Brent’s Top 5 Games of 2016: Epic Exclusives, A Real Life Nightmare, & Fantasies Do Come True
2016 has come and gone, and with it came a flurry of spectacular titles that had me gaming into the wee hours of the night. It’s never easy trying to choose ten games over the course of 12 months for a “best of the year” list, so I figured I’d punish myself even further by trying to narrow it down to five for this article. Now, it’s important to disclose that I have a full-time job (surprisingly, Short Pause does not pay the bills), a mortgage, and a kid (with another set to arrive later this month!). I mention that because there may be some games absent from my list that are on your list, and I’m totally fine with that. Feel free to pass any judgment you feel necessary in regards to my list and my picks! With that said, I played as many games as I could this year, and below are my favorite experiences of 2016.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Nathan Drake returned in 2016 with what I believe was the best story in the series. With the introduction of Nathan’s brother Sam, Naughty Dog decided to opt for a far more character driven affair than the over-the-top, non-stop action of previous series entries. The decision to focus more on building the relationship between Nathan and Sam and – to even greater effect – the complexity of Nathan and Elena's marriage pays off thanks to some incredible writing and convincing performances by the talented and seasoned cast. It’s not all talky-talky, however. While the first half of the game may be lighter on action than fans of the series are accustomed to, there’s still some well-designed action set pieces to complement the character development nicely. Then Chapter 11 rolls around, and one of the best action sequences I’ve played in recent memory (think Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Mad Mad: Fury Road) hurls Uncharted 4 into hyper-drive. From there, it’s non-stop Uncharted fun that only the guys and girls at Naughty Dog can provide. While this may very well be the final entry in the Nathan Drake saga, Uncharted fans still have Uncharted: The Lost Legacy to look forward to in 2017!
Gears of War 4
Hey, it’s another game that features a lot of shooting and white-hot action! Clearly I’m not the “thinking man” of the Short Pause staff, but I guarantee I’ll own anyone around the office in any shooter (yep, including Destiny!). Before Gears of War 4, the only other experience I’ve had with the franchise was with last year’s Gears of War: Ultimate Edition (which I loved!). I’ve had many an opportunity to experience Gears of War 2 & 3 via backwards compatibility but, as I alluded to above, I don’t really have the time for that. Gears of War 4 places you in the shoes of JD Fenix, the offspring of series protagonist Marcus Fenix. While I don’t think JD is as charismatic as Marcus was when I first experienced Gears of War, I think the overall story of Gears 4 is much more entertaining thanks to the ensemble of characters who accompany JD throughout. Delmont (when he’s not annoying) and Kait are enjoyable partners, and Marcus (who's a non-playable character) provides some much need levity at just the right moments. The story, which is clearly setting up a new trilogy, doesn’t get too deep, but it sets the table nicely for the inevitable sequels and left me thirsting for more. That said, I don’t think anyone plays Gears of War for its narrative. We all know it’s the brutal, bad-ass gameplay that keeps us glued to our controllers, and Gears of War 4 delivers that in spades.
