2016 has been a hell of a good year for games. AAA has become decidedly more interesting and creative. More risks have been taken. Bigger, glossier games have become cleverer and more surprising. Inventive, expressive indie games have been exploding out all over the place. But that surge in quality has a downside, in that there’s been so much good stuff around, you might well have missed a few treasures along the way. But guess what? The time of those overlooked games’ redemption is almost at hand.
Black Friday is coming. And Black Friday, as well as being the most almighty flesh-scrum of scratching and biting in real-world, physical shops, is also a time of great cheapness online. So I’ve put together a list of the games you might well not have played this year, but which are definitely, definitely worth a punt if you can find a deal on them. Some are under-selling greats. Some are slightly more obscure selections deserving of a bit more love. One or two are interesting, flawed works that weren’t worth a go a full price, but might well make interesting curios if you can get them cheaper. So read on, make a note of what takes your fancy, and get ready with that F5 key, stat.
Why you might not have played it yet: Because not enough people have in general. Titanfall 2 is one of the best games of the year (and one of the top two FPS for definite), but it er, hasn't sold that well. Possibly because EA released it right between Battlefield One and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
Why you should play it: See above. Titanfall 2 is simply one of the most creative, imaginative, and belligerently inventive games of the year. Its blisteringly kinetic, wall-running, double-jumping systems would make for a fantastically fresh FPS campaign alone, but Titanfall 2's masterstroke is that it never takes its core mechanics to be enough. On an almost mission-by-mission basis it throws in new idea after new idea, each a smart, well-crafted spin strong enough to carry an entire game on its own, yet every one taken away and replaced with something new - and just as good - the instant it starts to become overly-familiar. The result is an FPS of genuine landmark quality, with an insight for pacing, focus, and endless reinvention that genuinely evokes some of the genre's greatest. Call of Duty 4. Half-Life 2. Titanfall 2. Spiritually, it's cut from very similar cloth indeed.
Why you might not have played it yet: Because it was PC-only when it first came out, and then the buzz sort of died before it hit consoles.
Why you should play it: Because it's fantastic, compulsive, intelligent, immediate, endlessly engrossing fun. Presenting smart, layered, increasingly involved strategy with accessible, action-movie flair, XCOM 2 is - much like its predecessor - a turn-based tactics game for people who think they don't like turn-based tactics games. You'll recognise all of its grammar from a plethora of games you already love. Cover. Suppressing fire. Creative weapon-load-outs. Flanking, ambushes, and furious fight-backs. It's all the joy of Gears of War, but with a great deal more involvement, thought, and emotional pay-off – the latter thanks to XCOM's use of persistent soldiers and perma-death. Forget any notion that strategy games are dry, sedate affairs. This is the Hollywood version in all the best ways.
Why you might not have played it yet: Because we (rightly) gave it a not-entirely-positive three-and-a-half-out-of-five review. And despite being grossly hyped for a grossly long time, it disappeared pretty much without a trace at launch.
Why you should play it: If you can get it cheap, there are good times to be had in Quantum Break. A flawed game made of great combat, marred by poor pacing, caused by the inclusion of a not-terrible but unnecessary TV show, it's a frustrating overall production, constantly getting in its own way and curtailing the good bits just as they get going. But the good bits are good. Max Payne developer Remedy's instinct for clever, kinetic combat is as on-point as it's ever been. The game looks and sounds beautiful. And when they gets a chance to flourish, the writing and narrative design can be pretty damn rewarding. Just er, check our full review before you commit, so that you know exactly what you're getting into, and whether it justifies whatever price you might find.
Why you might not have played it yet: Because you were probably put off by the shaky launch, and never looked at it again, assuming that it was too late to get in once the hardcore had had a few months of practice.
Why you should play it: Two things. One: Street Fighter 5 is brilliant now. Its early single-player content problems are pretty much sorted out, with a fully-featured training mode added for free alongside a fun and ridiculous - though admittedly challenge-slight – cinematic story mode. Two: Street Fighter 5 remains possibly the most accessible, comprehensible, and purely fun fighting game out there. Its core gameplay, its focus on character, and its immensely parsable feedback of cause and effect make for an unparalleled welcoming nature, whatever your level of fighting game experience. Just a get a friend involved, get stuck in, and you'll find that, regardless of any genre worries and intimidation, you'll be having a whale of a time in near to no time at all.
Why you might not have played it yet: Because it looked like a weird, JRPG Minecraft knock-off, based on a JRPG series you probably haven't played.
Why you should play it: It technically is that, but it's so, so much more as well. If you like the idea of building a whole world, but don’t like the way certain other games cast you instantly adrift without instruction or guidance, then Dragon Quest Builders is perfect for you. DQB doesn't dictate, but it does give enough direction to stoke your creative kindling. You'll be asked to build specific facilities - with specific purposes - for your town. And you will find blueprints. But they're a guide. A recipe for future, more personalised possibilities. Once you know the required raw ingredients, you'll be able to freestyle rooms and decorations, and level up your town with creative freedom *and* purpose. Throw in a raft of secrets, treasures, hidden clues and upgrades, and you have a fantastic combination of freeform builder, RPG, and even puzzle game.
Why you might not have played it yet: Because it's on the Wii U. And it's an old Zelda game.
Why you should play it: Because it's one of the best Zelda games, presented in its best state so far. While it lacks the difficulty of previous games, Twilight presents a major creative and emotive step forward for the series. The inventive puzzles, fiendishly clever dungeon design, deceptively deep, gratifying combat, and overall sense of explorative wonder remain, but they're all wrapped up in a level of visual polish, lush, detailed world-building, and genuinely affecting storytelling that Zelda games previous had never fully embraced. Twilight Princess embraces all of that and runs with it.
Why you might not have played it yet: It's a remake of an old PS2 game, from a series that has seriously lost its way over recent years. And it’s sort of based on a film as well.
Why you should play it: Because it's bloody delightful. Not just a great hark back to the 3D platformer’s glory days, the rebooted Ratchet & Clank is a reminder of exactly why those games were important in the first place. The giddy joy of movement through splendidly imaginative, beautifully constructed worlds. Pacy, gleeful gameplay, in this case taking in a plethora of ridiculous, witty, and hilarious weaponry. A focus on sheer, immediate fun at all times. That's why Ratchet and & Clank was great back in 2002, and it's why the new Ratchet & Clank is brilliant now.
Why you might not have played it yet: Because although a brand-new - and very good - Tomb Raider game on PlayStation, it already felt old by the time it was released, due to the earlier Xbox One console-exclusivity and PC version.
Why you should play it: Because Rise of the Tomb Raider is brilliant, and the 20 Year Celebration version is even better. An excellent, polished, exhilarating, and entirely classy game, it is, as Justin said in his original review of the Xbox One version, "what AAA productions are supposed to be like'. But the special edition, available as default to PS4 players, and to Xbox One players with a season pass, adds a fair old stack more. There's the narrative-focused, Blood Ties adventure mission, set in a dilapidated Croft Manor - playable in PSVR on the PS4. There's the Lara's Nightmare zombie survival mode. And there’s two-player co-op in the excellent, semi-roguelike Endurance mode. Basically it's the biggest and best version of a big and beautiful game, and you should definitely grab a deal on if you missed it the first time around.