A lot has changed behind the scenes at Invisible Gamer over the past 12 months. And we mean a lot. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our passion for games. And even though 2016 is a year that most of us agree is best left to burn up in the trash fires of history, its games were anything but forgettable.
These ten games below represent titles that we have collectively voted the absolute best the year had to offer, but as always, there are games that didn’t make the cut. Games like Dishonored 2, which finally lives up to the series original concept. Games like No Man’s Sky, which many of us thought was going to change everything, until it didn’t. Games like Pocket Card Jockey, or Shantae 1/2 Genie Hero, or Stardew Valley, or Hyper Light Drifter. Even Star Fox Zero was in the running for a bit.
As with last year, we weren’t able to publish individual writers’ personal lists, but if you’re interested in finding out what Gabe, Austin, Jonah or Michael loved in 2016, give them a shout! They’d be more than happy to talk your ear off.
And with that: these are our Top 10 Games of 2016.
10. Forza Horizon 3
Forza Horizon 3 was easily the most pleasant game I’ve played all year. I mean, the game is simply a dream scenario: drive one of over 300 beautiful cars across the Australian outback to your heart’s content. Almost anyone can appreciate the setup. For racing game fans though, Forza has a little bit of everything. The series’ acclaimed simulation-style handling carries over and makes each car feel fantastic to drive. Meanwhile, the game has enough dune buggies and huge jumps (complete with yellow arrows on them for maximum effect) to satiate a die-hard Burnout fan. I’d recommend this game to the most hardcore racing sim player, but also to someone who rarely picks up a game controller. That speaks volumes about how accessible and fun Forza Horizon 3 is. – Jonah
9. Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV is my favorite game of 2016. Why? Because it’s Final Fantasy, and it doesn’t suck. As a huge fan of the series, I was worried about this game. For a long time. It went through development hell. It looked rough at every single preview event I attended. Even the demos, though I quite enjoyed Episode Duscae, didn’t convince me the game would actually be okay. But it turned out to be pretty amazing in the end. It breaks free from so many shackles of the genre it purports to be. Its open-world is unique. The battle mechanics are immediate, unlike any other Final Fantasy. And the focus on the friendship between four young men is one of the most refreshing experiences I’ve had all year. I won’t lie: the game is a bit of a mess at the end, but that didn’t sully the dozens and dozens of hours I’d spent enjoying its world up to that point. In fact, I still haven’t stopped exploring. Got a giant turtle to fight, after all. – Austin
It’s not often that a Nintendo fan-game actually sees the light of day, and in a year when Nintendo seemed to slam the gavel down on basement coders every other week, the fact that this project actually saw release after 10 years in development seems almost like a miracle. Even better: the game is amazing. I’m talking could’ve been made by Nintendo amazing. From the way it seamlessly integrates the map, creature designs, and lore of Metroid II: Return of Samus into the more refined gameplay of the 16-bit titles, to the all-new bosses and environmental puzzles solo developer Milton Guasti created to set this unofficial remake apart from its inspiration, we finally have a version of Metroid II that feels of a piece with the holy trinity of Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, and Metroid: Zero Mission. Nintendo’s official Metroid release for 2016, Metroid Prime: Federation Force, was an excellent game in its own right, but AM2R is the one I’ll be returning to for years to come. – Michael
7. Fire Emblem Fates
Nintendo followed up 2013’s excellent Fire Emblem: Awakening with not one, not two, but three concurrent Fire Emblem releases. And while I was initially worried this would be a Pokémon-style cash grab, my fears were quickly put to rest once I started playing the games: while all three are connected by an overarching narrative, each offers its own unique adventure. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright tells a tale of war from the perspective of the peace-loving Eastern-style Hoshido kingdom, while Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest has players representing the aggressor in the story—the medieval kingdom of Nohr. Whichever version you choose to to start with, you can purchase the other version as downloadable content for half the price—or, if you’d prefer a more neutral path, you can download a third full-length campaign, called Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation. If you’re a fan of the pitch-perfect tactical gameplay developer Intelligent Systems has been honing for decades, chances are you didn’t stop playing after you beat your first Fates campaign; if you did, you shouldn’t have, because each game is made richer by the experience of having played the others. There were a lot of wonderful RPGs on the 3DS this year, but Fates takes the cake for me. I’m still playing it, and I’m still loving every second of it. – Michael
