2016 was a fantastic year for gaming, with stellar titles across the board from AAA to indie. There were also plenty of surprises that should ensure 2016 is a year in gaming I won’t soon forget.

superhot

Superhot

Since the upgrade to HD gaming, the landscape of games has felt stagnant. It’s usually all too easy to label any game with the collection of genre labels we so often see: cover-based/rogue-lite/survival/horror to name a few.

Superhot defies these simple labels. Sure it’s a first-person shooter/melee game, but its clever time-moves-when-you-move mechanic makes it one of the most unique games I’ve ever played.

It allows the video game medium to construct action movie scenes in a way we’ve never seen.

inside

Inside

Limbo was a great game and helped spearhead the indie game revolution.

Inside appears to be a perfect refinement and evolution of Limbo, but is so much more.

The perfect execution of visuals, sound, feel, and story is a masterpiece everyone should play. There were numerous times where I simply explored an environment long after the challenge of that section had finished. Inspecting the subtle touches that bring this game to life.

There is so much packed in the short running length that it begs multiple replays. It’s fascinating to re-observe the game armed with the knowledge of the entire experience.

It’s not just heady philosophy either, as the gameplay itself is stellar. I was surprised at how often it felt like a 2D Uncharted or Prince of Persia. 

Because it’s length is such a low barrier of entry, I can easily recommend this to just about anyone.

stardew valley

Stardew Valley

Who knew everyone wanted Harvest Moon on PC? Eric Barone, that’s who.

Barone wanted it so bad he made one himself: Pixel art, programming, and even the music were all done by his hand.

Stardew Valley takes the best elements of all the Harvest Moon games, adds a few bits from other inspirations, and infuses it with a ton of heart. You can see (and hear) Baron’s passion just about everywhere.

My favorite element of the game is the mystery and progression behind almost every mechanic. Each character has a backstory and potential relationship you can delve deeper into. There are inaccessible parts of the world map that you can eventually explore. There are caves and combat that you won’t touch until several hours into the play-through. There are so many ladders to climb.

The most surprising element of all is that Harvest Moon didn’t do it first!

titanfall 2

Titanfall 2

The first Titanfall wowed the gaming community with it’s fast-paced multiplayer and giant robots, but the lack of single-player and/or progression resulted in a massive drop-off in player population: the death knell for multiplayer games.

Titanfall 2 could have added a bare-bones solo campaign but they went far beyond that. I daresay it’s the most fun I’ve had in a shooter campaign since Resistance 2 and Half-Life 2 (I see a pattern here).

Brilliant level design, actual enjoyable first-person platforming, and a tremendous sense of pace and tension floored me in my playthrough. I enjoyed it so much I started to ration my time with the short campaign, like a great book, I didn’t want it to end.

The multiplayer is slightly changed from the first and lacks some of the multi-tiered buildings that worked so well with the wall-running and boosting, but it’s still a grand old time that had my adrenaline flowing.

If you’re sick of the same old shooter and long for the best days of first-person PC gaming, you will find lots to love here.

Honorable mentions

 

PvZ: Garden Warfare 2 – The Titanfall of wholesome gaming

Pokemon Go – A phenomenon no one predicted (Not even Niantic judging by their server performance)

Watch Dogs 2 – Another strong sequel that fixed what needed fixing. The third game just needs to drop gunplay

Last Guardian / FFXV – I can’t believe I live in a world where these games are playable

 

What were your biggest surprises?