Let's take a break from the action titles and take a moment to recognize another genre that’s near and dear to my heart: horror. What’s unique about my choice here is that not only is Neverending Nightmares effective as an indie horror game, it’s also a game based on the horrors developer Matt Gilgbenbach has personally battled through in the form of OCD and depression. Like Matt, and many others, I had my own personal battle with depression many years ago and, while it’s a very serious matter that should never be taken lightly, I applaud him for finding a way to take his experience and deal with it in such a creative way. I’m sure reminiscing about those dark days in an effort to mine material that would translate over to an effective horror game was difficult, but kudos to him for finding a way to move forward in life in a positive way. Neverending Nightmares features a wonderful black and white art style that, when combined with haunting audio design, undeniable tension, and genuinely disturbing imagery, makes for an unforgettable gaming experience. While those who have suffered from depression, and can relate to the underlying tones that Gilgenbach has implemented into the game's mood and setting, will find Neverending Nightmares especially impactful, this is still a must-play title for horror fans in general.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the successful sequel to the 2012 surprise hit, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, was easily one of my most anticipated titles of 2016, and it managed to deliver in every way possible. While I’ve proven through this list that I love my fair share of high-octane shooters and action games, I’ve always been a huge fan of the choices given to the player in Deus Ex games, especially since they allow me to use a significantly different play style than most other first-person games. The RPG elements revolving around augmentations that the series is known for allow you to decide how you want the story to play out. If you want to use these upgradeable abilities to transform Adam Jensen into a one-man killing machine, the game’s tight controls allow for such an experience. However, if you’re like me and you’re a sucker for stealth games, this is where Mankind Divided really shines. There is something pleasant about making your way through an entire game, with so many lethal options at your fingertips, and opting not to kill anyone while remaining completely undetected. Thanks to its incredible level design, unique augmentations, and excellent visuals and soundtrack, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a game that action and stealth fans will both thoroughly enjoy.
Final Fantasy XV
It wasn’t too long ago — 2013 to be precise — that I was one of those guys that would bash the Final Fantasy franchise and ridicule those who enjoyed it so much, simply because it felt right. Well, I’m here to admit (and apologize) for being so very wrong. It all started after I was coerced into spending a ridiculous amount of time playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn by my Short Pause brethren Ben Boyce and Taz Meah. They knew online multiplayer and cooperative experiences were the gateway drugs to get me invested into the world of Final Fantasy. It was all downhill after that. Before I knew it, I found myself playing Final Fantasy X and, while I preferred the real-time combat of XIV, I grew to appreciate the turn-based combat of the earlier series entry. Enter Final Fantasy XV, the latest epic RPG from Square Enix and, I have to say, I finally get it. I’ve spent upwards of 30 hours (that’s a lot for someone with my schedule) playing the game, and I’m now just cracking Chapter 4. I absolutely love exploring the world of Eos and the exhilerating combat, but it’s those damn side-quests, hunting challenges, and dungeons that keep distracting me from the main story line. Eventually I will progress through the campaign, but I’m not going to rush this; I want to embrace this game and experience everything it has to offer (which is a helluva lot so far) at my own pace. This is the RPG I’ve been craving, and I look forward to spending hundreds of hours over the course of 2017 playing it.
Honorable Mention - Rainbow Six: Siege
I know, I know! You’re sitting there saying, “But Brent, you big dumb idiot, Rainbow Six: Siege came out in December of 2015!” Yes, I’m aware of that, thank you! However, I want to make a special exception for this game because it’s incredible how well Rainbow Six: Siege has recovered from its uninspiring launch to become one of the more popular shooters on the market today. In this industry, especially in the first-person shooter genre, there’s very little room for error (of which Siege had plenty of at launch) if you hope to survive and maintain relevance. Well, not only has Ubisoft Montreal been able to shore up the network issues that plagued the game at launch (even after TWO betas), but they’ve managed to grow their community to the point that it has doubled since launch. Siege offers up the type of gameplay that, while a niche experience compared to the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield, is unmatched by anything else on consoles today. Taut, team-based gameplay, exceptional map layouts, and a DLC program (maps and new operators are FREE) that just about every gamer can get behind help elevate this game to the top of my multiplayer game selections. How well has the game done since launch? Enough to warrant a second season of DLC content, which speaks volumes about how hungry its community is for more!
There you have it, my favorite experiences of 2016! As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s never easy coming up with these types of lists, especially with games like Overwatch, Quantum Break, Darkest Dungeon, Titanfall 2 and Hitman all vying for a spot after making very positive impressions on me over the course of the year. Then there are those games I wish I would’ve played more of considering how much I was looking forward to them prior to their release, with Dishonored 2 and Dark Souls 3 being chief amongst these titles. I trust many of you will have varying opinions on my list compared to yours, and hopefully you’ll share those in the comments below. Here’s hoping 2017 is able to match 2016 in terms of quality, because the bar has been set very high.