Ben's Top 5 Games of 2016: Independent Gems Go Toe-to-Toe With AAA Heavyweights
2016 was an untapped year for myself. A new position at my job and an increasingly busy home life meant I didn’t get to spend as much time gaming last year as I would’ve liked. While I was able to dabble in a wealth of unique independent experiences thanks to our recurring stream on the Thursday Night Indie Spotlight, the AAA space remained largely untouched by my gaming hands. Overwatch, Doom, Dark Souls III, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2, Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, Watch Dogs 2, The Last Guardian, and Final Fantasy XV are just a few of the big budget games I wanted to play in 2016 but just didn’t get a chance to. As a result, I know my list of favorites will differ significantly from most of you out there, but that’s the beauty of these things, right? On behalf of myself and Short Pause, as we look ahead to 2017 and all of its promise, let’s put the final bow on the gift of 2016. Here’s my five favorite games I played last year, in no particular order:
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
As we stand right now, Naughty Dog is unquestionably the best developer on the planet. The Last of Us is the best game I’ve ever played and, for the last ten years, Uncharted has been a special franchise with a cast of characters and a pulpy adventure style that I absolutely love. While the AAA space was a space I struggled to find the time to properly explore in 2016, I promised myself I would not let the year slip by without at least beginning to experience Nathan Drake’s final chapter. While I was late to the Uncharted 4 party, and while I still haven’t finished the game completely, I have no problem declaring this game as one of the best things I played in 2016. The action is exciting as always, the character dynamics are as interesting as ever, and the “best in class” performances are the finest the series has ever seen (which is saying something in a franchise built around great performances). I also love how this game is unafraid to take chances. Chapter 4 is devoid of any action at all and it’s incredible (I won’t spoil what happens here). Shootouts present players with an element of choice for the first time in the series with the advent of more robust stealth mechanics. Coordinating an artifact heist with Sully and Nathan’s brother, the newly introduced Sam, was a ton of fun and perfectly encapsulated the Uncharted sense of adventure I’ve grown to expect from this franchise. I’ve already created some great memories with Uncharted 4, and I’m looking forward to creating even more in 2017. This is a game I’d like to nab the platinum trophy in this year, and I can’t wait to spend some more time with Chloe (!) and Nadine (!) when I get my hands on Uncharted: The Lost Legacy in the hopefully not-too-distant future!
Jotun: Valhalla Edition
While Jotun arrived on the PC in 2015, it hit consoles in 2016 and that’s where I experienced it in the form of Jotun: Valhalla Edition (available on both the PS4 and Xbox One). I had the good fortune of reviewing this game for the site, and I loved it. While the incredibly beautiful hand-drawn art style initially drew me in — the game seriously looks like a cartoon in motion — it was the epic boss battles and cleverly designed levels that hooked me for the long haul. I was surprised to learn that light puzzle solving and exploration were the keys to progressing through Jotun’s maze-like stages, and not the game’s straightforward hack-and-slash combat. This turned out to be a fantastic design decision. Whether it was figuring out how to draw a constellation or navigating my way through the root system of the great tree, Yggdrasil, the levels always felt fresh and fun to explore. When all is said and done, though, it’s the boss battles that I’ll remember most about Jotun. Epic, layered with nuance, and just challenging enough, slaying the giant titans of Norse mythology you come toe-to-toe with throughout the game provided one of 2016’s standout gaming experiences for me. Oh, and Jotun’s soundtrack is incredible. You should probably listen to it.
Brut@l was an underappreciated gem in Sony’s 2016 PLAY lineup, the House of PlayStation’s annual summer promotion that thrusts promising new independent titles into the PlayStation Store spotlight. This was another game I had the opportunity to review during the year, and it’s a game I liked way more than I thought I would. I appreciate rogue-like dungeon crawlers, but it’s not a genre I typically find myself investing a lot of time in. Brut@l was different. Its black-and-white, Tron-like aesthetic helped it standout in the crowded dungeon-crawler scene, and the addictive hack-and-slash combat, weapon crafting, and loot gathering at the heart of the title’s gameplay loop kept me coming back for more. I never made it to bottom of the dungeon (there’s 26 floors in all) to face the beast that awaits those lucky (unlucky?) enough to have made it to the end, but I spent 13 hours trying to get there and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Also, a special shout-out to those of you who’ve conquered the game cooperatively. It’s insanely challenging sharing resources with one another, but a ton of fun. Rogue-like fans give this one a try if you’ve yet to experience all that Brut@l has to offer.
