The 10 best video games of 2016
1 Uncharted 4
(Naughty Dog; PlayStation 4)
In some ways, the fourth title in Naughty Dog’s wildly successful action adventure series looks like the archetypal join-the-dots sequel. We’re still following roguish Nathan Drake as he scours the planet for ancient artefacts. We’re still solving simple environmental puzzles and shooting the bad guys. And the script still plunders just about every cliche it can from the Indiana Jones films.
But that’s only part of the story. This wonderfully entertaining game is effectively about marriage – or, more accurately, the things we have to learn about ourselves to maintain long-term relationships. Nathan lies to his partner Elena and leans heavily on his friend Sully, but has to learn to be less selfish and irresponsible – a lesson made all the more urgent and poignant by the arrival of his troubled brother, Sam. That a big popcorn blockbuster is exploring these themes so engagingly and movingly is a testament to how this medium has matured over the last five years.
Meanwhile, we also get everything we want from a lavish big-budget game: astonishing visuals, imaginative locations and some truly thrilling set pieces – the Madagascan marketplace scene is a classic. Even if you don’t fall for the love story, you’ll fall for the well-paced, well-engineered action – and if the ending doesn’t get you right in the gut, you’re not human. Read the review.
2 Pokémon Go
(Niantic Inc; 3DS, iOS, Android)
Sure, many players tired of this slight, stripped-down Pokémon adventure after the first glorious fortnight. But its brilliance lay in how it used augmented reality and location-based technology to captivate not just early-adopter geeks, but whole families. Wandering through towns and parks looking for Jigglypuffs and Caterpies, meeting other players and exchanging tips, proved one of the highlights of the summer. For many of us still, no walk is complete without it. Read more.
(Campo Santo; PC, PS4, Xbox One)
With beautiful visuals and a haunting story of personal discovery, Firewatch was one of the year’s most fascinating experimental titles. Lead character Henry has escaped a difficult life to watch for fires in the Wyoming wilderness, but while he’s investigating odd events in the woods, the real focus of the narrative is his relationship with radio operator Delilah. Using the conventions of an open-world adventure, developer Campo Santo produces something much more haunting, unusual and important. Read the review.
(Playdead; PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Danish developer Playdead attracted massive critical acclaim in 2010 for its moody, monochrome adventure Limbo. This spiritual successor is, if anything, even more sombre and impressive, set in a dark, Orwellian dystopia where people are mere cogs in an unknowable machine – that is, until one small boy makes a dramatic bid for escape. Employing the mechanics of a 2D platformer, Inside is something much more profound, offering a thoughtful fable as well as a diverting challenge. Read the review.
5 Stardew Valley
Part farming sim, part role-playing adventure, Stardew Valley was the surprise indie hit of the year, offering charm, wit and a beautiful little world. Created by lone coder Eric Barone, it’s an exploration of, and alternative to, the Harvest Moon series, allowing the player free rein to set up a farm, pursue relationships, and take on quests as the seasons pass in a flood of colour and whimsy. Tech Weekly podcast discusses Stardew Valley.
6 Dark Souls 3
(FromSoftware; PS4, Xbox One)
Set in the same gloomy, hostile universe as its predecessors, the third title in FromSoftware’s uncompromising trilogy offers a new combat mechanic, a gruesome menagerie of enemies and a fresh, trap-laden environment to stumble, slay and suffer through. What still impresses about this series is the purity and steadfastness of its vision – in a world where big games now more or less handhold you through the entire campaign, Dark Souls 3 treats its players as equals, a considerable compliment. Read the review
7 Battlefield 1
(EA Dice, PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Publisher Electronic Arts released two brilliant first-person shooters this autumn, but the latest Battlefield title just manages to eclipse the masterful sci-fi blaster Titanfall 2, while rival Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare got lost in space. This took us back to the grit, panic and mechanical monstrosity of the first world war. In such a setting, the expertly balanced weapons, extraordinary vehicles and detailed destructible environments make every battle feel like a bruising cinematic epic. Read a review
(Blizzard; PC, Xbox One, PS4)
It’s been a long time since a new shooter came along and blew the whole market apart – but with its diverse characters, super-bright visuals and compelling cooperative tactics, that’s what Overwatch did. Blizzard’s interactive comic book movie completely re-engineers the concept of the team-based video game, requiring players to think about their roles, really learn their individual capabilities and then get stuck in for their compatriots. Some people played nothing else all year. Maybe they had the right idea. Read a review.
9 Forza Horizon 3
(Playground Games; Xbox One, PC)
Driving sims are a mainstay of the industry, but it’s rare they’re considered game-of-the-year contenders. The latest title in Microsoft’s Forza series is up there, however. Graphically, it may be one of the generation’s most impressive titles so far – capturing a variety of Australian landscapes with care and craft. But it’s the raw speed and excitement of the many trials, races and challenges that really impress. Who needs to watch The Grand Tour when you can enjoy your own right here? Read more.
10 Stephen’s Sausage Roll
(Increpare Games; PC)
We could easily have selected Jonathan Blow’s beautiful and refined The Witness as our favourite puzzle game, but instead the honour goes to this more contained alternative. Here, players have to arrange sausages on a grill so that they cook equally on all sides. It sounds easy, but with a variety of scenic obstacles to overcome, the task is complex, compelling and incredibly challenging. A fiendish classic. Read the review.