Top 8 Games From 2016 You Might Have Heard Of
2016 has been a difficult year for many of us, and I’m here to bring in some positivity in the form of talking about some stupendous titles that I believe don’t get the love they deserve.
This list is for those games whose names aren’t trumpeted from on high as the most amazing thing ever created in 2016. Ordering this list was actually pretty hard because I do recommend everything on here and view them all as great in their own right. I just recommend some marginally more than others.
Anatomy is one of those games that are only straightforward in its vagueness because, while there is a story, it leaves far more up to the player’s interpretation. It takes place in a house where you have to listen to some audio tapes and wander about the house while it gets progressively stranger and stranger. It uses the glitch style to make it seem like the house is collapsing in on itself, to the point of actually crashing to desktop.
Anatomy relies on auditory horror just as much if not more so than visual horror, which for someone like me who has sensitive hearing, makes it a unnerving.
It’s not a traditional title in the slightest; in fact, it’s part of a genre called alt-games that goes directly against traditional game making rules in order to tell a story without those limitations. You may find yourself wondering what in the world just happened hours after playing it, which to me, more than qualifies Anatomy to be on this list.
7. The Curious Expedition
Ada Lovelace, Charles Darwin, H.P. Lovecraft and Marie Curie go on an expedition. No, this isn’t the beginning of a guttural bar joke; this is actually the premise of the game The Curious Expedition, where you have famous explorers, scientists and other figures from throughout history competing to gain fame and fortune. You, of course, lead their expeditions. Allow me to make no bones about this: everything is out to prevent you from reaching your goal, including your own party members.
There’s a sanity meter you must keep an eye on, and if you don’t you’re at risk of dying out in the middle of the jungle with a bunch of cannibals who formerly part of your expedition. Inventory management and party management is also essential in order to make it through alive. Once the expedition reaches that Golden Pyramid though, your long arduous journey feels just as rewarding as beating a difficult boss in Dark Souls. Everything that’s done in The Curious Expedition ultimately changes things slightly, whether it leaves you without an important item, money or maybe even inflicting an egregious wound on you. How the journey goes is entirely based around the actions taken, which adds seemingly dozens of layers to this game. The Curious Expedition is deeply complex and difficult, yet an unforgettable experience.
What an intriguing title Hiiro is, one that immediately caught my attention when I was browsing Steam. It’s an ambient exploration game with some puzzle mechanics that has you scouring the world for missing artifacts of the realms that have long been forgotten. After being set loose on the world, there are very few limitations put on our tiny red hero. If you can jump, climb, swim or walk there, then you can search the area, leaving no stone unturned. Add in the magical music by Jon Tabriz and Ben Harvey and you may find yourself with an existential journey to unearth all of the mysteries.
The artwork is rather cute and, while judging by all the skeletons you can see that this world used to have some colossal creatures lurking about, now you’re just here in a serene environment just jumping up and down in their rib cages.
Imagine getting lost and yet instead of feeling like you need to get back, you find yourself wanting to learn more about this place you’ve found yourself in. It invokes a real sense of discovery.
It’s not meant to be a game you completely devote yourself too, but one that allows one to put aside all the worries of the world and just journey across the expansive land of Hiiro.
There are several titles that emulate the late great George Orwell’s work in some way, but I find myself most allured by Beholder.
Between the ink blob art style or just the way you go about observing your tenants, it adds a layer of intrigue to your work as a superintendent of the apartment building.
The observation of the other characters is in the forefront of the game and its fascinating system, even if it is effectively being used by someone who is the villain of the story. Our dear protagonist can be a villainous one and it certainly changes Beholder’s dynamic.
He’s employed by the state which means it’s expected to follow their rules for the sake of his family. Problem is, the rules of the state may go against your own moral compass and that’s where conflict of the story really begins. One might think that it lampshades that being a pawn in the state is a bad thing, and you should always do the right thing by helping people, but in Beholder, that’s not always an easy thing to do. The choices are not black and white, but multi-layered decisions that change the very fabric of your experience down the road. Beholder is a sobering reminder of what a grand scale Orwellian world actually is and reminds the player that for every choice you make there will be consequences.
4. Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander
Nobody knows how hard it is to manage a human alliance on the verge of extinction like the players of Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander. Not only do you have to manage your fleet and colonies, but also your alliances with aliens, all while also fighting a mysterious evil menace who wants the human race’s assured destruction. No pressure right?
