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The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

 

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If there’s any one area of culture that didn’t suffer a crippling lesson in humility in 2016, it was video games. In fact, in most respects, it was the one area that managed to creatively thrive, where even typically under-ambitious annual mainstays like Call of Duty managed to perform strong pivots toward the new and fascinating. Meanwhile, stronger but less bombastic statements of artistic intent that would’ve gone quietly into the good night in years past became the massive success stories of the day. This was the year of the sea change, a crucial moment where the medium found maturity and diversity, because of and occasionally in spite of its audience, which is what all good art does. The 25 games we named the best of the year are the most stellar examples of that, and the promise of progress we desperately needed to see in this of all years. Justin Clark

The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

25

Stardew Valley

It’s tempting to call Stardew Valley the most unlikely hit of 2016, considering its stunning success on the charts. After all, the game painstakingly imitates Harvest Moon, a series that hasn’t reared its head much in recent years. But such a pedestrian label undersells developer ConcernedApe’s colossal achievement. Those of us looking for an escape from this year’s dire extremities might find solace in the titular valley, but good luck retrieving yourself when you’ve fully burrowed into it. The particulars of farm management, mining, and crop bundling will likely keep you occupied for weeks upon weeks, and that’s before you even try to start a family. Running a farm isn’t easy, but Stardew Valley makes it irresistible. Steven Wright

The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

24

Final Fantasy XV

Playing Final Fantasy XV is almost like playing through the recent history of video games, spanning the full 10 years of the game’s development. Its core mechanics, its graphics, even its story in spots all feel like a newer game built over the ruins of another. The game spends hours upon hours breezing past everything expected and easy about a Final Fantasy game. The heart of Final Fantasy XV is a tale of brotherhood, an ersatz bachelor road trip marred by a massive familial loss. Literally and figuratively, prince Noctis and his crew can never go home again. Though a more traditional Final Fantasy story is going on around them, it’s peripheral to a game far more interested in bonds between brothers, with no self-consciousness about their emotions, their interests, the people and places they love. Imagine Y Tu Mamá También, only Gael García Bernal can teleport. That may be an insane comparison to make about a JRPG, and yet, this is the strange but utterly compelling caliber of storytelling Final Fantasy XV has stepped into. Clark

The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

23

Quantum Break

Quantum Break feels like the game Remedy had been building up to since the first Max Payne, a riot of various media smashing against each other, vying for dominance. It’s not exactly a fluid transition going from game to live-action footage, from character to character, from timeline to timeline, but it’s so very easy to fall in love with the audacity of the attempt, especially when the game hits kinetic pay dirt, playing around with and being constantly threatened by the very fabric of time and space. The actual action feel like a persistent God Mode, the stakes of the plot are the heaviest imaginable, and all of it performed by a slate of character actors blessedly refusing to phone this one in. Remedy hasn’t so much reinvented the action game so much as played holy havoc with it with an evil grin. Clark

The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

22

Ratchet & Clank

It might seem like a long time ago now, but back in 2003, a gun-toting lombax, Ratchet, and his tiny robot pal, Clank, saved us from the legion of humorless military shooters that flooded onto platforms like so much rancid tar. Even now, as that tide of camouflaged fatigues seems apt to recede the colorful, chromed-out weapons and goofy self-deprecation that first lured children and adults alike to the series’s side are still just as refreshing as the first steps you took on Veldin so many years ago. But this isn’t just a nostalgia trip, as Insomniac retooled virtually every mechanic of the first game in the series, and it all handles like a dream. As a remaster, Ratchet & Clank might be overlooked in favor of newer fare, but this is one adventure worth revisiting. Wright

The 25 Best Video Games of 2016

21

No Man’s Sky

There are three versions of No Man’s Sky: the one Hello Games hyped up, the one gamers expected, and the one we got. Only one of those versions matters, and it’s the one devoid of the expectations of the mob. It’s the one Sean Murray and his team built for years, a world-birthing engine of infinite exploration and possibility. It’s a game that feels vast, infinite, and somehow so small and limiting. And yet, the Herculean achievement of creating a nigh-seamless universe teeming with not just life but ways to live cannot be denied. An international team of hundreds could’ve made No Man’s Sky palatable and easy, or made gunplay a priority. Instead, it’s a beautifully massive game that serves no other master than presenting the means and resources to explore an unending universe. There’s no other video game that so intrinsically trusts and nurtures the great human need to be in the stars than this. Clark

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