It's been a heck of a year for video games. Virtual-reality titles finally went mainstream, indies made as big a splash as their AAA counterparts, and the first-person-shooter genre became more diverse and refreshing than ever. We played games that twisted the story of our favorite superheroes, challenged us to confront racism and simply let us have a blast slaying demons or drifting through the Australian outback. Here’s a countdown of our 15 favorites.
Indie darling Superhot has revitalized the first-person shooter — and is the tensest game of Red Light, Green Light I've ever played. However, Superhot is at its best in VR, when I'm moving forward ever so slightly so my attackers can take their best shot or punch. The action stops when I do, giving me the opportunity to judge the attack's trajectory and pull off my best "Matrix" dodge while returning fire. It's a mix of strategy, flexibility and accuracy that will have you consistently coming back for more. — Sherri L. Smith
In a year when Street Fighter V came out of the gate stumbling, The King of Fighters XIV showed how to do a modern fighting-game release right. This frenetic 3-on-3 brawler features a whopping 50 characters as well as a robust suite of online modes for both competitive and casual players. KOF XIV makes the notoriously technical fighting series more accessible than ever, yet there's still more than enough depth to keep tournament players busy for years. — Mike Andronico
After three games, five years and countless deaths, the Dark Souls series has come to a close. Dark Souls III provided everything that a discerning action/role-playing gamer could want. In addition to tight, balanced gameplay and an intricate world to explore, Dark Souls III also wrapped up the enigmatic storyline that's vexed players since the first title. The game is incredibly tough, but also too much fun to put down. — Marshall Honorof
Never say that developer Remedy Entertainment is afraid to innovate. Quantum Break blurs the lines between video game and television series to create an interesting new avenue for gaming. You play as Jack Joyce, who is learning to manage his newly gained time-bending powers after an accident with a time machine kills his brother and pits him against a former friend. The consequences of the decisions I made in this gripping third-person shooter played out in a scripted television show from the villain's perspective. It's a groundbreaking combination that I'm looking forward to seeing more of in the future. — Sherri L. Smith
Strip away the excellent soundtrack and the repetitive gameplay, and you've got a story that is so relevant to 2016, it's shocking that it's set in 1968. Mafia III is the story of Lincoln Clay, a black Vietnam War veteran looking for revenge against the mobsters who killed his family. The quest for vengeance makes for strange bedfellows that run right down racial lines in a fictional New Orleans, coping with both the war and the ongoing civil-rights protests. As weighty as the subject matter gets, developer Hangar 13 manages to inject both levity and respect into the hot-button topic of race in America. — Sherri L. Smith
Any game can offer puzzles that push me to the edge, ready to throw my controller at the display. What makes The Witness a great puzzler, though, is that it places you on a lush, vibrant island and massages your stress to manageable levels with its serene soundtrack. As an unnamed protagonist, you'll roam an island and try to wrap your mind around the title's 664 challenges. The game's story takes a while to unravel, but as with many things in life, The Witness is not about the destination, but the journey. — Henry T. Casey
Fifteen years after being kidnapped in the original Dishonored, Empress Emily Kaldwin faces another threat to her throne. Players take control of either Emily or returning protagonist Corvo Attano to do what the duo does best: sneak past enemies, use stealthy gadgets and employ unearthly magic to unravel the conspiracy. Dishonored 2 has tight stealth mechanics and a beautifully realized world, both of which support a thoroughly enjoyable story. — Marshall Honorof