Game of the Year 2016: Wrap Up

Posted by GameEngineStart Staff 08 February 2017

It’s been a great year for games, and a great year for talking about them. As has become a yearly tradition we sat down and tried to decide on the best of the best. I think we were pretty successful.

You can find our decision making process in either video or podcast form, if you want to see how we got here. Check out the Game of the Year 2016 landing page for that and our upcoming personal Top 5’s.

Otherwise, here we go…

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2016’s 20xx Game of the Year – Rebel Galaxy

Runner’s Up

  • Flame Over
  • Hacknet

Calum – Rebel Galaxy is a special creation. It is clear that the creators at Double Damage Games had a vision in mind for their space sim, and they executed on it with such precision that it is a hard thing to not be impressed by. Drawing influences from games like Freelancer, Rebel Galaxy is the most unique spaceship piloting game I’ve seen in quite some time. With ship to ship combat that plays out like actual naval combat, with long range small canon fire to the massive barrages of broadside heavy arms, both of which can be customised to suit any play style makes combat so much fun. One of the most impressive things about Rebel Galaxy is its soundtrack and how it uses its music. Showing it`s influence from Firefly, Rebel Galaxy uses a western inspired score, with ample use of slide guitars and fiddles, but goes in a more rock direction with heavy drum beats and overdriven electric guitars as backing. This means that quiet moments travelling around the stars are calm, but when the situation takes an aggressive turn, the music bursts to life and helps fuel chaos of combat. The developers know that the game handles this transition so well, that they provide the tools to let you customise the soundtrack for you to choose your own amazing musical moments. Rebel Galaxy is just an awesome experience, and is a game anyone who care about space simulation games should play.

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Most Disappointing Game – Street Fighter V

Runner’s Up

  • No Man’s Sky
  • The Witness

Calum – Where to even begin with this… A NUMBERED Street Fighter game with as many problems as this game had was always going to be a disappointment. When those problems range from launching missing major features, to consistent delays with monthly updates, to including a god damn virus in an update to your PC release? Something went majorly wrong over at Capcom. The fact that as these months went on post its February 2016 release more problems came out. And as those problems were fixed, but more were found. People then had the gumption to stand on a stage and ask the fans for more money for their “sesason 2 of DLC”, when I don’t think anyone should trust the developers of this game right now. Capcom went from revitalising fighting games in the main stream of gaming culture with Street Fighter 4, to constantly embarrassing themselves on the main stream of gaming culture with Street Fighter 5. If that isn’t a disappointment, then I think we need to redefine what that word means.

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Smaller Game of the Year – Inside

Runner’s Up

  • Stardew Valley
  • Furi

Euan – I thought that we wouldn’t be doing this category again this year, but as it turned out, a lot of our favourites were full blown triple-A titles. I wanted to keep a space reserved in our list for the games that didn’t get the advertising budget or promotion that the others did, but I felt it was important to recognise.

Inside is an exercise in restraint. There is absolutely nothing that feels like it should be trimmed or shortened, while managing to have a fantastically polished progression of mechanics. Each new arrangement of puzzle pieces requires taking all previous lessons on board to progress while adding surprising new ones. With Playdead’s last game being cryptic with its narrative angle, Inside is a little more upfront about its metaphors. It tells an engaging tale through world and mechanics, with absolutely no dialog, and is very successful at it.

This game won Best Moment for a reason, and if the closing chapter of the game was not as strong as it was then I doubt it would have won this category. It is an incredibly bold move to hide a reveal like that within the last half hour, with the obviously ridiculous amount of work that has gone into it, but it pays off incredibly well.

