Continuing our half-year retrospective, we turn our eyes to pixel-based home entertainment with a look at 2016's finest video games to-date.
15. The Banner Saga 2
Sequel to the 2014 turn-based strategy game, this follow-up boasts the same gorgeous, cartoon visuals while charting an impending apocalypse in the games’ Viking-inspired world. As you lead a band of survivors to the last remaining safe haven, players witness devastation and destruction while becoming immersed in the game’s bleakly compelling story. The tactical battles are as challenging as ever and the choices you make have lasting consequences.
14. The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
The Wii U may have largely been a flop, but that hasn’t discouraged Nintendo from using it to revamp some of its unparalleled back-catalogue. Twilight Princess HD looks fabulous compared to the Game Cube and Wii iterations, and provides a huge slice of classic Zelda gameplay, much of it as the ever-brilliant Wolf Link. What more could Ninty fans ask for?
13. Day Of The Tentacle Remastered
Gamers of a certain age look back on the 1990s — and particularly LucasArts’ point-and-click adventure games, of which //Day of the Tentacle// was one — as a golden age. This remake has been tarted up visually, but the abstruse gameplay and hilarious characterisations remain untouched. If it doesn’t leave you with aching sides, you might need a sense of humour overhaul.
12. Total War: Warhammer
British developer Creative Assembly is renowned for the quality of its historical real-time strategy (RTS) games, this departure from reality represents a welcome side-step for the series, applying the tried-and-tested Total War formula to Games Workshop’s popular fantasy setting. Fast-paced, atmospheric and visually impressive, Total War: Warhammer is by some distance the year’s best RTS. Besides, what’s not to love about sending an army of vampires, ghouls and giant spiders to storm your enemy’s walls?
11. Fire Emblem Fates
You can’t beat a bit of classic Japanese RPG action on the Nintendo 3DS, and Fire Emblem Fates represents the state of that particular art. And art is a key part, with gorgeous anime visuals, welded to complex, strategic RPG gameplay and an insane number of storylines – it’s essentially three games in one. It’s also one game in three, being available in a trio of different flavours, each with a different take on the game’s narrative. Birthright is for newcomers, Revelations is for those with more confidence and Conquest (the best of the three) is for pros and masochists. Whichever you choose, this is among the very best titles available on the 3DS.
10. The Witness
There’s no mistaking any game made by The Witness’s developer, Jonathan Blow. Like his previous effort Braid, it’s clever, innovative and sometimes frustrating. This is a hugely cryptic game that offers you clues but no direct instructions while presenting puzzles that demand preternatural powers of observation. It looks fabulous, is completely original and, once you figure it out, deeply satisfying as well
Oxenfree is a side-scrolling puzzler with loads of character and a quirky art-style, following the tribulations of a bunch of teens on holiday who get caught in a supernatural web. The gameplay, which sees protagonist Alex solving puzzles with a pocket radio, is clever but it's the characterisation that sets Oxenfree above the competition. With razor-sharp dialogue and spot-on characters that conjure memories of last year’s Life Is Strange, this sucks you in for the duration, short as that may be.
This contemporary remake of the granddaddy of first-person shooters drags gamers back to the nineties thanks to an insanely fast pace which keeps you running and gunning from start to finish. Deliciously over-the-top weapons, enemies and bosses abound; there’s a decent, although not ground-breaking, multiplayer side as well. The most unabashedly enjoyable title of the year thus far, this shows upstarts like Call of Duty how to do a single-player campaign with style.
Firewatch’s premise sounds tedious: you play Henry, escaping the world by working as a fire lookout in America’s Shoshone National Park. There are no puzzles and only one other character, Delilah, with whom Henry communicates by walkie-talkie. Don’t let the setup fool you, though, this is beautifully made and lush to behold; the story and characterisation are superb, wrapping gamers in mystery, while leaning on a good story, expertly told. A thoroughly fresh gaming experience, which is all too rare.
6. The Witcher III: Blood & Wine
It may be ‘only’ downloadable content, but Blood & Wine is the final instalment for last year’s all-conquering RPG, The Witcher III. It adds a whole new area, Toussaint, plus an additional 30 hours of gameplay involving vampires and, yes, vineyards. Tonally, developer CD Projekt Red has indulged itself with vast amounts of humour, although its storyline is suitably dark, and another chance to slip into Geralt of Rivia’s well-worn armour one more time is utterly irresistible.
Developer Playdead’s previous game, Limbo, was showered with praise from all who played it – and Inside is even better. Like Limbo, it’s a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer with nothing as fancy as dialogue, but blessed with a beautiful, near-monochrome art-style. Its game-world is much better realised than Limbo's, and it’s more eerily atmospheric but you will still die spectacularly and repeatedly in numerous sadistic ways.
4. X-Com 2
If you thought turn-based games were dead, you didn’t reckon on X-Com 2. There’s nothing remotely archaic about this strategic masterpiece: it looks fabulous (even the isometric sequences), and its mix of deep strategy and base-building is balanced to perfection – not to mention punishingly hard. This time around, you run a rag-tag bunch of rebels attempting to reclaim Earth from the aliens who successfully invaded in the original game: a task that will push your strategic nous to its limits.
3. Dark Souls 3
Ridiculously hard? Check. Dark, gloomy and gothic? Check. Full of creepy castles and seemingly invincible bosses? Check. From Software didn’t mess with the legendary RPG’s blueprint, but then why would it? The third instalment of every masochist’s favourite game is bigger, better-looking and more intense than ever as you trudge through the kingdom of Lothric, trying (and failing) not to die more than once a minute. This is the last Dark Souls, at least for now, so relish every foreboding second of it.
Blizzard does it again! This online-only, first-person shooter clearly wants to be the next big e-sports phenomenon and may just succeed. It's super-simple and cheerful to behold, yet fast, furious, full of gameplay depth and insanely addictive. There’s nothing to unlock that isn’t cosmetic, no levelling up and no ladder to climb: with Overwatch, the joy is in the action, the teamwork and a superb cast of characters, each of which offers a completely different game experience.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Knowledge that this is Nathan Drake’s final outing will have brought tears to many an eye, but what a way to go. A truly epic, gorgeous-looking adventure taking in the usual assortment of exotic locations is just the start. Nate has never looked better, the emotional punches have never hit harder and the puzzle-solving, ledge-hopping gameplay has never been more perfectly balanced. Plus you get to play a level from Crash Bandicoot! By the time the adventure wraps up and you’re basking in the warm glow of the epilogue, you’ll feel sadness for the departure of an old friend but a deep contentment from having experienced some of the very best that interactive storytelling has to offer.