Recognised for: Graphics, Narrative, Single Player
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare offered up a story quite unlike any Call of Duty before it. In a year full of excellent FPS experiences, Call of Duty was still able to hold its own, despite a lot of fan backlash for its change of scenery and gameplay elements. I, for one, found the use of such elements like the boost jump and wall running to be helpful while traversing the derelict space stations and enemy bases. Additionally, I thought the Jackal missions made it both thrilling and fun to commandeer your own space ship in a dogfight, all while being a nice change of pace from the typical first-person shooting. Not to mention that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is also a very accomplished graphical feat. But on top of it all, Infinite Warfare delivered an extremely deep story that tugged those heartstrings when you least expected it, and changed the future of Call of Duty as we know it.
Written by Graydon Webb
Recognised for: Art Direction, FPS, Single Player
Devil Daggers took me by storm in a way that I never imagined it would the first time I played it. It’s a $5 indie game that nobody’s heard of about, where you shoot horrifying nightmare creatures and survive for as many seconds as possible- or at least, that’s how it seems on the surface. Really, it’s about furiously attempting the same gauntlet over and over again; memorizing patterns, discovering hidden mechanics, and scrutinizing replays of people better than you in order to improve your own game. It’s dark, foreboding, and occasionally obtuse, but if you’re really willing to commit, you’ll find levels of depth you didn’t know were there. I’ve lost nearly 50 hours of my life to this thing already, and I’m likely to throw in a few more in the year to come. There’s something refreshing about the purity of it- no progression, no story, no extra modes: just pure, unbridled challenge. It helps that the game looks and sounds so neat, too- if nothing else, I can promise you that you’ve never played a game that looks or sounds anything like it. The darkness in the arena feels almost tangible, and many of the enemies are downright disturbing (arachnophobes beware). It may not be for everyone, and I’m almost certainly crazy for loving it as much as I do, but Devil Daggers deserves a shout out for being a true underdog standout in a year of absolutely fantastic shooters.
Written by Sam Young
Recognised for: Soundtrack
Small Radios Big Televisions is a small game, developed by a single person and published by the always eclectic Adult Swim Games. This little puzzle exploratorium is as endearing as it is frustrating, with some puzzles that are a bit obtuse and some that don’t entirely make sense. After having finished it, I immediately purchased the soundtrack because it’s infectious — the spacey synths, the ethereal notes, the vast atmosphere the music creates is enveloping, almost suffocating. Interesting that the developer is also the composer of this project, but that speaks to how well he knew what this was and the tone he wanted to achieve. I can effectively say this is one of my favorite game soundtracks.
Written by Jeremy Winslow
Recognised for: Singleplayer
Among all of the spectacular AAA games released in 2016, one little game developed by an equally little developer stood out to me the most; Stardew Valley. Developed by a single person (Eric Barone), Stardew Valley is a farming simulator RPG in the vein of Harvest Moon. After inheriting your late grandfather’s farm, you’re thrust into the country life of the titular Stardew Valley. Thereafter, you’ll be farming, fishing, and mining your way through the valley to earn money used to further expand your farm with new crops, buildings, animals, and various other additions. When you’re not doing those three things, you’ll be exploring the local Pelican Town and developing relationships with its many denizens by engaging in conversation, completing various jobs, or giving gifts to those you may want to be a little more than friendly with.
All of this might not sound like the most interesting premise for a game, but Barone manages to make the tedium of being a lonely bachelor or bachelorette, working on a farm in a town conveniently full of other lonely bachelors and bachelorettes, an incredibly fun, not painful experience. Barone also succeeds in creating a world that really feels lived in. Stardew Valley’s colorful pixel art and lively score help to bring the world alive, but the town and its inhabitants are what really bring character to the game’s world. Each NPC has its own role and schedule within the town, making them feel like actual people with actual behaviors and responsibilities rather than just mindless sprites. Additionally, each character has a distinct personality and realistic backstory that further bring these characters to life with a level of emotional depth you wouldn’t expect to find in a game such as this. Combine all of this with a seemingly endless amount of activities in a world brimming with secrets and you have one of the most addictive single player games of 2016. Even after playing the game for 90 hours (yes, 90 hours) across two different characters, I’m still finding new secrets hidden around the valley and new ways to expand my farm. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go water my crops.
Written by Kelson James Howerton
Recognised for: Narrative
In June of 2014, Ryan and Amy Green’s son Joel died at the age of five after battling with brain cancer for four beautifully trying years. That Dragon, Cancer began as a simple bedtime story, a story crafted to help explain Joel’s situation to sons Caleb and Isaac. Amy describes it as a story where “…we always left the ending hanging. If Joel wins, so much the better, if Joel loses, the stage was set for a conversation about a valiant, courageous fight that ended in God saying ‘Well done, you fought hard, welcome to paradise.’” This bedtime story adapted and changed as Caleb and Isaac grew older, and it metamorphosed into something altogether beautiful in the end. While Ryan and Amy discussed a book, or perhaps a film, a friend stepped forward and suggested making Joel’s journey into a video game. He offered to work on the game for six months, unpaid. Ryan and friend Josh began working on That Dragon, Cancer in November of 2012.
That Dragon, Cancer is described as a “two-hour long immersive, narrative experience, broken up into fourteen vignettes,” but even a brief description like that would be selling it so, so short. That Dragon, Cancer is a testament to a father’s love for his son. That Dragon, Cancer is a father’s tribute to his son. That Dragon, Cancer is a father’s belief in something greater than himself. While you can call it an “interactive experience” or an “art game”—it always felt like so much more. It is so much more. That Dragon, Cancer had a profound effect on me. I’ve had chills and thrills and all sorts of feelings from the previously mentioned games and more, but none of them had me up at 4:00 in the morning weeping affectionately for a baby boy named Joel.
That Dragon, Cancer doesn’t have any achievements or trophies, no big bad to overcome in a climactic battle and it certainly won’t be the start of an annualized franchise. That Dragon, Cancer is real in the most terrifying of ways. At the exact same time, it’s so real in the most inspirational of ways. By the time I reached the final vignette, I was weeping and having a picnic at the end of the world. My eyes swelled and my breath faltered and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to leave. But Joel is there. The biggest pancakes you could imagine surround him. There’s a dog too. And bubbles. Joel’s laughing. He’s happy. He shows me what he loves, and I can let go, forever influenced by the beautiful narrative of Joel.
Written by Kevin Atteridg
Recognised for: Narrative
Overall I found Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End to be somewhat wanting, the game lacked the epic set pieces of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and the story felt a little too safe. However, when I got to the game’s epilogue I was bowled over, I’d never witnessed anything quite like it – frankly it was the best ending to anything (Book, comic, film, game, and/or TV show) I have ever experienced. The epilogue was the perfect culmination to everything Naughty Dog had accomplished over the past two decades, starting out with another look back at Crash Bandicoot, before switching to exploring a house for your parents akin to how The Last of Us started with Sarah. The house itself was full of story, filling in the gaps between the ending of A Thief’s End story, and the epilogue’s story, painting a picture of Nate’s and Elena’s life since we last saw them, and also the relationship Cassie had with both them, and Sam and Sully. In those short few minutes, Naughty Dog took you on a tour of their own history, reminisced about Nate’s past adventures, gave the franchise the perfect sending off, such that I can be content with never playing another Uncharted game again, and yet simultaneously in love with the series’ new heroine, and eagerly awaiting to explore her story. Since playing the epilogue I can’t stop thinking about it, and until we get an Uncharted 5, I doubt I ever will.
Written by John Bennett