Favorite 20 Video Games of 2016 From post-apocalyptic oceans & sulfurous hellscapes to robotic mammoths & fraction-loving frogs

Welcome to Screen Week! Join us as we explore the films, TV shows, and video games that kept us staring at screens. More from this series

The Last Guardian

Developer: SIE Japan Studio

[PlayStation 4]

In 2017 and beyond, we may continue to hear about cathartic distractions and positive gleams of hope. When it comes to young and old minds alike, it’s necessary to nurture our instinctual affection for life, but it’s always been challenging for video games to replicate qualities such as love and belonging. Then came The Last Guardian, one of the most anticipated games of 2016 after announced as in-development by Team Ico back in 2007. While gamers expected the action-adventure experience of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, what we got instead was more of a cinematic experience, a genuine test of patience and pathos in an era veering on a lack thereof. Designed and directed by Fumito Ueda, The Last Guardian was an experience unlike other “cold” gaming explorations. The gradual bonding and care between a young boy and a giant griffin creature, named Trico, felt perfectly natural, creating an undeniably unique experience to journey in the senses of pragmatic and empathetic actions throughout a lush, dreamlike world. Guaranteed to be a challenging slow-burner for some, Ueda’s newest creation reminded of the artistic merit of video games, giving us a cult favorite that could be felt on a personal and familial level.

The Witness

Developer: Thekla Inc.

[PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, iOS, Xbox 360]

I’m not convinced that there is an end to The Witness. The deeper I become mired in Jonathan Blow’s latest vortex of uncertainty, the more it seems to expand in all directions at once, leaving me to gaze upon its scale in brutal and humbled amazement. Its lush design and scenery betray one of the most massive, intricate mazes I’ve ever attempted to cross, so blank in its circumstance yet rife with semantic consequence. As I journey further within, it becomes clear that the only real blockade to progress is myself, that I am both my own greatest enemy and my one true ally. I step away from the game and see puzzles in my own life that need solving, complex patterns that require dedication and complete understanding to successfully ford (to say nothing of how suspicious I’ve become of naturally occurring circles). I’ve experienced such a shocking emotional range during my time with The Witness, gliding through pits of loathing, passages of inertia, vestiges of serenity, and suddenly, moments of triumph. Perhaps soon I’ll discover a final puzzle that connects this whole island together, but I have a feeling my search will continue long after I’ve put the controller down.


Developer: Drool

[PlayStation 4, Windows]

Is Thumper the pong of the future? Sure, the mechanics of this rhythm-based game, designed and developed by Lightning Bolt’s Brian Gibson, contained kitsch elements, but it was fun as hell. As a fast-moving beetle (named “Junebug Joe”), you move along a sleek track passing through wormholes into inventive atmospheres, the hell and ethereal landscapes to which your mind is toe-tapping along. Players must absorb the timing by hitting the correct notes to avoid spikes, walls, and tight corners, all executed with the addictive nature of a Guitar Hero meets Tron. While it was surprisingly dimensional and tonal on the PC and PS4 platforms, it was on the PlayStation VR where Thumper really came alive. Your head could now control the rhythmic tilts, the complete sensory exposure exhilarating and captivating. The novelty of the game was explicit, but it was a thrill ride unlike any game before it. Our hearts raced until the very last beat.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Developer: Naughty Dog

[PlayStation 4]

Uncharted 4 was ostensibly the last game in a beloved franchise whose finitude is so thoroughly woven into its narrative and drama that its finale felt legitimately sincere and total. This was the last chapter of Nathan Drake’s story. And whether you were guiding him up a shimmering, slippery rock face in a brutal thunderstorm, driving a 4x4 through an African oasis, or hanging off the back of a motorcycle while shooting at an impending armored truck, Uncharted 4 was one of the most gorgeous-looking games to have been released on the PlayStation 4. Its visual mastery, its absolute idiomatic perfection of gameplay, and its gripping, unparalleled action scenography were top of the class. There was one gesture available in Uncharted 4 that more or less embodied how it felt to play this game: if Drake was looking to attack a villain from a long distance, the most satisfying option was to throw a rope across a tree branch or post, jump off the side of a chasm, and swing at high speed toward the marauder, leaping through the air after he let go of the rope to land a bone-shattering aerial punch. When I think about doing this, I fill with joy and wonder at Naughty Dog’s incredible achievement.

Xenoblade Chronicles X

Developer: Monolith Soft

[Wii U]

Xenoblade Chronicles X functioned as much as an open-world JRPG as it did a Wonder of the Virtual World: more than triple the size of Skyrim (plus change), the title’s planet Mira was a colossal landscape teeming with six continents’ worth of alien flora and fauna. From the moment one’s avatar left the fortified confines and futurist nu-metal muzak of New Los Angeles, their exploration of bordering territories entered and remained in a state of aesthetic flux. Interplanetary stretches of pastoral fields gave way to vast deserts. A gleaming shoreline composed entirely of precious metals was contrasted by a sulfurous hellscape. The limbs of beasts too large to even notice a wandering human-ambled past, constantly hinting at awe-inspiring encounters to come: Xenoblade X’s high-level “Tyrant” species were omnipresent, yet often passive in their lumbering approach. The game ultimately served as a reminder of mankind’s smallness and fragility while still emphasizing the beauty of the (capitalized) Human Experience — even if that experience was viewed through the windshield of a flying mech suit.

Welcome to Screen Week! Join us as we explore the films, TV shows, and video games that kept us staring at screens. More from this series

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