Mark Trapp

Ten games I enjoyed playing in 2016

It's the end of the year, so let's talk about video games and which ones I enjoyed playing again. I didn't get to play as much as I wanted this year, and with one or two exceptions, I opted for shorter, more narrative games. I'm finding that as I get older and have less time, a well-written, 5-6 hour experience that I can complete has been more rewarding than trying to slog through a game that'll take 30+ hours to finish, or hundreds of hours to master.

Before I get to that list, the usual disclaimer: these are not the games I think are the best ones to come out in 2016. I don't play nearly enough games to be able to make that call in any year. And these aren't games that are perfect by any stretch of the imagination: every one of the games on this list has recognizable flaws. But they are games that I came back to time and time again this year, and are at least worth checking out if you ever get the chance.

Now, the list of games I really enjoyed playing in 2016, in alphabetical order:

Asemblance

Asemblance logo
  • Genre: interactive narrative, puzzle, thriller
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows (I played the PlayStation 4 version)
  • Official website
  • Gameplay video

Billed as a "pilot episode" of a series of games in the same mold as the Twilight Zone or this year's big hit, Black Mirror, Asemblance is a fairly short game about remembering, but like the TV series it takes its inspiration from, there's a twist. I totally recommend going in completely blind.

Block'hood

Block'hood logo

Block'hood is a deconstruction of city-building games like SimCity. In games like SimCity, you are primarily designing a fun city (however you define that), and there are underlying systems like water, sewage, power, etc. that help provide challenge and maintain your suspension of disbelief. In Block'hood, however, those systems are at the forefront: you are tasked with building just enough to keep all of your neighborhood's demands and supply in equilibrium.

While there's a sandbox mode, the core of Block'hood comes from pre-made challenges, typically asking you to reach some resource with very little room to build what you need to do it. The puzzle-like nature of the game and its calming, minimalistic aesthetics make it a great "veg out" type of game at the end of the day.

Civilization VI

Civilization VI logo

I love the Civilization series; it would've taken a disaster of a release for me not to enjoy the latest version of it.

However, the series has suffered kind of an annoying problem: each new numbered Civilization game typically has less features and systems, and is less polished, than the previous version and all of the previous version's expansions. One could be cynical and say it's done that way to sell those expansions, but it could be a lack of time or a wish to start with a simple base game before adding more complexity.

The good news with Civilization VI is that it's the most "complete" base Civilization yet: it has almost everything Civilization V has with all of its expansions, save for the number of civilizations (19 vs. 37) and a diplomacy victory condition. There's never been a better time to play Civilization.

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV logo

Like Civilization VI, it would be tough for me not to recommend new mainline, numbered Final Fantasy game, especially since it's been six years since the last one (not counting the MMO Final Fantasy XIV).

This is one of those games that definitely was the exception to my general rule of playing shorter experiences this year. I'm already 50 hours in, and still not close to finished. However, I'm still not sold on its move to being an open-world game: it mostly works with its main narrative conceit (a road trip across the country), but there's something to be said about a tight, linear story that all the other Final Fantasy mainline games have had.

One word of caution: I strongly recommend watching its companion movie, Kingsglaive, before playing. It's surprisingly good for a Final Fantasy movie (way better than the flop Spirits Within), and it sets up the main conflict that's at the heart of Final Fantasy XV. Why they didn't do a better job of setting that up within the game itself is beyond me.

Firewatch

Firewatch logo
  • Genre: interactive narrative
  • Platforms: Linux, Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One (I played the PlayStation 4 version)
  • Official website
  • Gameplay video

Another narrative game on this list. In Firewatch, you play as Henry, a guy looking to get away from his troubles for a summer by spending time as a—you guessed it—fire lookout in the Shoshone National Forest out in Wyoming. For the most part you are completely alone, your only source of companionship is Delilah, another fire lookout who speaks to you over walkie-talkie. It's a great game about finding taking responsibility and building a friendship.

One interesting factoid: Firewatch was published by Panic, a local software development company here in Portland that makes stellar Mac applications. Owing to that connection, the controls and UI are very tight for a game so focused on telling a story over gameplay.

Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain logo
  • Genre: point-and-click adventure, crime thriller
  • Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (I played the PlayStation 3 version)
  • Official website
  • Trailer

I started playing Heavy Rain nearly 7 years ago when it first came out. It's a murder mystery where you play as four main characters, each trying to figure out who is the "Origami Killer," who leaves an origami figure as a calling card next to their victims.

At its core, it's a classic point-and-click adventure game, but with a few twists:

  • Instead of pointing and clicking, actions are done via quick-time events. You can even use move controllers to perform them.
  • There's a fair amount of consequence to your actions: people can die, and that'll affect how the rest of the story plays out.

I'm not sure why I put it aside for so long, but I had a lot of fun finally finishing it and remaining unspoiled for all this time about who the Origami Killer truly is.

Master of Orion

Master of Orion logo

If 4X strategy games were a building, the Civilization series and the Master of Orion series would be the two main pillars upon which it is built. Though I never really got to play them, the original Master of Orion and Master of Orion 2 are beloved. However, the series virtually imploded with universally-reviled Master of Orion 3: a game so hated it single-handedly shelved the series for over a decade.

Recently however, Wargaming (makers of World of Tanks) purchased the rights to Master of Orion as reportedly a passion project, releasing a rebooted Master of Orion this year.

It's not the most complex 4X strategy game, and you can definitely feel its 90s-style inspiration when playing it, but I still had a fun time. But if you're looking for a space-based 4X strategy game with a little more depth, I'd recommend checking out the Endless Space series as well.

1-Bit Rogue

1-Bit Rogue logo

It seems like the Rogue-like/Rogue-lite/Rogue-like-like craze of the past few years has started to die down: I didn't find too many games of the genre this year, much less ones that stuck with me. 1-Bit Rogue was one of the few.

In 1-Bit Rogue, you delve into randomized dungeon and try to get as far down as possible. As you descend, you run into enemies that you fight by moving into them (just like Rogue) and collect weapons, medicine, and scrolls by opening treasure chests. However, everything has very limited uses and there is no extra storage, so the challenge is trying to maximize the use of weapons and scrolls before opening up the next chest.

It's a mobile game and by necessity it's not that deep, but it's a great distraction for a few minutes here and there and surprisingly faithful to the original Rogue.

The Witness

The Witness logo
  • Genre: puzzle
  • Platforms: iOS (in development), PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One (I played the PlayStation 4 version)
  • Official website
  • Gameplay video

For a week, there was nothing I could think about more than The Witness. If I had to pick a game out of everything I played this year as "the best", I think it'd win hands down.

If you're reductive about it, The Witness seems like it's one of those "1001 puzzles" books you find at gas stations in a very pretty package. But there's a level of detail and thought put into the game when it comes to how puzzles are arranged, placed, and designed that puts The Witness into something much more. And there are a few mind-blowing moments when you realize the extent to which puzzles exist in the world.

If you hate puzzles and puzzle games, The Witness has nothing to offer you. But if you do, man, you are in for a treat.

Virginia

Virginia logo

A latecomer on this list (I just played through it today!), Virginia is another narrative game, this time you play as an FBI agent assigned to internal investigations (i.e., ratting out fellow agents).

It has a few large flaws (notably it kinda goes off the rails at the end), but I found its method of story telling to be interesting. One, there is no dialog: the entire story is told through its score and your ability to understand non-verbal language. And two, it makes use liberal use of cinematographic cuts: there is no downtime where you are walking from place to place. Once it's done with its narrative beat, it moves on to the next scene automatically.


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