Although my loves skew all-pop-culture-all-the-time (also, dogs, because WHO’S A GOOD BOY), I generally favor one specific medium for long stretches of my life: film defined my late high school years, television permeated college, comic books ruled my mid- twenties. Ultimately, it’s a reflection of time allocation and which medium satisfies the most during that period, even if the rest remain important.
This is a very long-winded, introductory way (LONG WINDED INTRODUCTIONS ON NERD BUILD? PREPOSTEROUS!) of saying that for the last few years, video games –though a lifetime love – run my pop culture world. And as such – despite feeling enthusiastically toward many pieces of entertainment this year (What’s that? You want me to talk about Batman v. Superman again? Why, sure…) – video games are the only medium in which I feel confident dealing out a sexy BEST OF 2016 list. Oh, you want a best of list for everything else? Okay, fine, diligent Nerd Buildites.
Dan’s Favorite Movies of 2016:
1. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
2. Who cares, I’ll just watch BvS again.
3. Zootopia was good too.
Not enough for you?!
Dan’s Favorite Music of 2016
1. Hamilton ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST RECORDING
2. “That didn’t come out in 2016.”
3. OH, is THAT SO? *Checks Wikipedia* that is so.
4. Well, I don’t care, I like Hamilton, so there.
So, there you go, that wraps us up. Thanks for reading Nerd Build’s Video Games BEST OF 2016.
Alright, but seriously, there are some SECRET SHAMES you must know first, before I give you my SEXY LIST. So I’m going to give you two lists for the price of one, the first of which I call:
Dan’s List of Secret Shameful Gaps in Gaming that Heretofore Nullify His Actual List…2016
In all honestly, I can’t play every game that comes out each year, primarily because that would be impossible from a time and money standpoint, but also because I like other things, such as wrestling, which already takes up roughly 400 hours of my time every week, 425 hours if there is a pay-per-view (and clearly, I need to watch the pre-show to each of those pay-per-views, when pretend commentators pretend to be predicting the pretend outcome of a pretend sport). And obviously, I can’t skip any of that #wrasslincontent because it is absolutely possible that nearly a half hour of that time may be good entertainment. There, you’ve just seen a glimpse into the fragile mind of a wrestling fan. Send help.
Anyways, it feels important to note that several important 2016 games released without my wrestle-addled brain touching them and therefore may make you feel as if my list is slightly less valid than someone who does not suffer from wrestling and thereby has time to play all of the games. As such, and so you, loyal Buildite, can stay informed, I present a short list of games that I really should play at some point, but I ain’t making any promises.
1. THE LAST GUARDIAN – The Last Guardian is a game. That may be an awful sentence to some people, but those who have diligently followed the development of The Last Guardian over the last NINE years understand exactly what it means. The Last Guardian was something I already assumed would never actually come out and, as such, I mourned it as the ICO/Shadow of the Colossus fan I am. I let go, emotionally, but also by shoving a tiny origami boat, holding a photograph of Fumito Ueda, across a rain puddle in my driveway, and then nobly targeting it with flaming Nerf arrows. But it did come out, within a week of Final Fantasy XV (which coincidentally had a nine-year development time that also suggested it may never exist), and I wanted to play that a whole lot more. Also, I can’t just renege on the gesture of the origami boat. But mostly, I’ve heard the controls are bad. So I haven’t played Last Guardian. Yet. SECRET SHAME.
2. INSIDE – I played and enjoyed Limbo, the previous game from Denmark’s Playdead. It had a striking look and offered an arguably one-of-a-kind gameplay experience. But, honestly, it didn’t resonate with me quite the way it did with a whole lot of other, probably smarter folks. And that’s okay, sometimes you just kind of like stuff and you don’t need everything to make your brain explode from awesome. Inside seems very similar to Limbo: a critical darling with a striking look and unique gameplay that I probably will like. But do I want to pay $20 for it, right now? No.
