Joe Parlock's Top 10 2016 Games of the YearThe best of a good year!
Here we are at the arse-end of an arse year. The weather was arse, the politics were arse, being let go from a previous site was arse, being ill has been arse, it’s just been arse after arse after arse and quite frankly I can’t wait for 2017 to come along and potentially be less arse.
What isn’t arse, though, are the tons of great games that launched all the way through 2016. Hit after hit kept coming, and so trying to narrow the list down to the top ten is an almost impossible task.
I managed it though, because I’m professional and all, so here are my personal favourite games of 2016. These are the games that either stuck with me long after playing, or the ones I never actually did stop playing at all.
#10 - FURI
Furi oozes style. From start to finish it’s a fast-paced assault of lights and colours blended into a tough-as-nails tug of war against memorable bosses.
By making the entire game nothing but boss encounters, Furi was able to use a relatively slim set of mechanics – a dodge, a sword and a gun – and really put it through its paces in inventive way. Every boss changes up how the game is played, and so going into each fight hoping to go all out on the offensive won’t always work.
The flow of each battle is fantastic, a frenetic back and forth were either can win it back from the brink of death. While on the one hand this system can drag out fights for upwards of 20+ minutes, only to die and have to restart, on the other it’s a good way of letting the player feel out the fight without having to continuously throw themselves against a brick wall.
And the music, oh my lord the music is the best we’ve heard this year. A variety of techno artists – Carpenter Brut, the Toxic Avenger, Danger, Waveshaper and more – lend their skills to make each and every track unforgettable. My personal favourite is ‘Make This Right’ by the Toxic Avenger, but that may be because I heard it so many times during the infuriatingly tough fight it accompanied.
Furi was by no means a perfect game. The bullet hell sections were a bit naff, and how much progress could be lost by a simple mistake did make some of the fights almost insurmountable. Even then, it was given away free on PlayStation Plus the month it came out and it somehow managed to stick with me ever since.
#9 - HYRULE WARRIORS LEGENDS
After originally releasing on the Wii U last year, Hyrule Warriors made its way to handhelds with an expanded port that included extra missions, characters and weapons. While it has some serious performance issues on the old 3DS models, it’s one of the best games you can buy for the New 3DS or New 3DS XL.
I’ve always had trouble controlling third-person perspective games on the 3DS. My big hands make controlling the iddy-biddy nub on the New 3DS model uncomfortable, and the likes of Monster Hunter with their awful control schemes anyway doesn’t help. Hyrule Warriors Legends managed to simplify enough to make it not only playable, but massively enjoyable. The game’s centre-on-the-back camera works really well with the limited buttons of the 3DS and never felt like a barrier to entry for me.
Controls aside, Hyrule Warriors is my favourite Musou/Warriors game out of all the ones I’ve played. Each character’s attacks feel meaty, the stages and missions constantly change things up, and even as a casual Zelda fan I appreciated how much fan service went into it. The music reworks classic Zelda tunes to give them that heart-pumping Warriors flare (seriously, go listen to the Hyrule Field theme right now), and being able to revisit classic areas from games gone by was nice. I’m not the biggest Ocarina of Time fan (A Link Between Worlds is my favourite), but even then meeting up with characters like Darunia at Death Mountain gave me a little tingle at the base of my spine.
The biggest addition Legends made over its Wii U counterpart was the introduction of Linkle. She’s given a bunch of light-hearted solo missions that are a nice break from the main story. Armed with twin crossbows, she looks badass, is fun to watch, and is hecka fun to play, which are the only two requirements for any good Musou character.
It’s just a shame that the game should’ve been a New 3DS exclusive. At launch the game was plagued by low framerates and other issues on the original 3DS models that made it unplayable. Not marking the game as being optimised for the New 3DS really damaged its chances with a lot of people, however if you’ve made an upgrade during the year I strongly recommend you give it another go.
#8 - TITANFALL 2
Titanfall 2 has no reason to be as good as it was. The first game was neat; a fun time doing parkour and smashing up giant mechs, but otherwise fairly inconsequential. The installation size on PC was so big that it never had a permanent place in my gaming roster, but I enjoyed the few short bursts I had with it.
The competitive modes in Titanfall 2 feel far more varied than the first time around. The new Titan loadouts make going toe-to-toe with each type a matter of skill rather than brute firepower, and configuring your pilot to make the best of your playstyle is awesome. Oh and the grappling hook is fantastic. Always love a good grappling hook, me.
