Written by Stephen Patterson
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all. This year I wanted to compile a list of my ten favourite games of 2016 – so I’ve written a little bit about my experiences with each of them and why I think you should play them. This article counts down from 10-6 (the games are ordered by how much I love them) and on Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day – definitely named after me – I will upload an article for 5-1, including my favourite game of 2016. I hope you enjoy not only this article but also this wonderful time of year.
10. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Infinite Warfare, and Call of Duty as a whole, has been adopted as the bogeyman for fans of video games and general denizens of the internet for years now. Most people lambast just how reliant the game is on ‘twitch’ mechanics, pure speed, rather than nuance or strategy. Those things are correct, but the game maintains a level of satisfaction for me that transcends almost all other online multiplayer games – mindless it may be, but it tickles the pleasure centres of my brain seeing my level steadily tick over and the experience points rolling in. Infinite Warfare does a lot for me in comparison to the other games in the last cycle (Advanced Warfare, Black Ops 3) in that it makes the pace so fast and relentless that I can clock up large scoring games repeatedly without respite: perfect for my playstyle.
Not only does the multiplayer scratch my itch for simple multiplayer fun, but Infinite Warfare manages to produce one of the best single player campaigns in the series for years: interspersed with the regular shooting gallery levels are opportunities to fly a fighter jet and complete side missions to upgrade your abilities. It’s unfortunate that so many are prepared to write off the Call of Duty games without even trying them, because Infinity Ward’s latest iteration did enough to keep a grizzled 8 year veteran like myself entertained and playing for dozens of hours.
Hackmud is a game I stumbled across in the comments section of a video posted on reddit about cybersecurity – it mixes a wonderful blend of scripting, intrigue, espionage and a genuine sense of accomplishment when completing a hack under the enforced time limit of the ‘kernel’. The game itself has no graphics, simply lines upon lines of text from which you must find the correct sequence of commands and passwords to hack into bank accounts or steal information from rivals. It features a pulsating, heavily synthetic soundtrack which ebbs and flows along with your actions: activate the kernel timer and suddenly the beat races, encouraging both your typing speed and heart to do the same.
It opens with a 4 to 5 hour story mode, which serves as an extended tutorial for the main part of the game. It weaves an engaging story, whereupon you realise you are an AI program which requires the help of other AI to escape the confines of their current systems on to the vast web beyond the walls. The real genius of Hackmud however is the multiplayer you are unleashed upon following the completion of this story: you can hack NPC systems to earn cash, but the real game lies in betraying and allying with other players through the elaborate use of code and scripting. Through effective programming, it is possible to steal an entire player’s cash reserve simply through socially engineering them into transferring it for you. The scope is vast (players have programmed entire banking systems replete with loans and interest gathering scripts) and frankly beyond my comprehension, but if you have any interest in the idea of ‘hacking’ or even just game-ifying programming, you should try hackmud.
8. Trackmania Turbo
One of the purest elements of racing games is reaching a zen like state of timed perfection. Trackmania Turbo is one of the most concentrated causes of that effect I have encountered in many years, mainly because the entire game is about time trials. For those who are unaware, Trackmania has been a PC mainstay for many years, garnering support from track creators and modders who ran their own servers with custom rulesets. The game released on console back in March of this year, and I could not put it down for two weeks after I bought it. Each run may only be 30 seconds to 2 minutes long, but each individual mistake is incredibly devastating to your overall time – meaning that when you hit that perfect run and earn a gold medal, the endorphin rush is palpable. Multiply that effect by the 200 levels of increasing difficulty in Turbo (I still haven’t finished them all) and you’re really in for a good time.
Not only that, but Turbo brings along Trackmania’s famous multiplayer aspects to the console, with a deep track editor and a random track creator making the game essentially endlessly replayable. Online is where these tools shine, allowing you to drop into a track made by one person and fighting against 99 other people who are simultaneously setting times – often the real battle is just managing to complete the track once in the ten minute time limit. A far cry from the stuffy, tweed jacket wearing statisticians that are Forza and Gran Turismo, Turbo is unadulterated racing in sickeningly sweet form.
7. Tom Clancy’s The Division
If I was looking to write about the game that caused the most damage to my social life this year, it would certainly be The Division. Also released in March alongside Trackmania, The Division was a bold attempt to create a third person shooter that heavily borrowed elements from action RPGs such as Diablo and Path of Exile. The result was a game that was ultimately repetitive, but also one of the most engaging drip feed skinner boxes I’ve encountered in 2016. The story presented by Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment in The Division is certainly not one of the best of the year, but the atmosphere it created in it’s depiction of a snowy, abandoned Manhattan island is one that was chilling (in both senses of the word) and a constant reminder of the danger that lurks behind fragile human societal systems.
One of my best gaming memories of 2016 came from The Division’s Dark Zone – an area for player vs player combat, where you kill mobs to find rare equipment and extract it by helicopter. One of of my first forays into the Dark Zone, I found a player who was clearing out the same NPCs I was, and we saluted each other and adventured together for 2 hours straight, collecting great gear and dodging roaming parties of other real life players. At the end of our run, we circled back to the extraction point, where we anxiously hid as other players were alerted to our extraction attempt. After battling back a party of four people while the chopper circled overhead, I loaded my equipment onto the helicopter guide rope…
…and I shot my new friend in the head. His gear was mine too.
6. Battlefield 1
Battlefield 1 represents one of the great rejections of trends in modern gaming. Not because it alters the core gameplay loop significantly or addresses cultural and social issues – far from it – but instead because it takes a formula that sells hundreds of millions of copies worldwide (the modern military shooter) and regresses it back to one of the most brutal wars in human history. I have waxed poetic on the podcast for this website about Battlefield 1 and how it reminds us that you are not a hero and that you are intended to die for your country. The concept is incredible but the execution is beyond that: the sensual assault of artillery bombardments, the whistling of machine gun bullets over your trench and the cold, wet slap of the mud underfoot is one of the crowning achievements of graphical fidelity in any first person shooter to date.
This impeccable production, as DICE is renowned for, is only built upon with the introduction of Operations mode in the esteemed multiplayer portion of Battlefield: fighting across multiple maps in specific theatres of The Great War, DICE managed to create a mode where it feels as though your contributions are combining with those of others towards a larger war effort, something lacking from Conquest or Rush in previous games. This is easily my favourite dedicated multiplayer experience of the year.
Don’t forget to check back in on December 26th for the Top 5!