by Matthew Thompson
With my look at television in 2016 done and dusted, it is time to move on to the best of gaming from last year. I have two posts coming this week with this first one counting down my five favorite games from 2016. Here it goes!
5. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Every gamer seems to have one of those cult classic titles that they yearn to see a sequel for. It was underappreciated in their eyes. It didn’t sell enough. Mirror’s Edge was that game for me. Catalyst isn’t the sequel I dreamed of. It has a number of issues, some stemming from the new open-world structure, while others involve the combat or narrative. But there is a feeling that Mirror’s Edge’s first-person platforming gives me that I simply can’t find elsewhere in gaming. It is the way that it tests my skills (tasking me with completing difficult sequences on the sticks) and my brain (sussing out the correct route and moves to use) and puts it all under time-pressure. Beyond some of its other blemishes, Catalyst gives me that. It can be found in the game’s mainline missions, but is most evident in its pitch-perfect Dashes. So despite its flaws, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst still delivers the joy and the exhilaration of nailing that perfect run utilizing some of the best 3D platforming to ever exist. That is enough to earn a spot in my top five games of 2016.
Bonus Points: For the new Gridnode missions. Mirror’s Edge generally excels at high speeds, but these segments slow things down, tasking you with puzzling your way through areas with moving platforms while trying your best not to trip laser alarms. It still works though and they are the best new mission types added in Catalyst by a good margin.
Doom is a welcome throwback to first-person shooters of yesteryear with its run-and-gun style of play and labyrinthine level layouts. The combat packs a punch heaving all manner of Hell’s demons at you, but puts plenty of tools at your disposal to deal with them. A myriad of heavy armaments – most with a slick alternate fire mode or two – from trusty shotguns to Doom’s infamous BFG combine with brutal melee finishers to create intense bloody battles with a layer of depth and strategy to them. Exploring Doom’s complex, maze-like maps add variety to the proceedings while rewarding you for scouring all the nooks and crannies and going after secondary combat challenges gifts players similarly in the hectic firefights. With more linear, cinematic campaigns being all the rage in the genre during recent years, Doom felt old-school in all the right ways, tapping into the series’ roots to create a modern FPS classic.
Bonus Points: For bringing me back to old memories of playing Doom. My cousin showed me the first two games way back when I still played games on my PC. I even remember some funny mods he added to the game like turning one of the bosses into Tom Servo of Mystery Science Theater fame.
3. Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 was the biggest surprise for me in gaming during 2016. It finds itself on this list based on the campaign alone (with no offense meant to its multiplayer, I just don’t really play FPS games online). The first game didn’t even have a campaign, so I wasn’t sure what kind of quality to expect when they added one to the sequel. And Respawn’s founders are most famous for Modern Warfare which was the most overrated FPS campaign I’ve ever played (I respect its influence, but terrible encounter design brings it down). It’s the first time one of these short, rollercoaster-ride first-person shooter campaigns has ever really blown me away. The mobility provided by your character’s jumping and wall running abilities is right up my alley making for fast-paced shootouts and some shockingly solid platforming given the genre. The titans are vehicle segments done right adding variety while playing like a natural extension of the core gameplay. Throw in some well-crafted set pieces, tense boss fights and fun dialogue between you and your titan BT and you get a short, but oh-so-sweet story mode. One of my all-time favorites in the FPS genre.
Bonus Points: For the mission “Effect and Cause.” One of the year’s premiere levels utilizes a brilliant one-off time traveling mechanic to create both inventive combat encounters and memorable platforming segments. I only wish it was used more often, but it made for a hell of a mission.
2. The Last Guardian
Much like Team Ico’s previous games, The Last Guardian can be a frustrating experience at times. The controls aren’t quite right. The camera can be annoying. It seems to prioritize the animations a bit too much at the expense of responsiveness. And yet, much like other Team Ico games, it makes up for these problems through the unique, moving experience it provides to players. The Last Guardian succeeds the most in the bond it develops between the boy and his enormous new friend Trico. And most impressively, it does this largely through the gameplay. You two need each other. You will learn to rely on each other. And by the end of the game, you will be willing to do anything for each other. This along with the rest of the story elements, including the wonderful ending, make this my favorite story of the three “Ico” games. When this touching tale is combined with the game’s clever physics puzzles, dizzying platforming sequences and surprisingly strong set pieces, you end up with one of the very best games of the year.
Bonus Points: For the way Trico reminds me of my pets. I love animals and a lot of Trico’s actions remind me of one or another of the many pets I’ve had over the course of my life. There seems to be some debate whether it is more cat or dog, but I definitely see some of both in it. Things like it batting around barrels I threw to it, rolling around in puddles or poking its head through holes just cracked me up because of these similarities and I think it strengthened that bond at the center of the game.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
There were a lot of gameplay improvements both small and large made in the latest Uncharted title. Little tweaks to the mechanics and feel made for the best gunplay in the series. New additions like the grappling hook and jeep pay dividends across all areas of the game including exploration, platforming and combat along with helping to deliver what is arguably the best action set piece in gaming history – Chapter 11’s heart-pumping chase and convoy sequence through the streets of a Madagascan city. But it is the story that sticks with me the most when I think back on A Thief’s End. After nearly a decade of tagging along on their adventures, I have become extremely attached to the series’ cast. I went into Uncharted 4 knowing it was likely the end of my time with Nathan Drake and company which made every moment with them more impactful. Each scene with Nate and Elena in particular hit me like a ton of bricks. The game does an incredible job of weaving the final act of our core characters’ saga alongside the latest treasure hunt and accompanying historical tale to create one of my all-time favorite stories in gaming. And while it was sad to see it all come to an end, I couldn’t be happier with how Naughty Dog brought this narrative to a close with its unexpected final epilogue. The entire experience is one that will stick with me and my easy choice for Game of the Year in 2016.
Bonus Points: For memorable multiplayer moments. Uncharted 4’s multiplayer was the most disappointing aspect of the game for me. It got a little too far away from its roots and launched with pretty bare bones options. But I still found myself hooked on the combination of combat and traversal it delivers at its core. And any frustrations are worth it for those moments of pure gaming bliss that competitive multiplayer can deliver like that perfect swinging rope kill or that long distance explosive toss that wipes out most of the opposing team. They just feel so good.
That will do it for this post. In the next few days, I will back to hand out some more superlatives from the year that was in gaming like best soundtrack and worst moment, so keep an eye out for that. Thanks for reading!