Each year, developers strive to move the industry forward. Whether that’s helping to craft a new genre, giving insightful commentary on a still growing field of work, or simply creating the next great title, it all affects how things continue with video games. Honoring and looking back at those accomplishments, along with the year as a whole, is what Game of the Year lists are all about.

In 2016, a number of games released after having kept fans waiting for years. From The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV to games like No Man’s Sky, it was a year of hype and excitement. But now that it is all said and done, a handful of games stood out above the rest.

To make a great game, developers not only have to accomplish what gamers expect, but also have to surprise us. Some games can astonish with how well crafted they are, while others innovate in ways that we haven’t quite seen before. Whether it was recreating how we farm, hiding puzzles, or shooting demons, each of these games did just that.

Nominee – The Witness

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Derek Dashiell:

We’ll probably never see anything like The Witness again. One of the industry’s greatest minds spends 8 years on a passion project that’s (1) a puzzle game and (2) does literally nothing to ease the player in. It’s not exactly a blockbuster recipe. But there’s also no other game that makes your jaw drop at the sheer brilliance of the thing you’re looking at, and does so without narrative or spectacle.

It’s hard to talk about without spoilers, and The Witness is really game that should be experienced as uninformed as possible, but we can say this: Sometimes it’s a puzzle solution found outside of the puzzle. Sometimes it’s realizing that something IS a puzzle. And sometimes it’s as deceptively simple as realizing that what you thought was nothing is, in fact, a big ol’ something. You feel capable when you figure out a puzzle, like you’re becoming more complete too; they’re that satisfying. What The Witness achieves is a world that is deceptively simple, and you can feel your mind opening as wide as your eyes as you play.

Nominee – Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator

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Darius Sims:

In terms of fighting games this year, Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator is a complete package. As an updated version of Guilty Gear Xrd: SIGN, Revelator features balance changes to the game’s diverse roster, the addition of new mechanics, and six new characters. Just about all of the alternate colors for characters can be obtained by playing the game.

Arksys Games has been known for supporting their fighting games and their community. With its breathtaking graphics and freeform gameplay, Revelator brings a fresh coat of paint to the series, blending that solid core with a well-rounded experience and the kind of developer-supported community that fighting games live and die on.

Nominee- Battlefield 1

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Sean Timm:

With the steady stream of military first-person shooters coming out year after year, it’s fair to say that the formula is relatively set in stone by now. But every so often a game comes around that manages to truly standout from the usual array. On paper, Battlefield 1 should not be as fun or as engaging as it is. The most common elements of World War I just don’t make for an exciting game. But DICE took the WWI setting, blended it with the team’s renowned squad-based FPS mechanics, and ended up with a game as unique as it is fun.

From massive, gorgeously epic multiplayer, to the surprisingly personal and heartfelt collection of vignettes that make up the game’s single-player, Battlefield 1 impresses at every turn. DICE took what worked in the past and gave it a new flavor, breathing a welcome, renewed life into a genre and franchise that has become set it its ways the past few years. While perhaps not topping our lists for any one aspect, it’s the culmination of strengths that earns Battlefield 1 its place as a nominee for Game of the Year.

Nominee – Stardew Valley

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Alana Fearnall:

Concerned Ape’s Stardew Valley is one of indie games that managed to cross the threshold into the mainstream this year, drawing from the niche community of Harvest Moon fans, and welcoming in new players from all genres. Building on what was considered one of the best life sims, Stardew Valley took Harvest Moon’s tried-and-true formula and added action, suspense, and a real sense of community to the small digital town. Developed solely by Eric Barone, the game took four years to develop, and it was well worth the wait.

Despite small hiccups, like an uneven difficulty curve, the game comes together in wonderful fashion. On top of drawing farming simulator fans in, Stardew Valley will have you hooked with a challenging mine, charming 2D art, and a heartwarming soundtrack, giving every player reason to keep going for “just one more day.” 

Nominee – Inside

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Christopher Graf:

To be a great game, you don’t need 30 hours of gameplay, realistic looking graphics, and a hundred different functions. Sometimes you just need a beautiful and unique style, combined with simple gameplay that players will pick up right away. Couple that with smart design that immediately asks you to engage with the world and handle the puzzles put in front of you, and a game hits that perfect note.

When it comes to Inside, Playdead put all of this together, and it creates a suspenseful journey in an unknown world that is thrilling from beginning to end. There is never a moment when the audience is not thinking, whether it’s about the challenge in front of them or the overall meaning to the game. In short, Playdead should be truly proud of its indie masterpiece.

Game of the Year – Doom

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Sean Timm:

Amongst all the great games of 2016, none blew us away quite as much as Doom. Now, Id’s latest isn’t perfect, and naming it Game of the Year doesn’t mean that it is. Even if individual aspects of the game didn’t click with you though, be it the multiplayer or the arena environments that pop up throughout the single-player, there is one undeniable fact when it comes to Doom. It’s absurdly fun to play.

Built around fast, brutal first-person shooter gameplay, Doom is a callback to an older style of game that we just don’t see anymore. No other modern shooter feels quite like it, the action particularly unique when compared to traditionally slower console games. But Doom never backs down, and it holds to that skill-driven, blisteringly quick ideal from beginning to end. Demanding more from the player, and delivering a heart-pounding good time, the game sees you sprint through dynamic maps, blasting through hordes of enemies. Punctuating the action with gruesome, but immeasurably satisfying, Glory Kills, there is nothing quite like ripping off a demon’s arm and beating the creature to death with it.

Fleshing out the experience, you have an oddly epic science fiction story, a rocking soundtrack, a robust array of weapons, and plenty of ways to upgrade them and yourself. Even the complex maps, packed with secrets, echo from a more classical era of game design. Exploring every nook and cranny is well worth it, with upgrade points and Easter eggs hiding everywhere. Doom’s single-player is the complete package and stands apart from what gamers have long since embraced as the norm.

But Id also didn’t stop there. Though perhaps taking second-seat the single-player, the multiplayer is bloody and intense, capitalizing on the game’s speed and weapons design. Then there is Snap-Map, the incredibly deep set of tools gamers have been using since launch to create a seemingly endless supply of new content, from new maps and modes to entire new co-op experiences.

Just like Wolfenstein and even Tomb Raider, Doom is a reboot that more than a few were skeptical about. But sticking to what made the original so loved, and building out from there, Id put together an amazing game, well worth your time, money, and praise.

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