Gaming in 2016: 10 games that redefined how we play

From hits to controversies to reveals, these games ruled the year

Some year this was, huh? While we can certainly find a reason or 10 why we can’t wait for 2016 to be over, the past 12 months still had its fair share of salvageable moments, and games are a big part of that.

From brand new IPs to the release of not one, but two titles players have waited nearly a decade for, it’s hard to call 2016 a slow year in gaming.

While not every title in this list was a surefire hit - or is even out yet - there is little doubt that these games occupied our minds, news feeds, or countless hours of play time this past year. 

Without further ado, let’s start with a game that stole the internet’s heart before it was even out of its beta...

Overwatch

Blizzard’s cartoony team shooter Overwatch might be the perfect storm recipe for creating a fan community. 

Combine gorgeous, well-designed maps with a quirky, Pixar-esque cast of heroes, scoundrels, oddballs, and sentient robots with their own personalities and play styles, and you’ve got yourself a brand-new internet craze.

On top of showing that Blizz can step out of its comfort zone of MMORPGs and strategy games and make a beautifully tuned first-person shooter, Overwatch also revealed the world was ready for a fresh IP.

Eschewing the grittiness, serious tone, and ultraviolence of modern-day shooters for fun action, silly catchphrases, and colorful characters, Overwatch felt like just the shot in the arm we needed. Turns out the world could always use more heroes.

No Man's Sky

No Man’s Sky shook 2016 in ways both good and bad. 

Hello Games’ ambitious open-world space exploration title promised of an expansive universe so big that you could discover and name your own planets - a proposition that captivated the attention of gamers and press alike.

After powering through delays and a curious lawsuit, No Man’s Sky still turned out to be an impressive product that let players take on a procedurally generated galaxy and stake their claim on new discoveries, but some players felt like they got the short end of the deal. 

As the title reached ever nearer to release, the bounds of No Man’s Sky began to warp under increasing hype, worsened by a massive marketing push by Sony and vague responses from the development staff as to how exactly the game worked.

This miscommunication led to some feeling they were promised something grander than what they received - so much so that an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit was filed against the studio for false advertisement.

Love it or loathe it, No Man’s Sky’s legacy in 2016 is a cautionary tale of the dangers of over-marketing and unchecked expectations.

Resident Evil VII 

While the Resident Evil franchise is no stranger to reinvention, (just ask Possibly The Best Game Ever Made, Resident Evil 4) the reveal of the seventh major entry in Capcom’s horror brand was so different that it took the internet by storm.

Abandoning bombastic action movie setpieces for a slower burn of grounded horror, Resident Evil VII appears to be a far, far cry from the last decade of games in the series - and that’s a good thing.

Following the disappointing-to-say-the-least reception of Resident Evil 6, Capcom was right to change things up. The first-person gameplay and toned-down combat of Resident Evil VII closer mimics the style of horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and P.T. 

This made RE VII's demo - which released right after its E3 2016 announcement - perfect for let's-players on YouTube, adding to the game's appeal and audience. Soon, social media exploded over watching players try not to soil themselves or attempt to solve the demo’s myriad riddles. 

Even though it isn’t out until January, Resident Evil VII has already stolen the spotlight in 2016 by showing us how the Twitch generation might've inspired a 20-year-old horror series to shake things up.

 Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End 

Nathan Drake, you charming lil’ devil, you. 

Just when we thought we might be getting our fill of the Nolan North-voiced adventurer extraordinaire, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4: A Thief's End reminds us all why the series stole our hearts back in the PS3 days.

The conclusion of Drake's fortune-seeking career, and the journey he takes to get back in the saddle one last time, was filled with ample great moments that both earned its keep in the acclaimed action series while still bringing some sincere, quieter moments.

Making it the first game to really take advantage of the PS4’s architecture, (not counting the re-release of last generation’s The Last of Us) Naughty Dog also knocked it out of the park visually with stunning vistas, jaw-droppingly good animation, expressive character models, and the most heartwarming Crash Bandicoot cameo the world has ever known.

In short, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was a technical marvel, a dang fine game, and a fitting send-off, and that’s enough to make the headlines as one of 2016’s most notable games.

 Mighty No. 9 

While most of the games on this list were positively influential in one way or another, Mighty No. 9’s impact was sadly negative.

Developer Comcept’s attempt to revive the classic Mega Man-style sidescroller was a victim of its own success following a massive turnout on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in 2012. 

Far exceeding its original funding goals within days, the team added more modes, features, and even supported platforms as the money kept flowing in.

However, Mighty No. 9 wasn’t as lucky in development as it was in accruing capital. Multiple delays pushed the game back by a year as the team appeared to have bit off more that it could chew, resulting in mediocre reviews upon release and some versions of the game still left unreleased at the time of writing.

