With an amazing year of games to choose from, it wasn’t easy to pick out the best of the best, but that is what thousands of readers did. Here are your choices and the winners of the GiN 2016 Game of Year awards!
Best Adventure Game: Firewatch
Adventure games made a huge comeback in 2016, with amazing titles like The Flame in the Flood and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture coming out seemingly every week. But nothing captured the imagination more than a tale about a lost soul trying to get away from it all as a firewatcher. As the long, hot summer unfolds, a mystery deepens, but we never really find out if there actually is something sinister in the park, or if it’s just a case of the watchers going a little stir crazy. With masterful storytelling and adventure elements, Firewatch was not one to miss.
Best RPG: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Role-playing games were also amazing popular last year, having made their big resurgence several years previous. This year there were several good ones, including a late entry in the form of Tyranny which turned a few heads. However, it came down to Final Fantasy XV and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. In the end, the dystopian sci-fi world of Deus Ex claimed the RPG crown. Those of us who played the original, Invisible War and the rest of the series were waiting for years to grab Mankind Divided, and it didn’t disappoint. With a truly living world, multiple ways to approach each objective, and plenty of hidden gems to find, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided reminded us why we love futuristic RPGs done right.
Best Family Game: Skylanders Imaginators
The toy warping into game mechanic was brilliant when it first came out, but billions of dollars in sales later, it was getting a little stale. That is until Imaginators hit the ground running with a brand-new mechanic: blank crystal toys that can become any hero you want. The crystal Imaginators work just like the pre-made figurines, only they provide a blank character which can be made into any hero a player wants. Stats are saved on the crystal, so players never lose their progress and can even play with their hero at a friend’s house, regardless of platform. Adding a truly unique new feature made the genre popular again, and earned Skylanders Imaginators the top spot for family game of the year.
Best Shooter: DOOM
Talk about a blast from the past. DOOM was another series that was getting a little bit tired until Bethesda and id Software decided to shake things up again. The new DOOM pays great homage to the classic shooter of yesteryear which helped to launch the entire shooter genre, even feeling a lot like the previous game in everything from level design to weapon performance. But the new DOOM is also beautiful, processor pushing, and intense beyond description. It’s also pretty challenging, just like the classic game, something that most gamers probably appreciate when looking to hone their skills with this Shooter Game of the Year title.
Best Strategy Game: The Banner Saga 2
This category probably had the most surprising upset, given that The Banner Saga 2 was up against Civilization VI and XCOM 2. But The Banner Saga 2 won over gamers with its deep story and unique world. The battles, which happen quite frequently, are akin to puzzles because your band of weary heroes are almost always outnumbered and often outmatched by the heavily-armored Dredge who are constantly pursuing them. Only smart tactics and judicious use of your special skills can turn the tide of battle. Fresh with a Game of the Year win, The Banner Saga 2’s next march is from the PC to consoles, so everyone should be able to enjoy this delightful title.
Best Simulation: ABZU
Originally designed as a VR-only title, ABZU found great success with gamers using standard monitors or televisions. The game featured an underwater world with its own bizarre ecosystem that players needed to navigate. Hidden secrets were everywhere in this shadowy kingdom and everywhere you looked, there was something interesting to see. Of course, within VR, the game world was even more realistic, and a bit scary, but this fun little simulation was playable and enjoyable by anyone.
Puzzle Game of The Year: Inside
While not a pure puzzle title, Inside nonetheless was packed with puzzle elements. Developed by the same team which created the amazing Limbo game, it’s easy to see a lot of similarities. But whereas you were completely alone for the most part in Limbo, in Inside, your character is surrounded at times by other people. It’s just that they all act like zombies, mindlessly shuffling along, commanded by machine overlords. We are not sure what statement the game is trying to make, or if there is any message there at all, but it sure was fun to navigate one of the strangest puzzle-adventures to come out in years.
Best Atmosphere: Final Fantasy XV
The polarizing nature of the Final Fantasy titles practically evaporated with the release of Final Fantasy XV, a game billed as a Final Fantasy for fans and first timers. Part of the success of the game was the amazing atmosphere. Not only did we get presented with a living world that was an odd mix of sci-fi, 1950’s Americana and high-tech science, but we also were introduced to four friends who were genuinely happy when out on their never-ending road trip. It felt real to be a part of that group, making it exciting just to see what was around the next bend in the highway. People felt good playing Final Fantasy XV, so were able to experience the atmosphere on many levels.
Best Story: Firewatch
Firewatch picks up its second win in the story category. Interestingly enough, even after finishing the game, there is still a lot of debate among gamers about what really happened over that long, hot summer in the forest. Was your handler playing you the entire time? Did anyone really get murdered? Was the government involved? How did those fires get started? Any game that can cause people to think about and question the plot after finishing, or even replay the game to try new things, is one that deserves to be nominated. And in this case, Firewatch burns its competition to earn Game of the Year for best story.
