Here at Gamecritics, we have a wide variety of writers, and along with those writers comes a wide variety of opinions. While the site (as a whole) will pick just one title as the best of 2016 on our upcoming end-of-year podcast, we wanted to hear from some of our staff members who were not on the show.
Presented below in the order they were submitted are the top three picks (some in numbered order, some not) from John Vanderhoef, Zack Zweizen, Paul Stuart, Brad Bortone, Nick Kummert, Joshua Tolentino, Marcus Lawrence and Corey Motley.
John Vanderhoef’s picks
Inside follows what I consider to be some of the best practices for videogame design — a limited user interface, intuitive controls, and an emphasis on environmental storytelling/in-game action rather than expositional dialogue or cutscenes. The developers behind the game, Playdead, improve upon their last game, Limbo, in every conceivable way while also maintaining a thick, haunting atmosphere of mystery, intrigue, and dread. Over the course of the game, players discover a dystopian world ravaged by disease and the excesses of enlightenment logic gone awry. This journey through a post-industrial hellscape culminates in one of the most bizarre, unnerving, and fantastic ending sequences I have ever played. Cloaked in shadow and unease, the game leaves players with more questions than answers, and the experience is richer for it. Pure art.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
This is kind of cheating considering that Rise of the Tomb Raider released last year on Xbox One, but since this is the first year it was available on my console of choice, the PS4, I’m including it on this list. Even though Uncharted 4 continued that franchise’s tradition of cinematic storytelling, gorgeous presentation, and lovable characters earlier this year, Rise of the Tomb Raider narrowly comes out ahead of Nathan Drake’s last adventure for me despite a forgettable, if not irritating story. Indeed, the real pleasure of playing Rise is found in the semi-open, interconnected world, the tight gun and bow mechanics, and the varied tools Lara Croft acquires to traverse the world and take out enemies. She’s not nearly as likable as Nathan Drake, but the game makes up for it in its gritty atmosphere and emphasis on scrounging and survival. With stunning visuals and mechanics as taut as a high-wire, Rise of the Tomb Raider offers one of the best experiences of the year on PS4.
The Last Guardian
As memorable and timeless as a classic fairytale, The Last Guardian will ultimately be remembered not for its clunky controls and awkward camera, but for the incredible relationship it builds between a boy and giant beast. An inspired, if not retrograde, combination of its predecessors Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the game features both intimate moments between two tragic, imprisoned companions and a grand sense of scale and wonder. Trico, the towering gryphon-like creature at the heart of the story, emotes and animates so believably that it’s easy for players to form a bond with it early on, petting the beast to soothe its wounds and clambering around its body to remove spears thrown by enemies. Frustrating and endearing in the same ways a housecat can be, Trico is both mighty protector to the player and a victim in its own right. This doomed friendship is what breathes life into the otherwise bleakly beautiful, ruinous world of The Last Guardian. It’s a singular experience that overcomes its mechanical flaws to shine luminously as a powerful example of the vast, unexplored potential of the medium.
Zack Zwiezen’s picks
Mafia III can be repetitive, it has some bugs, and it has some performance issues, but Mafia III also deals with racism in a way I’ve never really seen a game do before. It’s an unflinching look at the bigotry and anger that filled mid-60’s America, and once the game has painted a picture of racism that will most likely upset you and make you feel uncomfortable, it hands you a big knife, and points you towards the city and says “Go get your revenge.” And protagonist Lincoln does, in a pulpy, over-the-top game filled with horrific violence. Thankfully, the combat makes up for the repetitive missions and collectibles. And that ending! I won’t spoil Lincoln’s final confrontation, but it’s a perfect way to end this far-from-perfect game.
Few games have stories that stick with me after finishing them, but Firewatch‘s story didn’t just stick with me — it dug into my brain and made camp. I’ll probably never forget it, and I don’t want to. I know some didn’t like the way it ended, but I think if you dig around enough, you will see that the ending was a great way to finish that story. You want so badly to think there’s something more to Firewatch; that it can’t just be the sad story you think it might be. And then you find out it is. It’s a powerful moment. I didn’t even mention the visuals, which are beautiful and filled with detail. It’s just a lovely game.
Doom is one of the best shooters ever made, and easily my game of the year. Fast paced action, incredible visuals, near perfect performance, a surprisingly awesome story and great music all come together to create something that I will go back to and play years from now. The only real part of DOOM I didn’t enjoy was the multiplayer, which felt tacked on. I really hope we get new singleplayer DLC for DOOM someday, but until then I have thousands of user-created maps to enjoy thanks to a flexible and easy to use creator tool called SnapMap.
