A fun little stealth game which plays a bit like a top-down Hitman.
It's 3 AM and you're simply trying to sleep, but the house next door is having an obnoxiously loud party. The most rational course of action is of course to put on a hockey mask and murder everyone at the party, so that's exactly what you do.
9 - The Consuming Shadow
A procedurally generated, Lovecraftian-themed survival horror game by Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw, of Zero Punctuation fame. It's quirky, and more than a bit janky, but it is also very engrossing and enjoyable. The world is being invaded by an ancient evil, and you have 60 hours to figure out exactly which of the evil aspects is invading, how to perform the ritual to banish it, and get to the location in one piece to perform said ritual. Piecing together the evidence and clues is really fun, and all the while there's a lot of tension as both the timer and your sanity tick down, the latter of which causes some very subtle and clever changes as it depletes.
8 - Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Certainly a very creative way to do multiplayer. One person looks at a bomb, while the other person (or people) look at the diffusal manual, with neither being able to see the other, and try to diffuse the bomb before it explodes. It's all in how well players can communicate with each other, and gets very tense very quickly. Some of the most fun I've had with a multiplayer game.
7 - Sunless Sea
Continuing with the Lovecraftian themes, we have Sunless Sea. Rarely do I see a game with such a totally engrossing world. You're the captain of a ship in some sort of Victorian Gothic London setting, and you explore this strange and dark world, trying to not go insane in the process.
Now, the combat in this game is something I'm not a fan of at all, but its presence on this list regardless is only testament to the incredible world-building and narrative Sunless Sea accomplishes.
6 - Crypt of the NecroDancer
A challenging, but incredibly enjoyable roguelike rhythm game. Perhaps even the best rhythm I've played.
In standard roguelike fashion, you explore dungeons and fight various enemies, but have to do everything to the beat of the music, which can lead to some very hectic moments when you try to figure out how to defeat a group of enemies while not missing a beat.
Of course any rhythm game needs a good soundtrack, and this one sure has an amazing one, courtesy of Danny Baranowsky.
5 - Volume
I've been looking forward to this one pretty much since it was announced, and was not disappointed. Mike Bithell delivers a fantastic stealth game with this cyberpunk retelling of Robin Hood, and shows that Thomas Was Alone wasn't a fluke.
4 - Her Story
Very interesting and well executed idea for a game. Without going into spoilers, Her Story provides a gripping narrative, and an engaging way of uncovering it. It really makes you feel like a detective piecing together a mystery.
3 - Black Closet
Speaking of detectives, we have this game from the developer of Long Live The Queen. Probably best described as a strategy game with a visual novel presentation, Black Closet is a very engaging and unique title. You take on the role of the president of the student council in a highly prestigious school, and are tasked with solving various cases in order to prevent scandals and thus preserve the school's reputation. You command the other five members of the council in your investigations, taking into account their strengths and weaknesses, trying to solve the cases as fast as possible, but not acting too rashly, as the reputation of the council itself is also something you have to worry about, and thus you don't want to go around harassing innocent people.
Oh, and all the while one of the council members is actually a traitor trying to sabotage you, there's some sort of secret society within the school, and there may be something sinister going on with the teachers you work for, which are all things you might want to look out for.
2 - Invisible, Inc.
Klei Entertainment deliver once again with this fantastic cyberpunk stealth strategy game. It plays a lot like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but purely focusing on stealth. You command your agents through the offices of various mega corporations, utilising their unique abilities and tools to remain undetected as you accomplish your objectives. All the while the level of security increases as the corporations realise that someone has infiltrated, so your time is short. You can try to hack and empty that one extra safe, but more guards will arrive by the time you're done. Whether that's worth the risk is up to you.
1 - Darkest Dungeon
Not only the best game I've played this year, but one which ranks amongst the best games I've played ever.
So, what is Darkest Dungeon? According to the store page, it "is a challenging gothic roguelike turn-based RPG about the psychological stresses of adventuring". That is indeed what it is, but oh it is also so much more.
The game has an absolutely gorgeous, yet dark aesthetic, an amazing atmosphere, and probably the best narrator I've ever heard in a game in the form of Wayne June, along with a great soundtrack from Stuart Chatwood (also responsible for the amazing soundtracks to the Prince of Persia games). It has incredibly engaging and challenging gameplay, as you recruit heroes, make your party, and descend into dungeons to fight eldritch monstrosities, using strategy and tactics to overcome their strength.
And yet, those are not the best parts of Darkest Dungeon. Those would be the quirk and stress mechanics, which I will now gush over. They are just so well implemented and add so much depth to the game, and a rarely seen level of agency possessed by characters.
So the quirk mechanic is pretty simple. All heroes start with, and then develop additional quirks, some positive, some negative. Some of these merely affect their stats and abilities - a hero might be sickly and thus more susceptible to diseases, or perhaps they're a known cheat and aren't allowed to gamble in the town. That sort of thing. But the really interesting quirks are the more insidious ones. For example, a hero might be a kleptomaniac. And if you had said hero in your party, you might find that some chests are mysteriously rather light on loot. Or sometimes they may just steal the loot for themselves right in front of you before you can collect it, and not even try to hide it. And there's lots of quirks like that.
Stress on the other hand, is a little more complicated. The mental health of your heroes is a very important part of the game, and to put it simply, as they explore dungeons, their stress levels will rise by various means. Once it gets to a certain point, their resolve will be tested. Sometimes, a hero will overcome the stress and display newfound courage. But more often than not, they will break, and gain an affliction. Apart from stat penalties, afflictions will change how the hero behaves. For example, a hero may become selfish when their resolve breaks, and move back in the formation, putting your other heroes in harm's way. Alternatively, you may try to have the selfish one heal another hero, only to have them refuse and heal themselves instead. One time I had a hero become paranoid after their resolve broke, which at first didn't manifest itself in an obvious way. But then my healer missed an attack, and the paranoid hero muttered something along the lines of "how could she possibly miss...", and from there on they refused to be healed by her, being convinced that the healer was in league with the enemy.
I could keep going on about how much I love these mechanics, but you get the picture. It's just so cool to see characters have this degree of their own agency.
So yes, Darkest Dungeon is phenomenal, and is my game of the year.
So there we go, that's my list. Ended up being all indie games, but hey, they're that good.
You may also notice that my list doesn't contain a certain indie game which generated a rather large amount of hype and acclaim this year, taking many by surprise with its writing and treatment of player choice. Yes, I'm indeed afraid that HuniePop did very narrowly miss out on being on the list, but you can consider it to be at the 11th spot if it makes you feel better.