Saturday, December 31, 2016

William Lowery's Favorite Games of 2016

As 2016 comes to a close the time comes again in which I rank my favorite titles that I played this year, a feat which was challenging than usual as many games were played, so deciding the favorites was a tricky proposition.  Some these will be of no surprise, while others will, but without further ado, these are my favorite games of 2016.

10. Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair (PlayStation 4)
Even though this is a re-release that doesn't stop Earth Defense Force 4.1 from making this list.  While the core game is the same as Earth Defense Force 2025, a number of tweaks, changes, and additions made greatly improve the experience.  These details are minor, such as the graphical enhancements which not only make the visuals colorful, but also iron out the framerate problems and shorten the lengthy load times found in 2025.  Yet other changes are more significant; namely, the addition of an instruction manual that clears out many of the issues in controlling the four character classes.  Combine that with the intense but entertaining gameplay, and Earth Defense Force 4.1 maintains its position as the best in the series to date.

9. House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii)
Whenever a series is given new life, the developers tend to alter the formula as a means to try something new.  In the case of House of the Dead: Overkill, developer Headstrong Games flips the franchise on its head and cranks out an installment that's a far cry from earlier entries.  Taking great inspiration from low-budget B-movies and Quentin Taratino films, the game is loud, violent, and obscene in all of the right ways.  The story is entertaining in its ridiculousness and the presentation enhances the game through its usage of filming techniques such as grainy filters, continuity errors, and missing scenes that add to the feeling you're playing a late-night drive-in movie.  The on-rails shooting, while simplistic, is very delightful in its approach, featuring satisfying gunplay and multiple weapons to unlock and use against the hordes of the undead.  For those who can handle bad taste, this is a good time.

8. Mortal Kombat (Xbox 360)
Fighting games are one of those genres that I should have more experience in, but I don't.  So in playing this 2011 reboot of the long-running series, I had to learn to play smart and not rely heavily on mindless button mashing.  Though accessible to players of all skill types, Mortal Kombat rewards those who grasp its mechanics in order to succeed, much like learning real-life fighting of any form.  The combat is furious and brutal, but incredibly polished, and the game features a wealth of modes to help you improve your technique.  Mortal Kombat for all its intents and purposes, is a flawless victory.

7. Far Cry 4 (PlayStation 4)
Sequels can do one of two things, either take the existing formula and add new mechanics or make tweaks to problems the prior title had, or offer up more of the same, all while polishing up what made the previous entry so great.  Far Cry 4 is a mixture of both of those ideologies; it follows the same structure that Far Cry 3 had and refines the formula to a tee, yet it also adds in a host of new ideas which keeps the experience entertaining through and through.  Liberating outposts and freeing Kyrat from Pagan Min's grasp is very enjoyable, especially with the new weapons, vehicles, and skills that are available to use.  Though the story isn't strong as in Far Cry 3 and Ajay Ghale isn't as compelling a protagonist as Jason Brody or the all-mighty Rex Power Colt, this doesn't stop this fourth installment from being a well-made follow-up to the third game.

6. Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360)
Mass Effect 2 was a huge surprise for me, it was a game that I had initially not touched, but when I played it, I discovered it to be a compelling experience, and couldn't wait to experience the conclusion to the adventures of William Shepard.  This third installment raises the stakes across the board, as the Alliance and the crew of the Normandy finds themselves coming together in the darkest of times as the Reapers threaten to eradicate all life.  Without the experience of the first two games, the emotional impact Mass Effect 3 leaves in many scenarios isn't as strong, as multiple characters and their arcs are brought to an end here, often with the sacrifice of their lives for the greater good.  The gameplay is a refinement of Mass Effect 2's formula, combat is more fluid and dynamic, with improved level design that offers plenty of opportunities for players to mix up their tactics.

5. Wolfenstein: The New Order (PlayStation 4)
First-person shooters have come a long way since the days of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, and what Wolfenstein: The New Order does is offer an experience that's old-school in design, but takes many cues from modern-day games, both in story and gameplay.  The narrative is serious but also fantastical, offering a world in which the Nazis rule every nation and more diabolically, have landed on the moon and built a base there.  B.J. Blaskowitz, a man from a past long gone, is not content with what society has become and is determined to end the Third Reich's reign once and for all.  Combat is entertaining yet brutal, featuring a slew of guns for Blaskowitz to use in levels that offer multiple secrets to find and alternate routes to take.  This game, along with another title, show that though the landscape of shooters has changed, sometimes, it's best to go back to basics.

4. Batman: Arkham Knight (PlayStation 4)
During the last console generation, the Arkham series took a character that had a hit-and-miss record with his games, and crafted a quadrilogy of solid, interesting titles centered around the Caped Crusader.  The storyline that began in Batman: Arkham Asylum comes to a close here, with a plot that raises the stakes in regards to its narrative and for the character of Batman himself.  The writing examines what these events do to a man such as Bruce Wayne, which is furthered by the presence of an old face.  The gameplay, too, ups the ante by polishing the well-known fighting mechanics and adding in new maneuvers for Batman to unleash on the criminals.  The introduction of the Batmobile adds a new angle to traversing the environment, solving puzzles, and taking on enemies.

3. Tomb Raider (Xbox 360)
Prior to playing Tomb Raider, the series was one I knew about solely because of Lara Croft herself, but what the developers did here was create a game that can stand out on its as a fantastic experience.  The 2013 title is a reboot, showing gamers how the famed archaeologist got her starts, and as it turns out, it was quite a start.  The narrative highlights the hurdles and trials Croft went through as she has to save her friends and get off the mysterious island of Yamatai.  At the end, she emerges a changed person, someone who is not afraid to take on difficult tasks.  Meanwhile, the gameplay is as compelling as the narrative, offering a great mixture of combat, exploration, platforming, with a dash of puzzle-solving thrown in.  For those that have yet to play this game, I strongly suggest you do so.

2. Alien Isolation (PlayStation 4)
Alien Isolation is a surprise; after the release of the controversial Aliens: Colonial Marines, there was much doubt over the future of the franchise in gaming form.  Then comes developer Creative Assembly, a studio best known for the Total War series, who not only creates a title that was leagues better than Colonial Marines, but also one that was a departure from many of the prior games.  Instead of offering pulse rifles and hundreds of xenomorphs to kill, this is all about survival.  Alien Isolation is about thinking smart, deciding when it's safe to move on or when you should hide because there's an alien nearby.  It induces tension in all of the right ways, and excellent sound design lets you know when and where the beast is.  Combine that with a good plot and top-notch graphics which successfully recreate Ridley Scott's vision of the future as shown in Alien, and you have a fantastic title.

Before my overall favorite of this year is revealed, these are some honorable mentions:
  • Burnout 3: Takedown (Xbox)
  • MadWorld (Wii)
  • Onechanbara: Z2 Chaos (PlayStation 4)
1. Doom (PlayStation 4)
Doom is a huge surprise for me, as I did not expect it to make it onto the list, but here it is.  Like Wolfenstein: The New Order, Doom is a throwback to the past, but in all of the right ways.  The gameplay is arguably its strongest point, with fast-paced combat that demands players keep constantly moving, or else they die, but with the vast arsenal of weapons, you are given a fighting chance against the forces of Hell.  Control is quick and precise, and the level design smartly balances time between furious firefights and exploration, allowing gamers to look for hidden secrets strewn about the levels.  Though story is kept to a minimum and the Doom Slayer never speaks a word, the large amount of background information available to find expands upon a world and a corporation with a good purpose, but the wrong direction.  Doom, from beginning to end, never lets up, which is why it is my favorite game of 2016.

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