The biggest problem I have with Titanfall 2 is one that was also in the first game: I just don’t like playing as the Titans. The pilots feel so kinetic and mobile, and are a force to be reckoned with on their own. Having to plug into a hulking, slow brute of a machine can sometimes kill the flow of a match for me.
With that said, I’ve barely even touched the Titanfall 2 multiplayer mode, which is odd considering the first game was nothing but that. It’s easily the single-player that makes the game special by giving us a campaign that’s inventive, memorable, and as far from the simple rushed job I was expecting it to be.
The campaign follows a dude whose name I’ve already forgotten and his big robot buddy, BT. Together they prance through the world stomping on squishy little soldiers and tearing apart the bigger robot buddies piece by piece. It’s a simple conceit, but along the way ever level plays with the mechanics in fascinating and unpredictable ways.
Having to parkour through a construction facility building prefab buildings suspended at worrying angles, the now-famous Effect and Causes level that discussing would ruin, and the air fleet sections are all easily some of the best level design I’ve seen in an FPS in years. They never change up how you play the game, but they change how those mechanics interact with the environment. You’re always running and jumping and sliding and shooting, but the tactics you’re used to in one environment will be completely different in another through the sheer beauty of the level design.
At the heart of all those cool moments is the relationship between Mr. Forgottenname and BT. What starts out as a simple military-man-using-robot story becomes more of a buddy cop show by the end, with each making wisecracks and growingly genuinely closer together. I love that boy, whatever his name may be, and his friendly robot pal so, so much.
#7 - CLUSTERTRUCK
ClusterTruck easily wins the “most likely to kill me” award for this year. I spent 95% of my time on each level holding my breath while clenching my bum hole tight enough to create a supermassive black hole, and I loved almost every second of it.
This is the first of two games on this list that were amazing because of their simplicity. It’s a game about jumping on vans, and all you do is jump on vans. Fall off you die, so you’ve got to jump, jump and jump your way through each level. To make matters more complicated, the vans don’t follow set paths and so dealing with them crashing into each other, flipping over hills and flat-out exploding makes it incredibly hectic.
In my review, I said that ClusterTruck isn’t really a platformer. It’s not about learning a level or planning your jumps. The whole thing plays out like a Jackie Chan fight-scene: messy, chaotic, and with a very improvisational feel to the whole thing. Stumbling through, reacting to whatever’s thrown at you and making the best of bad situations is the aim of the game, and it works so, so well.
There’s a decent amount of content in there already (although the very last level is nonsense and I hate it), plus the addition of an easy-to-use level editor and Steam workshop support stretches out just how much clustertruckin’ is available.
Just thinking about ClusterTruck is getting my heart rate up, and it’s been months since I last played it.
#6 - FAR CRY PRIMAL
I’ve never really gotten on with the Far Cry games. I had a lot of fun with Far Cry 2, but 3 and 4 failed to click with me in any meaningful way. There was something about the focus on an “interesting” (read: edgy) antagonist and the endless drug/supernatural sequences that really grated on me.
What I did like were the scavenging and combat mechanics. Scouting out encampments, hunting animals for crafting materials and picking off baddies one by one were easily the highlight of any recent Far Cry game, and to my absolutely joy Primal goes all-in on that.
Far Cry Primal takes place in 10,000 BCE, which is surprisingly a setting we don’t see more often. Playing as Wenja warrior Takkar, the aim is the take the land of Oros and make it safe while building up a tribe of his very own.
Seeing as it’s not even the Bronze age yet weapons are limited to clubs, spears and bows. To make up for it, Takkar has the awesome ability to tame and control many of the predators he encounters. It turns what’s normally shooty-bang-bang affair into a fascinating Pokémon: Caveman Edition.
Searching out the right animals to tame would’ve been enough to make a game all by itself, but then learning their individual abilities and using them against the other tribes adds a whole interesting new layer to encounters. Using an owl to take out scouts while a cave bear tears through a camp, causing a distraction so you can pick off the last few stragglers with your bow is ridiculously satisfying.
Primal takes a much more hands-off approach to its characters than the previous few entries in the series, and it’s a decision that works really well. Far Cry 4 rammed Pagan Min down your throat every few seconds in a move that was obviously built off of the popularity Vaas from the previous game received, but neither were all that interesting. They were just edgy.
