The Free Cheese Game of the Year 2016 comes to an end with Day 5 of voting.
Joe, Marc, Matt, and Dashe discuss the nominees for the fifth and final round of Game of the Year categories.
This day includes the awards for:
- Most Surprising
- Best Score/Soundtrack
- Best Old Game That We Played This Year
- Most Anticipated
- Game of the Year
As with every day previous, we sat down and recorded a podcast of us deliberating the winners for each category. We started with a big list of nominees for each and slowly worked it down to one winner and two runners up.
The exception to that rule is our Game of the Year, of which we have four runners up and we numbered them individually. You can listen to our deliberation via the media player below or the links to our podcast on other services. Additionally, you can scroll past to the category descriptions and reasons for our decision to crown a winner.
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We were not expecting DOOM to reach the heights that it did. Even outside of our own opinions, DOOM has been widely well-received and liked. It should come to no surprise that it is our Most Surprising game of 2016.
After years of development hell and weird departures from id Software, we weren’t too stoked on the future of the series. When DOOM first debuted, we were pretty excited, but quickly forgot about it.
Even at the time of its release, we didn’t pay much attention to DOOM. Months later when we started to get a taste of it, we couldn’t stop eating.
DOOM kept building on the moment previous and collectively became a masterpiece. We expected nothing and we got one of the best games of this console generation; one of the best games we’ll play in 2016.
Runners Up: Animal Crossing: New Leaf Welcome amiibo • Let It Die
This category highlights the greatest music in video games. It can feature an original score or in some cases, a soundtrack featuring licensed music. In the end, the winner is crowned based not only on how good the music can be on its own, but how well it compliments the game it sits within.
We had a tough time deliberating on this award, but ultimately DOOM cannot be topped in this category. The metal score in combination with a brutal return to the series played like the protagonist of the game’s actions against the demons of hell.
It pays homage to the iconic music of the series’ past while inventing something new that is completely this game.
Runners Up: Hyper Light Drifter • Oxenfree
Best Old Game That We Played This Year
We never spend the year only playing games released that year. In fact, a lot of what we play is older. We have a weekly feature on the site that highlights a game from the past, and we host a monthly game club where we play something together that has weight and meaning in the history of video games.
This category awards the game that impacted us the most as we played it for the first time. In order for a game to receive a nomination, the individual nominating it had to have played it for the first time this year. For us, it was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
The incredible game that gave birth to the portmanteau “Metroidvania” and an entire subgenre of games still remains one of the greatest games ever made. From Konami’s secondary development team, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a massive undertaking on the PlayStation that features a hidden second half and is riddled with homage to the previous games in the series. Platforming and combat are at a series high, and the addition of composer Michiru Yamane’s featured music outlined a world inside of Dracula’s castle that we’d otherwise never see.
Runners Up: Final Fantasy VI • Parodius
We’re always looking forward to new video games. When a company announces a new game or a new platform that interests us, we mark it on our calendars and start the daily rifling through any scrapes of information that we can find about it. This award goes to the game that we collectively are looking forward to the most.
It’s been a while since Nintendo has released a big game in one of its signature franchises. The Wii U has seen the addition of new intellectual property, like Splatoon, and its had its share of impressive followups like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Super Mario 3D World. Yet something of scale has been missing from the Nintendo output for a while.
Further, The Legend of Zelda franchise hasn’t been accurately represented in over a decade, some would argue, with the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword representing more of a departure from the core idea of the original game in 1986.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild seems to solve all of these needs in one highly anticipated video game. After an all-day live event at E3 where Nintendo Treehouse members demoed the game, we were sold on the idea of what this game will be. From that demo along with interviews and random facts thrown out, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will allow the player to go anywhere from the start. Anecdotally, you can fight the final boss of the game from the moment you take control of Link. You may not fare well, but you certainly can try.
We’re both excited for the game because of what it means not only for The Legend of Zelda and for open world games, but because we know that we’ll be able to play it anywhere we are on the Nintendo Switch.
Runners Up: Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment • Horizon: Zero Dawn
Game of the Year
id Software took us back to hell in this year’s DOOM. Whenever we think of DOOM, we imagine a pulse. Every stage, every room, every moment in DOOM thumps like the beat of a heart.
None of us expected to love DOOM this much. Some of us didn’t care for the preview coverage of the game, others just don’t tend to play first-person shooters. Something inside of DOOM swept all of that away when it started with a very different tone. It began by setting itself up appropriately, looking at us and saying, “You cool with this? This is what we’re gonna do. Ready?” And ready we were.
Where other games this year and in recent years pride themselves on storytelling and cinematic quality, and others try to out “hardcore” one another, DOOM stepped in and just remembered to be a really good game. One that felt good to play and knew exactly how much it had to do.
We loved how powerful we felt as the protagonist of this world and how good it felt to execute glory kills. Combat in the game feels intelligently crafted and designed in such a way that allows the player to artfully navigate each area with a sense of progression and understanding.
Weapon upgrades add something meaningful to combat, as they provide a new strategy for advancement. It became exciting to replay and revisit levels in the game as we earned new weapon upgrades, as we could solve the same puzzles in a new way.
The design of the game went far to establish the world of DOOM and keep us within what was defined for us. It was complemented by the sound design and music in DOOM that never stopped our heads from bobbing and us from laughing as we murdered our way into and out of hell.