3. SUPERHOT – Is a game that is not playable on a device that I own and it makes me sad. “But Dan, aren’t you using a computer to write this long, self-fellating article about your favorite games? You can play Superhot on PC, you know.” Oh, can I? Can I play it on my 2006 Macbook? The one I got in the Year of our Lord TWO THOUSAND AND SIX?! CAN I? (The answer is no). Please come to PS4, Superhot, because I think we’d be friends.
4. HITMAN – Although I’ve not played a second of Hitman, I sure have spent a lot of hours watching the cool dudes at Giant Bomb play it. I will, however, be buying a copy of the complete first season next month when it’s released in a sexy steelbook package, because I am a slave to material goods. Don’t judge. When the robot lords take your digital games to feed to their robot king, you’ll be sorry! *Shakes fist at cloud*
Okay, we got that out of the way. Yeah, there are other cool games that came out and I didn’t play, but those were the ones that felt like monkeys on my back. I feel better now, so let’s count down, starting at 10:
Dan’s Top 10 SEXY LIST OF TOP 10 SEXY GAMES of 20SEXteen (I’m sorry)
10. FIREWATCH – Speaking of being a slave to material goods, I’m somewhat of a connoisseur of expensive screen-printed movie posters. They’re what some might call “a huge waste of hard-earned money,” but I simply refer to them as “my babies.” My favorite pricey screen print artist is Olly Moss, whose Star Wars prints became so popular that you often see them ripped off by all sorts of Hot Topic-esque stores, namely Hot Topic. What does this have to do with Firewatch? Nothing, really, I just wanted to share something about myself, but I guess we’re JUST NOT THAT GOOD OF FRIENDS.
No, wait, come back! There’s a point. Olly Moss started cutting back on making prints a few years back to help found Campo Santo, who made the beautiful Firewatch. As such, Firewatch looks like a bazillion dollars, a Moss original come to life. Very much story-driven, Firewatch takes the player through a 4-6 hour journey through a season with forest fire lookout, Henry, as he wrestles with some personal demons. If he literally wrestled with some demons, say, in a Hell in a Cell match or in a triple threat with Brock Lesnar, it may be my favorite game of the year. Instead, it’s figurative, but gorgeous and engrossing and, therefore, my #10 game of the year.
9. THE WITCHER 3: BLOOD AND WINE – The Witcher 3, had I made a SEXY Best of 2015 list, would have most likely destroyed all competition that year (I’ll ignore Metal Gear Solid V, simply because it wouldn’t be fair for me to judge anything against a Metal Gear game.) It’s huge, completely captivating, and just about the best open world game I’ve ever experienced, all living inside an incredible, authentic fantasy world. I want to just live in the world of the Witcher, but I can’t, so instead I’ll have to stick to going to the Renaissance Festival far too many times each season, swinging around a foam sword and yelling at the Turkey Leg vendor about how I AM GERALT OF RIVIA.
Not satisfied with creating one of the finest games of all time, CD Project Red –the Polish gods who forged the Witcher series – made two phenomenal expansions for The Witcher 3. Blood and Wine, the latter of the two, has a story nearly as big, and most likely better written, than the original game’s entry.
So why is it so low on the list?! Well, because this is, no matter how you cut it, DLC. Seems kind of unfair to let it destroy the rest of the competition, right? Also, I haven’t finished the main campaign. I know, I know, SECRET SHAME.
8. OVERCOOKED! – I’m confident that the hardest I’ve laughed at a game this year – and maybe the hardest I’ve laughed this year period – was around 18 hours into Nerd Build’s 2016 Extra Life stream while fumbling miserably at Overcooked with Alia. A deceptively difficult party game in which you take control of cartoon chefs tasked with making food for the devil (don’t worry about it), Overcooked can be stressful, anger-inducing, maddening, and may make you short with your wife because she JUST ISN’T PREPARING THE ONIONS QUICKLY ENOUGH. But it’s also just about the most fun you can possibly have with a video game.