Primal, on the other hand, gives barely any screen time to its antagonists and they still manage to be more dimensional than any of the psychopaths you meet in other games. Ull and Batari are both terrifying and sympathetic in their own ways, and give insightful looks into the lives of their own tribes.
Primal gives you a lot of friends too. As you build up the Wenja tribe, specialists will join the group and offer you missions and equipment to craft. Far from being just resources or stores, these characters are all well-written and multidimensional. Doing that exclusively in languages that were constructed for the game based off of proto-languages likely to have been spoken at the time is super impressive.
Far Cry Primal is easily my favourite Far Cry game ever. A fascinating world, engaging beast mechanics and a much less gimmicky story than the previous instalments made it enjoyable from start to finish. Plus, the cavemen are cuties and I would like to smooch every single one of them.
#5 - MIRROR'S EDGE CATALYST
If there’s any game I know like the back of my own hand, it’s the original Mirror’s Edge. I’ve clocked countless hours in it, speedrun it, know all the glitches, and can beat it in around an hour with no problem. I even had the world record for one of the DLC time trials for a while. I adore Mirror’s Edge.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst isn’t better than the first game. That doesn’t mean it’s worse, though, it means they both provide two entirely different experiences. For me, the first game was all about technical skill: knowing the routes, pulling off the squeaky-bum-time jumps, and developing the muscle memory needed to do well.
Catalyst, on the other hand, nails that brilliant feeling of flow that comes with doing well at Mirror’s Edge, without the high technical skill ceiling. The game’s nowhere near as mechanically intense as the first, but being set in an open world without loading screens helps maximise the zen-like state that comes with maintaining top speed.
That open-world is well-designed. It’s not a sprawling city like what you’d see in Grand Theft Auto, instead being more of an infinity-sign shape that narrows in the middle and splays out at the edges. Each district has a distinct style and offers different ways of moving through them, but are also a cohesive whole that can be darted around. It’s an interesting mid-way point between totally unguided open worlds and the linear affair of the first game, and it’s just darn fun to mess about in.
The story missions offer some fantastic moments, the final level in particular being memorable dash up a crumbling building that feels lively and dynamic. There’s some really surprising character development as well as you watch the douche, self-assured sidekick turn into a likeable, well-rounded person as the game progresses. Of course there are problems; the overall plot is as naff as its predecessor, and I have major problems with Plastic as a character, but none of it ever impedes on the running itself.
I was very cynical about Catalyst in the run-up (hah) to its launch. Mirror’s Edge is one of my favourite games ever, so seeing a more simplified, “mainstream” version of it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Taking the game for what it is – a more accessible instalment that nails the perfect feeling of speed the first had – it’s hard to feel let down by this reboot.
#4 - GROW UP
If there’s any game I never expected to see a sequel to, it was Grow Home. Beginning life as an in-studio side project, it was a little platformer with an art-style that, much like the rest of the game, can only be described as “lovely”. Everything about it, from the exploration to the music to the cute-as-shit sheepies are just… they’re just so lovely. However, it was a small project that was never considered a major title for Ubisoft and didn’t receive large amounts of coverage, so I never thought we’d see our little robo-friend BUD ever again.
Imagine my surprise when Grow Up was announced at E3, and launched not long after. A sequel that expanded the plant-growing funtimes of the first from a single plant to a whole planetoid teeming with life. It introduced more plants that could be grown for movement around the world, more places to explore, and BUD finally got a robot buddy of his very own to help him put the pieces of his ship back together.
And my word is this new world just as lovely. Grassy plains, snowy mountains and dusty deserts are scattered all over the place, making each objective (which are ultimately “find the thing”) feel different, and makes exploring every nook and cranny exciting. I spent hours flying around the world hunting for new plants and animals to collect, and often forgot that I actually had a task to be getting on with.
Grow Up managed to identify the few problems with Grow Home and patch them up. The somewhat monotonous climbing is still there, but having plants that can chuck, lift, push and blow you around the world, as well as the paraglider and morph-ball-esque rolling skill help make moving through the world a lot more varied.
Grow Up is fun. It’s a colourful, silly, adorable adventure that is an absolute delight to play. I’m so happy Ubisoft took another chance on the Grow IP, and if this is the sort of quality we can expect I sure do hope we see another one eventually.
