After spending days holed up in company meeting rooms engaging in fierce debate, our global team of GameSpot editors and video producers has finally assembled a ranked list of the 25 best games of the year. Our list is informed by an array of tastes and preferences, reflecting our team’s diverse gaming backgrounds and opinions. From the biggest triple-A offerings to the smaller, more focused indie experiences, there was an abundance of games we loved this year. We’re going to count down to number one over the next few days, so keep checking back as we unveil our choices for the 25 best games of 2016. For today, here are our picks for 20 to 16.
Set in the beautifully-realized wilderness of the North American midwest, Firewatch is not so much a game about outdoor survival and a mysterious plotline as it is about surviving emotional solitude, dealing with loss, and finding a way out. With its strong writing and natural dialogue, Firewatch is a game that manages to capture the thoughtful nuances of human nature and life experiences through a relationship between two people. More importantly, it lets you be directly involved.
While the key beats of the central plot are a shared experience for all players, the things that you choose to do and say as protagonist Henry causes a reaction in either the characters or the world, and affects how both Henry’s personality and his relationship with his supervisor Delilah unfolds. Everything from throwing a rock to what you say (or don’t say) through a two-way radio creates an effect. It’s a profound journey of self that is shaped by your actions.
Henry, Delilah, and the enthralling landscape of rural Wyoming will be remembered as a significant peak in narrative-focussed video games. Few other games this year made us connect so intimately to fictional characters like Firewatch. – Edmond Tran
19. Offworld Trading Company
One of the best strategy games of 2016 doesn’t feature combat. In Offworld Trading Company, resource gathering, supply chains, corporate sabotage, and the equity market are the weapons at your disposal. But the experience is far from mundane–the short, real-time multiplayer matches are frantically intense, filled with critical decisions every second.
You could be racing across the surface of Mars to find and lay claim to mineral-rich plots of land, hurrying to place buildings for faster manufacturing, and making shady deals with the black market to disrupt a key location in an opponent’s operations. Or, you could be quickly trying to sell truckloads of your resources, crashing the market price, turning your rival’s profit into massive debt, and letting you buy them out.
Matches are vicious, and the scales often tip dramatically. Nobody would have ever thought a game centered around capitalism could get your heartrate up so high, but Offworld Trading Company succeeds with its truly unique, wonderfully-executed concept. – Edmond Tran
Owlboy is an unassuming side-scroller, that, on the surface, looks vaguely similar to scores of other pixelated indie games that have landed on Steam over the years. But there’s far more to it than meets the eye. Beyond its exemplary pixel art, Owlboy has one of the most effective soundtracks of the year, which also serves as the perfect complement to the game’s impressive and oft-touching cast of characters.
Otus, the mute and sensitive hero, faces great tragedies and challenges, the likes of which his peers claim he’ll never overcome. With the help of three unlikely allies, he manages to navigate dark caves and penetrate enemy lines to quell a mounting pirate invasion and save his village. Teamwork is paramount, and while Owlboy is on the easy side, boss fights standout as great tests of dexterity and strategy. It’s a masterfully built game with equal parts heart and explosive action. – Peter Brown
17. Quadrilateral Cowboy
With stylish confidence, Quadrilateral Cowboy turns you into a badass hacker in an retro-futuristic world with ’80s cyberpunk flair. It throws you into a series of increasingly elaborate and puzzling heists across towering skyscrapers, moving trains, space stations, and more. But the coolest and most satisfying part of the experience is the physicality of hacking. You’ll pull out your chunky laptop in the game, confidently type a series of commands into the text-based terminal with your real-life keyboard, and prepare a set of gadgets. You’ll smack “Enter” and then rush through dangerous obstacles as they briefly deactivate, grabbing your objective and crashing through a window before any alarms trigger, just liked you planned.
It also has some of this year’s most poignant storytelling–the downtime between missions gives you the chance to explore the charming details of homes and workspaces, creating a strong sense of world and character without ever hearing anyone speak. With its heart-pumping highs and charming quiet moments, Quadrilateral Cowboy is a delight from beginning to end. – Edmond Tran
16. Stardew Valley
“Farming simulator” is probably not a term that most people would describe as synonymous with “fun.” Farming, both in gaming and real life, involves commitment, daily upkeep, and a lot of chores, but that’s what makes Stardew Valley all the more amazing: it takes the genre’s groundwork laid out in the Harvest Moon franchise and turns it into a sprawling adventure of exploration and variety. Despite being made by just one person, Stardew Valley is filled with hours of content that doesn’t feel like padding. But the reason Stardew Valley was able to keep us obsessively cultivating our life in the country was the mix of rich characters and hidden depths buried in its simple premise. – Justin Haywald
GAMESPOT’S TOP 25 GAMES OF THE YEAR
GameSpot will be unveiling its picks for the Top 25 Games of the Year all throughout December. Click here to see the full schedule.