It's the end of the year and time for one of my favorite bits of writing that I get to do every 12 months. It's Game of the Year time!
While on the broad scale, 2016 was a bit of a dumpster fire, for those who enjoy games, it really has been a banner year due to it being jam packed with stellar games. From end to end, there was so much to enjoy and consider, with quality landing just about every week. That has made this list really tough to compile and cutting it down has been brutal. What started at a list of over 65 games I considered eligible for the list, has now been cut to 35 making this list just as long as last year's.
However, unlike last year, there are tons and tons of games that I wanted to add to the end of this list, with me even considering a top 50 list. While 35 is a good number to get the breadth of quality this year, there are still some games not on this list I would like to point out very briefly for stuff they did that deserves to be remembered:
Google Earth VR – It's silly because, well, it's Google Earth, but walking around the literal world, towering above every city or rural area you ever grew up in VR is strangely profound. This was one of the best VR experiences This year.
No Man's Sky – The game didn't quite turn out as anyone had hoped, but it was still a fascinating experiment at launch. It's full of ideas, and for the size of the team who put it together, it remains stellar. With big future updates planned, I don't think we've heard the last of it.
The Lab – Another VR game, this time a collection of smaller experiences. While only good for a couple hours, Valve's introduction to VR is impressive with how it merges motion controls and VR into one experience. This most certainly has helped forge the language of the future.
Miitomo – It was hardly a game and disappeared from the zeitgeist as fast as it came, but as a bit of history, it will forever be Nintendo's first game app on mobile. That's a big deal.
Overcooked – May have featured had I had more time with it, but even in the really short burst I've played it, this really does feel like some kind of revival for local multiplayer games. It's a great time with other people.
That Dragon, Cancer – While it struggles in some of its execution, That Dragon, Cancer is a heart-rending game that expands the intimacy and issues successful games can explore. It's a soul-crushing exploration of a real life family losing a son to cancer and it definitely deserves to be remembered.
The fact that I am doing an honorable mentions to a top 35 list should say something. I loved this year, and for a game to be on here, I do consider it legitimately good no matter where it ranks.
However, you are here for the games that make the list, and for that, I won't delay anymore. Let's get this victory parade started. Here is the first part of Bleeding Cool's Game of the Year 2016, counting down from #35-#18:
35. Watch Dogs 2
For Watch Dogs 2 to be anywhere near my Game of the Year list is a huge step up over the first game. The game ended up annoying me to no end, both with its dour tone, dodgy ethical standings and worst protagonist ever, Aiden Pearce.
However, Watch Dogs 2 rectified a lot of its predecessor's problems. It focused a lot more on fun and smartly chose San Francisco for its home, which was a perfect setting for playful and slightly anarchic hacktivist group, Dedsec. It never revolutionized the open world form but gave you plenty of silly and ridiculous things to do. While I still have some problems with the moral dilemmas of the game, it was easy enough to ignore and wreck some fun havoc via hacker justice.
As a Dota 2 guy on occasion, I was skeptical of Paragon. No third person MOBA had ever really done it for me in the past, and even with a developer like Epic Games getting behind it, I feared it might have been a miscalculation.
I was wrong. While the game has some work to go, it really is the best of its form. Its character are neat, Epic Games are updating constantly, and the community around the title is growing. Add on top of that, some really fresh ideas on the genre and some silly yet gratifying characters and you have a winner. This is well worth your time looking into.
*Paragon is in Open Beta
33. Devil Daggers
Hell has had a good year in video games. As we will get to later in the list, demon killing seems to be back in. It wasn't just carried by one game though this year, as Devil Daggers really is a title not to be forgotten.
You might not have heard of this game, but it is a cheap steal. Essentially this is a game that throws you into a dark space and just unleashes all manner of horrors onto you. Your goal is merely to survive. You might only play a minute session, but it's addictive and you'll likely keep coming back again, and again to get punished once more. It's sound design, dated visuals and unsettling art direction make this an uncomfortable experience even before you add the incredibly difficult challenge.
