Inside

XO PS4 PC

Inside is a massive rebuke to everyone that thinks games are simply about mechanics. While the simple puzzle mechanisms of the game are ingeniously executed, the experience overall is all about atmosphere, mystery, and intrigue; it's a work of short science fiction as good as anything movies or the written word could come up with. What's more, it's an experience that leverages (and much like Bioshock, interrogates) the concept of player agency, unique to the medium, to maximum effect. Coming after what has gone before it, the ending of the game (ideally experienced unspoiled) has to stand as one of the most gobsmacking, OH-MY-GOD-IS-THIS ACTUALLY-HAPPENING?! sequences in gaming history, and is without doubt my favourite media experience of the year (pending the result of seeing Star Wars: Rogue One in a couple of days). (Ben Allan)

Dishonored 2

XO PS4 PC

Taking all that was great in the first game and improving it, Dishonored 2 is how sequels should be made. Open-ended gameplay, freedom of movement, and fantastically designed skills give players all they need to tackle the game how they want. Pair this with exceptional world building, level design, and compelling characters, and you have one of the best games of the decade. (Chris Brown)

Dishonored 2 isn't just one of my favourite games of the year, it's one of my favourite games ever. Set in a breathtakingly beautiful yet brutish dystopia, it is a challenging, oppressive action game that's equally fun to play whether you are slipping unseen between merciless guards or rending limbs as a quasi-supernatural force. Levels are tangled, sprawling, brilliantly-designed affairs that enable creative use of your dark powers and weapons, and you'll quickly be combining the two in hugely entertaining and surprising ways. There's also a ton of captivating backstory for those patient enough to scour the game's singular setting or eavesdrop before drawing their blade. Sadness, cruelty and injustice have made a home in Karnaca. Cast them out. (Matt Maguire)

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

PS4

This was an easy pick. For a long-time fan of the series, Uncharted 4 was a rollercoaster ride of emotions as Drake's story finally came to a close. Naughty Dog really pulled out all the stops, delivering one of the best gaming adventures I've had the pleasure of experiencing. Every single aspect of the franchise was improved on, but it was arguably the storytelling that elevated it from greatness to excellence. It felt so much more grounded and lifelike compared to what had come before, with the script, mo-cap acting and animation all coming together brilliantly – just as they did in The Last of Us. Watching these beloved characters endure the twists and turns of the story, it really hit me how far this series has come since its humble roots. (Tim Stanton)

Nathan Drake’s final journey is one I absolutely adored every minute of. Filled with incredible set pieces, fantastic puzzles, and an engrossing story, A Thief’s End is everything I could have wanted from Drake's final Uncharted game – and then some. It managed to surpass my high expectations, and killed off any worries that it wouldn't match Uncharted creator Amy Hennig's previous entries. It's my favourite Uncharted game to date, and I am very intrigued to see how Chloe’s standalone expansion plays out next year. (Toby Berger)

Doom

XO PS4 PC

How the hell was Doom so good? It really had every chance of ending up as another Duke Nukem – a classic gaming experience that turned out to be better left as dead as your average classical composer – but instead it injected some much needed kinetic energy, verve and just plain goddamned chutzpah to an enduringly samey FPS scene. Sure, the multiplayer wasn't that much chop, but who gives a pinky demon's vulnerable and soon to be buckshot-riddled arse; the outstanding single player campaign and its great level design, unrelenting waves of enemies and pounding soundtrack were the main attraction. No other game this year did as much to physically drag me to the very front edge of the couch during gameplay, with my lizard-brain locked solidly into a "MOVE-KILL-MOVE-KILL" loop until the soundtrack wound down. I don't believe violent video games encourage violent behaviour, but playing Doom for a while kind of gets you thinking that maybe it would just be much better if you could interact with literally everything in your environment (your Weetbix, the microwave, light fittings, pets) by punching it. (Ben Allan)

XCOM 2

XO PS4 PC

Firaxis’ reinterpretation of XCOM was a sublime example of streamlining and refinement. This year’s sequel added more depth and some nice twists on the newly established rules, while rebalancing the whole game in a way that makes it even more challenging but never unfair. Expanded tactical options and a reactive global meta game keep the tension high throughout, something that was a failing of the previous game. This is how you make a sequel: refined, expanded, improved, and wonderfully rage-inducing. (Chris Brown)

Final Fantasy XV

XO PS4

Considering I only spent a combined total of 15 hours in previous Final Fantasy games before jumping into the series’ fifteenth main entry, it may be a bit surprising to learn that Final Fantasy XV blew me away. Having gone in with more or less no expectations – and with no intention of even getting close to finishing it – I just couldn’t stop playing. RPGs aren’t usually my thing either, yet I happily spent 60 hours over the last week or two within the world of Eos, levelling up and nabbing that beautiful platinum trophy. (Toby Berger)