6. Dark Souls III
Dark Souls 3, in many ways, is the culmination of the series. Cherry-picking familiar mechanics, characters, and even locations from previous Souls games, the game eschews innovation for refinement. Even though Dark Souls 3 can look and feel like a “greatest hits” compilation at times, it never feels like cheap nostalgia-bait. Instead, these references feed into the series’ overarching themes of repetition and entropy. I explored, I fought, I died, and I triumphed—just like I have before. However, it’s simply never felt this good. – Jonah
5. Titanfall 2
The original Titanfall was a terrific debut from developer Respawn Entertainment, with silky-smooth shooting and the introduction of robotic Titans to change the flow of combat, but its lack of a single-player mode and relatively few multiplayer features meant that the fanfare quickly died down and players went back to playing Call of Duty and Battlefield. Titanfall 2 suffers from no such problems. The new campaign mode delivers an exciting blend of action and exploration tied together by an excellent story and plenty of “wow” moments, and the multiplayer component builds on the first game’s strengths, adding a selection of unique Titans that are all a blast to try out. There is still nothing better than punching an enemy player out of midair as you imagine the stunned look on their face. – Gabe
4. The Witness
Puzzle games have never been my forte, but The Witness completely enraptured me for weeks on end. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so engaged with a video game. I was thinking about it at work. I was thinking about it at restaurants. I was thinking about it in my sleep. I filled a noteboook up with sketches and doodles trying to solve as many brain busters as I could throughout the game. The design of the puzzles and the way they build on each other throughout the game is absolutely brilliant. Yes, it can get extremely frustrating, but it gets to the point where every single puzzle you solve feels as satisfying as beating any of the hardest games out there. It’s one of the most rewarding games I’ve ever played. – Austin
3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
I’m quick to point out to anyone who will listen that I’m descended on my mother’s side from Captain Francis Drake—a nephew of the Sir Francis Drake—that I’m the real-life Nathan Drake, if you will. Nobody at Naughty Dog will heed my claims, so you can trust I’m not rolling in residuals when I tell you that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is hands down my favorite game in the series, and one of the most enjoyable video game adventures I’ve experienced this generation. No, the gameplay isn’t particularly refined over its predecessors; if you’ve played Uncharted 2 or 3, you know exactly what you’re getting into here. But in a series that emphasizes spectacle over just about anything else, Uncharted 4’s breathtaking vistas stirred the heart of the adventurer in me, making me long to leave my urban landscape behind and tramp out on the kind of exotic adventures that have been all too few and far between in my life. It also doesn’t hurt that a key character in the game’s skull-and-crossbones-heavy plot is a pirate named Burnes. Actually, maybe Naughty Dog was listening to me after all. – Michael
Overwatch is nothing short of a worldwide phenomenon at this point. Blizzard’s team-based shooter now has more than 20 million players, and the reason for that is quite simple: it’s among the most engaging, rewarding, and downright fun multiplayer games ever created. Whether you’re an FPS veteran or a newcomer to games in general, there is a character for you to try in Overwatch, and something you can do to help out your team. Blizzard’s continued support of the game with new maps, characters, events, and modes has encouraged me to put it back in my disc tray more than six months after it launched, and I don’t see myself quitting anytime soon. Also, Winston is the best, and anyone who says otherwise is just jealous. – Gabe
1. XCOM 2
Developer Firaxis Games laid down such a solid foundation with 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown that it could’ve done ‘just more of the same,’ and XCOM 2 still would’ve been better than most everything else in 2016. But XCOM 2 does so much more. From the way it now forces commanders to risk individual units’ safety for the greater good, to its newly introduced board-game-style elements of chance, XCOM 2 flips the script in surprising ways. Those hard-earned, short-lived victories the series is famous for feel even sweeter now for their brittleness, and the moments of failure cut even deeper. “New” enemy types that call back to Julian Gollop’s original series (including the under-appreciated X-Com: Terror From the Deep), a slick new melee class, a narrative that feels like it could be a metaphor for today’s America, and a difficulty curve that will cut your ego down to zero without a moment’s hesitation: these are just a few of the reasons XCOM 2 is Invisible Gamer’s Game of the Year 2016. And now that it’s available on consoles, you have no excuse not to play it. – Michael