7. TITANFALL 2 – The first entry into Respawn’s Titanfall franchise delighted me, mostly in the way it let me move throughout the vertically-inspired multiplayer maps. Also, GIANT ROBOTS. The only real qualm I had was, despite some really intriguing ambient world-building, Titanfall lacked a real single-player campaign. For someone like me who is a bit of a lone wolf and generally doesn’t stick to any multiplayer FPS for very long and is therefore quite bad at multiplayer FPSs, the lack of a single-player campaign can be a death knell.
But good on ‘em, the fine folk at Respawn took their time this go around, and made not only a campaign for me, Dan, the LONE WOLF, but they made a really good campaign -- one that features one of the most phenomenal levels of any FPS of all time. I won’t spoil it for you, but it will make you giddy. Plus, the multiplayer feels spectacular and will please any fan of FPSs, even a SOLITARY LONE WOLF like yours truly *HOWL*
6. UNCHARTED 4: A THIEF’S END – I hate to see Nathan Drake leave, but I love to see his Thief’s End go.
Now that the unpleasantness is out of the way, I need to point out that the Uncharted series falls plainly in my top five video game franchises. They may not play perfectly, but I’ll be damned if they don’t give you an amazing, almost Indiana Jones-level, sense of adventure. Therefore, I went into 2016 expecting this to be my Game of the Year. And let’s be clear, I love Uncharted 4. I think it, barring the thrill provided by the sheer surprise of the first game, may be the best in the franchise. From a gameplay standpoint, it stands head and shoulders above the other games in the series; visually, few games come even within the same ballpark; as far as story, it sticks the landing like I hoped; and by Jove, the music is as great as [enter fourth consecutive generic idiom here]. No joke, Uncharted 4 is a stunner in nearly every facet.
But I expected it.
As such, it falls below several other games, simply because I knew Naughty Dog would give me what I wanted. They did it, and in spades, and I’ll forever love them for it.
5. RACHET AND CLANK – Speaking of beloved franchises, boy, do I love me some Rachet and Clank. And boy, did I want a simple, pure, platforming shooter like this remake in my life.
The platformer, unfortunately, seems to be a dying breed, relegated largely to the bygone Playstation and Nintendo 64 of my younger years. Instead, we get MOBA after MOBA and I don’t want no MOBAs because they scare me and I do not own a gaming PC. So instead, I pray for more and more platformers in the vein of the Rachet games, or Jak & Daxter, or Banjo Kazooie, or Super Mario 64. They give me simple, likable characters inside a colorful world, all balanced with the occasional moment when I accidentally fall off a ledge when I fail to wrangle in my depth perception and then I yell and the dog gets scared and hides in the other room and I can’t help but have TOO MUCH FUN.
Do you want to also have TOO MUCH FUN and yell at your dog? Then fire up Rachet and Clank.
4. DOOM – Who expected this? Who expected a new Doom game to be THIS GOOD? I surely didn’t. I assumed we’d be getting some middling, half-hearted take on the beloved FPS grandfather, at best something more in line with 2004’s totally fine Doom 3
Instead, we got a true spiritual successor to Doom and Doom 2, a demon-ripping, gun-blasting, face-shredding, whiz-bang-boom blast of a shooter that grabs you by the secret bits from the opening seconds and tugs you, giblets first, through one of the absolute best FPS campaigns of all time. Titanfall 2 brought the goods this year, but Doom brought the goods, lit them on fire on your neighbor’s porch, and started blasting Mastodon records as the house burned down.
Seriously, if you haven’t played Doom, play Doom.
3. FINAL FANTASY XV – There’s something to be said about any piece of media hitting you at just the right time. I needed Final Fantasy XV right when it came out. I needed a big, open fantasy world filled to the brim with people in towns just aching to give me the most inane, preposterous, busywork task for me to waste my time on. Did that sound negative? It’s not.
Listen, I love me some meaningful quests in an open world game, beautiful quests that weave almost imperceptibly with the overarching story, but after a long day in the real-ass garbage world, what I really want is for some boring NPC to tell me to spend 40 minutes looking for yellow frogs (that is a real quest from Final Fantasy XV, one that repeated several times with different colored frogs, it was great). As such, I found Final Fantasy XV’s open world enthralling in its mundanity. So much so that, after around 40 hours of playtime, having heard about the mixed bag of the second half of the game’s main story, I confidently said that “No matter how bad it gets, it can’t tarnish how much I love this game!”
