This was, seriously, the only image I could find for this list.

Stately Selections: Best Video Games of 2016 #4

If you’re unsure of what it is you’re reading, please read this first. It explains everything. There, now that’s out of the way, let’s get to our #4 games of 2016.

SteamWorld Heist

SteamWorld Heist is a perfect blend of trick shots, steampunk robots, and space western attitude. Captain Piper is a trader, a smuggler, and an occasional pirate, caught between the lawless, vicious Scrapper gang and the diesel-fascist Royalists, she’ll do what she can for ordinary cowbots.

Piper and her crew are an odd, interesting, salty and silly set of characters, the likes of which you might find in The Magnificent Seven, Firefly, or Cowboy Bebop, just with more brass polish and winking genre-awareness. The robots of Steamworld have (at least) two genders, but you might not notice at first, as Piper and the other women have functional builds and reasonable clothing. Some present more feminine than others, but not being mammals, none have the gargantuan plastic knockers that pubescent boys worldwide have come to expect on a “female robot.”

SteamWorld Heist has ricochet mechanics that can be scientifically described as “totally awesome,” and high explosives that can be just as hilariously unforgiving as those in the original X-Com/UFO: Enemy Unknown. Hats are important in Steamworld Heist: everyone has one, and if you hit someone in the hat, they won’t take damage, but their hat will go flying and they’ll usually cuss. If any of your cowbots lose their headgear, there’s no need to panic: you can just walk over to where it landed to pick it up. No, hats don’t give bonuses, but if Cap’n Jack would risk life and limb for his hat, why wouldn’t you?

Make no mistake: SteamWorld Heist takes potshots at it’s own mashed-up genre conventions whenever it can, but the characters are substantial and take their roles seriously. You’ll come to care about them, if you have a heat. The first time Piper was blown to pieces before my eyes, I was caught flat-footed and just gaped as her parts scattered in slow motion. The robots in Steamworld Heist are more like C-3PO than Johnny 5 (don’t tell them I said that), so when you lose someone, their parts can be re-assembled.

Steamworld Heist is a good squad strategy game, and it’s side-scrolling sharp-shooting mechanics are strong, but what ultimately makes Heist GOTY material is it’s setting, story and style.

-Tof Eklund

House of the Dying Sun

Priestess Hara has been spotted training prototype drones in the Firelands. Purge her.

House of the Dying Sun is dogfighting distilled. Missions are search-and-destroy, augmented by increase in command, weaponry and targets. Get in, complete primary objectives, hopefully tag secondary and bonus objectives, stay and tussle with capital back-up or skip town. It controls effortlessly with game pad or mouse/keyboard, having boiled away much of the genre cruft like shield and engine energy transfer.

If this title does one thing better than its visuals, it is subtle, cliché-free sound. The audio design is impeccable. Icy chirrups of flight systems, the thump-and-whir of auto-loaders through caulked fuselage and the airless vespers of heavy railguns; every element is pitch-perfect and cuts past even elder statesmen like Freespace 2. Even the breathless click and tick of a fractured canopy feels…right. And cutting past the thrumming thrusters of capital ships, forgetting the scientific outrageousness of it for a moment, you hear ILM-grade rumblings. The sun might be dying, sure, but my ears are being treated to a verdant use of sound.

I love House of the Dying Sun as I do something like Brigador or The Swindle. Games served as canapés. Parceled packages of rich, punchy neo-arcade fare. They don’t ask me for a million hours, but when you’re up for a concentrated morsel of Good Gear™, a game like House of the Dying Sun has your back.

Destroy the caches, purge the workers. 

– Alex Connolly

The Battle of Polytopia

The Battle of Polytopia is an expand-and-conquer, dominate-the-world strategy game with the added bonus of not hoovering up all of your time for days on end and pissing off your neglected family. You pick a tribe, each with a special starting advantage, and seek to best all the other tribes. Games are capped at thirty turns in “Perfection” mode and your goal is to get the highest score possible in that time through building magnificent cities, shepherding forth stunning technological achievements, and beating the crap out of your neighbors. Games usually take around thirty minutes, depending on the difficulty setting and number of players. If you want to play for longer you can in “Domination” mode, which goes until there’s only one tribe remaining. Polytopia is free-to-play, but a good kind. You can play the full game with no freemium shenanigans using any one of three starting tribes. You can unlock more tribes with which to play—and absolutely should—via in-app-purchases, most of which are a dollar. You can fight the battle on iOS or Android.