Halcyon 6 is all about creating and then managing a system for resource gathering, battles, exploration and questing. There’s plenty to do and you’d be hard pressed to find a single dull moment that can’t be used for something.
The battles are turn based, which gives you a chance to carefully plan out the next move with your hand picked captains. Then you can level them up once they gain enough experience, which you only get from battles, quests or various jobs around the base.
There’s a risk reward system where the bigger the risk, the greater the reward and you’ll find yourself taking more dangerous missions as time goes on. Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander can be difficult, but nobody said that running a Starbase was going to be easy, even if it is just a game.
3. Seasons After Fall
To describe Seasons After Fall would be like describing a symphony; it’s difficult to put into words, especially in regards to the sheer beauty that is the artwork and soundtrack, which consists of a string quartet cheerfully playing as the Fox scampers across the scenery.
It is reminiscent of the pure wonder one might feel while watching the Disney film Fantasia the first time, except you get to control what’s happening on screen.
The seasons are controlled by the fox so you get to see the four seasons of winter, summer, spring and fall in their entire splendor in this natural grove. With this power you use it to platform using the environments itself to get to where you need to go. There are even some small environmental puzzles that make you rely on these abilities in order to move the plot along.
The fox, or more so, the creature possessing the fox is the protagonist and the entire game is narrated to let you know what’s going on. Even with that though, there’s actually an expressive nature to the tiny fox that lets you know what's going through its mind. Tail wags, ear twitches or even small barks can make it seem as though it’s talking; not anthropomorphizing it, but giving the players a chance to understand just what its feeling. Seasons After Fall is a beautifully composed platformer that, after being in development for 8 years, we can declare to be an overwhelming success.
2. Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
Take a moment to imagine yourself in a world where your only job is to pick up other people’s trash in order to make money, and the one time you decide to have an adventure, you’re immediately cursed. Welcome to Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor. After the opening scene it puts the player in a routine: wake up, pray to the goddess, receive payment, find nourishment and then start burning trash.
Once the day is done you return home and write in your diary about how your day was. There is of course more to it, like memorizing the trading schedules of all of the colorful denizens or doing small quests on the side. It’s a strange title that relies on the fact that you, much like the janitor, want to see this through to the end.
You aim to escape from the mundane life into something grand, but it consistently puts you one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes you'll be robbed by the corrupt government or all the prices in the market go up. Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor forces the player to look at their life as this Janitor and by the end of it, they might ask “Am I just another cog in the machine?” To be able to deftly portray that in a video game makes Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, one of the more provocative titles I’ve played in a long time.
Oxenfree is a title that surprised me this year, one that I didn’t expect to love as much as I did. I certainly didn’t expect to do an analysis about it either yet here I am, giving it my number one spot. Oxenfree is about a group of teenagers that go to an island for a night of debauchery as per tradition, only to get wrapped up in some supernatural dealings with creatures from beyond the grave. The majority of it is based around the relationships the player builds between all of the main characters. It places a heavy focus on character interactions that, while many games implement them, few do in such a meaningful way.
The conversations, for the most part, feel natural and like you’re actually the one responding, since you can interject and cut people off, or even just walk away from an uncomfortable conversation, not responding at all.
There are other features in this game beside the relationship one, like with the radio communicating with the spirits or channeling Alex’s from other worlds, as well as trivia with various puzzles thrown in, but it blends in very organically.
Each character, no matter what your opinion may be of them, ends up having a nice character arc that allows you to learn about them, who they are and if what you’re doing affects them in any way.
Even the antagonistic force, the submarine ghost who are trying to send your souls into the void, you can relate to in some way. They’re written in such a way that you can understand their plight and empathize with them, speaking volumes of the writing overall.
There’s a fair amount that can be read in between the lines in Oxenfree and the experience isn’t over once you beat it; you can play it multiple times with varying results which changes the story, with some continuity being remembered by the characters. Oxenfree is an amazing game and if it was good enough for me to make that long winded analysis on it then it's good enough for my number one spot.
There you have it, the Top 8 Games From 2016 You Might Have Heard Of, a year that was bursting at the seams with great entries in this newer artistic medium of ours. While I could have included much more on this list, I decided to keep it to a top 8 in order to give a nice variety of games and for me to talk about the titles I believe showcased some amazing qualities that were shown this year in gaming.
More games were released on Steam this year than any other year, which means there were tons of games to pour over that we'll be talking about for years to come. Feel free to tell me about your favorite unknown game from 2016 in the comments below. I hope all of you enjoyed the list this year and let’s hope that 2017 is just as strong for games as 2016.