BOY DID THEY TRY THOUGH.
Yes, the back half of the game tries to hit all the ugly notes:
An absurdly boring negotiation sequence.
A ridiculously long chapter in which your character is depowered and must rely on a magic ring.
Lots of walking around a train with nothing to do.
But despite all that, Final Fantasy XV was my mot juste of 2016, exactly what I wanted, when I wanted it. I loved the open world, I love the frivolous quests, and – despite hiccups so big they could derail the boring train you keep boring riding at the end of the stupid boring game – the story ends beautifully. Silly, but beautifully, in the truest, Final Fantasy way. And in the end, isn’t that the true measure of greatness? (The answer is no).
2. OVERWATCH – As I howled about before, I have the reputation of being something of a LONE WOLF. This LONEWOLFITUDE™ leads to many challenges in my life, not least of which lies in my disinterest in online multiplayer games, particularly shooters. But Overwatch? OVERWATCH IS LIFE.
There isn’t much I can do to sell Overwatch that hasn’t been said before, so here’s the real reason why I love this stupid game so stupid much: I don’t feel bad playing Overwatch.
“What does that even mean, Dan? Video games are supposed to be TOO MUCH FUN, you’re not supposed to feel bad when you play them.”
Right, right, I know that. That’s why I don’t play multiplayer shooters, because some 11-year-old jerk will yell at me and I’ll be sad. Then I’ll see that my K/D spread is a .03 and I’ll break into an ugly cry and never play again.
But not in Overwatch. In Overwatch (assuming you mute voice chat, don’t do that to yourself unless you’re playing with friends or just want to feel deep, soul-rending sadness), the post-game screen only shows you the good stuff, the things you did well, the ways you helped your team. Good job, Dan, you stayed on the objective for over four minutes! Good job, Dan, you participated in 30% of all eliminations! GOOD JOB DAN! I cannot stress how big of a deal this is in a game like Overwatch. Combine that with 20+ characters, so I can easily switch out whenever I get in a slump, and you’ve got yourself one of the least rage-inducing multiplayer games of all time.
Also, did I mention all the cool costume skins? Because those are probably 95% of the reason why I play Overwatch.
1. THE WITNESS – The Witness: maddening, beautiful, feverish, confusing, and the absolute best game I played in 2016. And it came out in January.
Jonathan Blow’s follow up to Braid made me feel obsessive over a game in a way I rarely do. In the Witness, the unnamed protagonist navigates a mysterious island of deceptively difficult line puzzles, slowly completing these panels to unlock new, even more complicated brain-teasers and more secrets of your surroundings.
Over my month of playing The Witness (and I heartily recommend spreading your time out with the game, in fear for your sanity), I aggressively avoided any spoilers or solutions in fear of ruining any of the absolutely enthralling satisfaction I felt each time I solved a puzzled that had previously seemed impossible. The Witness provides an unparalleled opportunity to feel the way your brain processes difficult tasks over time. Upon first booting up the game, you’ll find panels that seem so assuredly impossible, you may want to quit right then. By the time the end draws near, these same puzzles become second nature. I’d go to bed absolutely, irrevocably stumped by one panel, completely sure that I would never beat THIS STUPID GAME I HATE IT AND I’M A DUMMY. The next day, I’d solve that puzzle in 20 seconds. And I would feel like THE SMARTEST MAN ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH.
In a world where most games merely provide simple positive reinforcement built around imaginary in-game achievements, The Witness instead made me feel concretely great about myself. Sure, it also made me feel like an absolute doofus on certain days, but no matter what, it felt genuine.
Ultimately, if this Game of the Year 2016 list has any impact, any legacy, any resonance with any reader, my singular wish – other than furthering my notorious LONE WOLF REPUTATION – is for people to go play The Witness and tell me about their experiences playing The Witness.
So go forth, friends, playeth thine games, but mostly, PLAY THE WITNESS.