A general consensus is forming that whatever 2016 might have thrown at us in the broader sense, it’s actually been a great year for videogames. As a result, this year’s annual PCGamesN awards are extra star-studded. Look, there’s Dishonored 2 getting snapped in a sharp suit on the red carpet. And here comes Hitman, emerging from his limo carrying some emetic rat poison.
If you’d rather look ahead, check out PCGamesN’s most anticipated games of 2017.
Firewatch and The Witness have turned up on their fixed gear bicycles, both wearing bowties and Converse All-Stars, and they’re using each interview to talk about the environment. No Man’s Sky and Battleborn are making smalltalk with one another at the back, necking their champagne with palpable discomfort. And oh god, who invited Titanfall 2? Well the whole place is an absolute mess of motor oil and rubble now, so thanks a lot.
Anyway, while all the games are taking their seats and quietly consulting with their publicists about the best way to look gracious in defeat, let’s dim the lights and start the show. And we’re beginning with the biggie...
Game of the year: Overwatch
Yeah, hard luck, Soda Drinker Pro. The year belongs to Overwatch, Blizzard’s cleverly disguised massive rip-off of Team Fortress 2. Come now, Overwatch, sit back down and stop chucking cutlery at us - we’re just giving you a roasting.
In truth Blizzard did more than update the hugely successful character shooter template Valve sketched out in 2007. They folded in MOBA elements and arrived at a subtle evolution of multiplayer shooters that CS:GO and Dota players can both understand instantly. And they did it while bellowing ‘It’s high noon!’ almost constantly.
Somehow the roster of 23 characters, arranged in colourful posses of six at a time, manages to produce near endless unpredictability and a deceptively deep level of strategy. You’re only ever wrestling for control of a capture point or trying to push a payload forwards, but the way your six-strong team may choose to go about that ostensibly simple task might vary enormously. Seriously, we’ve even made a team of six Reinharts work in Numbani. Where there’s a will, and six massive lumps with energy shields, there’s a way.
You might argue that the real innovation and artistry were found elsewhere this year, but Overwatch’s sheer cultural impact can’t be ignored. Tracer, Reaper, Winston et al feel deeply rooted in PC gaming already, and we’re sure they will be for years to come. Well done, you big TF2 wannabe.
Runner-up: Dishonored 2
Always the bridesmaid, eh Corvo? Don’t take it personally, runner-up in 2016 is equivalent to runaway winner in an ordinary 12-month period. Dishonored 2 lavishes detail on areas that only a handful of its players might stumble on, and as such it’s an easy game to love. It’s also an easy game to play through twice and enjoy just as much, because there’s every chance you’re conducting that second playthrough using a completely different character, with different abilities, choosing different routes and deciding a violent/non-violent approach this time.
Arguably the area in which it excelled was in world-building. Your Blink-addled mind doesn’t doubt for a second that Karnaca is a real place while you’re there, because how could it have such visual and thematic cohesion if it wasn’t a real place?
Corvo and Emily aren’t much for public speeches - once bitten, twice shy - but we’ll take their presence on the chandeliers above us as a silent acknowledgement of our plaudits.
Indie game of the year: Inside
That’s right little boy, you’ve won! Come up here and accept your award. Mind that box. And the puddle. Ooh, and watch out for the dogs - dear lord, the dogs have smelled you. Run, little boy, run! Run!
Oh my goodness, the dogs have got you and they’ve mercilessly tearing your limbs off. Well, ladies and gentlemen, let’s do our best to go on with the show while the cleaners go about their business in front of us.
Ahem. Inside is a lot like Limbo, in that it’s full of really upsetting depictions of death happening to a small boy. There’s really no more powerful incentive for success in 2.5D puzzle-platformers like this. The not-quite monochrome aesthetic and gently told sci-fi narrative sweeten the deal, though. Firewatch and Oxenfree put up a stern fight, but they were seen away by Inside’s fearsome hounds.
Well, it was good on console: Final Fantasy XV
You can’t always get what you want, Mick Jagger once told me. But if you try some time, lobby on community forums, start a social media campaign, circulate an e-petition and pester the developers incessantly, you might find you get the PC version of that console game after all.
