2016, compared to the years from the 2010s that preceded it, set a new bar for how densely you can pack a year with adventure. This year specializes in creating bloodshot eyes, cramping thumbs, hyperactive computer fans, and five hours of sleep every night. Developers took the years leading up to 2016 to create some of the most time-consuming, detailed, beautiful, vast adventures that had ever been created. While there was plenty of action and even a stellar multiplayer experience to come out of this year, 2016 will forever be remembered for the journeys it took gamers on and the memorable characters that accompanied them.
In making this list, everyone here at Sick Critic had to somehow vote between emotional experiences like That Dragon, Cancer, new approaches to platforming like Unraveled and Owlboy, thrilling adventures like those of Uncharted 4, and spine-snappingly-paced action of DOOM and Enter the Gungeon. Only so many games could make the top ten, though, and here they are:
10. Dark Souls III
“Going from the OG Dark Souls to Dark Souls III feels like a revelation. FromSoftware has implemented several gameplay tweaks from Bloodborne, and the end result is a much more fluid Dark Souls experience. Plenty of smart changes, like beefing up the amount of I-frames in your dodge roll which keeps you in the fight and rewards risky play, give the gameplay more of a Platinum Games feel at times – but is that really a bad thing? It’s more action-oriented for sure, but the game is still distinctly Dark Souls with compelling world design and ferocious monsters to defeat. III also boasts some of the best boss fights across the entire Souls series with the DLC boss fights serving as delectable highlights. It’ll never dethrone the original, but Dark Souls III is worth the time it takes to master.” – Theo Durrant
9. Enter the Gungeon
“I’m gonna spit straight facts for a second here: Enter The Gungeon is easily one of the tightest roguelikes ever made. There are enough pop culture references within its weaponry to overfill and shame the average SeltzerBerg movies of yesteryear, and there’s a perfectly paced bullet hell within it all. Secrets and mechanics are placed brilliantly so that they’re never an oversight or something you shouldn’t use.
“Even after some rather boisterous expansions and content updates, Gungeon still retains its expert craftmanship throughout, mostly thanks to the content being stuff the player uses. New bosses were only ever added if they were truly necessary or unique, new weapons were only added if they actually disrupted the flows of enemy gameplay, so on and so forth. It’s this respect towards the players that grants Gungeon its title of The Greatest Roguelike Ever Made.” – Sam Taylor
“If I had to pick a game that consistently bested me, it would be Enter the Gungeon. I’ve never completed a full run of the game, but I still keep trying. It’s my favorite roguelike out there, even with many entering the fray since then. The insane amount of items you can unlock is already overwhelming, but add on synergies and abilities and you quickly find you’re never going to master this game. Enter the Gungeon is unendingly satisfying to play, even as you beat yourself up for losing to that one random bullet you should have seen coming.” Nathanael Hueso
“I’d never really been an online-game type of guy. I enjoyed my single-player adventures and the occasional Super Smash Bros. party night. I tried a few online games here and there, but Overwatch got me playing nearly every day. The bright cast of playable characters and Team Fortress 2-inspired gameplay and modes got me hooked. Overwatch started a love affair that never really calmed down. I don’t know whether to thank the development team or send them hate mail. Whatever the case, I’ll be logging in tonight to get in a few quick matches.” – Nathanael Hueso
7. Stardew Valley
“Some games are tests of skill, challenging you to see how far you can get before inevitable defeat. Some games tell a beautiful story, bringing you to a whole other world. Then, every once in a while, comes a game like Stardew Valley, a game that’s not here to test your skill or sit you down and tell you a story but to give you somewhere warm and comfortable to let rest after a long day out in the real world. The relaxing gameplay loop surrounded by wonderful music and wrapped in lovely season-changing colors makes the perfect environment to stay in for twenty minutes or a day, and the one-man dev team’s constant updates make the game perpetually wonderful.” – Max Broggi-Sumner
6. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
