Top 10 Games of 2016

Why hello there and welcome.  As Mr. 2016 starts to pack its bags and head for the door, it’s about that time to look back at my top ten games that really captured my attention over the past year.  2016 has been full of great gaming experiences that have varied across the board.  I’m not a machine, so there was physically no way to look at every game that was released this year.  Trust me, if I had the time (and the money) I would have delightfully gorged myself in every gaming experience I possibly could.  So, I’m going to focus on the games that I did play.  They will probably differ from yours but that’s okay.  Let’s take a round of applause for opinions!  Anyway, without further ado, let’s take a look at the games that really grabbed me this year.

A Game That I’m Going to Be Playing Within the Next Couple of Days, but Won’t Have Enough Time to Finish Before the End of the Year: DOOM

Yes…the unnecessarily long title was probably not needed for this category, but I wanted a place to quickly shout out DOOM.  This was a game that was perpetually on my backlog all year long.  I had the game in my Steam library, but I never bit the bullet and sat down to play it…until now.  I regret not getting around to this game sooner as so many people have been absolutely raving about this game.  However, since I’m a prime procrastinator, there’s never been a better time to sit down and finally play DOOM.  I have a feeling I am going to really like this game, but I probably not going to finish it before year’s end, which makes me uncomfortable with putting it on this list.  I figured a quick little shout out in the beginning would suffice.  This is a game you, like me, should absolutely play if you haven’t already.


Best Game from A Previous Year: Her Story

Maybe it was just me, but I was really creeped out while playing this fantastic FMV-style detective game.  It was late at night and I had all the lights turned off.  I had my headphones in so I was totally zoned in on the experience in front of me.  Her Story sits you in front of an old 90’s police computer with a search feature and an archive of snipped videos from seven days of interviews of a woman.  There’s no guidance or handholding, which means it’s up to you to piece together who the woman is and why she’s being interviewed in the first place.  It’s a neat premise that is super effective at making you feel like a top-notch sleuth.  Viva Seifert does a marvelous job at portraying the emotions of the woman and really sells the part.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I was really creeped out because as you start to find the darker secrets hidden within the interview clips…silhouettes of an unknown person randomly appear on the computer screen as it flickers.  This messed with me at 2 AM in the morning.  Damn that game was effective.


10 – Planet Coaster

Okay…so close your eyes and imagine Roller Coaster Tycoon.  Remember this game?  Yeah it was great.  One of the best games of my childhood.  Now…imagine it getting injected with an enormous number of steroids.  Now you have a beefed up and ridiculous version of Roller Coaster Tycoon.  This is the best way to describe Planet Coaster.  Now I must admit, my time with Planet Coaster is slim compared to some of the other games on this list due to me being a busy person, but I have enjoyed every single minute of my time with the game.  Just like other theme park sims out there, the game gives you a plentiful number of tools that allow you to create vibrant and entertaining theme parks.  Planet Coaster takes things further by giving you an insane number of object placement tools that essentially allow you to create an infinite number of buildings, scenic pieces, and…well, basically anything.  It’s almost like a 3D Modeler in the sense that there are a limitless number of things you can build in the game.  If you have the time (and the artistic skill) you can faithfully recreate any of your favorite real-life amusement parks with stunning detail.  I might not have created a fully functioning theme park yet, but I have created my fair share of death rides and horrific scenery pieces.  Perhaps my death park won’t be a hit with guests…but at least I’ll have a hell of a time imagining and building it.  P.S. Here’s my K-Pop Roller Coaster of Death that I built. It has a fun ending that’s surely going to be a nightmare hit:

9 – Batman: The Telltale Series

Say what you will about Telltale’s brands of games, but I whole heartily enjoy them.  Despite their technical hiccups and an engine that’s past its prime, their games still manage to tell engaging stories with memorable characters.  In Batman, you get to control one of the most iconic characters, Batman (probably self-explanatory looking back on this sentence).  Sure…a video game about Batman is certainly no novelty, but what makes Telltale’s offering different from the rest is the inclusion of Batman’s other half…Bruce Wayne.  No other Batman game (at least from what I’m aware of) tells a story that predominately feature’s Gotham’s billionaire playboy.  Just like any other Telltale game, we get a fantastic story that deals with Bruce’s past and its effect on the city and the people that inhibit it.  You are in the driver’s seat, making the decisions that will ultimately shape the city of Gotham and its people.  The Batman stuff is cool and the QTE action sequences are thrilling, but it’s the Bruce Wayne portions of the game that really make this game a standout above Telltale’s other adventure games.


8 – Mafia III

Man, Mafia III has a kick-ass introduction.  I’ll take this a step further by saying Mafia III might have the best production of the year.  Everything from the story and its documentary-style presentation down to its stellar licensed and original soundtrack make this a thrilling ride from beginning to end.  You play as Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam veteran who travels back home to New Bordeaux, Louisiana (a.k.a. New Orleans).  After a night of welcomes, drinking, and cheer things go horribly wrong in an exciting introduction.  These events fuel the revenge fantasy that Clay partakes in as he rampages through the city with the goal of taking out the Italian Mafia that betrayed his family.  Although the gameplay tends to get a tad repetitive at times, it’s the game’s fantastic writing and its cast of characters that secure the game’s place on this list.  Mafia III also takes place in 1968, which means southern racism is a real thing for Lincoln Clay.  The way this game “gamifies” racism is something I have never seen in a game before.


7 – Gears of War 4

Before I go into any detail about why I liked this game, I should mention that I only played Gears of War 4’s single player campaign.  Sure, this means I might have missed out on some of the game’s other features, but I frankly don’t care.  Multiplayer games are not usually my thing, so I was perfectly content with breezing through Gears 4’s exciting and thrilling campaign.  The campaign ushers in a new host of characters, while making a ton of callbacks to the original trilogy.  The good news is the new characters are very likable and the banter between them is entertaining, even though it might make you roll your eyes a bit.  The action is satisfying and varied and each sequence never overstayed its welcome.  You’ll be doing a variety of things over the course of the campaign, but I never found myself getting bored with what I was doing.  Gears 4’s weather effects are also something new this time around, and they demonstrate the visual beauty of the game.  There’s nothing like a storm of environmental effects that will make you appreciate a game’s looks.


6 – Watch Dogs 2

I was most likely part of the minority that liked the original Watch Dogs that released in 2014.  However, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like that game didn’t have its fair share of issues.  I’m not naïve…the game was far from perfect.  Watch Dogs 2 improves on its predecessor in just about every fashion down the board.  Marcus, the game’s protagonist, is actually a likable character this time around and the supporting cast is just as enjoyable…despite my premonitions.  The setting, San Francisco, is a bigger and better open world that just feels more alive.  The story is more enticing (despite a couple of trip ups towards the end) and relevant.  Maybe the best thing of all is that the game knows what it is and runs with it.  There’s a lot of hacker culture, from the game’s characters to its loading screens, and it never takes itself too seriously.  You’re supposed to have fun with Watch Dogs 2, and boy did I have a lot of fun.


5 – That Dragon, Cancer

And the award for Most Emotion goes to That Dragon, Cancer.  This game, whether you know someone who dealt with cancer or not, will hit you right in the gut with an emotional one-two punch.  As someone who lost their mother to cancer this year, this game spoke to me in ways I haven’t experienced in a piece of interactive media.  The game serves as an autobiographical tribute to developer Ryan Green’s son Joel who passed away from a terminal form of cancer.  You play through a series of vignettes that are often rich with symbolism and even richer with emotion.  This is a very personal game, and Ryan and his wife Amy really open up over the course of it.  There’s a lot of raw emotion that comes from some of the events in the game, some that were very hard to watch and play through.  There’s some clunky interaction at some points in the game, but that shouldn’t detract you from this experience.  It’s a short little game, one that will leave you feeling all sorts of ways.


4 – Day of the Tentacle Remastered

What?  You’re probably wondering why an old-style adventure game from 1993 has made it onto my list.  Day of the Tentacle was remastered this year by Tim Schafer and the guys at Double Fine…so technically it counts as a 2016 game.  That’ll be enough from you.  Anyway, this was my first time playing through the cult classic adventure game and it proved to be one of my absolute favorite adventure games.  The story is a zany tale about a purple tentacle with eyes on world domination.  You play as Bernard, and his two friends Laverne and Hoagie, who set out on a time travelling adventure to stop Purple Tentacle from taking over the world.  The humor is some of the best I have seen in an adventure game and the solutions to the game’s puzzles cleverly use the time travel mechanics in fun ways.  The amount of work that Tim Schafer has put into the game’s fresh and updated art and modernized mechanics really gives this game an archival quality.  The audio is remastered as well, putting the cherry on top of a fantastic remaster.


3 – Inside

Inside is a game that took me by surprise.  Developed by Playdead, who you’re probably familiar with as the developers behind Limbo, the game cements itself as one of the best 2D puzzle platformers out there.  As you control a red-shirted boy running through the forest in an effort to escape an unknown force, we are immediately met with a beautiful and atmospheric dystopian world.  It’s a dark world, with contrasts of red, that really makes it visually appealing…and often unsettling.  Every area in the game is really detailed and meticulously animated, which had me pausing to stop and stare at my surroundings at various points in the game.  As you make your way deeper into the environment, you begin to uncover even more secrets about the world.  The game features no voice and hardly any music, which also adds to the game’s mysterious allure.  Gameplay-wise, Inside keeps things fresh from beginning to end with well-designed puzzles that never get repetitive.  There’s no tutorials or hand-holding, which means the game teaches you through death.  You die a lot in the game, but thanks to a nice checkpoint system and fast load times, deaths never feel like a penalty and they teach you what to do and not to do.  It’s really smart and demonstrates effective game design on Playdead’s part.  Inside is a masterclass at what small indie games can be, and the game is worth it alone for the ending.  The ending makes for one of the most WTF moments I have ever experienced in a game.


2 – Heavy Rain Remastered

I don’t want to hear it.  Yes, I’ve put another old game on my top ten list for 2016.  What are you going to do about it, huh?  Again, this remaster of Heavy Rain was released in 2016, so it makes my list.  Another reason why the game climbs its way to number two is because this was my first experience with the highly-lauded adventure game designed by David Cage and French studio Quantic Dream.  Over the course of the game you control four characters, Norman, Ethan, Scott, and Madison who each have their own complicated stories that all intertwine in ways you wouldn’t imagine.  The performances by the actors were great and they really made it seem like I was watching a gritty film noir.  The story is captivating and its some of the game’s smaller character moments that really put it above the rest.  People love to have the “are games art?” conversation and this would be a game I would give as an example as to why they are.


1 – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

There’s a good chance I might not have ever played a game prettier than Uncharted 4.  This is obviously not the only reason why I highly regard this game, but hot damn this game is beautiful.  Everything from its facial animations down to the various settings showcase the game’s technical and graphical prowess.  Being that this is Nathan Drake’s final adventure, the story is also emotional and bittersweet.  The performances from Nathan Drake (Nolan North), his brother Sam Drake (Troy Baker), Sully (Richard McGonagle) and Elena Fisher (Emily Rose) are all top notch and really enhance the story and its emotion.  There’s also the introduction of two new characters, Nadine and Rafe, that make for two great antagonists.  The exploration and the action sequences are some of the best in the series and the set-piece moments are big and gorgeous.  That car chase is some next level stuff.  The gunplay is great and the familiar gameplay elements like climbing and swinging are the best they have ever felt.  Perhaps the best part is the game’s ending, which is intensely satisfying and puts a nice big bow on Nathan Drake’s adventures.  Naughty Dog has created a masterpiece…and there’s not much else I really need to say.


Games I Didn’t Have Time to Play but Deserve a Mention:

Final Fantasy XV, Stardew Valley, Dishonored 2, The Witness, The Last Guardian, Hitman (I’ve played a little bit of the game, but not enough to have an opinion.)


Country Music and My Mom

If you have read any of my reviews on the E-Fix, it is easy to see that my musical interests lie primarily in rap, hip-hop, pop, and EDM.  I have been trying to broaden my horizons, but at the end of the day I always come back to the familiar sound of hip-hop and rap.  It has not always been this way though.  This might be surprising to some, especially to people I know.  Before the days of my more recent musical tastes, I used to be a big fan of country.  I can attribute this to my mom.  She was the one that introduced me to country.

I started listening to country back when I was living in Frederick, Maryland.  I was in elementary school at the time, around third and fourth grade.  I was young and did not necessarily have a choice in the type of music I was listening to.  This was a time where I was not allowed to use the internet.  Digital music was not a thing.  Physical CDs were the norm.  I was not able to pick up the latest Lil Wayne album, even if I wanted to, because…well, I was in third grade.  What I listened to was usually whatever my parents were listening to.  My mom was a big fan of country and I can recall countless road trips where country was coming out of the car’s speakers.  Alan Jackson, Dierks Bentley, Toby Keith, Gretchen Wilson, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Big & Rich, and Tim McGraw, to name a few, were some of the staples that we would listen to time and time again.  We did a lot of traveling back in the day.  When you are living in Maryland and the rest of your family lives in Pittsburgh, frequent road trips occurred around the holidays.  I would sit in the backseat of our mini-van, listening to songs about summer, small town nostalgia, pick-up trucks, and America as I slowly developed a taste for country music.

An album I considered a favorite back in the day was Sherrie Austin’s Streets of Heaven.  This is probably a deep cut to most fans of country.  Sherrie Austin was not a big name in country, but this album resonated with me.  Songs like “Singin to the Scarecrow,” “Small Town Boy,” and “Streets of Heaven” were some of my favorites, songs that I would play over and over again on my handy-dandy portable CD player.  Ah, the days before smartphones and MP3 players.  I continued to listen to country music for a couple of years, but times slowly started to change as I got older and moved on to middle school in Smithsburg, Maryland where I was introduced to new friends and different music.

It was in Smithsburg where I was introduced to hip-hop and rap.  I knew the genre existed, but I was never able to listen to it because of my age.  However, the friends I made in Smithsburg listened to rap, so through osmosis I started to pick it up and I quickly grew a liking for it.  Remember middle school socials?  Those (often awkward) experiences also opened up my musical horizons, introducing me to both classics and newer hits in pop, hip-hop, and rap.  It was also around this time when I asked for Chris Brown’s debut album, and a Rihanna album, for Christmas.  Yes…Chris Brown’s debut album was my first physical hip-hop album.  You can laugh at me all you want, but Chris Brown was one of the first artists that I grew a liking for in my early days of hip-hop listening.  Since then he’s gone south, but he was still important to me.

Time went on and I started growing up.  I moved from middle school to high school and from Smithsburg back to Pittsburgh.  As I grew older, my hip-hop and rap tastes became more seasoned as I broadened my knowledge of the genre.  I still kept up with Country music, usually because my mom would always show me the newest Carrie Underwood track.  She was my only connection to country music.  Even though my musical tastes started to diverge from hers, I still felt connected to country music in a weird way.  I stopped listening to it on a daily basis, but it was still a part of me.  

Then my life took an unexpected detour.  In the words of Carrie Underwood, “Jesus took the wheel.”

My mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  It was the summer of last year when she started to experience symptoms like throat pain when eating.  At the time we thought it was just some sort of indigestion or acid reflux, but after countless doctor visits and consultations, we were not getting answers.  After ruling out everything else, they decided to test for cancer…and that is when they found the cancer…which was already in its later stages.  There was still hope, but things started to look grim as time went on.  This was one of the toughest times in my life, and it only got tougher as her health started to degrade.

I will never forget one of the nights I spent with my mom in the hospital.  At this point, we knew she wasn’t going to make it.  After countless rounds of chemo and radiation, the cancer just did not want to go away.  We were sitting by her bed, me and other members of my family, and we started to go through the songs she wanted to play on her funeral slideshow.  To give you some background, the funeral home that took care of us put together a DVD slideshow that would play on the TV’s in the room.  The slideshow was comprised of pictures from her life and the DVD version would have an audio track with her favorite songs.  We were going through the list of songs she wanted to have on her slideshow, and one of them was Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.”  We played the song in the hospital room, which might have been the most bittersweet moment I have ever been a part of.  She was slowly starting to fall asleep as the song played on; family surrounding her.  

At the time the song meant so much to me.  In the song, a man in his early forties gets word that his father has a mysterious life-threatening illness.  The song’s a bittersweet story about taking life as it is and living each day to the fullest.  My mom lived her life the same way, taking each day and living it to the fullest.  I could not think of a more perfect song about her life.  She later passed away in March, surrounded by our family in the hospital.  It was the toughest moment in my life.  Losing a loved one is always tough, but when you lose parent it is on a whole other level.  When you lose someone that has played a big part in raising you through your most formative years, you life changes drastically when they are gone.  My mom meant so much to so many people.  She was my best friend.  She was also my connection to country music.

Just like all things in life, everything moves on.  I took the rest of my college semester off to help around the house.  It was a taxing time for me, so I thought it was best that I took a break for myself, while at the same time I was back at home to help out my dad and my little brother.  I later went back to college in the fall and that is when life started to become more “normal.”  I was back at school, but I always made sure to go back and visit whenever I could on the weekends.

It was on one of these trips back home when a flood of nostalgia hit me like a tidal wave.  I usually like to have something on during my road trips, whether it is a podcast or music.  This time around I decided to change things up and I found the country music station on the radio.  It was a while since I had listened to any sort of country music, so my tastes were out of touch.  My mom was my only connection to country music, so my tastes had lapsed.  After a couple of songs or so, Carrie Underwood’s newest song, “Church Bells,” came on the radio and that is when it hit me.  That is when the nostalgia hit me hard.

I started to think about what my mom would have thought of the song.  She was one of the biggest fans of Carrie Underwood I knew, so I immediately knew she would have loved it.  It was then that I looked up into the sky and I started cry.  Yep, there I was, crying in my car going down the highway with a Carrie Underwood song on the radio.  I probably sound like a middle-aged woman fresh off an ugly break-up, but I could not get through the full song without crying.  I started to think about all the times I listened to country with my mom on our various road trips across the country.  I did a lot of reminiscing on that trip back home and it was on this trip that I rekindled my taste for country.

On my weekends where I was home, I started to dig up my mom’s old country albums and I started to look at their tracklists.  I didn’t recognize most of the songs, but there were still a ton of songs that I started to put into my music library.  Country music now started to populate my library, taking a seat next to the other genres of music that had a handle on my library for the longest time.  I also started to seek out new country music.  There was a time where I scoffed at country music, but I quickly realized how silly I was.

Although my musical tastes still tend to lean towards hip-hop, rap, and EDM, I have gained a rekindled appreciation of country music.  These days I still find myself mostly listening to country songs from my childhood, but I am always broadening my horizons.  Country music has always been a part of me, despite my lapsed frandom of the genre, and this is all thanks to my mom.  I have tons of memories that I will always remember my mom by, but country music is something I will always remember her by.  She is probably up in heaven giving me her latest country music recommendations, and I could not be happier.