Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Favorite PC Games of 2016

2016 may have been a rough year in a lot of respects but one thing is for sure: It was a great year to be a PC gamer. In light of that, I've decided to forgo a traditional Top 10 list in favor of simply calling out all my favorite games of the year and why I think each is noteworthy.

As usual, a game's absence from this post should not be taken as an indictment of its quality as I certainly did not play every game released on PC in 2016. Ultimately, this is just about showing some love to the games I did play and enjoy.

With that out of the way, let's get this party started! :)

Most Improved - Chaos Reborn

Originally released near the end of 2015, this wizardry-themed tactical game initially failed to impress me due to a heavy reliance on random elements and several half-formed or outright absent features; however, several post-release patches in 2016 refined and expanded the gameplay mechanics, systems and inter-related sub-systems of the game into a finished product that I can now enthusiastically recommend to fans of turn-based, tactical games with a strong fantasy esthetic.

Best Atmosphere - Space Hulk: Deathwing

This game had me at four-player, co-op, sci-fi, FPS and if you're a Warhammer 40k fan, the sheer level of detail and craftsmanship poured into its esthetics will surely impress. Having said that, the $40 asking price seems a bit high as the gameplay is a tad simplistic compared to the best examples of this sort. Still, the "feel" of this game is quite special and certainly worth experiencing if you've ever imagined yourself as a Space Marine clad in death-dealing Terminator armor, and laying waste to the Tyranid menace.

Best Party Game - The Jackbox Party Pack 3

As I get older and my social circle ages with me, we're far less likely to get together for a good ol' fashioned LAN party and far more likely to spend an evening eating, drinking and talking about stuff. Still, to at least some extent, there's a gamer in each of us and it's nice to have a collection of fun and accessible "party games" to get things off to a good start or help keep a good time going. These aren't the sort of games you'll likely find yourself playing alone but many of them work quite well with even just one or two other players and are often even more compelling when played by groups of four or more.

Best Interactive Narrative - Firewatch

If you enjoy an interesting, grounded story told through intriguing writing, talented voice acting performances, stylized visuals and richly-crafted sound design, "Firewatch" is a game you should play.

Best Deal on the Steam Holiday Sale - DOOM (2016)

To be honest, I've never been a huge "Doom" fan and I never would have spent $60 on "Doom" (2016) but $20 feels like a good deal and fair for what the game is to me. "Doom" super fans will likely call this blasphemy but I appreciate the opportunity to dabble with the latest game in the series without feeling like I've overpaid for the experience.

Released Too Early but Still Kinda Awesome - Guardians of Orion

If you're a fan of the previous game, "Orion: Prelude," you probably already own "Guardians of Orion." (GoO) If you've never played an "Orion" game before, this is a good one to start with despite it currently feeling a bit unfinished and light on content. For me, the factors that save GoO are the fact that the core co-op gameplay experience is fun and functional for the most part, and my confidence that the game will eventually get where it needs to be via post-release development as was the case with its predecessor.

If you need your gaming experiences to be fully polished and finished, you'll probably want to wait on this one for a year or so, but if you don't mind a somewhat bumpy ride and watching a game grow into its potential over time, GoO is worth a look.

Best PC Port - God Eater 2 Rage Burst

Ever wanted "Monster Hunter" on PC? Enjoy playing through quirky Japanese-style games cooperatively with up to three friends? This PC port of the PS Vita game, which also includes a port of its PSP predecessor has a lot to offer. Now if we could just get PC versions of "Fire Emblem," "Culdcept" and "Dokapon Kingdom..." Hey! A guy can dream! :)

Mixed Bag - Tom Clancy's The Division

On one hand, I love this game for its four-player campaign co-op. On the other hand, the Dark Zone is rubbish, most of the content in the season pass should have been included in the base game and it took way too long for the various issues with end-game gear and activities to be addressed.

