Best Games of 2016: Top 10 most underrated releases
Games are often fundamentally about power fantasies and idealism, but the gaming world at large is rarely as just or fair as the fantastical worlds they portray.
In any given year, far more games come out than any reasonable human can — or should — play. So it stands to reason that there are lots of wonderful games each year that fail to make the splash they deserve.
This is a love letter to those games that did all the right things in 2016, but for one reason or another, flew under the radar.
Best games of 2016 No. 10: Gravity Rush Remastered
The original Gravity Rush was a PlayStation Vita exclusive back in 2012 — a platform that's never really taken off in a big way. So it's no surprise that its console re-release, Gravity Rush Remastered, hasn't seemed to inspire a ton of chatter yet, either.
That's not to say it doesn't deserve chatter. It definitely does.
Gravity Rush is a pretty standard Japanese action-adventure game, except that your main character can alter gravity with a single button press. See that wall over there? Now it's the floor. Your character will lurch and fly through the air as gravity shifts, making combat and navigation more dynamic and inventive than what most games offer.
PlayStation seems excited about the series, too. Gravity Rush 2 is set to come out for PS4 in January.
Best games of 2016 No. 9: World of Final Fantasy
The Final Fantasy game on everyone's lips right now is the decidedly bromantic Final Fantasy 15, and rightfully so. It's pretty stellar. You'd be forgiven if you didn't realize there was another full-fledged Final Fantasy game that came out just a short time prior to Final Fantasy 15.
World of Final Fantasy is kind of like a mash-up of Kingdom Hearts and Pokémon. It has the cartoony, lighthearted tone of Kingdom Hearts, but its old-school, turn-based, critter-focused battle mechanics are reminiscent of something like Pokémon.
It's like Kingdom Hearts in another way, too. Instead of crafting a new world and characters, like most Final Fantasy games do, World of Final Fantasy features well-known characters from the entire history of the franchise. Yuna from Final Fantasy 10 inhabits the same world as Refia from Final Fantasy 3 — all while cutesy critters stand on top of each other's heads in battle formations.
That said, World of Final Fantasy is far from perfect. Its writing comes off as totally cringeworthy if you're not ready for the anime-like tone, and the battles can get a bit repetitive. But if you need a hit of some Final Fantasy nostalgia, it's worth checking out.
Best games of 2016 No. 8: Crypt of the Necrodancer
Ever have a night where you just can't decide whether you want to get turnt at the club or venture into a nearby cave to plunder booty from a horde of skeleton warriors? We've all been there.
Crypt of the Necrodancer manages to combine the two in a pixelated package, challenging you to time your character's movements to the throbbing beats of its electronic soundtrack. This game also belongs to a genre known as a roguelike, meaning that when you die you have to start the entire level over from scratch, making the whole process simultaneously very stressful and very fun.
It originally came out in 2015 for PC but made its debut on PS4 and Vita in early 2016. It's a game unlike anything else you've ever played. I promise.
Best games of 2016 No. 7: Dishonored 2
The follow-up to 2012's Victorian steampunk action-stealth game Dishonored probably doesn't need me to cheer it on, but I'm going to anyway.
Early sales figures for Dishonored 2 show it tracking lower than its predecessor, but by all accounts, Dishonored 2 offers a cleaner, more fleshed-out experience than the original.
Unlike most action games, Dishonored 2 is fundamentally about giving players the choice to solve problems in any way they choose. Want to charge in head first and slaughter your enemies point blank? Go for it. Want to hypnotize them with a giant, floating rock thing and sneak past without them ever having known you were there? That, unbelievably, is also an option.
Best games of 2016 No. 6: Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter raised over $600,000 in its Kickstarter campaign. So to say anticipation was high for its gorgeous, Legend of Zelda-inspired stylings is an understatement. That said, unless you had heard about the game early on, it was probably pretty easy to miss once it finally came out.
