Best Game Where You Befriend A Giant Buddy: Titanfall 2
Yeah, yeah, The Last Guardian is bittersweet and touching and a brilliant work of art and you should totally play it and hanging out with essentially a giant lightning-spewing kitty is pretty awesome. But if we’re being honest, Titanfall 2 came out of nowhere to make us care about a character who, at first, is basically just a talking tank. As you get to know BT, though, across the game’s hilariously fun single-player campaign, you form a strong bond with the guy, and when the inevitable happens, you’ll find some genuine tears welling up. And when the further inevitable also happens during the end credits… well, OK, there’s still tears. It’s not the Iron Giant, but it’s close.
Best Fad: Trolling Your Enemies With Time Travel
2016 was the year of video games screwing with the time stream, likely thanks to the unexpected success of Life Is Strange. Remedy’s underrated Quantum Break mixed some standard, if tightly done and fun, shooting with a pile of hilariously sadistic time powers that basically meant you could run around behind somebody and punch them in the kidney, or freeze an enemy ticking you off and pump his “time bubble” with three clips’ worth of bullets. Titanfall 2 and Dishonored 2 also both had levels where you could jump between the past and the present, both of which catered to their strengths with ridiculous platforming stunts in the former and literally being able to change the course of the game in the latter. It’s probably going to get really tiresome when 80 games copy it next year and make it boring, but for now, let’s enjoy this fad.
Best Testicular Trauma: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Adam, bro, ouch.
Best Throwback: Hitman
Hitman: Absolution had a silly story but it did change the franchise in some important ways, offering a little more linearity and clarity to a franchise that could be overly obtuse. So returning to the independent mission structure of Hitman: Blood Money should have been a step back. It wasn’t, thanks to Eidos and Square Enix taking what worked from the previous entry while making each level a little gem of both black comedy and design.
Best Open World Game: No Man’s Sky
Sometimes the most fun a game can be is when you fly around looking for stuff. Despite the concentrated whining about how nobody’s found a giant snake yet, this game, built by a four-person team, is a lot of fun, with tons of things to find and alien civilizations to slowly uncover. Unlike most open world games, which are just giant piles of chores with guns at their worst, this encourages real exploration. No matter where you go, you don’t know what you’ll find, but it’s always worth it.
Most Cognitive Dissonance: Watch Dogs 2
Watch Dogs was the grimdarkiest grimdark game of dark to get released that year, so hanging out with Marcus Holloway and his merry band of hacker/pranksters was a lot of fun, even if Marcus himself was focus-grouped to hell and back. This is a game so cheeky, you literally rob the company that publishes it in real life at one point. So realizing that 90% of your enemies in the game are basically just Craigslist temps you shotgun-murdered does kind of undercut the game’s sense of humor. On the bright side, fighting with mostly just your stun-gun and yo-yo beatdown thing does up the challenge!
Best Dumb Fun Of 2014: Gears Of War 4
Make no mistake, Gears of War 4 is roughly as innovative as, well, Gears of War, and we gave it a razzing for that. Still, occasionally you just want to shut your brain off and destroy some robots and/or aliens, and this was a brisk, breezy way to do just that. Even if we did go out of our way to trash all of Marcus’ tomatoes.
Best Game With The Worst Story: The Witness
If The Witness had just cut you loose on its lushly rendered island with its fiendishly cleverly puzzles that are a joy to tease open, it probably would be game of the year. Unfortunately, Jonathan Blow was so impressed with himself, the plot of The Witness is more or less that The Witness is so amazing it will blow your mind. Not so much, my man. Fun game though!
Most Adorably Depressing: Unravel
Unravel is a fiendishly tough platform/puzzler, one of the best of the last few years, but it’s also the story of a little yarn guy who sets off to reunite an old lady with her family. The story of the game quickly becomes pretty dark, full of dead family members, children who bail, and other assorted “joys.” Yarny is really cute though!
Best Platformer: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
The concept of an open-world platform game should not work. Platformers are supposed to be tightly controlled, linear games. But Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, a triumph of level design, makes it work and not only that, makes it fun to leap, slide, find loot, and beat up security guards with guns. Basically it’s the closest you can get to first person Mario, short of the hidden area in Dying Light.
Like It Or Not, The Game Of The Year 2016: Pokemon Go
A lot of outlets will just mindlessly celebrate Pokemon Go as the game of the year, and no matter what standard you use, that is undeniably what it is, without looking at what that really means. If you stop and consider it, this silly mobile game about talking walks and enslaving small creatures is likely the death knell of console gaming as we know it. All of the above games we talked about cost, combined, hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of collective hours of work, and none of them got even close to capturing the popular imagination like a free game Nintendo and Google built largely as an extension of an April Fool’s Day joke.
Pair this with Super Mario Run, which is crushing the iTunes sales charts, and the fact that Nintendo is more or less putting out a tablet as their next console, and what you’ve got is the one company that has survived and thrived in video games since it revived the industry back in the ’80s admitting it thinks the real money is in mobile. And can you blame them? Getting people to fork over $300 for a console is pretty hard next to selling them a game for the smartphone they already own, and Nintendo once again got sucked into the cultural cesspits increasingly pouring into the foundations of console gaming.
Mobile gaming has been the Wild West, but this isn’t the first time Nintendo’s ridden into town, six-guns blazing. And where this electric rodent goes, don’t be surprised if Sony and Microsoft soon follow. So, for better or worse, all hail Pokemon Go, 2016’s game of the year. 2017 promises to be a hell of a ride.