The general consensus among cultural critics is that we’re currently in the era of Peak TV. There are so many outstanding binge-worthy shows that it’s literally impossible to keep up.
For those of us who prefer interactivity in our entertainment binges, 2016 was also a great year for video games. Below are my top ten games of the year, in no particular order. As with TV shows, it’s impossible to get through everything, so these picks necessarily gravitate toward my preferred genres and formats. These are the titles that kept me blissfully engaged for many late-night hours in 2016. Good times, good times. Check online for available platforms and ESRB ratings.
1 Titanfall 2
Beautifully crafted and polished to a high gleam, the second installment in the “Titanfall” sci-fi series maintains its unique variation on the first person shooter. Fight as a quick agile Pilot, or climb into a massive lumbering Titan for thundering heavy metal combat.
2 Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
It’s very difficult to go back to the well a fourth time on any franchise, even one as beloved as “Uncharted,” but developer Naughty Dog pulls it off in this stellar series finale. Each chapter adds inventive new gameplay variations on the action-adventure template, while the narrative twists plumb new emotional depths.
3 Just Cause 3
Technically released in December 2015, “Just Cause 3” makes this year’s list thanks to its insane replayability factor. My initial lukewarm reaction was prompted by the game’s action-over-story approach, but I’ve been gradually won over by fantastic open-world gameplay and ridiculous destruction mechanics. Sometimes you just wanna blow stuff up.
Originally released as a serial adventure on iOS, this stealth sci-fi game was ported to PlayStation 4 in 2016 and it holds up surprisingly well on console. The game’s innovative twist, in which players observe the action solely through security cameras, speaks to our modern surveillance state concerns. It’s an interactive sci-fi short story for the Information Age.
Among the first big-ticket titles in the emerging genre dubbed “first-person experience” (FPX), Adr1ft puts the player behind the eyes of an astronaut stranded in a space. The game is designed for virtual-reality goggles, but works pretty well on the big screen, too. There’s no combat, no aliens. Just freaky orbital physics that will have you leaning and twisting in your chair.
6 Fallout 4 DLC
The best game of 2015 kept on giving in 2016 with premium DLC add-ons that nicely expand everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic freakout. The generous workshop tools add crazy new crafting options, while bonus adventures like “Nuka World” – set in an irradiated amusement park – manage to be both funny and disturbing at the same time.
7 The Witness
The year’s best puzzler, this gorgeous independent game – more than seven years in the making – kept me up late at night for months. Players find themselves on a mysterious island with no memories, no instructions, no rules – just an endless procession of meticulously designed puzzles that explore spatial paradoxes, optical illusions and lateral thinking.
8 Dishonored 2
Magic and technology collide in the beautifully realized world of “Dishonored,” which combines elements of alternate history, steampunk and high fantasy. The carefully balanced gameplay allows for both aggressive assault or stealthy infiltration and the choices you make have consequences, either way.
The lo-fi triumph “Virginia” is a flat-out fascinating example of how the video game format can be used to invent entirely new storytelling techniques. It’s a small town crime story in the key of “Twin Peaks,” but with stylized animation and no spoken dialogue at all. Very short and very sweet, you should play it in one sitting if you can.
If I had to choose a personal favorite this year, I’d probably go with “Hitman,” the latest entry in the long-running stealth adventure franchise. Players once again assume the role of Agent 47, mercenary assassin, as he squares off against a cabal of international criminals. The game encourages patience and strategy as you don various disguises and plot baroque methods to eliminate your targets – poisoned sushi, say, or a sabotaged ejector seat. It’s the best 007 game that the 007 people never made.