10 most innovative games of 2016

These are the games that make you want to keep playing.

Battlefield 1

It’s that time of year again -- for several years in a row, I’ve picked the most innovative games of the year on any platform. This year was much, much easier than past years, mostly thanks to a wide selection of games and the debut of virtual reality headsets. Even the major releases from studios like Electronic Arts had brilliant innovations we’ve never seen before.

1. Inside

You have to play Inside. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the game transports you to another place and time, somewhat similar to the developer's previous game called Limbo. My favorite elements -- other than the subtle graphics, atmospheric audio, and weird gameplay -- is that you feel some emotional dissonance and -- that ending! It’s a must play for any gamer.

2. Battlefield 1

I sometimes get some flack for including major studio games, especially when they are first-person shooters. Aren’t indie games better? Not when it comes to Battlefield 1. One incredibly unique aspect: The game makes a bold statement about the the ravages of war. The graphics could be the best we’ve ever seen, especially during an opening level that looks photorealistic. The gameplay, like setting up a sniper decoy with a human head, is based on actual events.

3. No Man’s Sky

I know, I know. I’ve gone back and forth on this game. First, I loved it. Then I wondered about it. Still, the developers released a new patch that improved the gameplay. In terms of innovation, there’s no question this procedurally generated game -- which has 18 quintillion planets -- is incredibly innovative. My first few sojourns to new planets provided a unique thrill.

4. Pokémon GO

Could I have not included this mobile game? When you see kids wandering around in front of your office carrying their phones hunting for Pokémon creatures, you know there’s something really unique. The augmented reality is not new. The fact that Starbucks just signed on to participate officially in the game is one reason it is so innovative.

5. The Last Guardian

I wasn’t quite ready for the most innovative part of The Last Guardian. Unlike the developer’s previous games ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, you feel a strong bond to the massive dragon-like creature in the game, which uses a fuzzy AI that seems utterly believable. Coaxing and cajoling  doesn’t always work, and the relationship develops over time.

6. Final Fantasy XV

You may have already played an RPG like Final Fantasy XV and sliced and diced a few baddies, but you have never quite seen a gameworld like this. It’s massive, ultra-convincing, and has some of the best creature design I’ve ever seen. (Be sure to also watch the brilliantly transportative movie called Kingsglaive, one of my favorites of the year.)

7. Batman: Arkham VR

My favorite VR game, Batman does something really unique. It’s more of a strategy game, and you have to sit back and think about your actions. This has the added benefit of helping with constant motion in the Sony PlayStation VR headset. You feel like you’re Batman, wearing a suit, standing on top of a building, and taking down the bad guys.

8. EVE: Valkyrie VR

As a major sci-fi buff, I felt like I was in the middle of an asteroid field in this VR game. You look to the side and see your squadron, you glance over and see a space station. It’s amazing. Unlike the space shooters for HTC Vive, EVE: Valkyrie for PlayStation VR makes you feel like you’re really in space, and the 3D surround audio (from the earbuds and your television) only helps.

9. Firewatch

The big surprise with Firewatch is that the story itself is the true innovation -- a mystery that unfolds over time and is told mostly through spoken dialogue. You keep playing to see how it all turns out. Of course, hunting around on a map using a compass is also unique. And, the entire concept -- looking for fires from a watchtower -- is a lesson in gameplay innovation.

10. Star Wars: Battlefront

Yes, I included two massive shooters. This one deserves extra credit for a few reasons. First off, in 4K resolution on a computer, the graphics are astounding. EA sneaked in an extra VR mission this month, which also sets Battlefront apart from every other game. More than anything, the level design, fantastic audio and soundtrack, and true-to-the series gameplay convince you, like no other game, that you are in the Star Wars universe. That’s an impressive accomplishment.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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