No, in addition to being the anniversary of Canadian Confederation, July 1st is the smack-dab middle point of the year, a time when we can reflect on where we’ve been and look ahead to where we’re going.
When it comes to video games, where we’re going is the bonkers late summer/early autumn season, when roughly a trillion high-profile games come out at once in order to cash in on the impending holiday shopping madness.
But the crush of game releases from August through early November can sometimes overshadow some of the worthy titles that came out earlier in the year. And so, on this multi-celebratory day (don’t forget to make your mid-year’s resolutions!), here’s a look at the best games of 2016 so far.
Nathan Drake’s final adventure sticks to the formula of the previous three instalments when it comes to the climbing, swinging and guns-a-blazing action, but Uncharted 4 explores some fascinating new territory by making our swaggering rogue feel more human than ever. While Uncharted 4 isn’t flawless – by the end, the familiar gameplay mechanics start to feel stretched a bit thin – it’s a testament to how quiet moments between characters can be just as powerful as frantic, all-out firefights.
‘Overwatch’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
This team-based first-person shooter by the creators of World of Warcraft and Diablo has quickly become one of the most popular competitive online games of 2016. (It’s reportedly edged out League of Legends as the most-played game at Net cafes in South Korea, and that is no small feat.) While the many tactical layers of Overwatch can be a bit daunting to newbies, if you’re fortunate enough to play with a team that communicates well and works together, it’s an incredible, candy-coated rush.
‘Dark Souls III’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
Although the Dark Souls games are notorious for their punishing levels of difficulty, they’re engrossing and superbly polished experiences that reward patience and practice – when you die (and oh, you will die so, so much), it’s simply because the game is trying to make you a better player. While I’m still a little more partial to the unique mechanics, weapons and settings of Dark Souls’ spiritual sibling Bloodborne, this year’s Dark Souls III is another stellar entry in this ferocious franchise.
‘Doom’ (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
The brilliant souls at Bethesda were oddly quiet about this reboot of the classic first-person shooter leading up to its release, to the point where I thought they must be keeping mum because the game was going to suck. But this gorgeous update of Doom hearkens back to what made the 1993 original such a genre-defining experience: it’s all about speed, mayhem and unapologetic fun, and everything about the game’s design emphasizes glorious, adrenalized power.
‘Rocket League’ (Xbox One)
OK, this one might be cheating a bit – Rocket League has been available on the PlayStation 4 and Windows PCs for nearly a year now. But Xbox One players were brought into the fold this past February, extending this phenomenal sports game’s reach even further. Bashing around a giant soccer ball with rocket-boosted cars might sound kind of silly, but this is one of the most fine-tuned and purely enjoyable video games I’ve ever played, and is in constant rotation on all my machines. Wow! Nice shot!
‘Darkest Dungeon’ (PC, Mac)
Big-budget, big-studio games can be a lot of fun, but there’s such an astonishing wealth of smaller, independent titles out there that it would be criminal to overlook them. Developed by Vancouver-based Red Hook Studios, Darkest Dungeon is a unique mix of turn-based dungeon-crawling, real-time combat and gothic, psychological torment – a major component of the game is keeping your adventurers from cracking under the stress and fear that comes with their chosen profession. It’s a small, smart, stylish game.
‘Inside’ (Xbox One)
This side-scrolling puzzle-platformer from indie development studio Playdead just made the cut – it came out earlier this week on the Xbox One and lands on Windows PCs on July 7. But when lists of the best games of 2016 start getting compiled in December, Inside will not be forgotten. Like Playdead’s extraordinary 2010 release Limbo before it, Inside is drenched with atmosphere and minimal yet unforgettable storytelling moments, in addition to thought-provoking puzzles and stunning world design. If games like this are what we’re getting in the first half of the year, the backside of 2016 is looking rosy indeed. Heh. Rosy backside. (Mid-year resolution: stop making stupid butt jokes.)