It’s that time of year again. We’re making a list, and checking it 26 times because that’s how many good games there were this year. Through hours of painstaking research, office-wide arguments, dice-rolling, divination via goat bones, sacred pilgrimages and pleas for guidance to a small framed picture of Reggie Fils-Aime, we have collated our Top 10 favourite titles and (under extreme duress) chosen our #1 Game of the Year.
10. INSIDE (PS4, XBOX ONE, WINDOWS PC)
PLAYDEAD’s gently creepy puzzle platformer is their first new game since their breakout debut title LIMBO. Building on LIMBO‘s moody atmosphere and mechanics, INSIDE presents a mysterious and dystopian world in which a young boy must flee from an unknowable enemy. It is rich, haunting, frequently challenging and is packed with some of the finest animation in video games this year. Those underwater wraith things that only move when you don’t have the light on them? We still get goosebumps and shudders thinking about them.
9. The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine (PS4, XBOX ONE, WINDOWS PC)
Not technically a “game” per se, but a DLC pack. This may cause some to call bullshit on us, but hear us out. Blood and Wine crams more content into an expansion pack than most AAA games have in their entirety. It manages at once to be a riot of Disney-inspired colour, landscapes and architecture but also one of the darkest stories in the entire Witcher 3 catalogue. It’s also where CD Projekt Red have chosen to end the story of Geralt of Rivia, and what an ending it is. To send off a character so beloved and richly drawn in a way that satisfies is no easy task but CDPR pull it off with aplomb. Every emotional beat strikes true, every line of dialogue feels just right. The Witcher 3 remains a huge achievement in its own right, but Blood and Wine is a note-perfect ending to a note-perfect game.
8. Pokemon Sun/Moon (3DS)
Of course Game Freak had to do something big for the 20th anniversary of Pokemon, especially following the worldwide craze that was Pokemon Go. With the feverish demand for the series so extraordinarily high, pressure must have been tight to deliver. They figured the best way would be to make some substantial and exciting changes to the known formula while continuing to streamline the user experience and curate it around a generation that’s growing more impatient by the day. They succeeded, perhaps even exceeded; what Game Freak delivered in Pokemon Sun & Moon wasn’t perfect, but it was one of the most engaging and thoughtful titles in the entire series, especially when considering how few ideas were left for a brand new Pokedex. Much of this is largely due to the smart change in location, pushing the droll overworld away and opting for a series of connected islands inspired by Hawaii. The story was based around this, and hence the warmth and charm associated with the famous archipelago also found its way into the game and the overall experience was richer for it.
7. Sid Meier’s Civilization 6 (WINDOWS PC)
Civ 6 represents a bit of a change of pace for the venerable turn-based strategy series. It features a brand new art style and numerous changes to its core systems designed to make the menu-heavy experience glide more smoothly. You would think after 20 years that this series might be beginning to show its age but no, it remains as vibrant and engaging as ever. It’s an incredibly chill way to spend an afternoon, actually. Picking a civilisation, building them up, dealing with international heads of state so that they trust you implicity and then crushing them brutally underfoot when they least expect it — bliss. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that theme music too — you can hear it in the trailer above, combined with Sean Bean’s dulcet tones. So inspirational.
6. XCOM 2 (PS4, XBOX ONE, WINDOWS PC)
The second turn-based strategy title in the Top 10 this year, XCOM 2 is a perfect sequel in many ways, and in others the perfect strategy title. By keeping combat to simple 4-person squads and shaking up the mission objectives, it both preserves and evolves the game loop long present in the XCOM series in interesting and meaningful ways. Easy to learn and surprisingly difficult to master, the game takes few prisoners when you make a wrong move. Doing so endangers your battleworn squaddies who, it must be said, will leave a hole in your heart when they die. If you were prone to getting attached to them in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, prepare for more of the same. A must for strategy fans, especially those toiling away on PC.
