XCOM 2 – Brandon Addeo
The second installation of the “XCOM” series, “XCOM 2,” adds another fantastic entry in the turn-based, third person tactical shooter series historically known for being harsh and unforgiving in its difficulty.
The game takes place in 2035, 20 years after the events of “XCOM: Enemy Unknown,” the reboot of the 1990s “X-COM” series by developer MicroProse.
“XCOM’s” greatest strengths are in its difficulty, and “XCOM 2” is every bit as challenging as “Enemy Unknown.” The two games are similar in structure, but “XCOM 2” improves some of the functions of its predecessor. For example, upgrades to armor and weaponry are now automatically distributed to all XCOM soldiers, whereas they previously had to be made individually for each troop.
Additionally, “XCOM 2” introduces the ability to customize the names, physical appearances and personalities of your soldiers. For myself at least, this customization aspect made the (unceremonious) deaths of your troops that much more cruel, but adds to the intensity of the game.
If you’re looking for a challenge, grab a plasma rifle and help liberate planet Earth in “XCOM 2.”
Darkest Dungeon – Sean Ray
“X-COM” is one of my favorite retro video games. H.P. Lovecraft is one of my favorite authors. So a game that combined the tough of nails, permadeath style gameplay of “X-COM” with the cosmic horror stories of Lovecraft was bound to be my favorite of the year.
“Darkest Dungeon” is a true sign of the strength indie studios have. No major publisher would be caught dead making a 2D game that doesn’t show off intense graphical capabilities, nor would they make a game that’s teeth grindingly hard. Luckily, Red Hook were able to fill that unique niche for people who love to bang their heads against a proverbial brick wall over and over again until they succeed.
The game will make you yell in frustration and cheer in success within the same play session. You’ll find yourself becoming attached to your characters and mourning their deaths. And for the cherry on top, you’ll find yourself absolutely captivated by the game’s enchanting narrator, even as he mocks your failures.
Pokémon Go – Zachary Landau
Yeah, remember that? That was fun for two weeks. “Pokémon Go” may be a terrible game run by buffoons who have never heard of the word “retention,” but it was also perhaps the biggest game to come out in a long time. Everywhere you went, people were flicking virtual balls at the titular monsters, and it was an amazing experience to just enjoy something with complete strangers. “Pokémon Go” was a great thing in a terrible year, and with the drip-feed of new content coming in December, there will be a reason to come back and relive those two weeks again. If anything, “Pokémon Go” is the closest I have ever been to experiencing the level of Pokémon fever when the series first debuted.
Overwatch – Grant Stoner
“Heroes never die!” the angelic Mercy announces, as she instantly revives five of her fallen comrades. With the full team assembled, the payload successfully reaches its final destination, awarding the attackers with a victory. Developed by Blizzard Entertainment, “Overwatch” is an objective-based shooter, requiring players to synchronize battle strategies, as well as team composition, to win the game. With 23 eclectic heroes, each with their own powerful abilities, 14 diverse maps and six unique game modes, “Overwatch” provides an incredible opportunity for gamers to explore varying play-styles within a single package.
“Overwatch” delivers one of the most engaging first-person shooter experiences of 2016. Despite the lack of a story, each multiplayer match evolves into an intense, often climactic struggle, forcing both teams to quickly react in order to secure a win. Whether on consoles or PC, “Overwatch” is an excellent gift for gamers this holiday season.
Gone Home – Nicole Prieto
An indie game originally released in 2013, Fullbright’s “Gone Home” was temporarily released for free over the weekend following the results of the presidential election. The game received critical acclaim after it first came out — and for good reason.
The year is 1995. You take the first-person perspective of Katie Greenbriar, a college student who just arrived home after studying abroad in Europe. The Greenbriars recently moved into a deceased relative’s house. Katie arrives to find it dark and abandoned, with only a mysterious note left to start off the game. Players must unlock secret passageways and discover new areas to try to determine what happened to Katie’s now-missing sister, Sam. The narrative unfolds before you as you pick up items and Sam narrates what happened in her life since you left.
Though it received some flak for being a “walking simulator,” “Gone Home” is a solid narrative whose unseen characters and thoughtful voice acting easily make up for its weaknesses. The game inverts horror genre tropes to good effect. Instead of monsters in the attic, what we receive is a hopeful, relatable story with high emotional payoff. This is definitely one LGBT-friendly game you will either want to pick back up again or try out for the first time.
Gears of War 4 – Craig Taylor
“Gears of War 4” is a big-budget, hammy video game that is completely self-aware. It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and is just a well-rounded package for old fans and new fans alike.
Taking place 25 years after the end of “Gears of War 3,” “Gears 4” follows Marcus Fenix’s son JD and his outfit of Outsider allies in a post-Locust world. But a new threat emerges, and it’s up to JD and company to save the planet Sera as his father did before him.
“Gears of War 4” is a near-perfect soft-reboot. The story brings back some old favorites but is largely fresh, the co-op Horde mode is the best it’s ever been, and the multiplayer, although a little tired, sticks to the series’ roots to ensure that veteran players feel at-home.
There are other games that are more provocative or innovative, but in terms of big-budget AAA games, “Gears 4” is so complete, that it’d be difficult to find a fuller game for $60.