Hello. You may know me as “Doctor Games,” occasional sports game reviewer and co-host of the Shacknews Chattycast. You should probably be listening to that. In fact, you can listen to it while you’re reading this and imagine all of this read in my voice. Anyway, I was asked to provide my Game of the Year list, and so here I have attempted to chronicle what was honestly a pretty good year for games, even if I didn’t get to play everything I wanted (someday, Titanfall 2 and Civilization 6) or if some of the stuff I did play was underwhelming (Mafia 3). What follows is my completely objective, unbiased, and in no way influential to the Shacknews GotY ranking list of the best games of the year. You may disagree with it, and that is welcome and encouraged even if it is foolhardy.
10. XCOM 2
XCOM 2 is both the latest entry in one of my all-time favorite video game series and a painful reminder of the limits of my knowledge and ability. The Red Dawn-inspired story is a natural fit for the series, changing up the dynamics of the gameplay and encouraging in-the- moment strategy and infrastructure development to keep ahead of the alien threat. If its difficulty were a smidgen less sadistic it’d probably be in my top 5, but as-is I spent a lot of time with this game and I intend to spend more with it in the future so I can actually finish it.
Doom was a popular game here at Shacknews, and with good reason–iD Software brought back an all-time classic video game series with gusto, catering to the nostalgic weight of its predecessors while updating it for a market that has changed dramatically since the earliest games in the series. In so many ways – the best ways – Doom feels anachronistic and aggressive. Regenerating health? Takes too long–you could be killing demons. Cover mechanics? Run faster and keep shooting. Reload button? Chainsaw button. Even Doomguy’s seeming lack of interest in the plot unfolding around him mirrors the player’s ultimate desire to get back to ripping monsters in half. Unfortunately, the game wears out its welcome a bit by the end – yet another modern game that would be twice as good if it were half as long–but considering I wasn’t expecting anything from it when 2016 started, Doom is a minor miracle.
8. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Picture a dumpster. Picture that dumpster on fire. Now picture that dumpster crashing into another dumpster – also on fire – in slow motion through a blurry Instagram filter. That was the Black Ops III campaign. All Infinite Warfare had to do was make a story that was coherent and it’d automatically make this list. And so Infinity Ward did, even if it’s a relatively simplistic tale of square-jawed Capable Men and Women that wouldn’t be out of place in the sci-fi novels I read on the bus in middle school. But it’s a simplistic tale full of memorable, likeable characters who exchange well-written dialogue and even undergo character arcs, wrapped around a campaign design full of thrilling set pieces and meaningful ability progression. The multiplayer is pretty similar to Black Ops III but that was the good part so it’s fine. The bulk of the attention may have gone to its pack-in Modern Warfare Remastered but I know which one I’m going to be playing well into next year.
7. Pokken Tournament
In this game there is a Pikachu dressed as a luchadora. Her name is Pikachu Libre. She uses lightning-assisted German suplexes, shooting star presses, and even the Stone Cold Stunner. She is the greatest video game character of the year, even if she originates from the worst main series Pokémon games. There are probably other characters in this game. Do they matter? Not really. It was this or Street Fighter V and Street Fighter V doesn’t have Pikachu Libre. So there.
6. MLB: The Show 16
In any given year, MLB: The Show is pretty much a guaranteed spot on this list for me, and it would have been the best sports game if not for NBA 2K17. I actually reviewed this one this year and it was pretty great. (http://www.shacknews.com/article/93850/mlb-the- show-16- review-five- tool-player)
5. Pokemon Sun & Moon
It took them 20 years, but Pokemon finally feels like a modern video game. No more keeping track of arcane type matchups in your head, no more separate menus for depositing and withdrawing Pokemon from boxes, and most importantly – no more HMs. All that plus a beautiful, fascinating new region to explore and a likeable cast makes Sun and Moon not only a refreshing change of pace after the dismal nostalgia grab of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire but also the most essential game in the series since the DS era. It’s an experience to be savored and enjoyed, and there’s no better handheld RPG this year.
4. NBA 2K17
After a thrilling NBA Finals, I decided to finally invest in the NBA2K series this year. That decision turned out to be a good one – 2K17 has some of the best production values in the industry, and the gameplay tweaks (specifically the retooled shot meter) make a good game into a great one. Even the campaign is engrossing, eschewing the melodrama of Spike Lee’s 2K16 story for a more straightforward slice-of-rookie-life storyline with characters you genuinely grow to care about. I look forward to spending more time with Denver Nuggets rookie sensation Bo Almond (and maybe taking the Pistons to the Finals) as the season unfolds next year.
3. Marvel Tsum Tsum
On paper this game sounds like capitalism run amok – a puzzle game featuring adorably marketable little versions of Marvel characters promoting a line of adorably marketable toys available for purchase at your local Target which offers you plenty of microtransaction opportunities to randomly get more adorably marketable little Marvel characters – but in practice the game is…exactly that. At the same time, it stands head and shoulders above most free-to- play licensed mobile games by being a legitimately challenging and addictive puzzle game with no small amount of strategic planning, progression, and even boss battles. It’s easily one of the games I’ve spent the most time with this year, and there’s a good chance I’ll still be playing it when I sit down to do this again next year – I still need to get my Doctor Strange Tsum, after all.
2. Final Fantasy XV
Full disclosure: I have not finished this game yet. As of this writing, I’m on Chapter 3. Yet I have a hard time thinking of many other games that are this compelling – Final Fantasy as road movie is such an obvious concept it’s astonishing it took them this long. Driving around Eos with Noctis and his pals is relaxing and even occasionally awe-inspiring, and their personalities and banter are so endearing I’m more invested in their journey than any other Final Fantasy cast since FFX. This feels like a thoroughly modern Final Fantasy in tone, style, and gameplay and a welcome return to form for the series. Plus, any game that makes me spend 20 minutes fishing to feed a stray cat and enjoy every minute of it has to be one of the best of the year.
Of course my #1 is Overwatch. It was always going to be Overwatch. There was never any risk of it being anything else. I’ve admitted to blatant Blizzard fanboyishness on the Chattycast before, but put that aside for a second. On a purely ludic level, there is no better game this year. At a foundational level, Overwatch borrows from other games – the class-based gunplay of Team Fortress 2, the unique and distinctive heroes of a MOBA, and arguably even the head-to- head psychology of Street Fighter (success in Overwatch is arguably more about knowing matchups and strategy than it is cracking off headshots).
Yet, Blizzard takes all of these inspirations and creates something completely refreshing and unique, with razor-sharp, deeply satisfying gameplay and post-launch support that is practically unrivaled in the industry, let alone the genre. The game just feels right, and the breadth of characters and roles means even shooter neophytes can help their team. In an age of impenetrable online games, Overwatch actively encourages players new and old to jump in, and the sterling character design and gorgeous art style only makes it easier. Literally the only complaint you can make about Overwatch as a game is that there’s no campaign mode for its deep lore – if the only bad thing you can say about a game is that there should be more of it, you’ve got a keeper.