Another year is just about behind us, and if you play video games, your 2016 was probably a blur of shooters, adventures and possibly a VR helmet or two. But what really stood out? Which games defined 2016? In no particular order, here are our picks for the 12 best games of the year.
‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’
(Sony/Naughty Dog: PS4)
Like its perfectly coiffed star, “Uncharted 4” had to claw its way past countless obstacles on its path to greatness. Its lead designer bailed out, its script was rewritten and it was delayed enough times to put a crack in the faith of even its staunchest fans. But the jaw-droppingly gorgeous “Uncharted 4” more than delivered in the end, giving gamers an absurdly cinematic tale about family, piracy and what it means to be an adventurer.
(Playdead: Xbox One and PS4)
Spiritual successor to beloved indie hit “Limbo,” this chilling puzzle-platformer is one of the most affecting games of 2016. At turns unsettling and uplifting, “Inside’s” dystopian world holds clever, well-designed platform sequences, but the real thrill is in trying to unravel its fascinating narrative. Was there a better (and crazier) third act this year?
(Bethesda/Arkane Studios: PS4, Xbox One, and PC)
The sequel to the 2012 supernatural stealth game channels the original’s fantastic gameplay blend into a new, beautifully-realized whalepunk world. Two characters with unique powers gives it replay value, and thanks to some of the most inventive first-person level design ever, you’ll actually want to play this one through a few times.
(Bethesda/id Software: PS4, Xbox One, and PC)
Developer id Software figured out how to teach an old demon dog new tricks with the scintillating “DOOM” reboot. A combination of the original’s heavy metal vibe and new-school shooter sensibilities, “DOOM” was everything fans of the legendary franchise could have hoped for: fast, brutal and just insanely fun.
Don’t let its insane popularity or cartoonish looks fool you: “Clash Royale” is, at its core, a brilliant strategy game. Fast, addictive and perfectly designed for the mobile gamer, it’s the game we played most in 2016. Even its big drawback – that pesky pay to win situation – couldn’t sway us for starting up just one more match.
This intense, unnerving rhythm experience is one of the few games that works equally well in and out of virtual reality, though “Thumper” is really at its best when you’re staring at it through a PSVR headset. Its combination of noise rock, rhythm gameplay and sci-fi inspired Lovecraftian imagery is as unsettling as it is entrancing. You can’t tear your eyes away.
(EA/Respawn Entertainment: PS4, Xbox One and PC)
Sandwiched between “Battlefield 1” and “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” “Titanfall 2” suffered from a terrible release date. Hopefully that didn’t stop you from playing the slickest, most creative shooter campaign in recent memory. That it also improved its man versus. mech multiplayer with awesome new skills and increased mobility just sealed the deal on perhaps the most complete shooter package of 2016.
(Game Freak/ Nintendo: 3DS)
“Pokémon Go” might have gotten more attention in 2016, but “Sun/Moon” is a superior game in pretty much every way. Revitalizing the 20 year-old franchise with fresh ideas and smart tweaks, it was a catch for both longtime fans and those new to the series. With improved gameplay and a story that had more depth than “the bad guys are bad, because … reasons,” “Sun/Moon” was the best Pokémon game to-date.
(Blizzard Entertainment: PS4, Xbox One and PC)
The Next Big Thing in esports has arrived. True to form, Blizzard took a simple idea – a hero-based online shooter – and turned it into video game magic. Brilliantly balanced and polished to a high shine, “Overwatch” stormed out of the gate upon release, topping sales charts on the back of its addictive gameplay and incredible characters. If it’s not on your shortlist for 2016, you somehow didn’t play it.
‘Forza Horizon 3’
(Microsoft/ Playground Games: Xbox One)
Open-world racing reached a new top speed in the vibrant “Forza Horizon 3.” Packed with an embarrassing amount of cool things to do in a car both on and off roads, it was also one of the first games to truly take advantage of 4K technology. Not that it needed it — this is a graphical tour de force on any TV, and far and away the most thrilling racing game of 2016.
(EA / DICE: PS4, Xbox One and PC)
The semi-annual fight between “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield” wasn’t even close this year. EA and developer DICE took a risk by sending the series back in time to World War I, but it paid off with an intense, emotionally-charged shooter that both honored its source material and toyed with its premise. A surprisingly engaging single-player campaign coupled with “Battlefield’s” explosive multiplayer led to the best “Battlefield” in years.
(2K Games/Firaxis: PC)
The venerable strategy series returned to ruin your spare time with a Napoleonic vengeance this year. It’s the most graphically luscious “Civ” yet, with unstacked city tiles that really show off the sprawl. And of course it’s just as wonderfully deep and brutally addictive as past games in the series, turning “just one more turn” into an impossibility.
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Ben Silverman is on Twitter at ben_silverman.