“When playing an Uncharted game, we expect well-written characters, jaw-dropping graphics, and death-defying set pieces, and not only did Naughty Dog blow our expectations out of the water with Uncharted 4, they made it look easy. Nathan Drake’s latest globe-trotting adventure may be his finest ever with each level providing an unrelenting amount of thrills. ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ in particular stands proud as one of the best chapters in the Uncharted franchise with its vertigo-inducing clock tower climb and a motorbike chase sequence you won’t soon forget. This isn’t just Nathan Drake’s story, it’s Naughty Dog’s too. Uncharted 4 is the culmination of everything the studio has learned from Crash Bandicoot up to now; it’s a celebration of their heritage and a classy farewell to one of gaming’s most cherished characters.” – Theo Durrant
“Nathan Drake’s last adventure is the most honest, raw look into the characters of Uncharted. The one-line quips and jaw-dropping set pieces are still there, but Uncharted 4 is much more than what the previous entries attempted. Although it still has that goofy charm, the stakes are higher, and characters find themselves struggling with their fiercest demons. There are some new gameplay features, and the graphics have never been better, but what makes this game and the franchise as a whole succeed are the characters.” – Nathanael Hueso
“Uncharted is such a special franchise to me, and Nathan Drake’s final adventure isn’t the strongest note in the saga. The first 4 chapters are mostly needless filler, and there’re excessive cutscenes that just aren’t that entertaining. Sam is a pointless character, and the twist didn’t do him any favors. The villains were average. The multiplayer is just okay. This game is a masterpiece. Warts and all, Uncharted 4 is a beautiful game in every aspect. The renewed stealth system, while basic, works harmoniously with the Indiana Jones-combat. The set pieces are still incredible. The final few chapters have some brilliant level design. I can deal with the few hours of filler, but afterward, Uncharted 4 is head-to-toe awesome and a worthy addition to the series despite its flaws.” – Peter Finaldi
“Firewatch was spawned from the minds at Campo Santo and sees you take up post as a forest ranger in search of wildfires in late ’80s Wyoming. While it may appear to be another walking simulator, its gorgeous visuals and desperately human story will enthrall anyone who picks up a controller. One of the best indie games in recent years, which makes the news that Campo Santo’s newest title, In the Valley of Gods, has been shelved for the time being even sadder.” – Donogh Moore
“Not everyone adores Firewatch primarily due to its ending, and while I won’t spoil it, I can definitely see why the disappointment exists. Strangely enough, the disappointment in Firewatch bolsters the strongest parts of the game. Firewatch portrays isolation and intimacy in such an impactful way that players just want to hear more of Delilah’s voice. The gorgeous landscapes, peaceful atmosphere, and solemn narrative make Firewatch an extremely powerful ‘walking simulator’. It’s not a game you’d jump right back into, but it remains one of the memorable games I’ve ever played. Pick this game up whether it’s on sale or not, and grab some tissues.” – Peter Finaldi
“Lots of the other games on this list let you control the world, or at least make a difference in it. Walking simulator Firewatch does not. Your choices matter on a small scale, changing later dialogue or teaching you more about the characters, but the ending cannot be avoided. This is a good thing. Hidden behind the gorgeous scenery of Firewatch and the seemingly idyllic landscape is a story of mental health, paranoia, isolation, and guilt. Firewatch is a river designed to pull you to its ending. Let it take you.” – Maxwell Broggi-Sumner
4. Titanfall 2
“Hidden within EA’s counterintuitive release cycle (unleashing Titanfall 2 a mere week after the flagging Battlefield 1 which nonetheless took the oxygen from the room) and increased apathy towards single-player experiences is the fact that Titanfall 2 offers their best FPS campaign this decade. Underneath an interchangeable military shooter aesthetic with sci-fi leanings, Respawn Entertainment applies rock-solid shooting and surprisingly acrobatic movement to a relentlessly inventive string of set pieces. Your Titan BT-7274 mech is an endearing character and integral tool alike, giving a rote narrative premise distinct charm and the gameplay a constant capacity for change. Unlike the compromised Battlefield campaigns of recent years, Titanfall 2 abides by the kinetic flair of its multiplayer. You are constantly on the move in Titanfall 2, wall-running through shifting factories, suppressing mechs mid-flight, and leaping through the fastest-paced first-person puzzle one could experience. It operates with more ambition and less pretense than any of its peers, clever and entertaining in equal measures. Think of it as the hedonist’s Half Life 2, and prepare for liftoff.” – Zack Kauz