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Best Original Song – Frozen Highlands (I Am Setsuna)

Runner’s Up

  • Make This Right (Furi)
  • Sojourner’s Truth (Virginia)

Calum – Frozen Highlands is a work of musical genius. On a soundtrack that is populated by (for the most part) entirely solo piano pieces; this piece stands out as the most poignant to the game, but also the musically impressive. Frozen Highlands is one of the overworld themes for I Am Setsuna, a traditional JRPG set in a world in perpetual winter. It, therefore, has to serve the purpose of setting the scene and tone of the world, but also provide the player with the idea of the scope of the land and the task ahead of them. Frozen Highlands does both of these incredibly well using only 1 instrument. Starting off with the most delicate playing of only the top keys of the piano, giving us that icey cold feeling of snow fall, immediately sets the mood of the whole game. As the song progresses, more base notes are incorporated into the melody, giving the piece a great feeling of progression, development and breadth, mimicking the journey of our heroes through this land, before finally ending on those fragile high notes again, reminding us that the winter of this land is never ending. It is an incredible song that I listened to so consistently throughout my winter, that it is hard to think of that time of year without this song anymore.

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Best Moment – The Escape (Inside)

Runner’s Up

  • The Dumb Intro (DOOM)
  • The Flash Forward (Virginia)

Euan – Despite the length of the discussion you may have already heard in our deliberations, as far as I was concerned there was only really one moment that could have won this category this year.

It takes real bravado and restraint to keep a whole set of technology and mechanics for not only the final section of the game, but have it all resolve in a half hour. The sudden transferal of power from vulnerable child to overbearing monster with it’s creators running screaming from it completely up-ends the entire game and everything you have experienced up to that point. Despite the horrific nature of the creature, you quickly realise that your fate is still in the hands of your creators. The first time you fling a crate up to the terrified onlookers, and you can see it visibly dawn on them that you are asking for help, is an incredible thing to behold.

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Biggest News – The Advent of Commercial VR

Runner’s Up

  • The Announcement of Death Stranding
  • Bethesda Restricting Review Copies to Some Outlets

Euan – It finally happened. If I could convince my amazing gorgeous wife, I could go tomorrow and purchase an actual, proper, full virtual reality experience. The type of thing we dreamed of back in the day has become a reality. We have both had some experience of the Vive at least, and both of us came away from the experience changed men. The technology works, we just need the software to catch up with the promise. A year of “experiences” and “tech demos” has lead to some people falling away from the potential, but for me this is just the start.

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Best Visuals – Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Runner’s Up

  • Uncharted 4
  • Overwatch

Euan – This was a great year for good looking games. Uncharted 4 has produced stellar scenery and digital acting that goes beyond what high end PCs can do right now. Overwatch manages to inject much needed character into a multiplayer shooter, with fantastic level design and real thought gone into the look of the characters.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is different though. Every single piece of technology, every item of clothing feels like it has been exquisitely designed by an actual product designer. The city looks like it has existed forever and has been built on top of, improved and worn down along with the people who clearly live there. The more esoteric locations like the augmented gulag are a level above what you expect from games. While every sci-fi game has a run down future slum, Deus Ex elevates the concept to new heights, with amazing use of the available architecture and design elements to create what can only be described as art.

Environmental storytelling has become a cliche term at this point. While some games just create little scenarios that are there for you to read into, Deus Ex creates an entire world that feels like people live and work there. The cities feel like they have been designed for their citizens to use, and the fact that they are aesthetically pleasing on top of that just makes it more impressive. Deus Ex is one of the most cohesively designed games in history, and it’s a genuine shock that people are not just lifting design elements directly out of this game to use in the real world.

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Best Soundtrack- Furi

Runner’s Up

  • I Am Setsuna
  • Doom

Euan – One of the metrics we we usually use when measuring the quality of a game soundtrack against how often we listened to it outside of the game itself, like in 2014’s winner Transistor. We also look at how much it impacts the game itself and enhances the experience, with 2015’s winner Crypt of the Necrodancer being essentially inseparable from it’s soundtrack. The soundtrack to Furi manages to combine both of these criteria.

Yes it’s synthwave, with the incredible Carpenter Brut and Scattle on there, but it’s also so much more. Toxic Avenger adds some smoother jams in there with My Only Chance being a highlight for me on there. Danger manages to pull a much more orchestral sound into the genre, and Lorn providing some real aggression and dirt to the collection. Each different facet of the soundtrack pairs incredibly well with each specific fight in the game, and even after many (many many) attempts at some of the trickier encounters, the track starting again and pulling you back in to focus is just shows the skill and thought that has gone into pulling the soundtrack together.

