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


“I’m not a girl/ Not yet a woman/ All I need is time/ A moment that is mine/ While I’m in between/ I’m not a girl”
– Britney Spears

Reality, in 2016, existed largely as an extension of technology-borne relativism, as a playful liminal space in which anything was possible and nothing was true in the absolute. The world around us has become increasingly gamified, as if last century’s technology was finally reaching pubescence, albeit to predictably tumultuous ends. Social media itself proved to be a better real-time simulation than most video games, a grind of likes and reposts, a playable model of contagion and virality, populated by a cast of heroes, villains, and a few true neutrals, featuring dramatic twists and shocking revelations, of both scripted and emergent varieties. All formed through the convergence of seemingly disparate cultural currents — one part CIV-style geopolitical conflict, another part Decline of Western Civilization culture clash — the stream they formed together feeding into the literal end of American exceptionalism.

But as game design concepts seeped further into the decaying foundations of liberal democracy, games themselves began shedding generations of orthodoxy, with some developers establishing new modes of interactive expression, while others found ways to work within the traditional AAA framework to create works of personal, historical, and political relevance. At their best, last year’s games provided indelible moments of emotional depth and structural ingenuity. Meanwhile, advancements in VR and AI finally made it to market, transforming the terra firma of the present into a literal manifestation of a long-predicted future. It remains to be seen whether these advancements will prove to be a utopian boon or a dystopic boondoggle, but one thing is certain: we are in a period of profound transformation. The landscape has shifted. The future is finally now.

In 2016, games — or at least the best examples of the form — finally became competitive with more established artistic mediums, whether shortform (film) or long (novels, serialized television). In fact, in terms of breadth, depth, and variety of games available, 2016 was a watershed year. As with music, TV, movies, and books (to say nothing of the many unread piles of magazines strewn about our domestic realms), there were finally more good games to play than there was time availble to play them. And even a technically middling game like Pokémon Go was culturally prevalent enough to shape the way we experienced and interacted with the physical world.

But despite significant leaps in sophistication and monocultural penetration, gaming still faces daunting limitations. Unlike other narrative artforms, the range of criticism and discussion continues to be narrow and reductively market-focused. We here at Tiny Mix Tapes might be neophytes at this whole “gaming criticism” thing, but at the same time, we certainly aren’t strangers to unique, unconventional, diffuse, contrary, or otherwise digressive opinions. Furthermore, we’ve spent — or wasted — more than enough time gaming to know that tangents, side quests, and mini games are often more edifying than unifying narratives or universal critical theories could ever promise to be. With that in mind, it’s our honor to present this totally subjective, by-no-means exhaustive list of our favorite gaming experiences of 2016.


ABZÛ

Developer: Giant Squid

[PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows]


Giant Squid, the development studio led by Matt Nava (art director for indie hits Journey and Flower), delivered its first game in 2016, and while ABZÛ’s broad stylistic strokes easily land it in “spiritual successor” territory, it’s also unique enough to warrant distinction. With ABZÛ, Nava made full use of the potential in transposing his bright, cartoonishly abstracted vision from the minimalist, post-apocalyptic desert landscape of Journey to a maximalist, post-apocalyptic ocean world populated by placid deep-sea creatures and a malevolent but deteriorating network of mechanized beings. As classically video game-y as that sounds, ABZÛ is far less goal-oriented than its more linear cousin Journey, as befits a game more about creation and the vibrancy of life than the routine of mortality. Instead, the result of the game’s lush, alien visuals and its equal-parts rapturous and elegiac orchestral score is a pure ambient world, an immersive meditating space that veils the typical mechanisms of progression-based gameplay behind the fullness of its atmospherics. In both its loose narrative and its design, ABZÛ confronted the game industry’s obsessive fixation on mechanical functionalism in a necessary way.