This year, the title we couldn’t help but gaze upon with green eyes was remarkably not-garbage Final Fantasy XV, a game with a longer development time than any not-garbage title has any right to have. From what we can ascertain from our position atop the fence dividing gaming platforms, it appears to be a JRPG about a boy band who cruise around in an old convertible and park up occasionally to battle an enormous flan or a sentient cactus. Sometimes they take selfies, too. I know how that sounds, but it actually makes for a central hub of party members with excellent characterisation.
Combat has evolved into a real-time system full of intricacy that rewards careful positioning, but it never becomes obtuse. And the details - crikey, the details. Apparently the development team actually cooked all the meals available in-game on a real camping stove, just to make sure it all checked out. While we have you on the spot up here onstage, Final Fantasy XV, how about a PC version?
The ‘Oh yeah, that was this year!’ award: Battleborn
Come on up, Battleborn. We can all see you, and no one’s going anywhere until you come up here and give your speech. There’s no more deserving winner of this one, informally titled the Evolve award for zero impact. For years it seemed its ragtag band of mushroom badasses were just around the corner, ready to make a massive impact upon release. Then the game actually did come out… 20 days before Overwatch. As in Overwatch, game of 2016 and far superior example of hero-based, MOBA-infused FPS gaming.
Skip forward a few months, and Gearbox have already having to bat away rumours that it’ll soon be an F2P title. But never mind, eh? Now you’ve got this shiny award! We’ll even call you a badass, if you really want us to. Who’s a forgettable badass, eh?
Most disappointing New Game + of the year: No Man’s Sky
It was one of gaming’s more scintillating questions in 2016: what was at the centre of the universe in No Man’s Sky? The answer was underwhelming enough to merit its appearance onstage at these PCGamesN Awards 2016 to receive our sarkiest of awards: there was nothing there. You just get booted right out into the farthest reaches of space, to do it all again.
Heck of a crescendo to such an ambitious space opera. It looks like No Man’s Sky has left early after Battleborn suggested they blow this whole shabang, leaving an empty seat behind, and somehow that feels appropriate. We're getting into the more specific awards now, akin to the point during the Oscars when everyone turns off before that dedicated director of photography gets an incredibly well-deserved ten and a half seconds of fame. But that's no reason to leave your seats - things are just as star-studded from here on out.
Triple-A studio who seemed the most human: Io Interactive
To err is human; to make good on your negatively received episodic delivery model is divine. That’s right Io, the award’s all yours. Beating off stiff competition from numerous studios who put out expensive-looking dev diaries this year filmed in Bay Area office spaces, Danish developers Io had to deal with a lot of stick when they announced that Hitman was to be released level by level throughout 2016. But then you went and did it, didn’t you? And every level was pretty great, thanks.
The thing that really secures this silverware for Hitman’s developers is the fact they managed to do something radically new and deliver on the exact thing fans had been asking for at the same time. The game’s levels are massive puzzle-box triumphs akin to Contracts and Blood Money, and they’re all the better for being played slowly while you wait for the next episode to arrive. Take a bow, everyone.
Seemed like a GOTY for a week: Titanfall 2
We’ve had a change of heart and decided that the best game of 2016 was actually Titanfall 2! Come on up! Ah no, wait, forget it. Sit back down.
You see, the problem isn’t in the quality of the game itself. Respawn’s single-player campaign is an absolute revelation, stuffed with moments akin to Valve’s better solo sequences. Multiplayer’s great fun, too. It’s just that no one bought it. And that means in a few months when you’re looking for a game, that’s going to be a problem. It seemed none of the hype generated by all our positive features and effusive reviews meant absolutely nothing in the market place. What a pointless little life we’ve carved out for ourselves in games journalism.
See you round the back in a few minutes for a swig of Special Brew, Titanfall 2. We’ll drink until the world doesn’t seem so cruel.