“I wasn’t a big fan of Limbo; it was kinda generic to me, and I lost interest by the end of the game. I actually stayed away from Inside for a while because it was made by the same dev team. When I finally caved and got the game, I played the whole thing in one sitting. It started off feeling similar to Limbo but quickly set itself apart in the best way. Inside is horrifying, engaging, and oddly philosophical. Even without a trace of dialogue, it is able to say much more than other games with thousands of lines of dialogue. I think this game is a must-play experience for every gamer. It’s only, like, three hours long, so you don’t really have an excuse not to play it.” – Nathanael Hueso
2. DOOM (2016)
“Rip and tear! The gory, goopy, and gratuitous violence of DOOM (2016) is just one of the reasons why people have loved this franchise for decades. For historical context, the DOOM franchise has never reached the glory days of the original PC games, and fans have lost trust in id Software in rekindling that one-of-a-kind flame. With 2016, id Software not only satiated the desire for an old-school FPS that doesn’t hold back, but it debatably exceeded the quality of the original 1993 classic. DOOM 2016 will be regarded as one of the best FPS games of the decade and rightfully so.” – Peter Finaldi
“DOOM‘s 2016 installment was destined to fail by all accounts. The ridiculous periods of development hell, the shady denial of review copies, the fact that post-Skyrim Bethesda was behind it– It was a train wreck everyone had binoculars for, yet despite all of this negative reinforcement, id Software came out of the woodwork to prove everyone wrong.
“It’s not that DOOM reinvented the wheel or anything like that, it just put a new set of familiar tires on – tires that made Doomguy reach the human-defying speeds he was known for and gave unlimited inventory space for all types of fantastic weaponry, leading to gunfights excelling in verticality and pacing. Not only did it defy expectations, it defied what a First-Person Shooter should be.” – Sam Taylor
1. Persona 5
“Persona 5 is easily one of the greatest games of all-time, let alone JRPGs. It’s stylish to a tee – even its loading screens hold more creativity than I could ever hope to muster. It retains the classic Persona gameplay that fans know and love: one part social simulator, where you must improve friendships or refine your own personality, and one part action-fuelled JRPG, where every aforementioned stat improves your skills battling demons. The soundtrack is a massive favourite, and its 100-hour story about refining society will grip you from start to finish. Another must-own for the PS4.” – Donogh Moore
“It’s rare to find any game over 40 hours long that is consistently high quality. Persona 5 is around 100 hours long (give or take) and manages to keep your interest the whole time while maintaining both substance and style. I’ve never played a game this unabashedly sure of itself. There’s so much to do in the game that you kind of have to put everything else aside and take a deep dive, and when it’s over, you’re not going to want to come up for air. Persona 5 is the pinnacle of the JRPG genre; it’s a game like no other.” – Nathanael Hueso
“I’m not an RPG fan. Something about getting stuck in one place for no inexplicable reason and constantly grinding and changing your strategy is too exhausting for me. Persona 5 shares those traits that I deem unappetizing for me as a gamer, but I found myself playing it for hours on end. For a nearly 100-hour game (I myself having played about 15-20 hours of it), the structural hindrances never bothered me, and I honestly found them reasonable and logical. Grinding isn’t a chore, it’s fun. I want to grind. I want to improve my statistics and get the rewards. Atlus seemed to psychologically bait the player into spending more time with Persona 5, and it works flawlessly!” – Peter Finaldi
Brandon is a young writer who loves going deep into games to explore meaning, purpose, and life. He believes that there’s nothing better than getting lost in a world full of characters to love and lessons to learn. He has a special place in his heart for single player games such as Mass Effect and Life Is Strange, but he also blows off some steam playing some of his favorite multiplayer games, like Paladins.