Destiny: Rise of Iron

Developer: Bungie

[PlayStation 4, Xbox One]


Well into Year 3 of its promised 10-year cycle, Bungie still hasn’t determined what type of game they want Destiny to be. And yet, with each eagerly-anticipated update, the fanbase rallies back to the looter shooter MMO chasing the newest exotics and god roll PvP weapons. Rise of Iron, the supposed last expansion until Destiny 2, was a great step forward in realizing what fans want most while Bungie figures out just how to frame the gameplay ahead of its sequel. The new raid was the best yet (yes, better than the eternal slog of Vault of Glass), the visuals were varied (the brightness of SIVA nodes to the dank underground of Archon’s Forge), and the weapons felt better than ever. Sure, the same PvP albatrosses and class imbalances are still ever-present (and it would be nice for Bungie to openly admit that they don’t care because Destiny 2 is more pressing), but there is a feeling — even as another content drought sets in — that Destiny 2 will be a fully realized and completely immersive experience because of the strengths of Rise of Iron. The game that has taken over my gaming schedule still has its kinks, but we all have kinks.


DOOM

Developer: id Software

[PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows]


There comes a time to admit the obvious, that most games are juvenile power fantasies, written and programmed by timid indoor-types, for timid indoor-types, as a means to reward the human tendency toward violence and aggression. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; acceptance of our animal nature is often followed by a certain pearl-clutching censoriousness, but it can just as easily lead to a loving kind of self-awareness, an embrace of certain ignominious truths, the most fundamental being that violence is physically-invigorating, no matter how much we’re enculturated to deny that about our species. DOOM (the original) was perhaps the first game to apply modernist techniques to simulated violence as interactive entertainment. Gone was the euphemized violence of the platformer or arcade game, replaced with a visceral, unsettling simulacrum of combat, which played out somewhere between the screen, where the violence was explicated, and the body, which relayed and translated the message, manifesting it in physical form. DOOM (2016) followed the same radical philosophy, one that drew upon the immutable and inherent. For all the killing I’ve done in my virtual lives, none has been so gratifying, joyful, or kinetic as this new DOOM. It didn’t ply us with disingenuous moralizing, with frivolities such as scripting and characterization. Instead, DOOM was perhaps the most rarefied variation on one of gaming’s crudest forms. Its intelligence was exhibited not through anything so trite as narrative, but rather through balletic economy of movement, hellacious environmental storytelling and design, a thrashing of guitar strings, and, yes, the giddy thrill of bones crunching and skulls caving in.


Final Fantasy XV

Developer: Square Enix

[PlayStation 4, Xbox One]


Final Fantasy XV was a three-word dream that lingered for years on the tips of the outstretched tongues of fans waiting to catch the smallest snowflakes of information about its release and plot. And then it finally arrived. The game, as its opening screen reported, was for both new and old gamers, and the self-assessment was accurate: the game was as welcoming as could be to those unfamiliar with the franchise. Beyond being a visually beautiful and immersive game, one that boasted an impressive open-world approach for a good portion of its narrative, Final Fantasy XV reached for something far deeper and more meaningful than the average RPG. The nucleus of the game was the relationship between Noctis and his three childhood friends/protectors, and their bond was what made every quest and mission worthwhile, from catching fish to feeding a stray cat to stalking an enormous mutant wolf to its cave, destroying it under cover of darkness. The real-time fighting system was one of the most fun and difficult to master in recent memory, relying on one’s ability to, within a split second, synthesize information about character HP/MP, spell potency and availability, potions, enemy weaknesses, and, most importantly, your friends’ battle skills and recovery techniques. FFXV was a ratatouille of goodness, combining everything that was historically fun about Final Fantasy with everything that was relevant about being alive in 2016.


Glittermitten Grove / Frog Fractions 2

Developer: Twinbeard

[Windows, OS X, Linux]


