This may come as a surprise, but the people who make video games? They play and like them us much as us regular ol’ non-developers. As we wave goodbye to 2016, we decided to reach out to developers and find out what their favorite five games of 2016 were. We asked for an ordered list with a sentence or two explaining each choice, with the qualifier that rules are made to be broken. This is why some lists might read more like ‘games I played this year,’ as opposed to ‘games that came out this year,’ feature extra honorable mention entries, or be just a list with no explanations. You can find the lists, presented in alphabetical order by last name, below.
You can look out for Game Informer’s favorite games of the year lists in the January issue which will be in the wild soon.
Ian Dallas (Giant Sparrow / The Unfinished Swan)
– This is the strangest game I’ve played since Katamari Damacy. The
premise of jumping along the tops of a series of trucks is wonderfully
bizarre but it’s also surprisingly intuitive and flexible as a core
mechanic. The fact that you’re jumping on semis gives the game a weird,
surreal energy to it — in some respects it feels a lot more familiar
than games that have you jumping on turtles or clouds or whatever, but
then it also makes you wonder about the drivers who steer their convoys
straight on no matter what, over cliffs, into swinging blades, etc.
– As a game developer, it’s intimidating to look at what 6 years of
polish can do to a game. The player’s movements are somehow both
expressive and subtle. So much of what’s here is done extremely well —
and particularly the sound design — but it does so without calling
attention to itself. I don’t know how they managed to turn 6 years of
struggle into something that feels so effortless.
– I’ve experienced a lot of violence in my virtual life but Superhot is
the first time I felt like I had a chance to actually explore it.
Superhot takes moments that would be tedious routine in other games — a
man stepping around the corner to fire a shotgun into my face, let’s
say — and transforms that encounter into something like a dance.
– Lots of really smart, elegant design choices. My favorite was having
the player character cheerfully swipe his hand past objects to pick them
up, which looks great and saves the team from having to hand-animating
every single interaction.
- Darkest Dungeon – Ultimately I
found myself really angry with this game and quit after a particularly
soul crushing defeat, planning never to return. But before things got to
that point I quite liked it. There’s a nice, cohesive sense of dread
that surrounds everything about the game.
Cory Davis (Tangentlemen / Here They Lie)
– Inside’s unique childlike perspective pushes us through an
ever-unfolding traumatic journey into darkness. Successfully making us
feel small, and then creeping us out with its minimal sound and
narrative design between heart-pounding terror—Inside has teeth and
creates the most successful tone piece of the year.
– The tone of Firewatch is unexpectedly endearing, but with dark,
mysterious undertones. By far the strongest voice acting and
characterization of 2016; Firewatch keeps luring me back into the
lonely, contemplative, and majestic lands within its vast borders.
- The Witness
– The Witness is the most beautiful gaming experience of the year.
Absolutely perfectly stylized visuals, along with an evolving “voice”
from the core puzzle experience of the game. The Witness is spectacular
in its simplicity.
- Final Fantasy XV – Final Fantasy
is quite possibly the strangest mix of extreme AAA production value and
over-the-top, no-holds-barred, gonzo creative direction ever to grace us
with its twisted, bedazzled maw. I can’t get enough of the quirky
boy-band squad, the exhilarating combat system, or the absolutely
unpredictable, seemingly cocaine-driven campaign these fellas are on.
- Tilt Brush
– The most mind blowingly innovative experience of the year for me—Tilt
Brush reveals the immersive, creative possibilities of virtual reality.
I spent days (and I’m sure I will spend more) riffing on sculptures,
diagrams, monoliths, and psychedelic mandalas.
Mathijs de Jonge (Guerrilla Games / Horizon Zero Dawn)
- Titanfall 2 – Having worked on the Killzone series in the past, it’s great to play the campaign mode of Titanfall 2 just to see how shooters have evolved in the last few years. The pacing of the campaign is great, the twist in mechanics was an unexpected surprise, and the gunplay is simply superb.
- The Last Guardian – It’s wonderful to return to a world like that of Shadow of the Colossus (one of my all-time favorites) and solve its puzzles. I adore the unique atmosphere, and Trico is brought to life with incredible craftsmanship.
- Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – I like the new angle of the story and the childhood flashback sections, but what really stands out for me is the way rollercoaster action sequences are alternated with vistas so stunning that I can’t help staring at them in awe.
- Severed – I played this on my PlayStation Vita and absolutely loved the touchscreen combat system and the dungeon-crawling, puzzle-solving gameplay.
- Monster Hunter Generations – This is a game I come back to regularly. It feels very complete in terms of options and content, and it’s good to see that the series was made more accessible without affecting the core Monster Hunter gameplay.
Rex Dickson (EA / Madden)
- Oculus Touch – I wish I could pick just one game from the lineup but the truth is, I love almost all of them. The Oculus touch was the best hardware launch in gaming history with too many amazing games to list here. I love playing it with my kids and now find myself spending more time playing VR than I spend on my PS4/Xbox One.
- Far Cry Primal – This was one of the few console titles I played through from start to finish this year. I love all the Far Cry games, this one was no exception. So many ways to take on encounters and riding a saber-toothed tiger into battle was awesome.
- Adr1ft – Really struggled to pick a favorite game from the Oculus lineup but Adr1ft really stood out for me. That feeling of floating in space in VR and watching the earth spinning beneath you was pretty transformative for me as a gamer.
- Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC – I am a JRPG fan boy and have been for a long time. The trails series on the PSVita really blew me away with story and character development. The relationship between the two lead characters (Joshua and Estelle) was as powerful and memorable to me as Cloud and Aeris back in FF7. I think I sunk well over 100 hours into this franchise and loved every second.
- Madden NFL 17 – I play Madden throughout the year now. Between MUT and the online franchises I play in, Madden keeps me coming back all year long. It’s been in my top five since 1991 when I started playing on the Sega Genesis.
Neil Druckmann (Naughty Dog / The Last of Us)
- The Last Guardian – My GOTY. Another beautiful tale of a bond created through interaction by Team Ico/genDESIGN. Trico is a masterclass in creating a believable, living creature. By the end of the journey I was wiping away tears – the first time that has ever happened to me in a video game.
- Inside – Felt like I was inside (no pun intended) a dark Amblin Entertainment movie. The graphic look of the art direction, incredible animation, and fantastic puzzles created and unforgettable experience. And holy crap that final sequence… creepy, tense, and totally unforgettable.
- Super Mario Run – Nintendo simplified Mario down to one mechanic, jump, while still retaining much of the depth of its 2D predecessors. Once I started I couldn’t stop playing until I had all the secret coins on each level.
- Rez Infinite – The best VR experience. I was immersed and transfixed. Area X was just drop dead gorgeous. I’ll be coming back to this one for years to come.
- Dishonored 2 – Amazing world building combined with some of the best level design. Loved stealthing my way through its dark corridors, discovering its hidden nooks.
For lists from Matt Firor (ZeniMax Online), Nina Freeman and Steve Gaynor (Fullbright), Kazuyuki Hoshino (Sega), and Kazutoki Kono (Project Aces), head to page two.