Leaving several backers of the project feeling burned, many worry Mighty No. 9’s disappointing turnout could spell the end of crowdfunded games. 

We just hope that the next big crowdfunded retro revival, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, is good, or else we might not see the public want to kickstart another game for a long while.

The Last Guardian

Whoo boy, if you know anything about the history of The Last Guardian, you know why its existence alone is enough to warrant a place on this list.

The long-awaited (and we mean long) follow-up to critical darlings like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, developer Team Ico reportedly began working on The Last Guardian in 2007.

Following a painfully long stay in development hell, the project was thought to have been quietly left to die until it reemerged to the public's surprise at E3 2015 alive, well, and set to release on the PS4 in 2016. 

The engrossing tale of a boy and his giant hawk-dog-chimera-creature may not have been perfect, but it still had the somber aesthetic and unique storytelling fans had waited so patiently for.

For a game so close to the brink of cancellation to not follow the path of, say, Duke Nukem Forever, seeing the development of The Last Guardian come to a happy ending is reward enough for us.

Final Fantasy XV

On that note, let’s talk about Final Fantasy XV

Beginning development back in 2006(!) as a spin-off titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII, FFXV became a running headache for Final Fantasy fans and games press alike, as its progress was going at a snail’s pace and perpetually looked like it was on the chopping block for cancellation.

Cue six years later, and what was once the Final Fantasy Versus XIII was rebranded and repurposed as the full-fledged Final Fantasy XV, complete with original director and character designer Tetsuya Nomura stepping down so that the new director Hajima Tabata could, to put it harshly, actually get the game out sometime this decade.

While uncertainty still loomed over its production, Final Fantasy XV turned out to be a hit when the project crossed the finish line this November, allowing fans of the long-running JRPG series to let out a breath they've been holding for almost a decade.

Now, if Square Enix could hurry up and get Kingdom Hearts III out anytime soon, that'd be greeeeat...

DOOM

Yet another tale from development hell - this time with more literal Hell.

id Software’s DOOM began as 'Doom 4' back in 2008, though the game’s constant retooling and lackluster reception behind the scenes led it to be scrapped and restarted a few years later. 

Fast-forward to now, and we can confidently say id Software made the right choice.

What was birthed out of Doom 4 was DOOM - a brutal, fast, unrelenting, and fun-as-hell game that showed us how you can have old-school fun without losing the modern touch. 

Fans of 1993 classic never felt more at home in 2016, while those who were born after the MS-DOS days were not left out of the loop, and that's a pretty significant achievement in game design. Also, the soundtrack is metal as all get-out.

In a world where shooters are just starting to shake off the “let’s all be like Call of Duty” mentality (see: Overwatch), DOOM did so with a hearty war cry and left a mark about as big as the Doom Slayer's chunky armored bootprint.

Death Stranding

Death Stranding, the next project from video gaming auteur/professional madman Hideo Kojima, doesn’t have a release date. It doesn’t have any concrete gameplay details. It may not even be a real game.

Why are we bringing it up on a list of games that shaped 2016? First, Death Stranding is a cathartic conclusion to Kojima’s ugly divorce from publisher Konami following the stressful development of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

Second, few other games dropped as many jaws and bewildered as many viewers during their reveals as Death Stranding did in 2016.

Officially revealed at this year's E3, all we had to go off on was an enigmatic trailer featuring a nude Norman Reedus on an oily beach littered with dead sea life. Okay, cool. What?

Flash forward to this year’s The Game Awards, and Kojima perplexed us further by throwing in the likenesses of Guillermo del Toro and Mads Mikkelsen in another trailer that leaves about 1,000 questions for every answer it gives.

With just two short teasers, Kojima has the gaming community at large doing a collective “WTF?”, while still wanting more. Few directors can get away with that much hype for revealing so little, but we're definitely excited to see what Kojima has in store for Death Stranding ... whatever the hell that actually entails. 

Pokémon Go

You knew this was going to make the list, but that's exactly why Niantic Lab's Pokémon Go has to be on here.

The craze that took over smartphones worldwide, we can’t exaggerate how big a deal this game was when it launched this summer. 

Small businesses purchased in-game Lures to attract both wild Pokémon and wild customers. Niantic's servers were overworked under the sheer popularity of the game. Places of respect had to put out pleas asking trainers to chill out. A presidential candidate even name-dropped the game, thinking it'd get more millennials into voting booths.

Point is, you couldn’t go anywhere online or offline for months without some news story breaking about Niantic’s real-world monster catcher. 

The heat has died down a bit since launch, and though it’s unlikely Pokémon Go Fever will ever reach the same heights as it did this summer, the developers are far from done with the title

At the end of the day, Pokémon Go was not only a prime example of AR gaming or what Nintendo’s place in the mobile market could be, it was the quintessential game that took over pop culture in the soon-to-be-completed year of 2016.