Glittermitten Grove was not what it seemed. The veil of building yourself a fairy village complete with waterfalls, berry picking, and fireworks was actually part of an elaborate plan to release a sequel to Frog Fractions, one of the most bizarre gaming experiences since Seaman. The original Frog Fractions was released in 2012 as an innocuous browser game about frogs learning fractions. Playing for more than a few seconds, it was obvious nobody was being taught anything and that the game was intentionally off. After thinking below the box, the game opened up into a complete deconstruction of genre, gaming, and the surrounding culture. A cult following quickly established to deconstruct every aspect of the game. It would take four years for a follow-up, but half of that was the community attempting to uncover an unbelievable series of clues that spanned 19 other game titles by independent developers and also included physical objects, downloading data from a Nintendo Amiibo, and shipping items across the country (read more about it here). But in an era when secrets are often revealed before a game launches, that it took two years of constant effort by fans to even play the game, let alone start to uncover all the secrets within, is nothing short of a revelation. Context aside, how was the actual game? Every bit as deconstructive and brilliant as the original, with more content, more abstraction, and even more absurdity. There were elements from every corner of the gaming universe, with just enough cohesion and substance to make it all hang together. If you ever played Undertale, Papers Please, or Stanley’s Parable and wondered if anyone else was playing with the very idea of a “game,” then check out Glittermitten Grove. Get the fireworks. Go down.


Hyper Light Drifter

Developer: Heart Machine

[PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Linux, Macintosh OS, Ouya]


Why do we fight?

Futility always stands by your shoulder in any struggle. Whether it’s traversing vast lands to seek a cure to a indescribable sickness, or to fight your own limitations to accomplish a simple task, or to escape something that is destroying you, or to have any sense of conscience… there’s always someone or something there, pointing out the pointlessness of the effort, encouraging you to give up. Maybe it’s that nobody supports what you’re doing. Perhaps the people you care for most have turned against you. Or maybe it’s your own body that keeps hitting a steel wall.

The question becomes, Why bother?

We need not answer that. Futility comes from selfishness. And we struggle not for ourselves. Drifting through the plains and ruins with a sword and arsenal, fighting off hordes of forgotten times, while inside your body wastes away from illness and exertion. Maintaining principles and attacking sacred beliefs among your friends. Grinding against your body’s imperfect designs to function within normal parameters. Even being able to face up to yourself and admit that you are flawed and capable of doing wrong to others.

We fight because we must. No matter the cost. Even if it’s our lives.


Inside

Developer: Playdead

[PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows]


It was Playdead’s clever combination of a singular visual style, a classic puzzle design, and an ambitious but ambiguous narrative that made Limbo an instant hallmark for the modern independent gaming movement. And while Inside, the studio’s follow-up, emulated that winning formula perhaps a bit too faithfully, it did refine each element to a new pinnacle. The game asked the player to fill the role of a nameless (and faceless) child protagonist on his quest to escape (?) a sinister authoritarian nightmare (?) in which predatory forces seem to capture and indoctrinate (?) innocent people (?), but naturally, a couple narrative twists and an alternate ending made for murky analysis and, ultimately, ripped the game away from cliché. With artfully sterile, detached aesthetics and nods to the desolate dystopian ambience of Philip K. Dick and Cormac McCarthy and even Cronenbergian body horror, Playdead once again expanded the relatively limited narrative and mechanical language of the independent platformer genre with Inside, reaching toward established literary and cinematic traditions that, unlike so many others, haven’t yet been exploited to the point of oversaturation within the interactive media space.


Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyuu 2016

Developer: Konami

[PlayStation]


Successful sports simulations, bound by their subservience to realism, can rarely be commended for their artistic originality. As immersive as the uncanny valley-traversing visuals of NBA 2k and Madden prove to be, it isn’t hard to become fatigued staring down a scarily accurate reflection of the reality you’ve plopped in front of the console to escape. In terms of timelessness, many of the first sports series that come to mind are among the least grounded in reality that I’ve played: the Backyard Sports CD-ROMs of the early 00s; Mario’s ventures into Tennis, Golf and Soccer; and Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyuu, Japan’s long-running franchise starring Mii-esque caricatures of the Nippon Professional Baseball League’s entire roster. JPPY celebrated its 20th birthday in 2016 with the series’ deepest installment yet, featuring a smorgasbord of manga-inspired story modes, a frustratingly addictive arcade challenge that revisited fictional “boss” teams of years past, and inviting gameplay that was as easy to pick up as it was deep and intuitive.


