Cover photo is by @AndraHarlow.
Chase Williams is a recent graduate from the University of Texas. Specializing in International Relations, he used his research on the video game industry’s place in international studies to launch a career in game development. With a pension for design and scheduling, Chase currently works as an associate producer professionally, but also maintains an expertly-produced podcast called Witty Banter.
Chase is hungry for video game discourse and will happily respond to any message on Twitter via @BodaciousChase
At the start of 2016 I made a promise to myself; I would play as many games released in 2016 that I could make time for. By setting aside dedicated periods for gaming, and using my thirst for gameplay as a guide, I was able to play 33 games this year: 22 of them from 2016.
I did this in order to give myself perspective on design, marketing, and community. Since my job is to manage projects and teams, I’ve seen how the sausage is made. As a new game developer, I played these games to see how those with more practice execute their vision. More importantly, though, I played because I love video games.
I approached this list slightly different than a simple ‘Top Games of the Year’ procedure. Some games didn’t make it on the list despite me enjoying them more than a few entries that did. This is not a list of games I enjoyed the most throughout my 2016 tour. This list describes which games cemented themselves in my memory.
Here is a list of games from 2016 that are most memorable and impactful in my mind. Some are popular entries, others are small projects worthy of being highlighted.
Here we go!
Dark Souls 3
You’re a video game enthusiast, you know the Dark Souls series has profoundly impacted game design. Dark Souls is one of my favorite franchises of all time, and I am elated to find the final installment perfected the series.
Featuring a massive selection of armor, weapons, and spells, combined with the new weapon arts system, Dark Souls 3 allows for the largest range of character builds that breach all edges of the playstyles spectrum. It gives players the biggest toy chest to date which ramps up the replayability: ideal for a final installment. Additionally, the game world is stunningly rendered and offers a host of distinct areas dense with detail, shortcuts, and hidden items, which makes the experience super engaging.
Yet, Dark Souls 3 doesn’t lose sight of what made its predecessors great. It delivers the pain. This new and solid set of bosses and monsters avoided the arbitrary difficulty of Dark Souls 2, offering instead the most varied and memorable beast menagerie to date. One encounter in particular cemented itself as a worthy comparison to Smough & Ornstein, in both spectacle and toil. If you’re a fan of the series, then you’ll require no further persuasion. If you’re not a fan of the series, you are wrong.
Deadbolt popped up on my radar after seeing its debut trailer while perusing Steam. The pixel art aesthetic (which has been trendy these past few years), dark-muted color palette, and the stylish character design drew me into this 2D stealth action game. Deadbolt was not only visually striking, but also brought compelling play when a few novel, polished mechanics are offered in a compact package.
There’s a sinister feel that Deadbolt offers through gameplay. The central concept of Death being a grimy apartment assassin is realized beautifully by combinations of shoot ‘em up running and gunning intertwined with your super powers as the bringer of darkness. You can’t forget shooting down some drug dealers with a shotgun, knocking on a door to attract the others, then disappearing in a puff of smoke through the air vents. The gunplay is exacting, and there’s a 1:1 connection between your physical actions and the assassin’s moves. Filling undead thugs with knife wounds feels… awesome.
With profound style typified by an inventory screen inside the trunk of your ghostly Rolls Royce, a head-bobbing and low-tempo electronic soundtrack, and solid level design that constantly introduces new, orthogonal enemies, Deadbolt captured my attention and was criminally undiscussed this year.
My introduction with the Civ series started with Civilization V just this year. Already a well established game, I felt any way I approached Civ V was wrong because a guide informed me that a better, more optimized playstyle existed. I looked towards the sequel to offer a fresh approach to a series known for immense depth and strategy. Civilization VI delivers exactly that.
Civ VI’s major changes can be found in its new policy tree and the eureka/inspiration boosts. These boosts reward shorter research time for techs and policies that unlock during play. This results in a constant re-evaluation of your goals and short term plans while also goading you to change course when opportunities present themselves.
With that tweak, Civilization VI deters players’ innate search for ‘optimal’ playstyles and instead creates the conditions for a unique campaign each and every go-around, dependant on your civ and board rather than your experience and beginning strategy. Add in a charming, new visual style that is both pleasing to the eye and facilitates a more readable late game board with beautiful animations on the diplomacy screen, and you have one of the best strategy games ever made.
Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter deeply inspires me as a game developer. Made by a tiny team under extraordinary circumstances, it demonstrates how a focused vision can produce a well-realized game from top to bottom.
The richly-detailed world that players explore shows what pixel art is capable of. Its luminous color palette stands in stark contrast to Deadbolt, and it fits perfectly. Adding to the world’s emotional weight and character is a hollow, stirring soundtrack from Disasterpeace (the composer behind FEZ and It Follows).
Exploration is not only artistically compelling, but also engaging due to refined hack-and-slash combat. A sword, dodge, and a gun keep your options simple. Yet, upgrades allow you to flourish when grappling with the challenging rooms and formidable bosses expertly designed by Heart Machine. Their pedigree of adept design is further represented by a game almost entirely devoid of text.
Hyper Light Drifter is an embodiment of the possibilities attainable with indie games. Focused design, artistic freedom, and painstaking detail make for an unforgettable experience.
Street Fighter V
I have a history with fighting games. I played them as far back as the Nintendo 64 days and even reached number 50 on the Mortal Kombat 9 world leaderboard. However, I lapsed in my dedication to the genre and I looked towards Street Fighter V to bring me back. SFV’s new systems lower the ceiling on execution and slow the pacing down to a more measured chess game, offering the perfect conditions for a new player like myself to join the franchise.
Street Fighter V automatically lowered the barrier to entry by making the fastest combo links no quicker than 3 frames. This allows players to grasp the basic combos quickly and begin learning the meta of how competitive fighters are played. That is coupled with the Crush Counter system which teaches new players when to take risks and how to capitalize on opponent’s mistakes.
The game is undoubtedly worth criticizing when you analyze it’s launch and how it allots content behind paywalls. But it must be said that Capcom created an amazing fighting engine that has allowed me to become an enthusiastic member of the fighting game community and an avid follower of the pro scene. If you want to try the fighting game genre out, this is where you start.
Yes, I know Fallout 4 released in 2015, but we’re here to talk about update 1.5 which officially added Survival Mode. Despite being a massive Fallout 3 fan, I wasn’t able to get more than a few hours into the follow-up without losing interest. However, Fallout 4’s late-April update added Survival Mode which became the gateway to one of my biggest time sinks of the year.
Survival Mode successfully takes Fallout 4 from an open-world RPG to a wasteland survival sim. The need to stay hydrated, fed, rested, and healthy immediately restructures the core gameplay. Like a great strategy game, I was constantly thrown new variables which dictated what needed my attention. Add in a smaller weight limit on my character, and every trip into the wasteland became a self-prioritized mission for ammo, food, scrap; for life.
I highly recommend trying this mode out. The omission of fast travel forces you to learn the vast, detail-rich world made by Bethesda and highlights the fantastic work they did in creating landmarks and roads that are used for foot travel. Role-playing nerds, this mode is for us.
The best for last. I talk ad nauseam about why Inside is not only my favorite game of the year, but also of the last five. The meticulous detail resulting from six years of development shows in every frame, and makes this three hour experience truly singular in the hobby we all love.
The art direction is focused, and the abstracted world is offset by luxuriant detail found in flecks of dust when lit under water. The animation is so perfect that every player action seems to be a scripted intention of the game. Furthermore, the haunting soundtrack was literally piped through a human skull to create an atmosphere unmatched. Lastly, the level and puzzle design never gives the player too many tools, so progress through the game flows naturally.
Then there’s the narrative. Admittedly, I don’t care much about story in games. However, Inside was able to tell its exquisite tale through the gameplay itself without using a single word. Still, the most profound and impactful moments of this game are held in the final minutes. The ultimate spectacle is not just haunting, beautiful, and awe-inspiring, but so imaginative that no matter how hard you guessed, you’ll never see it coming.
Inside is the embodiment of painstaking detail that results from the weird, twisted minds of genius.
Play. This. Game.
Thank you so much for checking out OK Beast. Game Of The Year continues through the end of 2016 with more guest articles and more surprises. Stay tuned.