For some, multiplayer in DOOM may appear simple, but we loved its classic approach to online multiplayer. As pioneers, id gave us Quake and set the pace for modern first-person shooters and how they’d play competitively. DOOM’s multiplayer felt like the modern version of that twenty year old innovation.
Ultimately, DOOM never took itself seriously and that attitude made it stand out against the rest of 2016. We needed something that felt good to play. We needed something that just was. DOOM is and always will be a force of energy that burst into the stillness of modern video games. It is a return to what makes video games great, and it is The Free Cheese Game of the Year 2016.
2. The Last Guardian
The Last Guardian combines the best parts of Fumito Ueda’s previous works. The companion adventure of Ico joins the giant-climbing of Shadow of the Colossus for an adventure that journeyed to the center of our hearts.
Imprisoned in a tower, you must team up with Trico, the creature you find yourself with at the beginning of the game in order to escape and survive. Together, you solve puzzles and ascend higher, edging nearer to freedom with every step.
You watch Trico learn, but as in any relationship, you find yourself learning from him too. As anyone who has ever felt the connection to a pet, The Last Guardian provided us with the same feelings of loyalty and protection, as well as the strength of the bond between two creatures.
The Last Guardian looks unlike anything else that we’ve played and it cements itself in the world of creator Ueda. Its unique art style blends pastel and painting into something incredibly impressive.
Not only is The Last Guardian a fantastic followup to the previous works of its creator, it stands alone as one of the best games this year.
3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was announced as a game that none of us really desired. We wanted to see what else developer Naughty Dog could do and what new worlds it would build on the new generation of hardware. We were completely surprised when Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End turned out to be arguably the best in the series.
Reunited with his presumed-dead brother, Nathan Drake has to pick up on the trail of the treasure of Captain Henry Avery in order to pay his brother’s bounty. The difference here lies in the current status of Nathan. He’s retired from his treasure hunting days and has settled into a life of comfort. He and Elena live the closest thing possible to a “normal” life and his days of climbing and shooting are behind them both.
The game expertly sets up the emotional ties to Nathan’s brother, Sam, making us care for not only Nate’s brother, but anyone who has ever felt like or been a brother to us. We then proceed to carry out Nate’s most interesting journey yet, and we found that the story was one that we enjoyed paying attention to in greater detail.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is rife with the tropes that make it Uncharted, but we love it for being so good at being Uncharted. Exploration and climbing have been joined by stealth and driving as gameplay mechanics we love the series for.
While we thought we left Nathan Drake behind on the PlayStation 3, we were happy to have one final adventure with him. Uncharted has never looked this good and its story has never been stronger.
4. Hyper Light Drifter
Fez took the classic idea of a 2D platformer and added another dimension. Not in the way that Super Mario 64 went to the third dimension, but instead gave a new plane to work through. It did something new in a space we had become all familiar with.
Fez is to Super Mario Bros. as Hyper Light Drifter is to The Legend of Zelda. Heart Machine’s debut is equal parts love letter and evolution to the pixelated era of top-down action-adventure games. Taking control of The Drifter, the player guides the character through four major areas to gather the keys to the center of the world.
We found that Hyper Light Drifter masterfully created a world that we wanted to see more of and a world that we could feel despite its trappings covered in otherworldly design. We continued to search for secrets and answers to the game’s questions as we unearthed more and more hidden areas and paths.
Riddled with allegory and metaphor, Hyper Light Drifter is textless and therefore universal in delivery. Regardless of background or language, anyone can play Hyper Light Drifter and experience it to the fullest. With or without any knowledge of the creator’s intent, the player can withdraw their own meaning behind the progression of the story and its main character.
We loved drifting around the screen and learning to get better at combat in the game. The more that we unlocked and upgraded, the more that combat felt like a puzzle we had to solve. Finding an invisible platform to skate across never grew old and we loved the enemy and sound design in the game.
5. Final Fantasy XV
There are two moments at the beginning of this game that set the pace for the rest of it. The first is before you even begin, it’s the first thing you see when you start the game. White letters on a black screen read, “A Final Fantasy for fans and first-timers.” The second is part of the beginning, when we first see the title card appear on screen as a cover of “Stand by Me” plays overtop of a scene of our quartet pushing its car through the desert.
Playing through Final Fantasy XV provides you with both a great experience and a deeper appreciation for the series. As with any entry, this one stands alone in its story and does not depend on knowing any other in the franchise, but its combat system and exploration are rooted in the tradition and spirit of what Final Fantasy has offered for almost thirty years.
Where games like Grand Theft Auto thrive in the parody of western culture, Final Fantasy hones in on what makes our world so unique. The setting is all too familiar while still reminding us that we are living within a true fantasy setting.
Progress in the game brings us new character development and bond, as well as a better understanding of the combat system and crafting elements in the game. While anyone can play the game in their own way, the system in place here goes as deep as you allow it to. The further you dive into it, the more rewarding and impressive it becomes.
Final Fantasy XV is a fantastic open-world RPG and an epic continuation of the series. Our relationship with the three friend characters and the story they share grew stronger with every hour and we loved driving aimlessly through the land listening to the radio and fighting monsters.
Congratulations to DOOM for winning The Free Cheese Game of the Year 2016 and to all of our winners throughout the week of awards. Thank you for reading our Game of the Year 2016 output and listening to us deliberate on the winners. Thank you for being with us throughout 2016 and helping us to grow and become better. We can’t wait to do even more in 2017 and see what the next year in video games has to offer.
Enjoy the last few days of the year and the beginning of the next. Be sure to play your favorites of the year and share them with your friends.