If we’re being honest, I’m really not the most social guy, so the very fact that a multiplayer focused team-based shooter makes it onto my list should say something about the quality of that game. Splatoon is just so refreshing, both in terms of the accessibility and innovation of its mechanics and in the sense of just how uniquely upbeat the presentation of the whole affair feels. While the single player content is definitely a little sparse and the limited map rotation can feel very restrictive, the addictive fun that comes from competitively painting a map, desperately trying to cover every corner while watching your back for some asshole with a roller, is undeniable. The fact that Nintendo has been continuously pouring new content into the game with free updates and engaging the community with Splatfest events makes this game one of the few truly solid reasons to own a Wii U.
9. Batman: Arkham Knight
For as much as Arkham Knight ultimately feels like just more Batman, and for as much as the Bat-Tank feels like a shoehorned-in gimmicky mess, I still ended up really enjoying my time in Gotham this year. The combat feels as polished as ever and the addition of chain takedowns adds an extra layer of nuance to the stealth, the world is nicely sizable and full of interesting sub-objectives and C-list villains to pursue, and the story does some really cool stuff with Batman as a character and contains a few crazy subversive moments that managed to stick with me. It acts as a great send off to RockSteady’s Arkham-verse and while I’m really excited to see them tackle something else now, it was good to take the old Arkham gameplay systems and universe out for one last spin.
8. Mortal Kombat X
I’ve always had a love of Mortal Kombat; I adore the utter audacity of the gore, the specific and satisfyingly weighty crunch of its combat, and the blindingly complex stupidity of its lore. Mortal Kombat X, despite not being quite as bombastic as MK9, still has all these things in spades, and the focus on providing a strong and enjoyable single player experience really counts for a lot in my books. Unlike many of the more technical fighting games, the arcade and story modes in MKX don’t feel like just tutorials for the online and they manage to provide some genuine challenge and keep a solid pace, while at the same time being accommodating enough to let casual players re-find their feet and play around. Add onto that a massive Krypt full of goodies to explore and a great DLC strategy that seems to be aiming to make this game Smash Bros but for horror movies, and you can see why this is one of the few fighting games to which I’ve found myself continually returning.
7. Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines
It wouldn’t be a HalfBeard Top Ten list without some odd VITA game that I insist is amazing but no one else will play, and this year that slot is filled by Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines. In terms of sheer gameplay, it’s nothing more than a very solid but ultimately fairly standard dungeon crawling JRPG, but it is through its sub-systems that Oreshika reveals its true nature. You see due to story reasons, all of your characters can only last about two years of in-game time (with each dungeon run taking a month) and must procreate with the various gods of Japanese mythology in order to continue their bloodlines and spawn new characters who will continue the adventure. As such the game is built around growing your clan’s heritage and expanding the gene pool, having parents pass on skills to their children, watching physical traits fade away and then come back later as the generations go on, and just defining what your clan really stands for. It also sports a gorgeous art style inspired by Ukiyo-e wood cuts and Kabuki theatre, which lends the game a traditional feel that kept me coming back.
6. Warhammer End Times: Vermintide
Warhammer has always been a hard series to adapt, it has a lore so endlessly complex that it’s impossible to convey the full breadth of it in any given adaptation, but at the same time it’s the little details of that universe that really make it stand out from other fantasy franchises (or other dystopian sci-fi if we’re talking about Warhammer 40K). Vermintide manages to address this problem by limiting its scope to what is ultimately a very small event, and then layering all those important details on top of it, keeping that very distinct Warhammer feel without becoming overwhelming to those who haven’t spent hours painting miniatures, All that flavour and fiction bolts on incredibly well to a finely-tuned Left 4 Dead clone, that despite not really adding anything to that formula beyond a loot system, takes on some unique qualities here due to the way they tie the franchise into the mechanics. Dry as all that may sound, it all equates to a ton of fun gorily chopping up malefic rat-men while multiple magic religious crazy people yell at you, which is frankly just a metric ton of fun.
I don’t claim to be the smartest guy around, but I do enjoy flexing my mental muscles every now and again, and the darkly zen feel of putting together cold factory production lines for faceless alien overlords relaxes me in ways I never expected. Slowly puzzling out how to make intricate machines from base cubes, employing a set of simple but comprehensive tools, and refining my own personally built processes over time in order to make them more and more efficient is deeply satisfying and helps me get my mind off anything that’s troubling me. Furthering that along is a feeling of helplessness and humorous apathy that pervades the story which sits on the sidelines of everything, not taking away from the gameplay but framing it in some very curious ways. While it’s certainly not for everyone, and things can get very complicated very quickly, if you enjoy puzzle gameplay that’s truly challenging, complex, and wrapped in charmingly black humor then it is 100% worth checking out.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
I know remakes are kind of cheating here, but playing through Majora’s Mask 3D was genuinely one of the best times I had this year. Not only is it my favourite Zelda game but they made a number of changes which really help to improve the experience, such as the bulking up of the Bomber’s Notebook, and the streamlining of some of the environment design. Playing it again also helped re-impress upon me the subtle and complex metaphors going on within Majora’s Mask’s story, and while everyone has their own interpretation of it, including myself, it’s impossible to deny that this game is easily the deepest Zelda game in terms of story. I won’t go into any of those myriad interpretations here (that’s an article unto itself) but obviously they add a lot to the experience, especially going through it again as an adult, and the cleaned up gameplay only kept me going, removing the stumbling blocks of confusing design that held me back as a child.
3. Mad Max
By all accounts this game shouldn’t be so high on my list; it’s a licensed, open world, sandbox game that employs a mish-mash of mechanics from other more popular games and does little new or interesting with its gameplay. But, Mad Max so perfectly manages to use all those familiar gameplay tropes to encapsulate the Mad Max universe, that I couldn’t help but love it. While some may decry speeding across the wasteland looking for scrap as boring, I found it weirdly enjoyable, and the fact that every journey out into sands is punctuated by fun and emergent encounters with howling convoys, devastating sandstorms, and chase sequences, all threaded along the line of a harpoon which you’ve just used to rip a screaming bandit out of his makeshift caddy, makes things all the sweeter. There’s a strong sense of scarcity and brutality throughout the proceedings, with ammo being incredibly limited and fuel and water being an ongoing concern throughout the early parts of the game, it just creates that post-apoc feel I enjoy so much and does it in that very specific Mad Max way.
2. The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
There’s a lot of things you can say about The Witcher 3; you can talk about the wonderfully written characters, the deep and engrossing world, the gorgeous art design, the complex yet enjoyable gameplay systems, and I could go on. But the reason why I personally love the Witcher is because it feels so human in its design while still remaining very large in scope. The characters are deeply flawed but also relatable, the world is incredibly bleak but people eke out a living nonetheless, and even though there’s a massive war going on, it doesn’t dominate people’s everyday lives. The realism of not just facing adversity, but acclimating to it and learning to accept it as a part of your everyday life is something the Witcher has that really resonates with me.
1. Fallout 4
I have always been a sucker for Fallout, the combination of post-apocalyptic chaos and happy-go-lucky ’50s Americana has always struck a chord with me and not in an ironic way. I’ve always appreciated the can-do spirit of the more irrational parts of the wasteland, and been fascinated with both the primitive cruelty of the various raider clans and the institutional cruelty of the Vaults, Enclave, and the other remaining organizations. While the story is weaker than that of New Vegas, it does maintain that fantastic sense of atmosphere that I crave and keeps the lore and interesting character moments flowing. Every inch of the Commonwealth seems packed with countless little touches that continue to draw me in, from full-blown side-quests about helping out nervous radio DJs, to minor tasks that have me investigating surprisingly dapper serial killers, to just little huts strewn with skeletons laid in positions that tell a story all their own. Admittedly this choice comes from a certain fanboy-ish place in my heart, and I’ll happily admit that The Witcher 3 is objectively a better game, but I just adore combing through the Massachusetts ruins and I can’t wait for more adventures in that world as the DLC starts to pour out next year.