Paul Stuart’s picks
3> Witcher 3: Blood and Wine
It may be a strong statement, but Blood & Wine is arguably the best DLC ever produced for a triple-A title. An incredible and engaging addition to an already brilliant game, it captivates with an imaginative storyline and terrific new world. While the first Witcher 3 DLC stumbled, this one is an absolute gem.
2> Pro Evolution Soccer 2017
Easily the best version of soccer ever made, with an absolutely beautiful presentation and a physics engine masterpiece. When one thinks ‘next generation,’ this is the exact game to be placed on that pedestal. Each game played is different thanks to excellent AI. In an age of unoriginal, yearly sports title releases, this is the ONLY exception.
1> Far Cry Primal
Yes, it’s an extraordinary wild card, but one would be hard pressed to find a more original, creative, emotion inducing, and thoughtful game — let alone in Sandbox format — perhaps ever. Every story branch is a winner, and dozens of hours fly by after a briefly slow start. It’s courageous to make and market a game like this, so kudos to Ubisoft for doing it.
Brad Bortone’s picks
Most shooters either have engaging campaigns or a heavy focus on multiplayer, but very rarely does a game excel at both. The original Titanfall was a tight, fun, innovative shooter, that now feels like nothing more than a beta test for its much-improved sequel. Titanfall 2 features flawless controls, better balance between pilot and Titan combat, and a campaign that adds weight and depth to a once-faceless universe. Though the fast-paced multiplayer is what will likely define Titanfall‘s ongoing success, the sequel’s stellar campaign serves as a true launching point for a very exciting franchise.
Despite having virtually no competition in the space, the NBA 2K series continues to experiment with new features, while simultaneously optimizing the things that already work — namely, controls, realism and customization. Madden may be the more popular franchise, but no series puts players “in the game” better than NBA 2K.
1>Gears of War 4
As games continue to expand in the name of offering more freedom, the return of Gears felt like hanging out with a silly, but loyal old friend. Visually stunning, but rooted in well-worn gameplay tropes, Gears unapologetically leads players from linear scene to linear scene, ensuring they see the spectacle, take in the story, and enjoy a tight, visceral shooter every time they boot their machines. From the brisk campaign to the deep, diverse multiplayer, GoW4 is simply the best time I’ve had with my Xbox in a very long time.
Nick Kummert’s picks
3>The Last Guardian
I’m grateful that I could end 2016 playing a game singularly devoted to understanding and compassion. The bond I formed with Trico over the course of the adventure transcends every negative thing I could rightfully say about it. The technical issues and clunky controls leave me unable to recommend The Last Guardian to anyone without caveat, but is an important reminder of what videogames can achieve as a medium when focused on building experiences that reinforce pro-social ideas. If there’s a more appropriate experience to have in late 2016 or early 2017, I certainly haven’t found it.
Even as a devoted stealth game fanatic, the Hitman series always eluded me due to its opaque gameplay loop and the steep penalties for slight missteps by the player. Hitman 2016, however, streamlines the experience so that anyone can get engrossed as they poke and prod at the most intricate open levels in gaming. I could go on and on about the levels, the clearly explained gameplay systems, and the immense satisfaction of seeing Rube Goldberg-esque assassination strategies pay off, but ultimately it’s Hitman’s sense of humor that got it this high on my list. IO Interactive keeps everything appropriately ridiculous, so that even when my intricate explosive rubber duck assassination plan fails, I feel like the game is reveling in the chaos with me instead of slapping me on the wrist.
Blizzard swung for the fences with their first new series in 20 years, and the result is the best competitive multiplayer game I have played in quite some time. Overwatch is impeccably designed in every way, and makes even my worst matches feel like they weren’t a waste of time. Colorful characters full of personality keep it lively, a masterfully balanced metagame makes almost any strategy feel competitive, and substantive changes have been coming out at just the right pace to keep the proceedings feeling fresh. Quite simply, Overwatch is the longest a competitive multiplayer game has kept me smiling in a long time.
Josh Tolentino’s picks
It only took us fifteen years, but someone’s finally gotten episodic gaming right. It took genuine courage and audacity for IO Interactive to risk splitting up their Hitman reboot into a season of periodically-released levels, but it worked! The result not only recaptures the joy fans once felt when messing with the clockwork shenanigans of Hitman: Blood Money, but convinced players to come back to it again and again and again as the year wore on. Hitman became a habit, and I can’t wait until I get another chance to jump into their world of assassination.
2>The Last Guardian
I don’t think I had any doubt that Fumito Ueda and his team would pull it off when they finally put out The Last Guardian, but I have to admit that I had no idea just what they planned to pull off in the first place. In the end, the game was well worth the long wait, and in the finest tradition of Team Ico, delivers an experience that’s one-of-a-kind, even if it can be more frustrating than fun at times.