The ‘Game I definitely kept meaning to play but didn’t because life is pain’ award: Tyranny
Imagine the kind of fundamentally broken late-stage neoliberalist society in which concepts like the ‘pile of shame’ take root. A pile of games you feel you should play, but haven’t had time/couldn’t be bothered to. Do the indigenous tribes of the Amazon rainforest have piles of shame? No. They have their priorities in order.
Meanwhile, we still haven’t found the time to devote to Obsidian’s latest isometric RPG. Sorry guys, we’re sure it’s fantastic and every bit as deserving of our time as the mobile game we’ve put 500 hours into on the quiet in 2016.
Not GOTY but I really liked it anyway
Ben - Tyranny
Tyranny is slow. Tyranny is a game where you spend two hours in character creation, not because you’re meticulously crafting your own face onto this Judge Dreddette you’ll be roleplaying for the next fifty hours - the fantastic, stylised art doesn’t really allow for that - but because you need to be reading.
You’re deciding a backstory, two weapon types, some magic focuses. You choose where your character’s been for the previous four years, whether they fed a legion of mages to a schizophrenic demigod or semi-accidentally dashing an entire legion of troops against a fortress with a magical wind storm of swords, iron and death.
Then you get out of that and it’s about taking an hour to get to know every new companion, exploring dungeons and villages, calculating the best combination of runes and power to create a new spell or deciding if an explosive thrown from great distance or a nightmare song are the best way to deal with the latest pack of bandits.
Slow. Fun. Very, very long. I’m sure I’ll finish it any weekend now.
Jordan - Oxenfree
Conversation mechanics in games have come a long way since the sprawling dialogue lists of yore, and while this year has had one other notable talkie, Oxenfree’s emphasis on endless, fluid and occasionally mindless chattering made for some of this year’s best narrative moments.
The tale itself is one we’re all familiar with: some teenagers sneak off to a remote place to have a party and become unwittingly involved in a supernatural thriller. There’s no action, you just walk from place to place for roughly four hours talking amongst your friends and solving rudimentary puzzles.
Thankfully, the dialogue is brilliantly convincing and the voice acting flawless. Conversations play like they do in real life, they’re a bit messy and the emphasis is rarely on the player to lead or steer the conversation - you can interrupt or let your friends talk amongst themselves. It makes for a system that simultaneously seamless and clunky, but gives the player total agency over not just the talking points, but talking in general.
Phil - Forza Horizon 3
Has a racing game ever been Game of the Year, except for those awarded by racing game blogs? There’s rampant genre-ism in this industry, is what I’m saying. Genre-ism so entrenched that even though I definitely played Forza Horizon 3 more than any other game, and continue to play it even now, it just didn’t feel right to stand up and say ‘I think this was the best game of 2016.’
We tend to see games with set-pieces, characters and a narrative arc as GOTY material, but I’m not sure why that’s the case other than long-standing tradition. I’ve raced fighter jets through Surfer’s Paradise in a Morgan three-wheeler and nurtured a vintage Ferrari collection that took months to amass thanks to this game. I took a Lambo onto a beach and raced tricked-out Toyota Silvias through the rainforest. But GOTY? Nah mate. Character development was weak.
Matt - Rise of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider was actually my favourite game of 2015, but (whisper it) I played it on Xbox One. I was desperate to write something about it, but had to wait until it made it to PC early this year before I could do so. And what a game on PC it is; exactly the same incredible exploration, gritty combat, and awe-inspiring tombs, but rendered at resolutions likely to make your eyes melt. Despite being almost an entire year later, I still haven’t played a game that takes my breath away quite like Rise of the Tomb Raider.
But 2016 has been an uncommonly good year, and there have been five or more titles that have captured me since my outing with Lara. So while I can’t say Rise has been the best game of the year, I can still confidently say that it's one of the best games of the last several years, and one that will certainly always have my affections.
Joel - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Well it wasn’t game of the year, was it? So the fact that The Witcher 3 didn’t release in 2016 at all is irrelevant, and even if it was relevant - which we’ve established it isn’t - some of the DLC did come out in the last 12 months. So there.
