The Xbox One enjoyed a strong third year on the market in 2016 thanks to an expanding backwards compatibility catalog, Xbox Play Anywhere support, and a nice system revision. Its software lineup was no slouch either, with some strong exclusives and an even stronger array of multiplatform games.
Forza Horizon 3 is one such game. Building on the foundations of the previous two Horizon titles, it offers a tremendous amount of variety for a racer. Its Australian setting provides a wide array of diverse locations to explore, letting you seamlessly drive between the outback, jungles, beaches, and countryside. And there are numerous things to do throughout Horizon 3's open world: you might take part in a traditional race, sure, but you might also wander off the beaten path to search for a hidden car; participate in an impromptu street race; smash a hard-to-reach billboard; race against a helicopter; set a new high-speed or drift record; participate in a bucket list challenge where you live out some fantasy scenario; or simply stop to take in the sights. And you might find yourself doing that last one a lot--Horizon 3 is one of the best-looking games of the year on any platform, especially for those fortunate enough to play on an HDR display.
Dishonored 2 builds on the foundation of its predecessor as well, with a more believable world, intelligent AI, and a choice of two playable characters, each with their own distinct skills. What it lacks in terms of interesting storytelling, it makes up with some brilliantly conceived levels and opportunities for experimentation. Prior to release, director Harvey Smith described how play testers had combined powers in ways the developers hadn't considered. It's easy to spend hours playing around with the myriad possibilities that exist; in his review, GameSpot's Scott Butterworth even described Dishonored 2 as being "as much a toy box as it is a game." It's also one of those games that sticks with you--you'll reminisce your perfectly executed assassinations and contemplate the alternative approaches you could have taken well after you're done playing for the day.
The first Titanfall was frequently criticized for lacking a real single-player component. Titanfall 2 more than answers the call, providing us with a well-paced story and some of the most memorable moments and levels of the year. It also manages to make you genuinely care about your Titan counterpart, even if the writing isn't as strong as it could be. The added single-player component didn't come at the expense of the strong multiplayer that Titanfall is known for, either. Titanfall 2 introduces new progression systems that give you ample reasons to keep coming back. There are also distinct new Titans, including one that can wield a sword and another that rains explosive fire down on your enemies. Whether in single-player or multiplayer, Titanfall 2 can boast about having arguably the smoothest, most natural movement and controls in any shooter on the market. In a game where you can walk around in a huge mech annihilating your foes, the fact that running--or wall-running--on foot is still so much fun is a testament to developer Respawn's design work.
Battlefield 1 is another shooter that surprised everyone by including a strong single-player component alongside its quality multiplayer mode. Single-player content has never been developer DICE's strong suit, but by dividing Battlefield 1's campaign into five disparate stories, it was able to make each one only as long as it needed to be. Each one tells a real, human story that stays grounded by not turning characters into superheroes, and they don't all have happy endings where your efforts put an end to the war. Battlefield 1's campaign does a far better job of conveying the horrors of war than any previous game in the series. Its multiplayer doesn't aspire to do the same thing, instead taking the established Battlefield formula and evolving it--and that's not a bad thing. Battlefield 1 offers the most dynamic matches the series has ever seen thanks to map-dominating Behemoth vehicles and weather effects that force you to alter your tactics.
Overwatch represents Blizzard's first foray into shooters. As the developer did with MMOs, collectible card games, and everything else, with Overwatch it offers a unique take on the genre that streamlines a concept--but not at the expense of depth. The interplay between its 23 characters remains as interesting as it did on launch day. Matches can change on the fly, not just because of players using their Ultimates, but because of the ability to switch between characters after a death. This adds an additional layer of strategy to what would still be an enjoyable shooter without it. One scenario that never gets old: keying in on a weakness of either your team or the enemy's team and then moving into a role that swings the match in your favor. Additional characters and maps, seasonal events, and wise design changes have also ensured the game doesn't get stale, and Blizzard's track record suggests that level of support won't fall off anytime soon.
GAMESPOT'S BEST XBOX ONE GAMES OF 2016
GameSpot will be unveiling its picks for the best games of the year throughout all of December. Click here to see more.