my list, I hoped you liked it. Purely subjective and all that. I hope you found as many great, personal moments in games as I did.
Happy New Year everyone!
My piece on Darkest Dungeon – And Why Developers Shouldn’t Listen to Their Audiences – is in the latest issue of Unwinnable Magazine, available here.