Best Musical Score: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Music is often something that we overlook in games. For background music, if you don’t notice it, then it’s probably doing its job. But then there are musical scores that help to enhance a game, to make it memorable, and to etch pivotal scenes in our memory. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has that type of music. The developer, and legions of fans, needed to see their hero Nathan Drake sent off in his final game with a huge bang. The game did that, and the music provided the punctuation for that bittersweet sendoff.
Best Male Character: Lincoln Clay from Mafia III
Lincoln Clay is not your typical hero, which may be why he resonates so strongly with gamers. A Vietnam veteran just back from the war, he really just wants life to go back to normal, the way he remembers it from before. But that can’t happen for him. Too much has changed, and those he felt he could trust may have been stabbing him in the back. So he slowly turns into something he never wanted, though gamers are probably fine with that. Lincoln Clay from Mafia III, our non-traditional hero, becomes our male Game of the Year character.
Best Female Character: Emily from Dishonored 2
The last time we saw Emily, she was just a little girl in the original Dishonored. Thrust into a dangerous world following the assassination of her royal mother, she is forced to grow up fast. While in hiding, her throne has been stolen and it looks like she is down for the count, destined to be nothing more than a footnote in history. Only, she has been growing, and training. And as the curtain lifts on Dishonored 2, we see Emily all grown up and ready for vengeance. Emily cuts her way through the competition to emerge as our female character of the Year.
Best Mobile Game: Pokemon’ Go
Could there really have been any other winner? Pokemon has always been popular, but the emergence of Pokemon Go lifted that fan admiration into the stratosphere. Combining the hunt and catch gameplay with augmented reality means bringing Pokemon into real life. Now there are Pokemon everywhere, hiding behind the stop sign at the end of your street, playing in the fountain at the park, sitting on a treadmill at your gym. All you need to do is go out there and find them. As a side benefit, it’s the one game that people can actually get more fit as they play. For totally changing how we think of mobile gaming, Pokemon Go earns the Mobile Game of the Year.
Best PlayStation 4 Game: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
We don’t require that console-based GOTY winners be exclusive titles, but it worked out that way in this case. The Drake’s Uncharted series has always been a draw on the PlayStation platform, with a perfect mix of action, adventure and story. And after so many successful games in the series, the pressure was high on A Thief’s End to get Drake’s retirement right. Thankfully, developer Naughty Dog did that, and did it so well. People reported actually tearing up as the final curtain set. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End earns the PlayStation 4 Game of the Year.
Best Xbox One Game: DOOM
Though not an exclusive title, playing DOOM on the Xbox One was quite a rush. The new levels were massive, and there were more enemies coming at you than ever before. On the Xbox One hardware, none of that was a problem. Gamers reported constant high framerates even in the middle of tons of daemon-killing, squishing and exploding action. DOOM also picked up the best shooter award, so one might be able to suggest from that that lots of shooters play on the Xbox One. And those shooters loved DOOM the best, earning it the Xbox One Game of the Year.
Best WiiU Game: Skylanders: Imaginators
If shooters dominated the Xbox in 2016, then family gamers flocked to the WiiU. There was actually a lot of stiff competition in this category. But in the end, the innovative new Skylanders of the Skylanders: Imaginators game pulled out the victory. Gamers reported enjoying the new game on the WiiU, where the controls seemed optimized for the type of adventure gaming the game offered. Kids and adults alike were crafting their own heroes, and voting for Skylanders: Imaginators, helping it to earn the WiiU Game of the Year.
Best PC Game: Civilization VI
Although versions of Civilization have occasionally made their way to consoles, the series has its roots, and arguably it’s heart, in PC gaming. Civilization VI is exclusive to the PC so far, and given all the underlying calculations and backchannel management going on in this newest game, it may stay that way. Beyond the AI and gameplay improvements, Civilization VI is gorgeous to behold, with each civilization having unique leaders, buildings and soundtracks. The game is challenging but fair, and every play is completely different from the last. Civilization VI offers unlimited gameplay for PC players, and earns the title of PC Game of the Year.
Overall Game of the Year: Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV takes almost everything that anyone knew or expected from the series and chucked it out the window. Sluggish turn-based combat was replaced with a new and exciting real-time battle system. Linear gameplay gave way to an open-world structure where you could go almost anywhere and conquer the world at your own pace. And the somewhat flat characters from before were retired in favor of a more realistic tale of four friends, each of them a very strong character in their own right, hitting the road and coming of age. All that combined with a gorgeous landscape, a fulfilling plot (especially late in the game), and plenty of little extras to find and unlock, cement Final Fantasy XV as the best game for 2016, and probably put it in contention as one of the best of all time. Final Fantasy XV is hereby anointed the overall GiN Game of the Year. Long live the king!