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The Top 10 Video Games

Nov 22, 2016

10. No Man's Sky

There's what No Man's Sky turned out to be, what a vocal minority assumed it would be, and the chasm of misunderstanding that lies between. The heir to a game like Elite it's not. But taken on its own terms, as a Zen zoology simulator framed by freeform exploration of a procedurally generated universe with bouts of interstellar combat, it's an extraordinary achievement. If Minecraft is about refining and reorganizing distributed bits of information — all those cubes of dirt and rock and ore into recognizable objects and structures and mechanisms — then No Man’s Sky is a procedural game about instead cataloguing all that visual output while reveling in the five-star views.

Buy now: PlayStation 4

9. Battlefield 1

Battlefield 1's multiplayer modes are predictably unimpeachable if you prefer sprawling, thoughtful, micro-campaign-style competition. But it's the shooter's anthologized campaign this time that steals the show. Each story offers a unique problem or narrative perspective: a bickering tank crew lost behind enemy lines during the Battle of Cambrai, the latent heroism of a cocksure swindler-turned-aviator amidst “Bloody April,” the remembrances of an Italian war vet relayed to his daughter during a birthday party. All told, they add up to perhaps a half-dozen hours of play, but offer some of DICE’s finest work — an attempt to get around the usual boo-rahs and faux gravitas by bracketing eruptions of carnage with humanizing, indelible accounts.

Buy now: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

8. Virginia

Variable State’s Virginia, whose makers cite filmmaker David Lynch as an influence, may at first seem maddeningly opaque, but its rewards — best realized off multiple viewings — are rich and many. It challenges players to make sense of abrupt scene transitions, constrained perspectives and general narrative reticence. Other “walking simulators” settle for the museum tour, replete with audio logs and text dumps that fix meaning. Virginia trades that sort of clarity for another: that of the subjective, ever-precarious moment. And what gorgeous, reverberant moments there are in this haunting tale, empowered by its absent words and explanations.

Photo Illustration by Tyler Essary for TIME

7. Crashlands

Old school roleplaying games dole out abstract rewards like “experience points” so you can make your superpowers a trifle more super. New school ones like Crashlands let you scoop those rewards up off the battlefield, drag them back to your base, then turn them into cool, usable objects. Killer aliens meets goofball storytelling and characters meets a weighty crafting system brimming with hundreds of recipes, Crashlands is everything predictable RPGs aren’t.

Buy now: PC

6. Dragon Quest Builders

Dragon Quest Builders is a beautiful, voxel-informed, crafting-focused, thematically relatable fantasy roleplaying extravaganza that’s better because of its constraints, not in spite of them. It’s the sort of thing those who’ve avoided playing Minecraft but still find it intriguing should pay attention to—an exquisite, LEGO-like builder deftly equipoised between structured and freeform play.

Buy now: PlayStation 4

Brain&Brain

5. Burly Men at Sea

Brain&Brain’s folklorish Burly Men at Sea is a whimsical romp starring three bearded adventurers that speaks in plaintive accordion tunes and whispers, airy sighs and polyphonic hoots — one that marries quirky activities with starlit encounters and aquamarine serpents plucked from Norwegian myth. It’s a little bit The Old Man and the Sea, a little bit O Brother, Where Art Thou? And a reminder that every journey is a circle, filled with both farce and delight.

Choice Provisions

4. Tharsis

If you like brutal, exacting clockwork puzzles with appalling dilemmas, you’ll adore Tharsis, an ingenious turn-based space strategy game for PC and PlayStation 4 by the folks who gave us the quirky Bit.Trip series. It looks like a dice-driven board game, where the board is a spaceship split into modules you maneuver astronauts between, trying to repair damage from random "events" over a 10-turn journey to Mars. Completing the journey is predictively and repeatably possible — anyone who claims otherwise is objectively wrong — but it's also not for the faint of heart.

3. Inside

What makes puzzle-platformer Inside interesting isn’t its dim woodlands, creepy factories, moody bunkers or underwater mysteries, but the craftsmanship of its puzzles and platforming challenges. Imagine the ethically rudderless zeal of Josef Mengele in The Boys from Brazil folded into the nihilism of screenwriter W. D. Richter’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This now feels like where studio Playdead's last game Limbo was headed all along.

Buy now: PlayStation 4

2. Uncharted 4

Stealth-play wasn’t impossible in the earlier Uncharted games, but it’s so much more satisfying when you manage to sneak up behind one of Uncharted 4‘s smarter, hyperaware adversaries. The best in studio Naughty Dog's rollicking pulp adventure series by a country mile, its embiggened levels become enthralling tactical playgrounds, brimming with wraparound overhangs and organic hiding spots that include swathes of waist-high grass or broad leaf undergrowth you can hunker in or creep through.

Buy now: PlayStation 4

1. The Witness

In Jonathan Blow and studio Thekla’s The Witness, mysteries abound on a deserted island that may or may not exist. The island is beautiful but oblique, sublime yet functionally inscrutable. Glowing screens with maze-like grids are everywhere, connective cables snake through sun-dappled underbrush or down into cavernous passages. All of it leads players to ever-more bizarre, seemingly impenetrable line puzzles. It’s weird and gorgeous and categorically defiant, a glorious repository of sublime mysteries and revelations.

Buy now: PlayStation 4

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