Now we’ve got that cleared up, the fact is that the vast majority of my gaming time this year has been spent catching up on things I missed in 2015, and the vast majority of that was spent guiding Geralt around, playing Gwent, and wondering just how much of his amazing physique is down to witcher genes vs. the strenuous activity of beheading monsters day after day. You obviously don’t need me to tell you that The Witcher 3 is really, really good, but I’m considering it my public service to tell you that it’s still really, really good as 2017 approaches.
Rich - Total War: Warhammer
It was a videogame that first got me into tabletop Warhammer. Inspired by the Arthurian ripoffs that were the knights of Bretonnia in 1998’s Warhammer: Dark Omen, I started collecting their miniature physical counterparts. The eighteen years since have shown me how rich - if derivative - the Warhammer universe really is.
And isn’t it a travesty that we’ve had to wait all of those eighteen years for a videogame to properly do it justice? More, even - Dark Omen failed to represent most of the its races and barely got out of the Old World. Perhaps I have unfair expectations - this would be a hell of a lot for any developer to make - but I guarantee every Warhammer fan shares them.
And so do the Creative Assembly. Their goal for Total War: Warhammer is one of rare ambition: to make a trilogy of games whose maps will fit together, jigsaw-like, until we end up with all 15 Warhammer races, and their homelands.
Toward this goal, Total War: Warhammer was a fine start. Thanks to the diversity of its armies, it’s one of the best Total War games I can remember, but the fidelity with which they’ve been transplanted from the tabletop to the desktop is wonderful to behold. If Creative Assembly can maintain this standard, we’ll wind up with something that I and millions of Warhammer fans worldwide have been dreaming of since we started collecting.
Jeremy - XCOM 2
There are sequels as we in videogames tend to know them - evolving in slow, Darwinian fashion over many iterations and refinements. And then there are sequels like this one, which I happen to think are the model to follow: the kind that say, “Enemy Unknown already exists - why make it again?”
Rather than build on those rock-solid foundations, Firaxis flipped the formula and made XCOM’s planetary defenders a guerilla group in the shadows of an apparently utopian alien-run society. The shift engendered a callous, utilitarian playstyle, while match timers and evac points encouraged desperate, sacrificial tactics that made for great, guilty anecdotes.
When I think of what Firaxis did with XCOM 2 - the Civilization studio no less, not known for reinvention - I think of adjectives like ‘bold’ and ‘brave’. I want to pin a medal to their chests, just like the ones that adorn the corpses of the heroes I’ve left face down in the slums and gleaming cities of ADVENT-run Earth. Oh God, the things I’ve done...
Kirk - Titanfall 2
In Titanfall 2 you can run down a corridor in a mech, splatting meaty soldiers as you go. You’re armed with thermite that can be slammed down in white hot line of heat death; you can fly into the sky and rain some justice from above, Pharah-style; you can pull out a massive sword and chop away; and you can even ready up a hulking gatling gun and just clear the corridor with never-ending bullets. Despite all these options, it’s immensely satisfying to just trudge down the corridor, leaving crimson splats with each step. That’s because Titanfall 2 gets gamefeel just right. Everything you do in it just feels amazing.
It’s a game that’s only concerned with empowering players and making them feel like the coolest prick around. As a Pilot, you’re ridiculously agile when outside your mech. You can wall run and pop heads as you go, landing straight into a knee slide and delivering an uppercut to some goon who’s trying to plug you. From there, you can pop your cloak and sprint around a rock, flanking the remaining enemies before flinging an incendiary shuriken straight into their face and setting them on fire.
It’s just flawless, and the mechanics never got old. The ideas the campaign throws at you never outstay their welcome and everything is as tight as a game’s journalist’s shopping budget. That’s without even mentioning the multiplayer. Not only is Titanfall 2 the best shooter of the year, it’s the best shooter since Half-Life 2. In fact, it feels like Half-life 2 and Platinum Games’ Vanquish made sweet love and this was the result. It’s a shame nobody’s buying it, eh?
Those are the PCGamesN award-winning games of 2016, but what titles score highly on your own GOTY podium? Let us know in the comments.