Kentucky Route Zero: Act IV

Developer: Cardboard Computer

[Windows, OS X, Linux]


A couple things have been evident about Kentucky Route Zero from the beginning: its voice (a deadpan blend of Southern Gothic and Ionesco absurdity), and its distinctly expressionist visual style. KRZ has always been “different,” but over these last few years, it has matured into a fine examination of how memory shapes our lives — and often fails us. Set along a mysterious river, Act IV exploded the game’s text adventure design into a series of forking paths that reinvented its plot at every turn. It’s the most complex thing Cardboard Computer has made, held up by their most memorable and eerie passages to date: a mechanic who teaches French literature, the search for the song buried inside a robotic mammoth, a distillery run by electrified skeletons, and a gorgeous sequence staged as security camera footage that is possibly Zero’s masterstroke. Maybe it’s because we know our time with Shannon, Conway, Ezra, and their friends is coming to an end, but there was an unshakeable feeling of sadness within this Act, the regret of learning that all things pass away, that nothing is final, and that, whether or not we ever get back to the highway, the night can’t last forever.


Mother Russia Bleeds

Developer: Le Cartel Studio

[PlayStation 4, Windows, Linux, Macintosh OS]


The beat-em up genre thrived during a time when 25¢ bought you three lives and a dream in classics like Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and Final Fight. The style was defined by a left-to-right progression in pixelated 2D, dispatching a variety of punks, vagrants, and drug users with Reagan-era hero efficiency. The genre relied on crushing difficulty and overwhelming odds to sap quarters from arcade denizens, and it died when gaming moved to living rooms and updated to 3D. While elements of the genre carried over into modern titles, the core gameplay experience of the beat-em up game was dead by the end of the 90s. Mother Russia Bleeds, however, stepped into the shoes of that dead genre, driven home in the opening scene by literally bringing your characters back to life, with even a storyline echoing the leftover paranoia of the 1980s: a powerful new superdrug has taken over post-apocalyptic Russia, and it’s up to our heroes to punch, kick, and murder their way through countless enemies to get answers. What made this game stand out from the half-baked nostalgia dumps of years past was that it understood what made those games fun. The characters moved quickly, dealt devastating damage, and bled. The limited pixel count of the 16-bit era was replaced with graphic depictions of viscera and rot that would have been the talk of every playground, on the level of Mortal Kombat. The story was inconsequential and short, but with a 4-player couch co-op option, this game was a beast with friends.


No Man’s Sky

Developer: Hello Games

[PlayStation 4, Windows]


A game with all the hype and none of the delivery. That’s the sad sandwich board Hello Games and No Man’s Sky wore for most of 2016. After an initial delay in its release and a much-needed Day 1 patch, the game was still missing many of the teased components hype people and Reddit users banged the tables about, further fueling such fiascos as GamerGate. There is much to loathe about the new marketing machine that No Man’s Sky represents, but at its core, the game was one of the most beautifully enticing and economically sound exploration sandboxes of our time. Much like Minecraft and Terraria before it, No Man’s Sky was a base to be built upon with subsequent updates. If all you wanted was a gloriously designed and tickling bit of hyperspace mystery coated in technicolor wuzzles and lush planets, No Man’s Sky delivered. But in a year’s time, when No Man’s Sky is a rich, expansive experience for all the senses, I’ll be hoarding all the shares callously tossed aside while I cruise around in my tricked-out cruisers to enjoy the scenery.


Overwatch

Developer: Blizzard Entertainment

[PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows]


The transformation happened slowly and before our very eyes. When the first-person shooter went online, it cross-pollinated with the itchy, addictive skinner-box reward structures of the role-playing game — linear, level-based progression as the carrot, randomly-generated loot payouts the stick. You might think that the deepening of the relationship between character and player could only be positive, but you would be wrong. Online shooters became not only one of most ubiquitous formats of online multiplayer gaming, but also a mind-numbing grind of progression without end. This, in turn, generated inequality between the various strata of the gaming eco-system, pitting veterans against novices, those who could afford to pay for hastened advancement against those who couldn’t (or those who simply refused to participate in pay to play). The future was uncertain, if not grim, until a sea change occurred this past summer, when the modes and tropes of the multiplayer FPS were upended by Overwatch, Blizzard Entertainment’s newest franchise. Overwatch boldly departed from convention, eschewing such stodgy design ideas, like progression trees and stats (or scripting!) in order to focus on the purest, most creative — not to mention democratic — communal gunplay since Rare stopped developing Nintendo exclusives. One of our long-enduring cultural myths is that you can’t go home again, and yet, miraculously, Overwatch proved that sometimes true progress requires the courage to risk going backwards, to admit that a lack of imagination is the only actual factor keeping us from finding better ways to play the same old games.