5. Titanfall 2 (PS4, XBOX ONE, WINDOWS PC)
The best multiplayer shooter than no-one is playing right now. Titanfall 2 took all of the feedback it recieved on its 2014 debut title and used it to incredible effect — a single-player mode that featured some of the inventive and memorable sequences and characters of the year, a multiplayer mode that has seen some smart tweaks and balances and a hook — hyper-mobile little guys pilot gigantic stompy bots — that flatly refuses to get old. It had the terrible fortune to be released between the shooter juggernauts that are Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (a travesty that mirror’s last year’s release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on the same day as Fallout 4) and the game has suffered badly as a result. But here’s the thing: it’s already dropping in price AND all of it’s DLC and maps will be free forever! Titanfall 2 is a bargain and you should all get on it.
4. DOOM (PS4, XBOX ONE, WINDOWS PC)
Without a doubt our favourite shooter of the year is not only a welcome return to form for id Software, it’s also a self-aware love letter to the series that made them famous. From the moment the game starts and you see the words “Demonic invasion in progress,” you know you’re in for something special. Balletic combat, grin-inducingly brutal assortment of weapons, rivers of blood and showers of gibs, a thunderous heavy metal soundtrack, grotesque art design and a stubborn refusal to take itself seriously even for a second make DOOM a must-play.
3. Hitman (PS4, XBOX ONE, WINDOWS PC)
We are big fans of the stealth genre here at The Iris. We’re long-time Assassin’s Creed apologists, we poured all our points in sneaking in Fallout 4, we chose Emily in Dishonoured 2 and we ask our friends at Ubisoft about Splinter Cell at least five times a year. So it makes complete sense that we would fall in love with Hitman. Square Enix and IO Interactive took a real chance when they took this title episodic but the results cannot be argued with — each of the game’s six levels are densely layered puzzle boxes, built from the ground up to allow the player to indulge in almost any plan no matter how preposterous or Machiavellian. The gap between releases also means that players have the time to fully appreciate and explore the great level design and replay each missions numerous times, chasing challenges and finding ever more brutal methods for neutralising your targets. Befitting of an international man of mystery, Agent 47’s contracts take him all over the world from Paris in the game’s opening level, to Sapienza, Italty for a James Bond-inspired infiltration mission, war-torn Marrakesh, an opulent hotel in Bangkok, a fortified PMC compound in Colorado and a near-future health resort in Hokkaido, Japan. We love Hitman and will be there with bells on should IO Interactive decide to kick on with a Season 2.
2. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)
Naughty Dog had quite a job ahead of them when they announced Uncharted 4. Fresh off The Last of Us, a game many had called their masterpiece, Uncharted 4 had to live up to expectations that were loftier than ever before and provide a send off for franchise hero Nathan Drake that wouldn’t leave fans cold. It succeeds pretty wildly on both counts. It gets a lot done in it’s 16+ hour single-player campaign — it provides the kind of intense rollercoaster experience fans have come to expect, deftly-written dialogue and note-perfect delivery from its principal cast (Nolan North in particular puts in a career-best performance as Drake) and brings the Uncharted story as we’ve known it to a satisfying close. A thrill from start to finish.
The Iris’ Game of the Year for 2016:
1. Overwatch (PS4, XBOX ONE, WINDOWS PC)
C’mon. It was never going to be anything else. Blizzard’s glorious, character-focused revival of the multiplayer arena shooter genre has taken the gaming world by storm since it launched in May. There’s no game we’ve played more this year. There’s no game we’ve enjoyed more this year. No shooter has implemented a better or more enticing XP and unlock system this year. No game has had more support from its community. No game has had better developer communication.
New content rolls out regularly, new heroes and maps are added free-of-charge, the balance tweaks are many and ongoing, and constructive community feedback is taken to heart by the developers. You literally cannot ask for more in a game than that.
It’s fast and it’s a ton of fun no matter which hero you pick from it’s giant roster. You can dig into the meta and try to work the numbers to your advantage or you can just pick Bastion on Attack and see what happens.
Blizzard are laying down an approach to building and maintaining a player base that should be the bible for developers looking to break into the same space going forward. For all of these reasons and many more, Overwatch is our Game of the Year for 2016. Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to grind out some Loot Boxes in Quick Play because that Santa costume for Torbjörn is calling our names.
What a year. So many great games! We’ll be taking some time during the holidays to revisit our favourites and see if we can’t find time for a few we haven’t gotten around to just yet. Thanks for sticking with us, happy holidays and we’ll see you in the new year.