#3 - OVERWATCH
No other game has come close to taking the crown from Team Fortress 2 when it comes to high-speed, character-based multiplayer FPS action. No matter who you play as you’re guaranteed to have an intense time and feel as if you’re helping the team just by being there (even if you’re not, Hanzo).
Every character changes up how the game plays, even between ones in the same classification (for example, Reaper and Tracer are both offensive characters, yet have totally different pacing and strengths to each other). Team composition is vital, but learning who works best in which situation doesn’t feel insurmountable as it does in Mobas or even other class-based FPS like Rainbow Six Siege. There’s room to just play as a character you like instead of what technically would be best for the team.
It helps that the roster is diverse and likeable. It’s a truly global cast full of different races, religions, sexualities, and to an extent body types. There are some problems, for example as much as I love Roadhog and would like to smooch him, he is ultimately a mish-mash of tired fat guy tropes that I could’ve done without, and for all the good character building it does Blizzard does very little with the story outside of extended universe content. Despite that, I can’t think of a game this year that I’ve felt invested in its characters as much as I do Overwatch. Probably 25% of my time has been spent playing the game, and the other 75% trawling fan communities for fanart.
Post-launch support for the game has been commendable too. While I think the microtransactions are manipulative and unfair, it’s difficult to deny they’ve helped fund new characters, maps, game modes and seasonal events that keep dragging me back for more. For game that is purely online multiplayer, there’s a surprising amount of stuff to do.
Overwatch was Blizzard’s first attempt at making an FPS. It conquered the RTS with Starcraft and the MMO with World of Warcraft, and it seems like it’s on its way to being the go-to for FPS as well. It’s fun, colourful, frenetic and always changing and updating. More importantly, it gave me my perfect boys Winston and Roadhog, who I love very dearly.
#2 - DEVIL DAGGERS
If we’re going purely on a price-to-quality ratio, Devil Daggers is the steal of the year. Coming in at a staggering £4, the game is as close to perfect as any game on this list can be. The idea is simple: you have a gauntlet that shoots daggers, and you have to survive against various demons and monstrosities.
Much like ClusterTruck, Devil Daggers revels in its own simplicity. There’s one stage, one weapon, one hit and you die, and you just go back and start all over again with the exact same pattern of enemies as before. The art is reminiscent of the PlayStation One days, there’s no set-pieces or dialogue or anything like that, it’s as bare-bones a game as you can get. It’s you, your gun, and the armies of hell advancing out of the dark. And it pulls that off perfectly.
Each round gets chaotic very, very quickly, with dozens of enemies buzzing around like demonic bees. The game forces you to always keep moving and shooting, weaving in and out of flocks of skulls and worms and corpses. More often than not a run went bad for me because I was seeing stars due to holding my breath out of sheer concentration.
You’re considered skilled at the game if you can survive more than a minute. Beating your time by even less than a second is worthy of celebration. That repetition of start, kill, die, repeat, start, kill, die a little bit later, repeat is almost hypnotic in that Civilization one-more-turn kind of way, except instead of Ghandi glaring you don’t it’s a gigantic spider made of skulls.
The true star of the show, though, is the presentation. The early-3D style with low-quality textures works fantastically in keeping the game visually clean but just gritty enough to feel gross. The gunplay is stellar, with shots feeling meaty and enemies crunching and squishing in the most satisfying of ways.
Despite all that, the leading force is definitely Devil Daggers’ sound design. Playing it in surround-sound with decent headphones is the single most immersive thing I’ve played this year: skulls clattering in the distance, alien sounds getting louder as the enemy approaches, the volume ramping up as things get busier and busier and you’re lost in a cloud of skulls screaming as they whirl around you only to take that one unlucky hit and then silence. Time to start again.
Playing Devil Daggers, it’s obvious that it just gets it. It gets the appeal of the early 90s arena shooter and offers a condensed, distilled version of its characteristic speed, edginess and chaos. It’s easily the overall smallest game on this list, but I can appreciate a game that does what little it does with surgical precision and care.
#1 - TOM CLANCY'S THE DIVISION
It’s been a tough road for The Division, but it got there in the end. I really dug the game at launch, but after that update after update pulled it off track. Bugs piled up, balance issues pushed players away, and it all culminated in Ubisoft Massive needing to dedicate an entire patch to fixing the game enough to safely move forwards from.
