Game of the Year lists are, by and large, pretty silly, at least when people attempt to lend an unnecessary importance to them. Ranking games is a fairly arbitrary process in the first place, so I feel it’s important to lend some perspective to the proceedings. There is no authority behind this. I’m not saying that one game is objectively better than another. I’m just giving a well-deserved nod to the experiences that I enjoyed the most.
I was in a rather unique situation this year since every single game I played in 2016 was documented, so there likely won’t be too many surprises. If you’re wondering where a certain game is, I probably just didn’t play it.
I don’t think I’ve ever played a Kitty Horrorshow game that wasn’t, at the very least, challenging to my senses in some way. Most of them follow the same structure of a terrible (in a good way) story told through audio logs, but more than any other, Anatomy instills a feeling of paranoia in the player that’s difficult to shake. It’s yet another reinforcement that short-form horror is almost always more effective than longer experiences forced to give exposition. You have an idea of what’s happening in Anatomy, but you’re never entirely sure of yourself. And that’s terrifying.
Devil Daggers, like many games on this list, kinda came out of nowhere. That element of surprise is really what it thrives on, since you never quite know what the game will throw at you at first, eventually demanding that you commit it all to memory to stand a chance at surviving. I never got very good at it, admiring better players from afar. I could use the excuse that I simply didn’t have time to commit myself to one single game for any length of time, but Devil Daggers kicked my ass consistently enough that I’m confident in saying that I wouldn’t have gotten much better at it. It’s a testament to its addictive “one more run” nature that I still want a sequel or expansion in spite of that.
A lot of people have probably already forgotten about Pony Island and that’s a goddamn shame, since it stands out as a unique experience in a list chock full of them. To get me to not only appreciate, but actively enjoy, a meta-narrative is an achievement, and to do so without completely disconnecting me from the world being built is even more so. Pony Island works because it treats its framing device with equal respect to the player, making you feel clever for simply continuing to engage with it.
Time has been very kind to SUPERHOT, since my initial write-up expressed a lot of disappointment about what I thought it could have been. In retrospect, I think I was unfair to the things that it still manages to accomplish, forming a brand-new niche in the action genre. Games may forever steer away from copying it simply because it’s unique time dilation mechanic will always be identified as “that thing from SUPERHOT”. Do I wish there were more of it? Absolutely. Do I wish it got even crazier? Yes, and there’s room for that in the future, for sure. It’s still incredibly cool.
I really really want to finish VA-11 HALL-A. It’s a huge priority of mine to get on that next year, since it was one of the stories I found myself most engaged with this year. I know there’s no way this tale of dystopian bartending will end on an upbeat note, but part of me doesn’t care. The world feels so lived in that I want to savor every conversation, even if I don’t quite master delivering the social lubricant. VA-11 HALL-A isn’t a story with world-ending consequences and that, ironically, makes it feel more important.
I’m really really bad at Hitman. Most people are, I imagine, but I’ve managed to parlay a decade-long career of being terrible at the series into something workable. The problem with the previous titles was always one of intimidation – a million solutions put in front of you, along with just as many ways to fail. What makes the most recent game work is the episodic nature, allowing you to spend more time with each location, really learning the ins and outs of the layout, whilst also rewarding you for finding new ways to kill. With just a Paris level and some coins, I’ve had an incredible amount of fun, which is more than I can say for every other Hitman game I’ve ever played.
Another game that I feel is probably going to end up under the radar, Oxenfree solved the puzzle of how player agency can combine with a well-crafted narrative to make for a cohesive experience. Unlike a Telltale game where the wheels spinning in the background are often a little too obvious, it creates a situation where you care less about winning a game than you do about making the right choices for people that you care about. It works with a modest set of limitations (small cast, small setting) to create something deeply personal, a story that feels all your own.
I picked Dark Souls III as my first YouTube playthrough for a reason. I knew, even if I hated it, it would never be boring. Being the third in the series, it serves as a love letter to the previous games, while also capitalizing on expectations veteran players may have about their adventure. Just when I think I have it figured out, DSIII throws me a curve ball, and I love it for that.
I’m cheating here. Off-Peak technically came out in 2015, but I could not justify leaving it off the list. The Steam version came out this year, so I’m counting it.
Off-Peak was, easily, my favorite indie game I played this year, and it’s not even close. Rarely has a game stuck with me so much that I often think about it long after completing it. The sound, the oddball characters, the walls populated with Polish movie posters, the glimpse of a greater world beyond this train station where board games and music are the only two forms of entertainment – it was a place that I didn’t want to leave. I’ll probably spend the next few years of my life recommending this game to everyone I know. It just… gets me.
This should be a surprise to literally no one. I devoted an entire week to it for a reason. Overwatch consumed my life at a time when I really couldn’t afford to have a game consume me. Had this been any other year, chances are I would have done nothing but devote myself to getting better at the game (and miss out on a lot of other good stuff in the process).
As it stands, I’m content to hop in a few times a day for a Quick Play round, understanding that I’ll never be a top player. That’s okay. Though I appreciate Overwatch for bringing back my old FPS fixation, it also deserves props for doing what a lot of other games simply don’t. For all of the belly-aching about how difficult is to promote diversity in games, Overwatch just does it. Everyone is represented. Everyone has someone they can relate to, even if it’s not who you’d initially expect. I, a fat white dude, identify most with the pretty Indian woman with OCD. Games are weird like that. Overwatch is awesome like that.