Traditionally, the fourth quarter unleashes a deluge of must-play games. With few exceptions, my favorite games of 2016 were released during the first half of the year.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. My 2016 epitomizes the axiom of "quality over quantity." Spreading myself thin across a dozen or more titles is one of my least favorite parts of being a critic, so I relished the opportunities 2016 gave me to sink my teeth into a game or two at a time.
I'm a lapsed WWE fan. It used to be that the release of a WWF/E SmackDown/2K title would reinvigorate my interest in wrestling, but years of incremental updates burned me out around WWE 2K12.
Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. This year's game systems are the tightest they've been in years, the roster is the biggest in franchise history, Universe mode is ripe with possibilities and open to near-total customization, and match types, while still malnourished, are putting on some weight.
If WWE's current product bums you out (and it should), turn to WWE 2K17 to fulfill your fantasy booking needs.
Salt and Sanctuary
Salt and Sanctuary flipped FromSoftware's SoulsBorne script by flattening its sprawling 3D worlds into a 2D adventure, and marrying Souls mechanics with Metroidvania elements.
You've still got a variety of play styles, build possibilities, and assortment of weapons at your fingertips, only now you get to look at those elements in a new way, and factor in a slew of platforming mechanics—not just making jumps, but exploiting the world in very Dark Souls-esque ways, like figuring out that performing a heavy jump attack can be used to clip enemies standing on ledges above you if you line up your sprites just so. Hey, it's not cheating if the game allows it, right?
Add in an enticingly cryptic world, and the core risk-reward nucleus that drove every sweaty-palmed moment in Dark Souls, and you get a Souls-like as deserving of praise and imitation as the series that influenced it.
Come for Aragami's visual flair, stay for its unabashed purity of the stealth formula popularized by the likes of Tenchu and Hitman Blood Money. Parts of the game are positively masochistic, and anyone who doesn't crave a be-silent-or-be-killed experience will likely find it off-putting. If that's what you're looking for, Aragami delivers.