The 25 best games of 2016: From Overwatch to Firewatch

The Independent's verdict on the past year in video-gaming

Jack Shepherd
Thursday 22 December 2016 18:34 GMT

Despite having its naysayers, there have been plenty of phenomenal games released over the course of 2016 across all gaming platforms.

From blockbusters such as Battlefield 1, Dishonoured 2 and Overwatch, to indie games like Abzu, Firewatch, and INSIDE, we've spent hours attached to our TV screens and computer monitors to bring you the top 25 games of the year.

Let us know your thoughts underneath, whether we left off your favourite game, ranked one too high ("NO MAN'S SKY?"), or if completely agree with everything. Enjoy!

25. Paper Mario: Colour Splash

The recent reveal of the Switch aside, 2016 was a fairly disappointing year for Nintendo fans, starved of new content after another delay to the latest Zelda game. Paper Mario: Colour Splash brought some welcome cheer to those still faithfully finding a spot for the Wii U underneath their TVs, with humorous shenanigans unfolding in the colourful kingdom of Prism Island. Tracking down Toads and gambling with Goombas, only a few minor bugs could spoil the fun in what was possibly the year's best Wii U adventure. Read the full review. - Sam Gill

24. Virginia

As well as publishing Giant Squid's Abzu, 505 games kept up an impressive hit rate in 2016. Another excellent mystery from a year full of intrigue, Virginia cast players as an FBI agent investigating the disappearance of a small boy in the rural town of Kingdom. Drawing both influences and time frame from early 1990s classic television like Twin Peaks and the X-Files, the lack of voice acting was not only a budget-saving device but an artistic choice, leaving behind a cinematic adventure that harks back to games from a bygone era whilst also pointing to future avenues of game design that could be well worth pursuing. - SG

23. Forza Horizon 3

Has virtual driving ever looked so good? Absolutely not. Forza Horizon 3 managed to blow all the competition out of the water, making for the most realistic driving simulator ever created. The customisation available to players is unrivalled by any previous game, with 350 cars available, all of which makes for one of the most enjoyable experiences of the year. - Jack Shepherd

22. Watch Dogs 2

Ubisoft took on the criticisms levied at the first game and studiously addressed them in the sequel. Watch Dogs 2 could have very easily been just another open world game that did things by numbers, but it’s clear this is a game made by a passionate team, and their sense of sheer fun bleeds through into the world at almost every turn, creating a genuinely innovative and rewarding experience. Read the full review. - Jack Turner

21. Sid Meier's Civilization VI

The sixth instalment in the game series that helped shape the strategy PC game, Sid Meier's Civilization VI, was no disappointment for eagerly awaiting fans. With more freedom to control and dominate the world however you want, Civilization VI once again raised the bar for what a turn based game can achieve. - JS

20. XCOM 2

XCOM 2 represents an intelligent evolution on what is already arguably one of the best and most challenging strategy games on the market. By scaling back some of the more micro-management sections of the game, streamlining non-combat so players can spend more time on the battlefield, 2K has crafted a more refined and enjoyable experience. Don't be fooled into thinking this game lacks the challenge of its predecessor, though. This is an incredible sequel of an already stellar series. A must-buy for PC owners everywhere. Read the full review. - Brett Phipps

19. DOOM

Players spend much of the new game battling horrific demons with ridiculous weapons
Players spend much of the new game battling horrific demons with ridiculous weapons (id Software/Bethesda Softworks)

An unapologetic nod to first-person shooters of years past, DOOM acts as a love letter to everything gamers adore about the genre. The game’s creepy atmosphere mixed with fierce pace and difficulty made for one of the year’s more unique and exciting experiences. Like revisiting an old friend, if you were one of the millions who enjoyed the original DOOM, this will no doubt be a must-have. Read the full review. - JS

18. Dark Souls 3

If you’ve ever played a Souls game before, you’ll know exactly what to expect here; frustration. As with those instalments, Dark Souls 3 is torturously hard. As you roam this beautiful world, over-sized weapon in hand, the tiniest slip up can cost you hours in game time. Accidentally meet an enemy way out of your league and it's too late to run; prepare to restart. What’s endearing, though, is the sense of accomplishment. When you finally defeat one of the brilliantly designed bosses, there’s an overwhelming sense of triumph; something missing from many games today. If you’ve got the time to master this beast, you’ll have a lot of fun, but for a quick gaming session, there's nothing worse. - JS

17. No Man's Sky

There are few games that will change the face of gaming forever: No Man’s Sky is certainly one of them. As a space explorer, you are tasked with flying around the literally infinite universe, searching the unknown for answers to everything and anything. Despite many gamers feeling let down by the game, No Man’s Sky really is a one-of-a-kind experience. Read the full review. - JS

16. Rex Infinite

There are very few games on PSVR that are must-have purchases. Job Simulator, Batman Arkham VR, PlayStation Worlds: they’re all good, but not exceptional. Trumping everything else is Rez Infinite, the intense runner/glider that’s basically an artform of its own. A few more like this, and the PSVR headset will be a must-have accessory for all PS4 owners. - JS

15. Pokémon Sun/Moon

While everyone with a mobile phone has been obsessing over Pokémon Go, Nintendo not-so-quietly released the latest core instalment in the long-running series on 3DS, and it is brilliant. By mixing up the formula somewhat by the game of gyms and freely using monsters from across all generations, Game Freak created the best Pokémon adventure since Gold/Silver and the year's best 3DS game. Read the full review. - JS

14. Final Fantasy XV

Square Enix has been cashing in on fan nostalgia this year with its spin-off World of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy Explorers titles, but this latest addition to the main series captures the spirit of past games while working as a standalone entry. Though Final Fantasy XV has a slightly convoluted storyline, its likable characters and well-designed setting appeals to both series veterans and those who don’t know a Tonberry from a Tiamat. Read the full review. - Sophie Witts