1>Final Fantasy XV
By rights, Final Fantasy XV should be a disaster. Being in development hell for half my adult life isn’t a good sign, no matter the context, and yet, it isn’t merely acceptable, it’s great! The saga of Noctis and his pals breathes new life into a franchise that seemed on the verge of cultural oblivion, and its fusion of classic Final Fantasy spirit and lessons learned from the last ten years of game design helped Square Enix repeat the feat of the very first Final Fantasy: Save everything with one good game.
Marcus Lawrence’s picks
Honestly, the end to Nathan Drake’s four-game journey (yes, I count Golden Abyss) couldn’t have been more emotional. Uncharted 4 closed the book on Nate’s story by revisiting his past to shape the events unfolding in his present. While the game had some moments where it felt like a climbing simulator, it still shined where it counted. I’ve not had as much time to play as I used to, but the closing chapter to this adventure kept drawing me back in. All the way up to the heart-tugging ending, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this title.
Titanfall 2 doesn’t get enough credit, and that’s quite a shame. After people criticized the first for not having a campaign, expectations were understandably low. These expectations were then checked when Titanfall 2‘s story mode turned out to be a hit. I, for one, was not expecting the campaign to be as interesting as it was. It’s strong technically, too — extremely responsive controls made pulling off advanced movement easy. l felt like a true Pilot as I zipped around a battlefield, and doing so filled the fourth quarter of my gaming semester with appreciation.
DOOM earned a spot on my GOTY list partly because of how shocked I was at just how great this title turned out to be. It wasn’t even on my “interesting game” radar at first — it was just another shooter. Even the E3 trailer did naught to persuade me. Out of curiosity, I put it on my Gamefly queue, and it turns out that I was complete fool in disregarding such a spectacularly bloody run through Hell. From the starting moment when the Doom Slayer was resurrected to the final astonishing “WHAT?!”, I was enthralled. The brutal, kick ass combat flows like liquid silver, and being tied in with a no-nonsense (but simplistic) plot makes for a superb combination. Oh yeah, that heavy metal OST simply rocks — pun intended.
Corey Motley’s picks
DOOM is just a first-person shooter. That’s it. It doesn’t even have a unique hook. The fact that it’s my #3 game of the year should say a lot about its tightly-crafted gameplay given those statements. After id Software took 12 years off from the franchise since DOOM 3, this new DOOM blasts out of the gate on all cylinders with its guns and soundtrack blazing. DOOM is without a doubt the fastest, tightest, most nimble shooter I’ve ever played. After each continually escalating arena battle, I’d breathlessly wonder how they’d top it for the next fight, and somehow id always came through. The non-linear exploration and platforming segments sprinkled between intense fights help pace the campaign wonderfully. Although I tend to lean toward slow, tactical shooters, id Software has proven that a shooter whose only hook is shooting can be a refreshing ride. The problem is that from now on, I’ll want every action-oriented shooter to feel as fast, fluid and brutal and DOOM.
IO Interactive has produced six Hitman games in the span of 16 years, and I can’t believe no other developer has attempted to copy the formula. Hitman’s MO puts players in large, complex, self-contained missions and sets them loose on designated targets. The open-ended design means players can walk in the front door and murder everyone on site or sneak in, kill the mark and leave with no one the wiser. The disguise system also means canvassing, mingling and planning a hit usually occurs in plain sight of a target, and a certain thrill resides in walking elbow-to-elbow with a target without him or her knowing you’ll inevitably cause their demise. IO took a bold risk in releasing Hitman episodically with one mission dropping each month. Although I was skeptical at first, the mission-specific challenges, creative accident kills and rewards for mastering missions had me replaying each level several times while waiting for the next release. The experiment was a success, and Hitman made its 2016 comeback reinvigorated and sharper than the knives Agent 47 stabs his victims with.
SuperHot is a rare game that truly feels like nothing I’ve ever played before. Although it masquerades as a first-person shooter, it’s really a puzzle game — its hook being that time only moves when the player moves. The concept of spawning in a sterile environment and eliminating red humanoid figures sounded simplistic until I realized every centimeter of movement had to be planned carefully and executed slowly for success. Patience and strategy are key elements, but even those didn’t save me when I’d turn around to find a surprise burst of shotgun pellets whizzing slowly toward me. The story-in-a-story elements might rub some players the wrong way, but the themes and intense gameplay gripped me by the balls for the entire playthrough. I haven’t shouted and fist-pumped along with successes (and failures) this much in a long time. SuperHot is a riot, and the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years. And I’m not saying that just because they told me to.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway