There were hundreds of great games in 2016 – from complete surprises like the release of The Last Guardian and masterclasses in design like Total War: Warhammer, to Nintendo’s excellent take on the short-form mobile game in Super Mario Go.
And while we’d love to recognize every game from the last 365 days individually, there’s simply not the time to do that. With 2017 quickly approaching, we had to do something drastic and, well, actually kind of fun: we sat down and voted for the games we thought were most deserving of critical acclaim – and, more importantly, your money – from the last 12 months.
We’ve divided games up in two different ways, the first of which is by platform. If you’re looking for the best exclusives on each system, this is where you should start. After that, we head to the best game in a given genre – a.k.a. best shooter of the year, best RPG, etc...
In order for games to be considered for this list they had to be released between the dates of January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016, but other than that, everything was on the table: HD re-releases, iPhone and Android games and short, experiential titles like Firewatch.
But enough exposition for now. Without further ado, here are the best games of 2016 and the inaugural TechRadar Game of the Year awards.
Game of the Year 2016 - Overwatch
While some of this year’s award winners were subject to debate, Overwatch was a near unanimous choice and it’s obvious why: Overwatch modernizes the class-based shooter into a mainstream, accessible genre. So while previous entries in the genre might’ve told you which generic-looking soldier you needed to pick to provide a solid composition, Overwatch never hits you over the head with your role. Instead each character shepherds you to a certain playstyle which you can then modify to your liking.
But it goes deeper than that. While the action on the field might be filled with intense firefights, there’s a surprisingly smart metagame happening behind the scenes that Blizzard has balanced beautifully. Ultimates add balance (and fun) while regular abilities help each character conquer the battlefield. But more than balanced gameplay and great aesthetics, Overwatch has stolen our hearts with its creative and I daresay loveable cast of characters – each one feels like there’s truly something special about them that would warrant each of them having a standalone title. Sure, there’s parts of the game we’d like changed, but in our eyes there was just no way we could overlook this gem.
Runner up: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Best Xbox One exclusive - Forza Horizon 3
Microsoft’s console had a flagship year in 2016. It trimmed off some excess plastic when Microsoft debuted the Xbox One S and it had a slew of excellent exclusives that really covered the entire spectrum of gaming genres. And while there were a few games that really came close to stealing the show on the Xbox One this year, we had to give the award to one of the best racing titles any console has ever seen: Forza Horizon 3.
Forza Horizon does everything right for an arcade racing game. Steering is tight and toned, but still fluid enough that it doesn’t require absolute precision to snag a first place spot on the podium. Not only do the cars look incredible in upscaled 4K on Xbox One S, but there’s more variety here than almost anywhere else barring Sony’s rival Gran Turismo series.
But what Forza Horizon does to really shine through is that it bridges the gap between the casual racing fans and the gearheads who expect to be able to customize everything under the hood. Appealing to both camps is always an impossible task, and to see it done here truly elevated the bar for racing games from now until the end of time.
Runner ups: Quantum Break and Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition
Best PS4 exclusive - Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
While Naughty Dog could’ve ended the series after Uncharted 2, which many have considered the best game on the PS3, we’re quite happy it didn’t. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was easily one of the best in the series, fleshing out more of Nate’s backstory and cementing Elena and Drake as one of the cutest couples in video game history.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End really doesn’t shake up the series’ rhythm that it’s worked so hard over the last decade to define, and instead works to polish the already shining example of what action-adventure games should be on next-gen systems. To that end, driving sequences and rope mechanics added a little something extra to this year’s romp through quasi-historical caves and churches, while the online multiplayer entertains long after you’ve collected that last relic in the story mode.
Runner up: The Witness
Best Wii U exclusive - The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
Yes, you could make the point that a remake of a 10-year-old game shouldn’t necessarily be the recipient of a Game of the Year award. You could, but you shouldn’t. In a relatively paltry year for the Wii U, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD was an excellent remastering of one of the best Zelda games in recent memory. Graphics look crisp in glorious HD, inventory management becomes a bit easier while using the Wii U gamepad and amiibo support finally gives our collection of plastic figurines a real purpose.
While Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will almost certainly steal a Game of the Year nomination when it eventually comes out (fingers crossed for 2017!) Twilight Princess HD is deserving of a nomination in its own way for re-releasing a key part of the franchise for those of us who missed it the first time around. The gameplay stands up all these years later, the story is as memorable as it is refreshing a second time around and, in a year where the only other contenders were Pokken Tournament, Paper Mario Color Splash and Star Fox Zero, those reasons are more than enough to warrant an award.
Runner up: Pokken Tournament
Best handheld game - Pokemon Sun and Moon
Innovation can be polarizing. Some people will see the new direction a franchise is heading in and, leaving behind their expectations, revel in the novelty. Others might be a bit salty about the change. It’s fair to say we were more in the former mindset when we picked Pokémon Sun and Moon as the best handheld game of 2016.
We found the new Alola region to be an enjoyable depiction of what the Orange Islands might’ve looked like had GameFreak followed the anime more closely. On top of that, the unique S.O.S. system was an extra mechanic that makes battling more difficult, but the feeling when you finally catch a Pokemon much more fulfilling.
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