13. Hitman

Whether you are looking for poison, straight out shooting, popping heads in toilets or crushing victims; whether you're in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower or at a packed fashion show; or whether you're just wandering around, taking your time, thinking things over and ratcheting up your own anxiety, Hitman puts you in control. It's asking you to make decisions. Plus, with successive chapters and elusive targets, there's a tonne of content to keep you busy. Read the full review. - David Crookes

12. Abzu

Reminiscent of PS3 indie hit Journey, Abzu takes travel underwater, playing out an enigmatic story of self-discovery in an aquatic paradise equally full of wonder and danger. One scene in particular, where our diver is surrounded by a bait ball, provides a particularly breathtaking experience as the sheer numbers threaten to overwhelm the screen, thousands of fish each moving individually without the game dropping a single frame of animation. It's as much a contemplation device as a game, especially now 'meditation mode' has dropped the obtrusive black borders in the latest update, rendering Abzu both the world's finest virtual fishtank and a diverting adventure all in one package. Read the full review. - Sam Gill

11. Titanfall 2

When the first Titanfall game was released as an Xbox exclusive, there was much excitement, many believing an online FPS featuring huge Titans would blow the likes of Call of Duty away. Unfortunately, EA’s first instalment was somewhat disappointing. However, after taking on criticism, Respawn has produced an amazing multiplayer experience with an arguably better single player. Something very few people were expecting. Read the full review. - JS

10. Gears of War 4

Throughout 2016, the Xbox One continuously lagged behind its console rival when it came to exclusives, the likes of Re-Core and Quantum Break being huge disappointments. However, there was never any doubt Microsoft could produce a killer Gears of War instalment, something they delivered for the fourth time (we don't speak of Judgement). Gears 4 proved the Xbox One has incredible graphic capabilities while adding a phenomenal addition to the long-running series. - JS

9. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

While many studios promise real, breathing worlds where players are trusted with huge amounts of freedom, few deliver. Square Enix, though, managed to create a game where you never feel pushed into a certain path; a game where you’re playing the game you want to play. Sneaking, hacking, and fighting your way through this dystopian world has never been so fun; with the engaging story and cyberpunk-themed aesthetic making the experience truly original. Read the full review. - Jack Turner


Following the successful Limbo, Playdead managed to knock it out the park again with the haunting puzzle-platformer, Inside, another dark experience. You play as a nameless boy, running through numerous obstacles and escaping the clutches of killer guards. The almost silent gameplay and creepy creatures make for an unforgettable experience, cut from the same cloth as the aforementioned Limbo. - JS

7. Overwatch

Blizzard has always had a penchant for online multiplayer games (World of Warcraft) but no-one knew quite how brilliant a colourful shooter from the company could be. Overwatch pits your team of various bizarre characters against other teams in numerous game modes, all of whom are battling for the sake of battling. A unique multiplayer experience that far exceeds the likes of Call of Duty. - JS

6. Dishonoured 2

Rip through enemies like a murderous thunderclap or slip by unnoticed by a shadow; Dishonoured 2 holds sacred the forked path of the original game, allowing players to use any combination of sneak or assault style gameplay to navigate to the intended goals. With so many further choices and freedoms in sequel than the original, it truly feels like Dishonoured's world is now at your fingertips. Read our full review. - Clarisse Loughrey

5. The Last Guardian

Despite nitpicks regarding technical issues, there’s something truly special about the spiritual sequel to Shadow of the Colossus. Your two unlikely companions may both want different things, leading to some miscommunications between them, but there’s something much deeper than just kinship: as an onlooker, you cannot help but fall helplessly in love with their story. Only the best games have you this involved. Read the full review. - JS

4. The Witness

Jonathan Blow's Myst-inspired open world puzzler has a simple premise – find one of the games many sequential square grids and trace a line(s) from one corner of it to another. While The Witness's pastel-shaded environment subtly points to larger questions about creators and created realities, the game's real triumph is its singular focus on being an extended, exquisitely beautiful logic test that subverts its own rules to joyous effect. Read the full review. - Oliver Cragg

3. Battlefield 1

Since the release of Call of Duty 4, the Battlefield series has remained one step behind its rival. That changed with the release of the WW1-set Battlefield 1. It’s an incredibly well-crafted first person shooter that conveys a meaningful message through six short but brilliant single-player campaigns, each one telling of different soldiers’ experiences around the world. The game’s credentials are further boosted by the breathless multiplayer. Read the full review. - JS

2. Firewatch

The premise of Firewatch seems relatively boring: you play as a secluded man who watches over a forest, making sure it doesn't burst into flame, your only contact being with a fellow fire-watcher via radio. However, what transpires is a gripping five-hour journey through topics such as depression, dementia and loneliness. Spoiling the plot would ruin the wonderful story arc contained within this phenomenal work of art. Firewatch isn't so much a video-game as a brilliant mystery novel – and it leaves you with genuine, thought-provoking questions. - JS

1. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Uncharted 4 isn’t so much a game as a cinematic experience: I could have quite happily watched a friend play the entire game and enjoyed every moment. What makes Nathan Drake’s Indiana Jones-esque adventure the best game of the year, though, isn’t just the incredible graphics and spectacular gameplay; it’s the phenomenal story and script. Centring on two brothers, Uncharted 4 explores the high and lows of their relationship in a realistic way, unparalleled by other blockbusters (except, perhaps, the bond between Ellie and Joel in The Last of Us). As said in our review, a fantastic finalé to a spectacular series. - JS

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