Top 10 Games of 2016

It’s that time of year again. The following list compiles some of my favorite games that I played this year. They are not all 2016 releases. Like last year, here are the rules that I adhered to when organizing the games.

  1. In the case of a non-multiplayer-only game, I must have played its single player experience to completion. This does not require a 100% of all that the game has to offer. Instead, a completion of its main quest, story or campaign will suffice.
  2. In the case of a multiplayer game, I must describe how I played it. Whether cooperative or competitive multiplayer, I will detail whether I played with friends, matchmaking, or online or local multiplayer.
  3. I must have accomplished the above rules in 2016. The games on this list are not all 2016 releases. It is a list of what I played this year.

The 2016 list is missing older classics that made up a significant portion of last year’s list. That’s not because I didn’t play many older games. Far from it. Most of the games that make up this list are contemporary releases or those from recent memory. They were strong enough to distract me from the classics I meant to play and out-charm some of those that I did. 

I also included a couple of the categories from The Steam Awards for fun and I didn’t notice any spoilers below.

Let’s get to it.

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Possibility and Mass Effect

MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE GAME BELOW PLEASE DO NOT SPOIL THIS MAGNIFICENT GAME FOR YOURSELF

Required listening.

Released in late 2007, Mass Effect was another science fiction AAA-blockbuster dropped into an industry saturated by contemporary big-budget shooters like Gears of War, Halo 3 and Half-Life 2: Episode 2. While Mass Effect came from an established studio with what was surely a blockbuster budget, it eschewed industry powerhouse trends in favor of a character-focused story and one of the most pure distillations of role-playing in popular games.

Exploration is at the heart of every good RPG. Humanity is so new to the galaxy, and the player to the Mass Effect universe. In a way, the player learns as Shepard does, about alien races and their cultures, conflicts and forgotten civilizations. There’s a galaxy to explore in the first game with desolate planets to land on with the Mako and a delicious plot to uncover.

Mass Effect’s biggest strength is its faith in its universe and the characters within. Its self-confidence releases the player with little guidance into a game with hours of content to see. Even the planets that compose the game’s main plot are tackled at the player’s discretion or delayed in favor of side quests.

A couple hours into the game, Shepard is given the magic ticket to go anywhere and do anything in the galaxy: Spectre status. As a Spectre, the resources of the galactic government are at his or her disposal. A state-of-the-art ship and a penchant for convincing aliens to join the crew, means there’s always a surprise around the corner.

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Lonesome Learning in The Witness

MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE WITNESS FOLLOW. UP TO AT LEAST THE THIRD SET OF PUZZLES ARE SPOILED. ROUGHLY THE FIRST 10-30 MINUTES OF THE GAME. ONE HIGHER LEVEL, BUT STILL EARLY, PUZZLE IS SPOILED AS WELL.

The Witness is a game about learning.

Well, every game is. Mastering a game and surmounting its challenges requires consistent skill growth over time.

More accurately, The Witness is a game about the process of learning.

Every game is unique. Pokémon games play differently than The Legend of Zelda. Antichamber couldn’t be further from Rocket League. Even games in the same franchise or genre change their own rules, like how Super Mario Galaxy handles gravity in comparison to Super Mario 64’s focus on traditional acrobatics. In order for players to have a pleasant experience, a game has to teach the player its rules.

Today’s games are massive, with sprawling, interconnected systems. It makes sense why contemporary games have lengthy tutorial sequences or pop-up textbox guides. It’s not the most intuitive or method but it’s easy. Teaching players is hard. Even the Pokémon series has a scene in every game where an NPC demonstrates how to catch a Pokémon.

Portal is famous for its spectacular tutorial. Extra Credits covers it here, but to summarize, Portal teaches its players slowly, only introducing one layer of complexity at a time. The player can only move forward after demonstrating mastery over a particular mechanic after time for experimentation. The Witness contains a less complex game space but it accomplishes the same goals by creating an environment for the player to learn by themselves.

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Stories From Los Santos

Franklin Clinton – The Gangbanger

I wake up and leave my house in Vinewood Hills. I hop on the motorcycle I kept after a repo job with Lamar and ride down into the city. Los Santos is peaceful mid-morning. I drive down to the city to meet up with a friend at the airport. He’s an adrenaline junkie.

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Undertale: Or, I Dated a Skeleton And It Ruled

Undertale is a game that a lot of people don’t like because a lot of people do. Its rabid fanbase poured free from the boundaries of Tumblr and /r/undertale and into mainstream social media. Undertale is everywhere, with memes made out of its most famous lines and moments adapted to other games and aspects of pop culture. If you weren’t yet a fan of Undertale in the months following its release in September 2015, you probably had a bad time.

I played Undertale sometime around the turn of March, after the initial hype died down. Before that, I heard it all. How Undertale, despite its apparent Earthbound-esque simplicity, is deceptively complex and clever. How it subverts traditional role-playing game tropes, manipulating player expectations of what an RPG should be. How it uses its gameplay systems, primarily combat, to further its theme and story. Characters supposedly develop just as much as they do through overworld text as they do through their attacks and actions in battle.

Let me be clear. Subversion is nothing new in video games. In a world with releases like The Stanley Parable, Spec Ops: The Line and the more recent Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and the Terrible Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist, subversion is almost expected from darling indie releases. What makes Undertale special is that it operates on an interactive level. It is effective in the same ways as The Stanley Parable: you have the freedom of choice. It doesn’t seem heavy handed when the game isn’t making you do anything you don’t want to do.

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On Nostalgia and Nostalrius

Blizzard is suing Nostalrius, a private server that hosts World of Warcraft (WoW) in its original state without any expansion packs. As one of the most popular private servers of all time, people are outraged, both Nostalrius players and retail (Blizzard’s servers) WoW players.

To understand why people are outraged, one has to understand Vanilla WoW. Writers and players far more skilled than me have struggled over the last decade to explain what made Vanilla so special. There are a variety of objective changes to the game that people can point out to be what changed World of Warcraft for them. For me, and I think a lot of other people, it is a combination.

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Papers, Please: Approved

Papers, Please is a game created by one-man machine Lucas Pope. It places you as the lucky winner of the labor lottery in the fictional communist country Arstotzka. Your new position as a border inspector is expected to keep you and your four family members fed and warm.

Your rulebook is your best friend. It details all the requirements for the necessary paperwork. Each day, you receive a notice that contains the newspaper headlines and a brief message from the Ministry of Admission. Often, these messages contain updates about new required paperwork such as labor passes. With each notice, your rulebook updates with another respective page.

Each new immigrant must provide the required documents: passport, admissions pass and whatever else the Ministry requires on that day. After checking all the required fields, the player is able to make a decision: approve or deny.

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