Each track has a build as you walk Rider to the next area, taking in the environment and trying to figure out what “the trick” is going to be. Then as soon as combat starts, there is a drop that immediately brings you in and keeps you locked in until you come out the other end for a breath. It’s rare that I recommend an action game like this should best be played with headphones, but here I am doing exactly that.

Game of the Year 2016

#5 – Overwatch

Calum – Overwatch is a lot of fun. There’s a lot about this game to enjoy, but after everything has been considered, this game is just a tonne of fun to play. If we must talk about it more, there so many things in this game that shows it has been worked on for a very long time. Every character is distinct both in design and gameplay. Every map is individual, but also enkeeping with the overall style of the game. The different map modes provide various avenues of tactical thinking and execution. These ideas combined means you can be as involved or casual as you want with this game, and still get a lot of enjoyment out of it. If you want to hop in for a couple of matches ever so often, you can enjoy just playing your favorite characters. You can also go more competitive, where team composition and understanding of maps is incredibly important to success. This all leads to a game that any one can get a lot of enjoyment out of

#4 – Hitman

Euan – Hitman was a Xmas present from my wife, and we assembled our Game of the Year lists right at the start of 2017. The fact that Hitman made it anywhere near the Top 5 with such a short window of exposure should say a lot about how exceptional a game it really is. I’ve never been a huge fan of the previous games in the series, with the skill expectation unfair and punishing to a degree that pushed me away, and seemed to sit at odds with the playground atmosphere that they were obviously aiming for.

The 2016 iteration has nailed this completely. With the ability to save anywhere and the ‘Opportunities’ easing you into the sometimes disturbingly comedic toolbox at your disposal in a particular level. Once you complete them, you transfer your newly found knowledge into the remaining array of challenges and permutations on the main contracts, including the incredibly devious Escalations.

Credit should also be given to a game really nailing the episodic format, probably more successfully than any other in recent memory. The interval between totally new levels was consistent, and the gaps were filled with a steady stream of elusive targets and special missions to keep you on your game. Even after all that, getting anywhere close to max mastery on a level to unlock more weapons and tools takes a significant amount of skill. It is easy to see how people have put hundreds of hours into the same 6 levels, considering the scope of each of them. I came across a new section of Paris last week, and I know that map pretty much by heart at this point. Hitman is a spectacular series of decisions and choices from the design team that result in a game that takes delight in both tense hours of tense planning and execution, and two hand throwing a fire axe across a room in a Hail Mary attempt to kill your target.

#3 – Tom Clancy’s: The Division

Euan – Destiny showed me a world of MMO mechanics that don’t have to revolve around elves and magic. Turns out I really enjoy worrying about DPS and builds as long as it’s based around assault rifles rather than flails. The Division was a fantastic way to continue on this train of discovery in a much more polished package than Destiny was (some would say even to this day). Calum and I played through the entire game co-op, and enjoyed every moment of it. While the story is nothing particularly special, it does play exceptionally well. The higher level areas add additional layers of challenge with some encounters finding your team massively outnumbered and outgunned.

The real star of the show for me is the Dark Zone. It’s incredibly rare that a promise made during E3 actually survives first contact with the player, but they did exactly what they set out to do. Taking a team around a zone with some exceptionally difficult AI is one thing, but the mexican standoff that occurs when you roll up on another team is one of the most tense things I’ve experienced all year.

On top of that, Ubisoft have been supporting the game exceptionally well. They have been very responsive to player feedback with some pretty exhaustive changes to the balance of the game, as well as some top quality expansion packs that has made having a season pass a no-brainer. This is doubly true of the Survival expansion, taking new mechanics and splicing them with the best of the Dark Zone to create a fantastic replayable experience.

If you can get a team together, The Division is a fantastic experience, and will last you a long time. It looks great, plays great, and is well deserving of a place in our top five.