What makes Hyper Light Drifter so compelling is the combination of its wordless, ethereal, haunting atmosphere and its punishingly difficult combat. It's a really wonderful experience and one that anyone who misses the good old days of getting lost in A Link to the Past should definitely check out.
Best games of 2016 No. 5: Paragon
The gaming genre of multiplayer online battle arenas — more commonly known as MOBAs — is an increasingly crowded space where games have to truly stand out from the competition to match the long-term success of League of Legends and the like. One game that's fought hard for a spot of its own is Paragon, the ostensibly more action-focused MOBA from Epic Games, which you might know as the developer of Unreal Tournament.
Paragon is certainly a competent, beautiful game, but it doesn't seem to have caught on quite as much as Epic might have hoped. One common complaint is that its gameplay is painfully slow and plodding despite its more action-oriented design.
The good news is this: A brand-new update just hit Paragon that seems to have sped up the game quite a bit, differentiating itself from the more tactical League of Legends. So, if you have yet to play it, now is the perfect time.
Also, it's totally free.
Best games of 2016 No. 4: Virginia
The most important thing to know about Virginia is that you need to go into it with an open mind. Like its frequently cited source of inspiration, Twin Peaks, Virginia is a confounding, thrilling adventure game that delights in never telling you what's going on.
And I mean that literally. There's no dialog.
Instead, everything is told through music, environmental storytelling, a flash of emotion across a character's face or a bit of text on a computer screen.
And, like the films and television shows it's so closely inspired by, Virginia only takes a few hours to play from start to finish, so it's the perfect game to play in a single, feverish sitting.
Best games of 2016 No. 3: Rise of the Tomb Raider
OK, I'll grant you that this is a bit of cheap pick since Rise of the Tomb Raider technically came out last year for Xbox One, but its delayed release on PS4 this year means it's well worth bringing back to everyone's attention.
Despite the fact that Uncharted 4 owes a great debt to the original Tomb Raider, the former seems to be getting quite a bit more praise than the latest reboot of the Tomb Raider series. And let me tell you, that's a damn shame.
Rise of the Tomb Raider offers a gorgeous, compelling adventure with brilliant puzzle design, thrilling action set pieces and — in my opinion — more rewarding platforming and weapon design than Uncharted 4.
If you're afraid Tomb Raider has grown long in the tooth after all these years, I'm happy to report that you're completely wrong. Don't miss out on one of the best games of the year — OK, fine, last year if you own an Xbox One and want to get technical.
Best games of 2016 No. 2: Oxenfree
Months before Stranger Things made retro, sci-fi thrillers about a group of kids up against supernatural forces cool again, Oxenfree graced the Xbox One, PC and PS4 with its presence. But there's a sense in the online gaming community that maybe it hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.
That might have something to do with the fact that it has a more low-profile, indie sensibility, but its top-notch writing, branching storylines and compelling set of characters make Oxenfree a game everyone should check out.
Best games of 2016 No. 1: Titanfall 2
Despite critics singing its praises from left to right and a simultaneous launch on PS4 and Xbox One, Titanfall 2 hasn't sold nearly as well as its predecessor. The latest reports show it selling "barely a quarter" the number of copies the original Xbox One and PC exclusive Titanfall did, according to PC Gamer.
Not only did Titanfall 2 release on an additional platform — owned by 50 million people, by the way — but it also added a spectacular new single-player campaign mode, whereas the original only offered multiplayer. Additionally, it turned out to be a surprisingly good platformer as well as a solid sci-fi shooter.
So, what the hell happened?
Some point to Titanfall 2's release date as its fatal flaw. Up against both Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield 1, these people argue that there were simply too many top-tier shooters released in a short period, making failure for one of them an inevitability.
Whatever the reason, it totally sucks, because Titanfall 2 is incredible. Yeah, its writing is rarely better than a B-list action movie, but the breakneck speed and fluidity of its movement feels indescribably good.
Long story short, if you slept on Titanfall 2, stop it right now. Wake up and smell the — thermite? I don't know. Just go play Titanfall 2.
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