Not every game can (or should) make the final Best of the Year list. But there were still some games outside of my top contenders that I wanted to recognize so here are my 2016 Honorable Mention Awards.
Most Improved: Watch_Dogs 2 (Ubisoft Montreal)
The original Watch_Dogs (I still don’t know why they put the underscore in there but I’m the snarky bastard who insists on continuing to use it) was number 2 on my Worst Games of 2014 list. Not for being exceptionally bad, but rather for being exceptionally bland. The characters and plot were dull and Chicago didn’t feel as fun or inspired as that city could/should feel.
So I went into Watch_Dogs 2 with tempered expectations. The setting of San Francisco (one of my favorite cities to visit) drew me in when it was finally formally announced. The characters are livelier and less broody. I haven’t progressed too far through the main story yet but the satirical look at real-life moments from the past couple years (like Martin Shkreli being the same asshole who jacked up the price of AIDS medication and buying an exclusive Wu Tang album or self-referential Ubisoft game leaks) make for a more interesting narrative (even if they are a bit in the simplistic vein of “what’s a story that happened? Let’s turn it up to eleven!”).
The controls, much like the Assassin’s Creed series, still seem as unintuitive as possible meaning I’ll probably have to revisit the tutorials when I return to it, but pretty much every other element of the game appears to be a marked improvement over the first installment.
Best Game Trapped in an Outdated Engine: Batman: The Telltale Series (Telltale Games)
The Batman story that Telltale decided to tell was an exciting new take on the Dark Knight that deliberately subverted a lot of expectations for what we “know” about Batman. The performances were great across the board and it rose to up to become my favorite “dramatic” Telltale game (while Tales from the Borderlands remains my favorite “comedic” and overall story).
But fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck the bugs and frame rate issues and glitches and missing character models just made it a pain in the ass to get through, episode after episode. I would understand an iPad version of the game running as poorly as this did. But not a PlayStation 4 version. If there aren’t significant improvements, I will very likely just skip next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which sucks because I’m really excited to see what they do with those characters too. But I don’t think I can continue supporting a company that regularly churns out broken games at this point, regardless of how good the narratives can be.
I played a handful of PlayStation VR games this fall and Job Simulator was my favorite of the bunch. The game is incredibly rich with my kind of humor. The cartoonish nature works well in the virtual reality experience way better than something trying to be realistic (because the technical fidelity isn’t quite up there yet). The game never makes the mistake of trying to take itself too seriously and there are a ton of different things to try and experiment with in each of the game’s four scenarios. Definitely worth grabbing if you have any of the VR devices. At PAX West, I got to go hands-on with Owlchemy Labs' next game, Rick and Morty Simulator: Virtual Rick-Ality, and it left me very excited to see there they take the full game!
Severed was a great portable game this year with a bit more depth than Pokemon or Deus Ex GO. I played it on the Vita but it came out to other devices too. I’m a huge fan of the DrinkBox Studios art style and the dungeon-crawler exploration mashed up with Fruit Ninja-style combat and light RPG mechanics made for an all-around great experience. The story was darker than I was expecting but I loved it. In fact, I just wanted more of it.
Get it? “FALL” Shooter! Trust me, the groan and eye roll I got from Alex O’Neill when I said that on our Irrational Passions Top Ten episode was well worth it.
I’ve mostly avoided shooters in recent years but this year I went full-tilt and played Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, and Gears of War 4. The story is absolutely forgettable but the way the game introduces fun mechanics in each of its levels made it my favorite of the shooters in the last few months. Being a pilot felt great and manning a Titan felt great! I didn’t dive into the multiplayer because that’s still not really my kind of thing but from a single-player perspective, I was really glad they decided to incorporate one this year.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was a ton of fun. One of the rare games I play through and then immediately play through again. While the gameplay was certainly a standout on the title, I really appreciated the game’s social commentary on race relations. While not a perfect analog (most augmented individuals in the Deus Ex world choose their augments), the fact that the game was willing to address the idea of Naturals versus Augs as an allegory for a divided society resonated when the game launched in August amidst police shooting of unarmed black men and the Black Lives Matter movement. Sometimes, the best works of art are those that hold a mirror up to their society. And Deus Ex: Mankind Divided did that.
Gears of War 4 was good too and Forza Horizon 3 was probably an amazing racing game. But Quantum Break was the exclusive I excitedly dusted off my Xbox One for this year. The video game/television show hybrid might not have set the world on fire, but I appreciated it attempt at trying something new with the medium. But even moreso, I really enjoyed the 12 Monkeys-esque time travel plot. As I said when I mentioned Life is Strange in my non-2016 Best Games write-up a couple days ago, I’m a sucker for a good time travel story and Quantum Break delivered.
Come back tomorrow for my final list discussing the Best Games of 2016!