Well I think the title sums it up, more or less. Here are the ten best games I played for the first time in 2016 that came out in any other year.
“What’s that,” you say? “But Trevor, I tuned in to part of your 24-hour Extra Life stream where you repeatedly talked about how much you HATED Bloodborne?”
Well, hypothetical reader, you are correct. I did, and still do, hate Bloodborne. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the quality of design within the game. And I will even admit to, in my weaker moments following my Extra Life stream, uttering to myself, “hmmm...maybe I should give Bloodborne another shot.”
But then I remember I’m not a mother overwhelmed by that drug that makes them forget the excruciating pain of childbirth so much that they decide having another kid wouldn’t be so bad.
9. A tie between Actual Sunlight (WZO Games Inc.) and three fourths home: extended edition (Bracket Games)
In the immediate aftermath of my breakup this year, I decide to dive head first into depression and came upon this pair of games that, if memory serves, I played back to back. Actual Sunlight tackles depression head of with a short interactive story with an aesthetic of an NES game. Meanwhile three fourths home: extended edition has you playing out the narrative of a call with your parents on the way home in an ever-worsening storm.
There isn’t much in the way of traditional gameplay in either one but the stories really resonated with me and wound up helping me through some of my hardest days this year.
8. A second tie between Volume (Mike Bithell Games) and Hitman GO Definitive Edition (Square Enix Montreal)
“BACK TO BACK TIES?! CHEATER!”
Well, it’s my list and since I’m not doing honorable mentions for this section, so yes, I am cheating. There were a lot of games I wanted to recognize. Deal with it.
Volume is a great stealth puzzle game with a futuristic Robin Hood narrative and some of the same Mike Bithell humor I adored in Thomas Was Alone. Playing out over the course of 100 increasingly difficult puzzles, the game slowly doles out new tools to play with and explore. And hopefully including it here will remind me to go and download the VR Coda that they made for the game to see what that’s all about.
Hitman GO, like Lara Croft GO and Deus Ex GO that followed, was another great puzzle title that I finally played when they came to PlayStation 4 and Vita this year. In fact, Hitman GO has the distinction of being the first ever title I played for review pre-release when I wrote up a review of it for my friends over at KnerdsOnline (I’m also pretty high up on the PSN Profiles Platinum first achievers on that one as a result).
After getting my first Vita signed by the likes of Shuhei Yoshida, Gio Corsi, and a handful of industry guys, I decided to retire it. But knowing that there would still be plenty of games I’d want to play, I decided to replace it with the imported Persona 4 Dancing All Night special edition from Japan. I didn’t actually end up playing the Japanese version of the game that shipped with the Vita but I did eventually grab the localization when I could.
I’m not typically a music genre guy but I really enjoyed the music of Persona 4 Golden and those characters so I decided to check this title out. The story definitely didn’t grab me in the same way that Persona 4 Golden did. So much so that I actually got so bored trying to go through the Story Mode at first that I just abandoned it in favor of Free Playing my way through every song for a while. Eventually I went back and played through the Story Mode proper, but the game is on this list for the enjoyment I got out of listening to the music and playing through those songs in Free Play much more than the iffy story packed in.
When I originally tried to play through Gears of War Remastered in 2015, I just couldn’t get behind how heavy the third-person shooter felt. But in advance of Gears of War 4 coming out this year I decided to give it another shot. I didn’t make it through my original plan of playing all of the previous Gears games but I got through this remaster and Gears of War 2 before skipping ahead to the latest iteration.
I still find the handling too bulky and cumbersome for my taste. And I felt like Gears of War 2 went on a couple hours too long. But overall, I had a good experience with Marcus Fenix and his crew. Enough so to get all of the other games installed onto my Xbox One so they’ll be ready for me when I’m ready for them.
Well, I definitely wouldn’t have imagined a Zelda-clone originally made for mobile devices and then ported a few years later being so high on a list like this but here we are.
Oceanhorn shamelessly pays homage to The Legend of Zelda games, most specifically The Wind Waker. It’s a much more simplified version of the games it’s borrowing from, but it still makes for a really fun mini-hack and slash adventure title with a handful of enjoyable, if not overly challenging, puzzle dungeons. Well worth the time and money to tide you over until the real thing returns next year (fingers crossed) with Breath of the Wild.
So I sort of played a lot of Gone Home a few years ago when it came out on PC. But I got really creeped out playing the game set in an empty house on a stormy night alone in my dark apartment. And during a particularly scripted moment where a light bulb pops, I got really freaked out and walked away from the game.
Fast forward to the game being re-released on consoles this year and I decided to give it another shot: this time in a well lit living room filled with comfortable amenities. Needless to say I didn’t run screaming this time. Instead I was able to fully enjoy the narrative of Kaitlin Greenbriar exploring her empty family home and piecing together what she has missed while she’s been away overseas. It’s a beautiful testament to the kind of storytelling experiences games are capable of and I can’t wait to see what Steve Gaynor and his team have in store with Tacoma when it comes out.
Near the beginning of the year, I was playing a lot of games on my Vita. I’d gotten Bastion a while earlier on PlayStation 4 because I absolutely loved what the team at Supergiant Games had done with Transistor but I didn’t end up playing it until after it came to the handheld at last year’s PlayStation Experience (well I didn’t actually play it until I went to PAX South in January).
But I was hooked when I finally DID start. The game is an excellent little action-RPG with Supergiant’s always incredible art design and a wonderful self-aware narrator. Something simple like calling me out for falling off a cliff or smashing a ton of boxes just made the experience that much more enjoyable.
After enjoying the hell out of Doom (HA! Did NOT even mean to do that!), I got back into first-person shooters in a big way. So while I waited for the onslaught of new Fall releases, I took some time to revisit the other OG FPS that Bethesda brought back from the dead recently: Wolfenstein.
And I had a ton of fun running around and fighting the Nazis as B.J. Blazcowicz. In fact, the entire concept of playing as a B.J. who went into a coma while the Nazis won the war and waking up in a world where everything had changed was an exciting new take for me. Probably a little convenient that he is able to pretty quickly reunite with one of his old war buddies and discover the resistance but, whatever, it gave you extra emotional context and stakes for all of the Nazi killing. Not that you need it, because, you know, fuck the Nazis.
When Life is Strange wound up among people’s 2015 Game of the Year Lists, I knew I needed to eventually sit down with it. So in February, still reeling from from my breakup a month earlier, I dove into what I understood to be an emotionally-charged game.
I’m a sucker for time travel stories when they’re done well. And Life is Strange is a time travel story done mostly well (I recall having a couple issues when they set up rules and then break them for the benefit of a story twist, but for the most part, I was on board). Add in a beautiful coming of age story between Max and Chloe and a twisting and turning murder mystery plot that literally had me on the edge of my seat with every chapter, and this was a story game right in my wheelhouse.
I laughed and cried with these characters. I said goodbye to them at the same time I was saying goodbye to my relationship. And that moment on the roof where you lose your powers might have been my single most stressful gaming moment of 2016. And that’s including getting a Platinum in the Witness and 24 hours of Bloodborne. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So there you have it. My top ten (fine...twelve) non-2016 games that I played for the first time in 2016. Stayed tuned tomorrow for that hopefully entertaining notion of the Worst Games of 2016.