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The 25 Best Video Games of 2016
The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

20

Kentucky Route Zero Act IV

The Kentucky Route Zero experiment continues to roll on at its own solemn, elegiac pace, and though the wait between the third and fourth episodes was as interminably long as usual, its timing couldn't have been better. Conway's journey through the nowhere place of the Zero acts as a sort of long-form eulogy to all the versions of the American dream that no longer carry any import in the 21st century, and in Act IV, he's passed the point of raging at the dying of the light, but accepted it with a martyr's serenity, just as all the travelers down Act IV's Lake Lethe have. There's sadness in the dignity upheld by the denizens of the Zero in this episode, and there's joy in moving past the need to mourn here, a complex sea of emotions common in the greatest novels written about forgotten Americas but wholly unique and beautiful to see in gaming. Clark

The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

19

The Last Guardian

Nothing this year was more endearing than Trico, an adorable catbird with a puppyish personality, attempting to follow The Last Guardian's amnesiac boy through a tiny archway, the result being that his feathered face became temporarily stuck. The gameplay revolves around this giant creature and the more massive prison that holds you both, but little, unexpected mannerisms are what stick with players. Trico cannot be controlled, only persuaded (or outright tricked), and there's a compelling frustration to interactions that successfully emulates the experience of having an actual pet. Treat Trico well, by feeding him hidden barrels, and he'll respond more quickly; refuse to pull enemy spears from his body or decline to pet him when he nuzzles beside you and he'll throw a time-wasting tantrum. Whether you catch Trico relieving himself or he catches you falling from a ledge, The Last Guardian will surprise you. Aaron Riccio

The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

18

Kirby: Planet Robobot

Kirby games are praised for being cute, simple, pleasant, and dreamy, but Kirby: Planet Robobot unexpectedly moves away from tradition with the peace and subtlety of a lightning bolt. After all, this time Kirby can obliterate foes and obstacles via a series of mecha suits, often to the “Heart of Steel” theme, an uptempo, crescendoing hard-rock loop that grants a newfound urgency to the series. When one suit morphs into a vehicle, the feeling of dominance is exhilarating as you do flips between background and foreground planes. Provocatively, this power fantasy becomes somewhat of a distant memory by the end of the game, as you ride an elevator to a series of boss fights where you must overcome oppressors in technologically advanced, demeaning, and humiliating forms, from a robotic update of classic villain Meta Knight to a watch-shaped machine that will suck you into its mouth, complete with the camera following you in, and spit you out. The phallic climax, which involves Robobot Kirby plowing a hole all the way through the final boss, is a daring final reversal on what the puffy, pink Nintendo hero has always represented in pop-game culture. Jed Pressgrove

The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

17

Firewatch

The hazy amber skyscapes of Firewatch do much to emphasize the loneliness of the game's two major characters. Such artistic flourishes are undoubtedly intentional; while most games reduce the bonds between the characters that inhabit them to the purely functional, Firewatch hangs its hat, cloak, and even its boots on the relationship between player-controlled Henry and Delilah, his foul-mouthed co-worker who he never even sees. Both he and Delilah reside in towers that have the express purpose of watching for fires in the game's fictional national park. And while a partnership based entirely on voice communication might seem a difficult task to pull off, the performances of the two leads elevate the emotional tenor to a level rarely seen in the narrative game genre. Wright

The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

16

Watch Dogs 2

There are many mischievous hackers out there simply in it for the “lulz,” and Watch Dogs 2 is filled with plenty of moments in which to punk the San Francisco Bay Area's populace. But the discrimination suffered by black protagonist Marcus Holloway and his band of misfits urges players to actually stand for something. Every activity in the game serves to immerse players deeper within this world, whether it's taking selfies in front of Haight Street's Famous Fishnet Legs, listening in as your colleagues geekily expound on the merits of Alien versus Predator, or serving up a cathartic form of social justice against unsubtle analogues of Martin Shkreli and Scientology. New in-game gadgets like a remote-controlled car only heighten this visceral connection to the physical world. As one mission puts it, players are genuinely, ambitiously expected to “Hack teh World.” Riccio

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