If I could experience "The Division" anew based on its current state and if the content from at least the "Underground" expansion was included in the base game, it would be a lot easier to enjoy and recommend. The sad part is that a new player picking the game up on sale from this point in time forward will likely have a much better experience with it than those of us who played it at launch.

Best Single Player - This is the Police

When a management sim meets a hard-boiled cop drama in a dark alley– the result is an engaging and engrossing package that combines simple yet compelling gameplay mechanics and esthetics with a propulsive narrative that kept me clicking on things way past my bed time on more than one occasion.

Best AAA FPS - Battlefield 1

As someone who firmly believes that the Battlefield series previously peaked with "Bad Company 2" (BC2) back in 2010, I have to admit that "Battlefield 1" is a great game. Will it stand the test of time the way that BC2 has? I can't say but it was good enough to convince me to buy an EA/Origin game, which is something I haven't done since 2012.

For the record: I'm still not a fan of EA/Origin but I felt it was only fair to give it another fair chance after a four year boycott. I will say that I do like "Origin Access," having tried it for a couple months but overall, I'd still very much prefer to buy and play EA games directly through Steam as Origin still doesn't compare favorably to Steam on the whole in my opinion.

Best Open World Game - Watch Dogs 2

Having been brutally disappointed by the first "Watch Dogs," I was really hesitant to hand over $60 for a sequel but after considerable research on "Watch Dogs 2" and the effort put into the PC version of the game, I came to the conclusion that Ubisoft had learned its lesson and put together something designed to redeem the series.

I think "Watch Dogs 2" succeeds in that regard. It's very technically impressive. It's fun to play. There's a lot to do and see, and the whole thing just feels significantly better across the board than the first game.

I can absolutely understand why some might avoid "Watch Dogs 2" based on the sins of its predecessor but if you found the premise of the original compelling and are looking for a game that makes good on that premise, "Watch Dogs 2" is a safe bet.

Best New Game Idea - Half Dead

You're trapped in a series of rooms with some friends (or enemies) and you have to find your way to the exit while avoiding deadly traps. Go!

Best Realized Potential - HITMAN (2016)

I've played just about all the games in the Hitman series and as much as I love some of them, there's always been a "but" for me. Even the best games in the series have suffered from what I'd call fatal flaws that prevent them from living up to their full potential as games. The magical thing about "Hitman" (2016) is how all the pieces that traditionally make for a good "Hitman" game come together with hardly a "but" to mar the experience.

To be sure, there are occasional, minor issues in "Hitman" (2016) as no game is perfect but, in my opinion, taken as a total package, this is as good as "Hitman" has ever been.

Exceeded Expectations - Dead Effect 2

"Dead Effect 2" is a prime example of doing a lot with a little. This old school, sci-fi, co-op friendly FPS knows exactly what it is and makes no apologies for it. It has loot and leveling systems and an arsenal of weapons that can and should embarrass a lot of AAA titles. Beyond that, it's good, simple fun that's reasonably priced and easy to recommend.

Best Free to Play FPS - Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online

Do you like team-based first person shooters? Do you like free to play games with unique game modes and the ability to earn all the game-influencing upgrades through normal gameplay? Are you a fan of the "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex" anime? If any of these are true, this is the game for you.

Best FPS Campaign - Shadow Warrior 2

"Shadow Warrior 2" is a great, fun, well-rounded first-person shooter/slasher with an earnest (if somewhat juvenile) sense of humor that's just as fun to play solo as with up to three friends. The polish, the weapon variety, the randomized level elements and a host of other little details combine to make this one of my favorite games of the year.

Game of the Year - Atlas Reactor

Without a doubt, "Atlas Reactor" is my favorite game of 2016. The team-oriented, turn-based combat, the wide array of unique and interesting characters and the constantly-evolving stream of content being added to the game in the form of seasonal events, new characters, levels and game modes all contribute to making this my current go-to game.

In short, this is one of those exceedingly-rare titles I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who loves games. There is nothing else out there quite like "Atlas Reactor" and I suspect it will be quite some time before I find another game that consistently impresses me the way it has.