The video game awards season can be a strangely fickle, not to mention exhausting, period. Every year, whether it be late November or early December, we collectively cast our minds back, picking a select list of nominees that we then vote for as a team.
In truth, it’s not the best of systems, although I’m sure people love to drop in and check that the results align with their own opinions. It comes down to a combination of increasingly obtuse categories and the impossible task of having writers play every game within a twelve month window. In other words it (and many other voting systems like it) lack plurality with many smaller yet equally deserving games missing out on the spotlight.
There’s no perfect solution to this sadly, so in the meantime I thought I’d share my own personal picks of the year so far, which may or may not align with those of our other writers. Why now, you ask? Well, as hinted at already, as the months fly by, it becomes more difficult to remember those games that got the year off to a good start. Instead of simply chucking the list together, I also challenged myself by ranking each game individually, not wanting this “top 10” list to be a cop-out.
Heavy hitters such as Bravely Second, Superhot, Firewatch, Doom, and Total War: Warhammer might all be waiting on bench – some of which I might never get around to playing – and there’s the looming shadow of No Man’s Sky as it comes out this week, but here’s what my top 10 currently looks like.
10. Samurai Warriors 4 Empires
As TSA’s resident “Mr. Musou”, I’ve played almost every game there is in the Warriors franchise. From the original PS1 fighter that started it all up until the very latest ports and spin offs, it’s a franchise I’ve become attached to even if I’m not among its more zealous fans.
As of late, many recent instalment have been a bit hit and miss. Instead of taking everything great from across the series and distilling it into one game, Omega Force has a nasty habit of keeping systems and mechanics tied to certain offshoots.
The strongest among these has always been the Empires sub-series, and Samurai Warriors 4 Empires took its strategic grounding and gave players more choice than in previous entries, all the while making battles feels genuinely challenging – something a Warriors game hasn’t done in years.
9. Pokemon GO
Niantic Labs and Nintendo have spawned one of 2016’s gaming behemoths. In less than a month, Pokemon GO has accrued some 75 million users across the globe and it’s only just getting started.
That said, it feels more like a beta than an actual full release. Features previously promised are missing and servers continue to take a nosedive at the most crucial of times. Then there’s the actual “gameplay” itself with battles amounting to little more than hurried taps and well-timed swipes.
Needless to say, it’s not the best game on this list – not by a long shot. However, the effect it has had on the world makes this one of the most important games I’ve seen in years.
8. Clash Royale
Despite gaming a lot more this year on my smartphone, there are certain games I can’t stand. Typically, these are of the settlement-building, social strategy kind. The kind Supercell helped to popularise with its seminal Clash of Clans.
Having spawned a cluster of similarly successful clones, Clash Royale came as quite the surprise. With the tedious resource gathering stripped away, players could get down to fighting, strategically deploying units to either counter incoming enemies or destroy towers.
As with many mobile games, the ramping difficulty against other players and growing need for microtransactions meant that it will eventually scrubbed from my phone entirely. It’s left a great impression, however, demonstrating once again how simple game formats can work wonderfully on this platform.
ABZÛ is the newest addition to this revised list, having only launched a week ago. All it took was a few moments exploring its murky depths to realise it would soon rank among my favourite games of the year. In short, it feels like a love letter lost at sea, clearly inspired by the tranquil charms of thatgamecompany’s Flower and Journey.
However, despite the overwhelming comparisons, ABZÛ manages to stand on its own two feet and create an identity of its own. It’s not a particularly long game but those three or four hours spent with Giant Squid’s debut will likely keep you enthralled.
6. Monster Hunter Generations
It’s only been a year since the last game in the series yet Monster Hunter Generations does just enough to stave off accusations of it being a lazy cash-in for publisher Capcom. Featuring a more robust set of battle mechanics and adjoining features, there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into as players revisit past locales and their resident creatures.
Still, no matter how oversaturated the series is beginning to feel, nothing can suppress the level of fun to be had while hunting with others. Whether huddled around your sitting room or playing online, it’s by far the strongest multiplayer experience available on Nintendo’s handheld, much to the envy of PlayStation fans who still await the series’ return.
5. Ratchet & Clank
The Ratchet & Clank movie was always going to be a flop. Whatever attempts to feign excitement were dampened with each new trailer, so much so that I started having worries about the game too. Sure, back in the day nothing could beat romping through the galaxy in this classic Insomniac adventure, yet there were definite concerns.
Surprisingly, despite how very little the core level design and mechanics have changed, Ratchet & Clank immediately booked itself into this shortlist. From the rich humour and vibrant aesthetic down to the bombastic firefights, it served as the perfect palette cleanser.
Io Interactive could have easily fumbled with its Hitman reboot. Instead, the developer has managed to craft this year’s must-have episodic game experience. News of Agent 47’s latest globetrotting slaughterfest being split into chapters was met with jaded skepticism to say the least.
However, with a few episodes now under its belt, Hitman now has quite the swagger as its confidently strolls into its three remaining instalments, starting with a trip to Thailand on 16th August. This, of course, has been aided by a stream of optional live content, including the aptly-named Elusive targets.
Even without these regular add-ons, there’s a perverse level of glee to be had from experiment in each of the game’s perilous playgrounds.
Local multiplayer is something that a lot of games nowadays either get wrong or abandon completely. Even if epics such as Uncharted 4 and Overwatch did allow for splitscreen, the overall game experience would change very little.
Overcooked, on the other hand, is built from the ground up with local multiplayer in mind. Despite only having a few simple actions, players will find their minds racing as they fumble around to prepare ingredients and fulfill orders before the timer expires.
Part of Overcooked’s charm is how it easily ropes in both casual and core gamers, allowing them to work together in what is essentially a co-op puzzler.
Despite bearing hallmarks of a top flight contender, I was wholly indifferent towards Overwatch this time last year. With sledgehammer in hand, Blizzard came pounding, breaking down this wall of ignorance with such effortless grace.
Although slightly maligned by issues found throughout the realm of online shooters, everything else about Overwatch is near perfect. With a rich and varied cast of characters, each one is incredibly fun to play, effortlessly surpassing the lifeless avatars we so often inhabit when going toe-to-toe online.
1. Uncharted 4
It goes without saying, really. Coming into the final chapter in Nathan Drake’s thrilling saga, there was little reason to expect Naughty Dog would fumble, especially after its work on The Last of Us. Comparing Uncharted 4 with previous games in the series, it’s clear to see how much of an influence Joel and Ellie’s story of survival had on the team’s approach to characters and narrative.
A Thief’s End felt a lot more grounded as a result, yet still had those humorous, heart-warming moments that the Uncharted series is known for. This was backed up by a complete design overhaul that carries right through into the sublime online multiplayer. Even with Nate’s adventure so beautifully wrapped up, I still find myself going back on regular, almost daily basis to play more.
Well that was rather fun, wasn’t it? Again, keep in mind that I’ve yet to try a number of top contenders that will be gunning their way to the top of GOTY shortlists come December. Let us know what your own favourites have been from 2016 so far.