Since that patch, though, The Division is easily, by a country freakin’ mile, my game of the year. That patch didn’t only restore the game to “pretty good” like it was at launch, it pushed it into one of the best shooter-RPGs I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
The Division takes place in Manhattan in the aftermath of a biological terror attack. Most of the city is dead and the rest are either marauding the street as different gangs or cooped up in quarantine centres. Playing as a recently-activated sleeper agent, it’s your job to take back the city, investigate the outbreak, and obnoxiously clap over the dead bodies of other players you’ve killed in the dark zone PVP area.
Manhattan is one of gaming’s most macabre, beautiful settings this year. Corpses line the streets and bin bags tower high up against the buildings in stark contrast to the Christmas decorations and lights in shop windows. I never thought I’d find snow piling up on a body bag pretty, yet here I am. Even the not-festive areas, such as subways turned into gigantic underground morgues, look gorgeous in their own ways.
At the heart of The Division is its shooting, and it doesn’t fail to deliver. It’s a very tactical game, placing a heavy emphasis on the smooth cover system that feels a lot like the recent Splinter Cell games. Dashing between cover is a perilous thing, especially when you’re not at the end-game and built like a brick shithouse yet, but flanking is often the only way to get the upper hand in an encounter.
Each faction of enemies plays in their own different way too, making moving between territory to territory affect how you’d approach a shootout: Cleaners use fire-based weaponry but have lots of vulnerabilities that can be taken advantage of, whereas the LMB are highly-trained, well-equipped soldiers who use gadgets and advanced tactics to get the upper hand.
The RPG elements are light, but do a good job at allowing for specialisation. My character generally focuses on self-survival, being able to give himself a damage boost while healing to make sure he can scrape out of kerfuffles without the help of other players.
However, character builds aren’t rigid: there’s no permanent levelling up system, with everything from your equipment to your skills and perks being swappable and tweakable depending on the situation. For example, in one mission with a lot of potential fire-damage, the entire team swapped to support stations, which provide area-of-effect healing, and modified them to make us immune to fire. It helps encourage experimentation, even if it does also result in more number-crunching than I would’ve liked.
Optional co-op and solo play aren’t the only things on offer, with the Dark Zone being the main PVP area in The Division. It’s not a straight-up deathmatch though: players who attack others get marked as “rogue” – while you get more XP and currency for successfully going rogue and racking up the kills, it also makes you a much bigger target for other players. Securing loot found in the Dark Zone has to be extracted through time-based survival missions before they can be used in the solo content, which can make for some incredibly tense moments of wondering whether that stuff you’ve worked so hard to get is actually safe.
During levelling it can be a tough nut to crack; the level brackets that decide who is put in which instance are pretty wide, and so players who hugely out level you make it almost impossible to survive in at times. At the end-game it opens up, and I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting my routes to the right bosses, finding good hiding spots for when I decide to go rogue, and trying to get those all-important loot drops.
While it had a rocky few months, The Division’s received weekly patches to fix bugs and balance issues that arise during the week, and the amount of transparency from the developers is refreshing. There are weekly livestreams to discuss the game and what’s coming in the future, blog posts that detail and justify choices that are made, and a private test server to let players give feedback on the biggest updates before they go live. Most of these practices come from those few shoddy months, but now that they’re in place following the game when I’m not playing has become just as much a part of the experience for me as actually doing the shooty-bang-bangs.
Since launch a hell of a lot of post-launch content has been added. New four-player raids, various side missions and two DLC packs (one of which, Survival, would easily win my DLC of the Year award if there was one) all add on to the already pretty expansive vanilla game we got back in March.
The Division isn’t without its problems, but watching it turn itself around from ‘the dark times’ has been a joy. I liked the game at launch, but I’ve adored it more recently. It’s the game I’ve spent the most time with, the game I think about the most, and the game I follow closest. I’m not a guy that normally cares about “the meta”, but I can talk Alpha Bridge gear sets and farming Lexington with the best of ‘em.
Congrats, The Division. You’ve won my Game of the Year award, you magnificent bastard, you.
And that’s it, my top ten favourite games of this year. It’s been a bizarre year that, most importantly for me personally, saw the launch of LPVG itself. It was stressful at the time, but now that we’re going steady it’s nice to know I can write a five-thousand-word monstrosity like this and still have a place to actually publish it.
Thank you for the great last few months, and here’s hoping we’ll still be here next year!