To that end, we wanted to take a moment and share our thoughts on some of our individual favorites of 2016. We’re confident you’ll recognize some of them, as we’ve been writing about them for days, weeks, and months. There may also be games you haven’t heard of, or maybe forgot about.
If you’re having trouble figuring out what to play this holiday season, we hope you’ll take our word for it, and give these games a shot.
Of all the VR games on all the headsets that came out in 2016, Superhypercube is the one I kept playing on mine. The VR puzzle game from Fez developer Polytron is a simple construct: You rotate a three-dimensional shape, comprised of small vector-style cubes, to make it fit the very specific hole cut out of an oncoming wall. With every success, more cubes are added, and the shape gets larger. As it does, you’ll need to crane your neck and lean out of your chair to see the wall as it draws closer.
Superhypercube doesn’t adhere to the audacious claims of most VR. It doesn’t transport you to a whole new world. Instead, it explores the subtleties of a new platform, creating something that feels both familiar and completely new.
System: PlayStation VR
Darkest Dungeon embodies several of the best trends in indie game development from the last five years. It’s a punishing roguelike dungeon crawler with turn-based combat and an XCOM-style strategic management layer for cultivating squads of feckless, permanently dying heroes in a gothic, Lovecraftian fantasy.
Reducing it to zeitgeist chasing does Darkest Dungeon a great disservice, however, because it does all this with an impeccable panache all its own. Undermining the typical power fantasy progression of games, your heroes track not just health and experience, but also stress, which is driven up by the horrors they witness underground. Over time, they acquire traits like kleptomania, paranoia, or masochism that will cause them to defy your orders and make a mess of your plans.
Systems: PC, PS4, PS Vita
Dark Souls III
Many studios have tried to imitate the “Souls” formula, but Dark Souls III proves that no one can deliver an experience quite as polished, atmospheric, and downright fun to play as FromSoftware and creator Hidetaka Miyazaki. Pulling in ideas from Bloodborne, the studio’s 2015 offshoot, Dark Souls III speeds up its combat without sacrificing the strategic element that drew many to the series. Fighting tooth and nail to defeat bosses like Pontiff Sulyvahn or Aldrich is a stressful, sweaty-palm ordeal, but the satisfaction you feel after landing that final hit and lighting your next bonfire is incomparable.
Systems: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Doom is a game that knows what it is and revels in it. In an industry that, more often than not, looks to outside sources like film or television for inspiration, Doom dared to look within. Throughout its masterful single-player campaign, Doom insists on being a video game first and foremost, and nearly every aspect of its top-tier production values exists in service of gameplay. Recognizing its own absurdity and (frankly) stupidity, the game leans in and revels in its over-the-top violence, rather than trying to humanize the protagonist or add emotional gravity where it doesn’t belong.
Systems: Xbox One, PS4, PC
While enthusiasm may have died off in recent months, it doesn’t change the fact that Pokémon Go was one of the most popular games this year, and one of the most popular mobile games ever. Developer Niantic and The Pokémon Company leveraged nostalgia and a wealth of location data to bring Pokémon to life in a way that clearly captivated the hearts of gamers across the world.
It takes a massive amount of playtime to power up the right Pokémon with the right moveset and the right underlying values, but once you do, the satisfaction of seeing your name and Exeggutor in the gym at your favorite bar was more than worth the kilometers walked and Pokéstops spun.
Systems: iOS, Android