The gamut ran from tight, well-told tales to wide open option spaces. When there is any justice, the year is going to be recalled as one in which tripleA surpassed itself with games in which indie had no problem keeping up, and which weren’t so much sequels as reinventions.
And do not forget to wear your interesting-garees. You know. For most of the entertaining.
- Forza Horizon 3
Forza Horizon 3 is the third in a series of attempts to humanise Turn 10’s excellent if cold driving simulators, and the first to successfully complete the windy and treacherous route from Xbox to personal computers.
Set in an alternate-world Australia in which everyone and their mums is obsessed with motorsports, Forza Horizon 3’s open world exists to satisfy you. As in Pokemon’s Kanto, every citizen in the country pours their energies into one shared passion, becoming either opponent or cheerleader of your efforts to become the leading racecar driver and part-time festival organiser down under.
- Titanfall 2
What a lovely twist in the tail end of a delightful year for games. Titanfall 2 is not only a good sequel to a multiplayer game deserted too soon by its community – it’s also a fantastic single-player shooter. The kind you used to tell people about in 2004 and 2007 – a Half-Life 2 or a BioShock.
As the campaign progresses, with hulking metal companion BT at your side, Respawn fire and forget: tossing away brilliant ideas as if they were empty clips, before reaching for another. All the while, Titanfall 2 offers a first-class showcase in visual and audio feedback – nothing underwhelms.
- Civilization VI
In the year 2217, when your ‘mouse hand’ is a bionic replacement designed specifically for PC gaming, there will still be a new Civ – overseen by Sid Meier from his life-support throne, designed by a plucky new designer straight from MIT. It’ll be reassuringly familiar, but shrewdly different.
So it is with Civ VI. Although it can’t currently compete with the bundled editions of its predecessors for sheer wealth of content, it’s the perfect celebration of the defining 4X on its 25th anniversary. Music, palette, pacing: all conspire to make you fall for the series all over again, providing a warmth where Civ V was sometimes too stern.
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
It was in between stacking the fourth and fifth dumpster in an impossible staircase up to a Prague apartment window that we realised – at no point have Eidos Montreal forgotten Deus Ex’s roots. For all its modern shooter trappings, the series has lost none of its essential magic in silly simulation and player problem-solving.
It perhaps hasn’t gained quite enough in Mankind Divided, Montreal’s second Deus Ex sequel to date – certainly not in overall length. But the studio maintained their focus on improvisational combat and avoidance while venerating player ownership above all else, allowing parts of their knotty plot of prejudice and class struggle to slip into the background if we so desired.
Playdead’s long-awaited Limbo follow-up begins with a boy in the woods, minus a backstory and with no other option but to stumble towards the right-hand side of the screen. This overfamiliar fake-out soon gives way to a game with its own mysteries, however – a game so accomplished that these Danish indies couldn’t possibly have made it on their first time out.
Like its predecessor, Inside offers body horror, and the prospect of pulling and pushing boxes about so that you can clamber to out-of-reach areas. But it’s also about control, and brings uneasy new mechanics to match those new themes. There’s a more nuanced aesthetic, too – while Limbo is unmistakeable in its gloom, Inside’s gently stylised approach manages a remarkable and terrifying verisimilitude. When a masked man chases down your young charge and drowns him in a puddle, the fear hits you somewhere central. In the space between its impeccably choreographed animation and sound design, Inside starts to feel horribly, horribly real.
With Quake Champions on the horizon and this exceptional shooter in the rear-view mirror, id are tearing down the highway at the front of the pack again after a decade in neutral. Where Doom 3 spun the horror of monster closets off into a realm of dark rooms and sudden scares, new Doom takes a different tack: embracing the forward aggression of the original and coating everything in gibs rather than shadows.
Blending elements from Team Fortress 2, MOBAs, and Blizzard’s own extended universe, Overwatch cemented itself as the multiplayer PC game of 2016 – not even the likes of Battlefield and COD could topple it.
It’s the sort of game that would once have been called ‘class-based’ but now goes under the ‘character shooter’ moniker, offering a focused selection of modes that riff on TF2’s payload maps and capture point objectives. Really though, it’s the interplay between Overwatch’s heroes that make it special. It really is a feat of balance on Blizzard’s part – you think Bastion’s OPed until you realise he takes 200% damage from behind when he’s in his turret configuration. You suspect Genji is too good until you watch someone’s Play of the Game and realise, nope, that player is just incredibly skilled. You think Zenyatta’s useless, then he spends an entire round killing you.
- Dark Souls III
Never really a series about difficulty but rather camaraderie – banding struggling solo players together via scrawled messages and occasional co-op – Dark Souls is incredibly self-assured in its third iteration. An entire industry might have failed to follow them, but FromSoftware now know exactly how to go about their strange, knotted level design – littering the sequel’s hard road with diversions, shortcuts, secrets and optional bosses. They’ve named the result Lothric: a mostly-dead world that recalls the 19th century German fantasy of The Nutcracker and exists in perpetual twilight.
- The Banner Saga 2
The Banner Saga games are uniquely gruelling in an RPG genre where the numbers tend only to go up. Here your warriors get weaker, not stronger, as they’re chipped away at in turn-based combat, swinging weakly at the encroaching Dredge. And as your exhausted caravan trundles on, tying events together, you’ll inevitably fail to save every desperate soldier and their family.
Even victories in The Banner Saga 2 can feel pyrrhic, coming at great cost. The cruelty is leavened only by a gorgeously-animated art style which evokes Disney’s Beauty and the Beast but also has a stark nobility of its own.
- The Division
It’s impossible to know how much The Division has changed since the E3 trailer that first lit up our imaginations like a New York Christmas. But it’s become a stark, breathtaking co-op shooter that diverges from the Ubi open world formula by embracing Diablo-style progression systems.
Identically black kevlar vests don’t make for the most compelling loot, but tying DPS to Clancy-style tactics works better than you’d think – rewarding suppression, flanking and good use of cover with more favourable numbers.