– Nick Vigdahl

Pathfinder Adventures

Dungeons & Dragons was recently inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame (joining such pillars of play as Stick, Ball, and Cardboard Box). It changed an awful lot of people’s lives, but to experience the full power of the creativity and progression it offered required months or years of regular play with a stable group and a very substantial amount of preparation. Various attempts have been made to ease these requirements–one-shot campaigns, digital versions, Spellfire: Master the Magic–but they generally sacrifice some of the features of the original in order to reduce the necessary commitment and then plug the holes that leaves in fairly generic ways.

But most of these games take the D&D cruise ship and remove the pool, or the casino, or (in the case of Spellfire) any reason you’d ever want to be on the ship. Pathfinder Adventures abandons everything but a chair and a motor, and adds a sweet hull which leaves you with a rockin’ jet-ski. Sure, it didn’t totally work at first, but they keep fixing it and adding stuff like leaping dolphins, a parasail, an outboard slot machine, and hexagons. I’ve never actually been on a cruise ship, but the promotional literature always struck me as having too few hexagons. Anyway, you end up with a game which is totally different from D&D, but has enough recognizable elements and similar themes to evoke any good times you might have had with it in the past, and which can make any lunch break an adventure. The game they’ve replaced it with forces difficult risk/reward, short-term/long-term balancing–what tells you that it does this well is that it’s easy to find and consider all the information there is, but still challenging to make those calls.

– Kelsey Rinella

Stephen’s Sausage Roll

Stephen’s Sausage Roll is a game about rolling sausages onto grills to cook them. It is also one of the best puzzle games I’ve played. You might roll your eyes at the prospect of yet another “Sokobon with a twist”, but I can assure you that this is by far the most worthwhile entry in that rapidly expanding subgenre.

Like any great puzzle game, it takes a simple ruleset and explores it to its fullest extent. The brilliance of Stephen’s Sausage Roll lies in how the game reveals mechanical quirks that must be mastered over the course of the game. Everything is technically there from the beginning, but you won’t notice a mechanic until a puzzle requires it to be used. I’m sorry for being vague about how the whole thing works, but the joy of the game comes from those little “aha” moments, and those moments are really easy to spoil.

To be completely honest, I haven’t beaten the game yet. I have a good reason, though! I saw that an iPad version was in the works, and that is definitely the way I want to play the rest of the game. I know that a second playthrough won’t have the same impact, so I’d rather play it curled up on the couch with my iPad. That said, if you’re fine with playing on your computer, you can pick it up right now at a very rare 20% discount in the winter Steam sale.

– Tanner Hendrickson

XCOM 2

When I first heard Firaxis was brewing up XCOM2, I was a bit disappointed. Of course I wanted more XCOM, but the whole “the aliens won!” storyline didn’t sit well with me. The thought of being a resistance fighter just didn’t sound as cool as being a well-funded organization with the sole purpose of driving out the invaders. Whatever, I was an idiot. The storyline was fantastic, and, somehow, they made the turn-based tactical shooting bliss we’d come to know and love even better. Timed missions, new abilities and equipment, and a base-building aspect that was actually pretty interesting and fun. XCOM2 is, by far, the best tactical shooter I’ve ever played and likely will be until Firaxis comes up with XCOM3.

– Dave Neumann

Summary:

Tof Eklund

  • #5. Severed
  • #4. SteamWorld Heist
  • #3. ?
  • #2. ?
  • #1. ?

Alex Connolly

  • #5. Darkest Dungeon
  • #4. House of the Dying Sun
  • #3. ?
  • #2. ?
  • #1. ?

Nick Vigdahl

  • #5. Solitairica
  • #4. The Battle of Polytopia
  • #3. ?
  • #2. ?
  • #1. ?

Kelsey Rinella

  • #5. Patchwork The Game
  • #4. Pathfinder Adventures
  • #3. ?
  • #2. ?
  • #1. ?

Tanner Hendrickson

  • #5. Pokémon Moon
  • #4. Stephen’s Sausage Roll
  • #3. ?
  • #2. ?
  • #1. ?

Dave Neumann

  • #5. Guild of Dungeoneering
  • #4. XCOM 2
  • #3. ?
  • #2. ?
  • #1. ?
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Notable Replies

  1. @rinelk If you ever go on a cruise, this might be the one for you: https://jococruise.com It's got hexagons aplenty. And Wil Wheaton and other sci-fi/gamer/comic celebrities. And board game rooms on every deck. Sounds like a blast, I would definitely go if I had the time and gold pieces and wherewithal in the game of real life.

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