A great game is made from several components. Art, story, and soundtrack all play a unique part in exploring the narrative developers present to us. But if you take away story and strip the game down to its core, what remains is the gameplay.
Games like Pong, Galaga, and Mario, have an incredible replay value that we can’t seem to capture in modern games. They didn’t rely on a story to make them great, they took the tools in front of them and revolutionized the industry; paving the way to the future. While gameplay may be considered a tried and true formula at this point, recognizing the games that take that extra step, or continue to refine gameplay, is part of what makes Game of the Year a special event.
Each of these games has found something special this year, whether it’s refining classic gameplay, fast paced combat that feels fulfilling, or giving a new meaning to high noon.
Nominee – Pokemon Sun and Moon
Pokemon certainly isn’t a new concept, and it isn’t one that Nintendo hasn’t been experimenting with in recent years. Amid the re-releases and oddly unfitting titles, the nearly perfect game of Sun and Moon has been released.
It’s hard to imagine a way that Nintendo could improve upon Sun and Moon, with useful tools in the game, showing you what is super effective and what is not so effective(for those new to the franchise), as well as putting a unique spin on the combat itself.
Nintendo has learned it’s lesson with different features, has refined some, and has added together an all new type of gameplay. Taking out the classic gyms that we’ve grown to love so much, the Alola region gives players a chance to explore the Pokedex, and the region, in ways that you never have before. Pokemon is feeling less and less like a grind, and more of a relaxing game to pass the time.
Nominee – Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley took the niche genre of farming sims, which at this point have been done to death, and put a unique spin on the gameplay.
No longer just a farmer, you are the helm of decisions in the town: Does Joja mart take over, or will you choose to support local? Being the newcomer in town, this decision probably shouldn’t rest on your shoulders, but that’s something that can easily be looked over as a slight hiccup for an incredible experience.
With the option of not farming all together, you are able to mine, forage, and fish to also generate a sense of income, and purpose, in Stardew Valley. With new maps released, if you choose to start a new farm, focusing on those alternate lifestyles has never been easier.
Nominee – Overwatch
As charming, beautiful, and polished as Overwatch is, there is a single reason that it has pulled in so many gamers this past year, its amazing gameplay. Simple to understand and dive into, each character only having a few abilities, the base gameplay of Overwatch just makes sense. It’s a first-person shooter, simple as that.
But once it draws you in, the layer upon layer of depth and hero interactions never stop impressing. Heroes play off of eachother, meaning what the person next you does is just as important as what you do. With over twenty characters, and more still being added, not only does each hero have a specific role to play, they each also embody an entirely different way of approaching the maps and other players. Lucio can wall-run, Pharah can hover through the air with her jump jets, and Widowmaker can zip across the map with her grappling hook.
Switching your hero mid-game brings a whole new level of constantly evolving strategy to the game that traditional MOBAs just don’t have. Add that to the fact that each hero is an absolute joy to play, and Blizzard has hit a winning formula.
Winner – Doom
What’s immediately apparent about 2016’s Doom is that its developers understood exactly what made the original so great. They knew that it couldn’t just be fast, there couldn’t just be massive hordes of enemies, and there couldn’t just be lots of cool guns. Plenty of games have checked all these boxes, and none of them were nearly as good as Doom.
What iD Software understood is that it’s all about how you are forced to interact with your enemies, and that this is what changes the experience from a mindless shooting gallery to a truly interesting game. Just like in the original game, Doom has a variety of enemies that must be dealt with using specific tactics, and, quite ingenuously, they are all instantly recognizable by both their visuals and audio.
You can walk into any room and quickly assess exactly what threats there are and how they can be individually dealt with. Your task then is to figure how to go about dealing with them as a group, determining who to kill first, which gun to use when, and where to run to next. Every encounter in Doom is a puzzle that forces you to think on your feet and rely on your instincts, and that is what makes it rise above not only other shooters, but other games in general.