#2 – Furi

Calum – Furi is a masterclass on game design. It has a very limited language of play that it teaches the player very early on. It then spends the next 4 hours of its gameplay doing fantastic things with this language, and asks us to deal with it. Whether that be building on the idea of differing projectile types in the fight with The Line, playing with vision and spacing with The Scale or straight up disabling your ability to use some of your weapons, forcing you to understand the near-perfect parry and sword fighting mechanics in The Edge fight. All of this is presented with one of the best soundtracks in video games to date. Both an incredible synthwave album on its own merits, it also works amazingly well in the context of this extended boss rush of a game. Using slower building songs in the spaces inbetween fights, leading to massive drops for the intense fights with each of the 10 bosses. Furi is one of the best ways you can spend 4 hours with video games. If you like a challenge, or just want to learn how games should present its ideas to players, you owe it to yourself to play Furi.

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Game of the Year 2015 – Doom

Calum – DOOM is the best game of 2016. That is a weird sentence to type. A re-invigoration of a game I remember playing when I was 5, DOOM is nothing short of a perfect interpretation of that classic shooter in 2016. Instead of trying to take the game DOOM whole cloth, and try and do it again with 2016 design ideas, they instead understand what made DOOM as good as it was, and tried to do that with a 2016 shooter. They not only succeeded, but completely knocked it out of the park. DOOM is the best campaign of a shooter you can every play. Both mechanically tight, with amazing feeling shooting and movement, and completely irreverent in it’s story and ascension of the Doom Marine to damn near godhood. While the story unfolds, having the DOOM marine trounce his way through hordes of hell minion, you understand just how clever some of the choices in this game are. The glory kill and chainsaw system is a stroke of genius. It means that you are constantly moving during combat, regaining both health and ammo and you go, and making sure you feel awesome as you do it. The smart level design is punctuated by the return of collectables and secrets to shooters! Remember those things!? Well DOOM brings them back, and paired with it’s movement and clambering systems, makes it fun to hunt them down. This is all saying nothing of the driving soundtrack which not only pushes you through it’s large scale combat arenas, but ramps you into them with such incredible build, I’ve never felt so intense, but also wanting to scream “FUCK YES” as I do when combat is about to start in DOOM. Honestly, if you havn’t already, you should play DOOM

Euan – I had no interest in Doom when it came out. The multiplayer beta was lackluster at best, and there had been next to no promotion for the game from Bethesda. Besides, who could possibly expect that a modern version of a classic like Doom could ever work. Turns out we could not be more wrong.

This new version manages to distil the essence of the original while making modern improvements where it counts, with the whole game is riddled with smart improvements. The easy thing would be just to strew health packs and ammo around the levels, but that would just promote turtling around, when the game wants you to be a whirlwind of death. Solution? If you want health, get up on the hellspawn and rip it out of them with your hands. Out of bullets? As above, but this time use a chainsaw. Just this one simple mechanic keeps you constantly moving, and replicates the motion of the original without forcing the character to move at 120mph.

On top of being solid mechanically Doom layers on, of all things, lore. We talk about games being dumb on this site a lot, and hopefully it comes across that we mean that in the most positive way possible. Doom is a fantastic encapsulation of that sentiment. Casting the Doom Marine (that’s his official name) as an almost religious figure is a stroke of genius, and makes the idea that he just does not give a fuck about anything he is being told even funnier. Even after the third time being told to treat the very expensive high energy equipment with care, I was still giggling with glee as he put his heel directly through it, cocked his shotgun and moved onto the next thing.

Despite being something that we would never listen to on it’s own, the soundtrack just elevates it even higher, with some exceptionally smart mixing and sound design. The music breathes with you as you go through the game, building as soon as creatures start to spawn, builds to an insane crescendo as you are knee deep in the dead (I’m sorry I couldn’t help it), and then as you come out the other side gasping for breath, it pulls you back down to earth with it as it mellows ready for the next encounter.

Doom was a surprise that just kept on giving. Like a number of games this year it should not have worked on paper, yet totally floored us with what it pulled off. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go take care of some hell shaped business.