It’s no secret to those of you that know me that I’m a huge fan of developer Housemarque. Super Stardust HD, Dead Nation, and Resogun are some of my favorite experiences on PlayStation platforms, and they’re games I can pick up and play at any moment and have a great time with. To say I was eagerly anticipating Alienation would be an understatement. Thankfully, the game finally arrived early last year, and I wasn’t disappointed. While Alienation may not have the charm of Dead Nation — it’s a more sterile experience than the zombie shooter — the phenomenal twin-stick shooting that Housemarque has become legendary for is alive and well here. I spent hours and hours blasting my way through the game’s alien hordes, and I had a fantastic time doing it. Add in the most in-depth loot and upgrade systems Housemarque has ever included in one of their games, and you’ve got an addicting formula that’s hard to put down. If you’ve got a few friends laying around, Alienation’s four-player cooperative play is a really good time.
Destiny: Rise of Iron
I know, Destiny: Rise of Iron is not a NEW game per se, but it is a sizable NEW expansion to one of my favorite games of the generation so I’m including it here. Rise of Iron didn’t reinvent the “Destiny wheel,” but it gave me more of what I love to do in Bungie’s shared world shooter. More story missions, a new location, new enemies, new quests, a whole bunch of new loot, and a fantastic new raid (which we here at Short Pause still need to finish!) all contributed to me spending dozens upon dozens of hours with Destiny this past fall (hell, I’m still knee deep in it right now). Destiny is like the mafia; you can try and get out but it’s only a matter of time before you get sucked back in. That’s fine by me, though, because for my money, there’s not a better playing or better feeling shooter out there. Destiny was a big reason I didn’t play as many AAA titles in 2016 as I would’ve liked, and with Destiny 2 on the horizon, I’m not so sure that’s going to change much in 2017. I also wanted to note that Destiny, as it often does, was responsible for my single favorite gaming moment of 2016. Conquering the King’s Fall raid on Hard Mode, at the 11th hour with Bender and an awesome group of Destiny strangers, to assure completion of my Moments of Triumph Year 2 Record Book is a gaming memory I won’t soon forget.
Honorable Mention: Street Fighter V
Regardless of how you feel about the state in which Street Fighter V launched, this is a great fighting game. Make no mistake about it, the game was bare bones when it released — a decision I’m guessing Capcom would reconsider had they had the chance to do it all over again — but that doesn’t change the fact that, mechanically, there’s not a better fighter on the market today. This is all a moot point really; a number of extensive updates have been added to the game over the past year creating a much more feature rich package for fighting fans to get into. The game’s aggressive DLC plans guarantee that fans have plenty of new fighters and stages to sink their teeth into both now and into the future. I include the game as an honorable mention here because I just didn’t get to play enough of it. While I hoped to dedicate myself to becoming a better and more polished fighter in Street Fighter V in 2016, the cookie didn’t crumble my way. Here’s hoping I get a chance to really sink my teeth into this, and some of the other awesome looking fighting games coming out in the near future, in 2017.
That’s a wrap! 2016 is officially in the books, and it’s time to look ahead to 2017 — which could be an amazing year in gaming if everything that is supposed to come out does. But we want to know what you thought of gaming in 2016. What were your favorite gaming experiences of the past year? How does your list differ from mine? Sound off in the comments below and stay tuned this upcoming week as the crew here lists their most anticipated games of 2017! Thanks for reading and happy New Year!
Ben is a lifelong gamer and a hardcore PlayStation fan. His Nathan Drake underoos remain his prize possession. Follow him on Twitter @piccolo930.