Gears of War 4

XO PC

Even as a self-professed Gears geek, I am still surprised how much I enjoy Gears of War 4. The Coalition's first swing at the franchise is immediately familiar to anyone who has played any of the prior titles, touching on themes of friendship, sacrifice, and authoritarianism while providing you all manner of nasty monsters to carve up. It hits all the expected plot beats, and it's not a subtle or particularly thoughtful game. Even so, it's the most mechanically refined and spectacular-looking of the series (especially on Xbox one with HDR – those weather effects!), the new protagonists are likeable, and you can fling ricocheting sawblades at bad guys… I mean, c'mon! It's the stellar multiplayer that gives it legs, though: the series that coined the phrase "horde mode" has topped itself again with Horde 3.0, and I even find myself enjoying Dodgeball, Arms Race, and Escalation versus modes from time to time. All told, it's hard to think what could have been done better here, and it runs great on Windows 10 too – something that can't be said for more than a few recent high-profile PC releases. (Matt Maguire)

The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine

XO PS4 PC

The clear expansion of the year, The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine is a wonderful conclusion to the best modern RPG yet. CDPR showed that action-RPGs don’t need to be shallow, that choices are important and have consequences, and that if you know what you are doing, DRM-free does not kill sales.
(Chris Brown)

Hyper Light Drifter

XO PS4 PC

Hyper Light Drifter's hallucinatory visuals and haunting synth score mark it out as one of the most distinctive, evocative releases in recent memory. A purposeful tribute to A Link to the Past and Diablo that was a Kickstarter smash way back in 2013, it is a neon fever dream that puts mood before narrative, shot through with gripping battles and wide-eyed exploration. It's clearly an intensely personal game from Alex Preston, whose congenital heart disease is reflected in his studio's name, the drifter's mysterious disease, and HLD's ominous, decaying world. Few games transport you to a place so alien, wondrous, and singular, and that Drifter was made with GameMaker Studio (which sadly resulted in Wii U and Vita ports being dropped) makes it all the more impressive. Play it – it will stay with you long after the final bosses dissolve. (Matt Maguire)

Civilization VI

PC

In 2016, Firaxis raised the bar for the entire turn-based strategy genre. Deep, complex, and evolved, Civ VI proves that even long-established and well-trodden franchises can be refreshed, revamped, and renewed without losing their personality. The studio also proved that you can lower the barrier to entry without sacrificing depth or difficulty. Civ VI is the most approachable and yet challenging game in the Civ canon, and a must-own for any strategy fan. (Chris Brown)

Hitman

XO PS4 PC

The first episode of IO Interactive's first Hitman season was insubstantial and the excellent second offering was crippled by server connection problems. Said problems have persisted to an extent, but the rest of the game's first season has been so strong (particularly the Bangkok and Hokkaido levels) that Hitman has snuck onto this list anyway. Its episodic structure was initially controversial but actually suits the replay-and-perfect style serious players must adopt for success, and the one-chance-only Elusive Target missions are beautifully tense (even if latecomers miss out here). The tone is perfect, too: this is a game that knows how silly it is, but plays things as straight as possible anyway, even as you are assassinating targets with coconuts and exploding golf balls. Here's hoping the three seasons IO has planned come to fruition. (Matt Maguire)

Owlboy

PC

Easily the most pleasant surprise of the year was Owlboy. It’s a perfect example of how important indie game development is, and how it can create experiences found nowhere else in modern gaming. Both light-heated and heartbreaking, this flight-based pixelated platform adventure is about as close to perfection as any game I have played in recent years – a sublime blend of flawless gameplay and effective storytelling.
(Chris Brown)

Titanfall 2

XO PS4 PC

It's a bummer when close release dates see an inventive gem buried by a less-inspired big-name product, but it feels closer to a crime when it's the same publisher responsible for both. So it was this year with Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1, with EA accidentally obscuring the sleek, forward-looking action of the former under the archaic zeppelin of the latter. Perhaps that's unkind; Overwatch held much of the online shooter audience in its thrall in 2016, and recent Call of Duty titles have many thoroughly sick of shooting futuristic weapons at robots – something that also partly explains the popularity of Battlefield 1 despite its mundane take on The Great War. Whatever the case, Titanfall 2 deserves to be played: it boasts a campaign that cleverly leverages the game's silky mechanics, and a multiplayer offering that's basically digital adrenaline. Do yourself a favour: swap that bayonet for a grappling hook, a powerslide, and a fully-loaded mech. (Matt Maguire)

Honorable mentions

Overcooked
Watch Dogs 2
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered
Skyrim: Special Edition
The Last Guardian
Alienation
Tyranny
Dark Souls III
Oxenfree
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
The Witness
Firewatch
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
Superhot
Tom Clancy's The Division
Salt and Sanctuary
Enter the Gungeon
Ratchet & Clank
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Mother Russia Bleeds
Shadow Warrior 2
World of Final Fantasy
Forza Horizon 3

What are your favourite games of 2016? Let us know in the comments below!