32. The Division
The Division was set to take over the world at one point, or at least, that is what Ubisoft wanted you to think. While it never really set the world on fire, it has maintained a dedicated following thanks to improvements to how the game works since launch.
Even at launch though, the game was a decent online shooter with a haunting premise. The ravaged and desolate New York was a tough place to exist in, and the gameplay ideas, like the Dark Zone, really do feel fresh. While many people fell off the title around launch, pretending there isn't real quality here, especially after months of iteration, would be disingenuous.
31. Pokemon Go
So, Pokemon Go is a weird one. As a game, Pokemon Go is kind of bad. The battling system is underwhelming, and the need to continually catch the same Pokemon over and over again is tedious. The game doesn't endure because of how it plays, that's for sure.
However, it seems impossible to make a game of the year list in 2016 without adding it. When the game came out back in July, it took the world by storm. The three factors of it being in augmented reality, based on Pokemon and as well as free, made it one of the most stunning successes of the year. This engaged the mainstream like nothing else and encouraged young and old to get out of their house and catch Pokemon together. It wasn't rare to see groups of people on the street just playing together and that just doesn't happen with games often. For its impact, (and likely lasting impact) Pokemon Go has to be on this list.
Thumper is an apt name. The rhythm game is one of the most aggressive games I've ever played, and it is fixated on abusing and throwing the player around. It does all this without any blood or violence either.
It's a tough on to describe, but essentially you are in charge of a silver beetle charging down a track in an abstract, 2001: A Space Odyssey type fever dream. You have to turn, jump and move with the track to the sound of a disconcerting industrial soundtrack, but it is brutally challenging and takes place at a breakneck speed. I can assure you there is nothing quite like this one out there, and it is something you should definitely check out at some point. I loved it, even if it did feel like the gamification of J.K. Simmons in Whiplash at times.
Owlboy had quite the journey getting to release this year. The title had been in development for around a decade but has finally seen the light of day. And the good news is that it rocked.
The pixel art of this world is really just some of the best that you'll ever see, and the message and issues it deals with are tough. Playing a mute… well, owlboy, you have to navigate this beautiful world while gaining companions along they way. Everything about this game is charming and beautiful, and if you get the chance, check it out.
28. Civilization 6
Civilization 6 doesn't reinvent the wheel over its much loved predecessor. However, it is worth remembering, that its predecessor is one of the best 4x games ever made.
There is a lot here that is new mind. For instance, the way cities build and expand now, taking up tiles is a game changer. The way workers and production work too are big changes, and there are tons of other quality of life tweaks that make Civilization 6 accessible and in a great position to build. The game is far from reaching its potential yet, but with the expansions and updates coming over the next year or two, I'm sure we will see this title go from strength to strength.
27. Stardew Valley
Every year, there seems to be one indie game that takes a huge spotlight out of nowhere, getting picked up by critics and especially YouTubers to make it a massive hit out. Last year it was Undertale, but the honor this year goes to Stardew Valley.
Riffing on Harvest Moon, the game charges you with growing and looking after crops. No, really. However, the world, caves, and people of Stardew Valley are just so charming and lovely. In terms of tone, there is nothing that feels quite like this relaxing, cozy hug. After 2016, that goes a long way.
Superhot is just such a slick game. The line 'time moves when you do' is so to the point, it really doesn't need much more explanation. Putting you in radical action set pieces where you take out waves of dudes, shooting, punching and throwing object while time is slowed never stops feeling cool. Hearing enemies shatter around you as time freezes is just one of the coolest things in games this year.
Add on top of that a neat fourth wall breaking story and it is something you simply must play.
25. World of Warcraft: Legion
World of Warcraft is not a game I ever expected to turn up on one of my Game of the Year lists again. The MMO game has reigned supreme for years and years, but it was no secret it was dwindling in popularity.
And then Legion happened. While perhaps not the best expansion ever for the game, it is certainly the strongest in years. With artifact weapons, a new class, the Broken Isles and an engaging story, it felt so good to have a good reason to slip back into World of Warcraft once again. If you are looking for a reason to go back, Legion is it.
