Another Year Another GOTY List

The team over at DoomRocket got together and came up with our definitive list of what we feel to be 2016’s best.

It was a doozy of a year regarding public events and the general state of things but video games were there for us on this one. With a year that ran so strong in unique releases and phenomenal retellings (did you fucking play DOOM yet?!), this list was far from easy to form, but I’m happy with what we came up with.  While my over 300 hours of Dark Souls 3 could not go ignored, I also managed to champion a few indie darlings that I was proud to see make the list. Hopefully you’ll agree!

Read the full DoomRocket list here or scan my personal list below.

 

Dark Souls 3

Brutally challenging, unforgiving as all hell, and mockingly cryptic — In the world of Dark Souls, it’s the thrill of achievement that keeps folks moving forward.

Dark Souls 3 was no different, and with age comes insight. FromSoftware has become pretty talented in their pursuits and the third installment features some of the most utterly rewarding (and punishing) gameplay of the series. Knowing that each success or failure is determined by my ability to perform, there’s never that moment of placed blame on controls or gameplay dynamics. As the internet would lovingly put it: Git Gud.

But Tommy, 300 hours? Really?

Yes. Playing with friends was the moment Dark Souls 3 went from great to extraordinary. Summoning friends into my subsequent playthroughs just never got old. And through this, an understanding was formed that allowed me to show friends pieces of the game they missed in their own playthroughs. The stacking of understanding that comes from exploring every nook and cranny is unlike no other.

My opinions admittedly contrast many long time Souls fans out there, but I feel safe saying that Dark Souls 3 was one of the most balanced and enjoyable games of the series and co-op play gave the game legs that brought me back, not just for a second playthrough, but a third and forth as well.

I still scoff at myself when I see my hours played displayed on screen but Dark Souls 3 stands, without doubt, as 300 of my most enjoyable hours of 2016.

The Witness

At first glance I was sold on The Witness. Seeing the vivid landscapes unfold in the initial game trailer gave me childish excitement. I wanted to roam that weird colorful land.

It was later that I learned that Jonathan Blow (Braid) was the creator and that it was intended to be a sort of logic puzzle game that nested itself inside of a world of deeper and more surreal environmental puzzles; That’s when I knew this would be something special.

In 2017, The Witness one-hundred-percent lived up to expectation, and then some.

The Witness manages to present a game full of mind melting logic puzzles while easing the dull aching migraine that is ‘playing puzzle games’. Art direction serves true purpose as vibrantly over saturated landscapes unveil themselves over every hill, presenting calm and peaceful spaces before introducing further challenges.

Navigating its spaces is reminiscent of exploring the unknown areas between neighborhoods as a child and solving its puzzles genuinely reminds players of their inherent intelligence. The Witness balances difficulty with wonder and achievement and even manages to provide beyond these triumphs.

Post game in The Witness reveals more about the playful nature of the game and encourages the player to continue to explore. We’re going to remain spoiler free here, but it’s safe to say that while there is a definitive end, there is much, much more to see. Just look around.

Stardew Valley

You like chores? Always dreamt of waking up at 6 AM and tending to crops and farm animals? Boy, has Chucklefish got a game for you!

Stardew Valley tells the story of a young adult stuck in a life of tedium who inherits the chance to make the change we all wish for, the chance to bail on the monotonous day job and head into a life of freedom and unpredictability. Their inheritance, a sizeable farm in the quaint town of Stardew Valley, is found to be in shambles and offers, not only a wealth of farming tasks, but will soon open a world of possibility.

While agricultural task will certainly make up a steady chunk of each day, the local interactions and depth of possibility is where the unique flavor originates. Finding love, friendship, and sense of community are the real throughlines in Stardew Valley and the small jabs at commercialism and encouragement to embrace local commerce only furthers the charm.

Hitman

With Hitman, IO Interactive managed to take what many saw as a stagnant and dull property, lacking any real curb appeal, and turn it into one of the most grandiose, must-play games of the year. The episodic model induced skepticism at first, but actually ended up being extremely intuitive, giving the individual episodes room to breath. By creating a new pace by which the game is experienced, Hitman 2016 encourages the player to revisit each objective from a different perspective.

The immensity of potential in each level now discovered, those humorous stories told from Hitman fans in the past of dropping pianos on old folks are now my own. There’s a mystique now to the individual releases and discovering the potential of each new level has been a thrill that has continued throughout most of 2016.

Tharsis

Set aboard a deteriorating space exploration vessel just after a nasty meteoroid encounter, Tharsis puts the lives of 4 crew members into the hands of the player. As things continue to fall apart, systems failing and equipment malfunctioning, it’s up to you to triage each turn of events.

Playing similarly to a board game, individual crew member must be moved to rooms of the ship where roll of the dice then determines how many points of repair the crew member has to spend. Assuming they roll higher than the issue at hand, they can then use features of the room to repair the hull, collect food, or repair crew health.

The premise and delivery of Tharsis is simple but simultaneously complex, allowing for thoughtful and challenging games that can be squeezed in when there’s not enough time for other, more robust titles. My go-to when time was an issue; Tharsis takes my time-killer award of 2016.

Inside

Dark. Moody. At times distressing. Playdead’s Inside was one of the most impactful games of the year that, following completion, I didn’t mind NOT revisiting for a while.

Inside is a tough one to discuss. It’s simple. You move to the right, similar to every platformer you’ve played for the past 30 years. Clever puzzles offer deviation but then, it’s back to the right.

So what makes Inside worth mentioning? There’s something that happens post completion that was as much a part of the experience as the playthrough. Inside has some beautiful moments that, though initially striking, manage to resonate beyond their impact. The tone and style stuck with me and days after I was done playing, I couldn’t get these images out of my head.

A structurally and mechanically perfect experience, Inside allows you to play at a comfortable and unhindered pace, taking in the experience as it unfolds. It’s the resonance that forces the realization of just how special a game it truly is and instigates a curious fascination with the creative intent.

Also, if there was only an award for strangest moment in a game….

Starbound

No Man’s Sky hypers let it be known: Starbound was the actual answer to our space-exploration prayers in 2016.

Starbound is a 2d action-exploration RPG from Chucklefish, the same folks that brought us Risk of Rain and Stardew Valley. Starbound allows total freedom to create a character and define their path as they jump from star to star across the game’s universal sandbox, mixing the creative freedom of Minecraft and Terraria with the explorational aspirations of No Man’s Sky.

Full of vibrant pixel art and disparate environments, exploring the Starbound universe holds dozens of hours of potential. Even the weaponry is diverse, offering everything from flamethrowing spears to guided missile launchers. Unfortunately the combat boils down to point and shoot, but this aspect of the game is more of feature of the expedition. It’s seeing the sights and wildlife that keep Starbound feeling fresh after hours and hours of planet hopping.

 

All things considered 2016 was a pretty standout year. While this list is pretty definitively my favorite games of the year, there were just so many that I felt passionately about that didn’t have lasting impact, didn’t have time to get too or were thwarted by other games that I felt I should mention (or that were just claimed by other writers on the site). Doom comes to mind. Firewatch. The Last Guardian. The Division. Abzu. HyperLightDrifter. Hell – I even enjoyed No Man’s Sky for about 20 hours. It’s also bonkers to me that Overwatch didn’t make our DoomRocket list- Although I enjoyed it enough to pull me back into the realm of competitive shooters, I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to make that case.

With so much good, how do you even whittle it down? You don’t really. Now go play some damn games!

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