Pokémon Go

Developer: Niantic

[Android, iOS]


When Pokémon Go was released in July 2016, it seemed tailor-made for casual players. Here’s the truth: it wasn’t. Sure, the GPS-based augmented reality game was intended for the masses — it doubled the size of the mobile gaming market, was 50 times bigger than initial estimates, surpassed Twitter’s 20 million users within two weeks, and swiftly became the most downloaded app ever — but as time went on, the disparity between casual players and hardcore obsessives started looking as dramatic as global wealth distribution. While many players (dubbed “trainers” in the game) caught Pokémon casually and maybe battled a couple neighborhood gyms before quitting altogether (spurred in part by Niantic’s terribly misguided priorities), the dedicated freaks dove deeper into Pokémon Go’s complex, multi-faceted metagame, scouring maps for ever-changing habitats, calculating IVs, Pidgey grinding for XP bumps, “Bubblestratting” gyms, datamining APKs, debating scanner/botting politics, taking road trips for rares, and, most memorably, joining impromptu gatherings around Pokémon hot spots, most often in parks or busy downtown areas. The latter was a weird, explosive, boundary-pushing glimpse into the vibrant yet disruptive possibility of augmented reality gameplay. Here, a mishmash of trainers — hipsters, gamers, nerds, kindergarteners, grandparents, editor-in-chiefs, etc. — all huddled around clusters of PokéStops and gyms, waiting for a Dragonite to spawn so we could all run like idiots into and out of traffic, hundreds of people pouring into the streets rather than sitting on the couch. We lost a lot of weight, drove like assholes, and even inspired legislation. It was thrilling. Next up: Generation 2.


Pokémon Sun & Moon

Developer: Game Freak

[Nintendo 3DS]


Nobody imagined Nintendo’s iconic monster-hunting franchise (which, however commercially successful, more or less receded from the public consciousness post-Y2k) could produce a similar, meteoric impact upon broader cultural landscape 20 years after its 90s heyday in the form of the mobile gaming (and data plan-draining) phenomenon known as Pokémon Go — and yet, in 2016, the critters proved inescapable. Pokémon Sun and Moon, too, commemorated Pikachu and company’s anniversary in the best way possible: a tropical getaway doubling as a welcome break from the formula, as well as the series’ best entries in a decade. Instead of marching along on a predictable hunt for badges, we searched for soup ingredients and faced off against super-sized Raticates; we climbed from the seat of a bike onto the back of a Tauros; we cured our ailing teammates with the stroke of a stylus (“petting” them through the screen) rather than the purchase of an antidote. The ensuing adventure was nothing short of magical for Poké-veterans, 90s kids, and newbies alike.


Reigns

Developer: Devolver Digital

[Android, Windows, iOS, Linux, Macintosh OS]


Reigns managed to squeeze an immense, ambitious parable on the foibles and follies of power into a ridiculously simple Tinder-style phone app. As the leader of the kingdom, you must carefully tend to the balance between varying sectors of your society, represented as the economy, the church, the army, and, of course, the people. Each of your choices can bring prosperity or ruin to your dynasty, but it’s not just a matter of keeping all your elements in the green — let any one faction of your country flourish too much, and they’ll throw you to the dogs in a savage coup. There is plenty of silliness to balance out all the politicking, but Reigns will kill you over and over again, passing the crown from generation to generation, constantly testing you to see how long you can maintain power. Even in its swipe-right simplicity, the game carried a surprising depth, rewarding us for ruthlessness as often as it punished. It was an impossible attempt to manage chaos, a game of luck with the lives of thousands at our mercy. And at the heart of it all was a queasily honest assertion: being a leader isn’t about making your kingdom great — it’s about making it yours.


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.


Thumper

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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