Stellaris came out earlier this year and was certainly one of my first, 'obsession' games. For several days it was all I wanted to play and do.
Paradox Interactive have taken their 4X formula that made Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis such hits, and imported it into space. That's enough to make any sci-fi nerd happy, but add on top of that, the ability to make an alien race and really define its practices, beliefs and hierarchy and you have a winner. It feels deeply personalised in an addictive way, and was my favorite time playing a strategy game all year. This really can get intoxicating.
23. Pokemon Sun And Moon
Pokemon celebrated a 20th anniversary this year and it went off in quite some style. As mentioned previously, Pokemon Go took over the world, but Pokemon Sun and Moon really punctuated the year.
Despite the fact that the game is a similar formula to the original game which came out in 1996, The Pokemon Company really found a way to make it all feel fresh and new again this year. The Alola region was bursting with personality, the graphics saw a huge bump and the move away from gyms was a refreshing take. If you've not played a Pokemon game in some time, this is a perfect reason to jump back on board for sure because simply put, it is just one of the best versions of this game, ever.
22. Mafia III
Mafia III ended up being a divisive game. Hopes were high for the game that promised brutal and bloody justice through the kaleidoscope of being a mixed race man in 1960s Lousiana.
For me though, it was a game full of unique ideas. Broaching racism in a really brutal and rare way for games. It has a lot on its agenda, all wrapped up in a nice faux documentary framing device. While the systematic takedown of the Mafia above you can be tedious, I tend to think it would be in real life too. I found a lot to like about this one.
21. Gears of War 4
Gears of War 4 could have easily been a bad idea. Going back to the well, especially after a trilogy that wraps a story up is always a tough proposition. Re-opening the book can sometimes end up hurting what came before.
Luckily, Gears of War 4 side-stepped that by not taking itself too seriously. Introducing a new team, headed up by Marcus Fenix's son J.D, this game really was about giving players a jolly and bloody romp through Sera. It was slight on meaningful story, but it hardly detracted from the fun that both the single and multiplayer had to offer.
20. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
There has been a lot of noise made about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare this year. It came under huge scrutiny when it was first announced, becoming the most disliked trailer on YouTube ever. Even when the game landed, it was to little fanfare and even I found little time for the game's trademark multiplayer.
However, I genuinely that the title sports one of the best single player campaigns in the series' history. It was totally different from what I was expecting, allowing you to become Captain of a ship and choose missions to go on as you fought back from devastating attacks on Earth. It felt like a mini-Mass Effect with a really sure art-direction to it, that was also populated by really cool characters. Ethan remains a highlight over the whole year. I say this one is well worth your time seeking out if you can justify it just for the 10 hour single player campaign. While I wish it was longer, I hope it's not forgotten about because it did some really impressive stuff.
19. Battlefield 1
Battlefield 1 is a staggering experience. That comes from both its stellar set pieces, but also its sometimes harrowing portrayals of WWI. It never quite goes as deep as it should into the horror that was that conflict, but as a celebration and reflection on those who did and didn't survive the conflict, it does enough in places to feel respectful.
Add on top of that, the technically impressive achievements of the game, cementing DICE as possibly the most graphically proficient developer out there, and this game is just pure spectacle. While the subject matter as entertainment for some might feel tasteless, I personally found it a well handled telling for a AAA video game.
18. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is not a perfect game. It is sometimes janky and has a rather underwhelming ending. All that said, it really did work its ass off to build a compelling world and give you a ton of really cool abilities in order to forge your way through it.
Wrestling with issues like discrimination and terrorism, the game certainly tried to do some stuff, especially in its exceptional side-missions. Add on top of that, you can fire exploding swords from your wrist (!), and you have a winner
Thus concludes Part 1 of Bleeding Cool's Game of the Year list. To see what we end up giving Game of the Year, well, we will keep you waiting on that just a short while as finishing touches are placed. We have an excellent list of games coming up for you, so do come back for it!