Play these: the unsung heroes of 2016

Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)

Fire Emblem Fates is like your favourite soap opera, except that some people are riding wyverns and you can only progress the story if you have the tactical acumen of a Carthaginian master general. Okay. It’s nothing like a soap. But it is incredible; a worthy successor to Fire Emblem Awakening, with lavish, interlocking stories that are narrow in focus but epic in sweep. There are two versions of the game. You can ease through a story of family, betrayal and invasion by choosing the simpler Birthright story, or inexplicably punish yourself by playing the horrendously vicious Conquest version. Like Awakening, it’s beautifully crafted and tactically engaging, but it’s the relationships between the rich cast of characters that make it irresistible. Even now, after five years of quality titles, games like Fire Emblem Fates cheerfully remind us why the 3DS is one of Nintendo’s greatest ever consoles. Matt Elliott

The Amnesia Collection (PS4)

Rejoice, because now The Amnesia Collection is out on PS4 and includes all three games in the series. We take the hiding mechanic in horror games for granted now, but way back when Amnesia first game out, the idea that all you had was a lantern and you couldn't smash monsters into oblivion was horrifying. When paired with a sensitive sanity meter that warps your sight and has bugs suddenly skitter across the screen, it’s fair to say that Amnesia broke new ground with horror. The DLC Justine has players working their way through a series of twisted puzzles accompanied by the voice of the chilling Justine whilst being stalked by her tortured suitors. A Machine For Pigs turns its attentions away from the dilapidated houses that are the centrepiece of the first two games to the demand for labour during the industrial revolution, with some genetically modified pigs serving as your nightmare fuel. So get that lantern ready PS4 players, as now you can join the ranks of PC gamers who are haunted at night by memories of being hunted by twisted human experiments, tortured men, and sentient pigs. You won’t regret it, I promise. Zoe Delahunty-Light

Gone Home: Console Edition (PS4, Xbox One)

Returning home for the holidays is usually a time for jubilation. Grinning parents waiting with outstretched arms by the front door, ready to hug you so much your spine whimpers in protest. Not so with Gone Home. Now available on console at long last, PS4 and Xbox One owners can take a walk through the eerie, empty family home to try and figure out why their parents and sister aren’t there to greet them. Notes and audio tapes scattered around shed light on the struggles of each family member, whilst the storm raging outside mounts with each new discovery. Although Gone Home isn’t quite horror, I guarantee you’ll feel hairs stand up on the back of your neck from the building tension as you unlock more rooms. It’s hard to believe that you’re truly alone in the cavernous house, and Fullbright’s master stroke is making the characters so vivid that it feels like you could stumble upon them at any point. The perfect game to play on a Sunday night, you can easily get through it in four hours, so what are you waiting for? I will warn you though, prepare to have your heart-strings tugged. Zoe Delahunty-Light

Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes (PSVR)

Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes is a great example of using VR to create a new gameplay experience. Rather than trying to immerse the headset wearer in a virtual world, KTANE (as all the cool kids are calling it) instead uses it to isolate them in a room with a bomb, where they must provide descriptions of the various explosive 'modules' while the remaining unsighted players attempt to relay defusal instructions from a printed manual. It's a wonderfully simple set up - you don't even need a TV to play - but the devices themselves get increasingly devious as you progress.

The success of your team relies entirely on providing and processing the right information - there's a big button, but what colour is it? What's written on it? How many batteries are on the bomb? What colour lights up when you hold it? Later bombs further complicate things by shortening the time limit and adding 'needy modules', which have to be poked and prodded at regular intervals to prevent detonation while still working on disarming the regular sections. Even the most cool-headed team will eventually be reduced to screaming incoherent directions at each other as the final seconds tick down, but the fun and satisfaction of working together to defuse a tricky armament makes it all worthwhile. Iain Wilson

FIFA 17 (PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)

Right, let’s get the toy-chucking out of the way first: FIFA 17’s broken, all its matches are scripted, online players are babies, EA is corrupt. Is that everything? Okay, a lot of online FIFA players are babies, but lost amid the above wailing is the truth. This year’s effort is actually really, really strong, with Ultimate Team the greatest it’s ever been thanks to a single new addition: Squad Building Challenges.

Such challenges see you put together teams of cards according to specific guidelines, which can then be exchanged for better cards, or jumbo packs. Where in previous years silver and bronze cards were basically worthless, now the opposite is true. For instance, want French forward Alexandre Lacazette’s 87-rated card, which plays superbly out on the pitch? You need to exchange complete XIs for every French team, and that means – as one example – finding four Toulouse defenders for 10K a pop. Don’t want Lacazette, but pull one of those defenders in a pack? 8K profit, instantly. Everyone’s a winner. 

And with the challenges’ ‘Marquee Matchups’ changing every week, it means every single player in the game is going to have value at some point this season – finally giving you reason to build full squads featuring the minnows of the sport, instead of jettisoning every bronze reject for a measly 3 coins while swearing under your breath. Ben Wilson

Abzu (PS4, Xbox One)

This was, hands down, the most beautiful game I played this year. I’m talking ‘so pretty it hurts’ levels of beauty. Creative Director Matt Nava had already made a name for himself as the art director for Journey, and this project clearly builds on those roots. But considering the technical achievements of this game, there’s more to Nava’s vision than just imitating other indie successes. 

Abzu offers a stylized recreation of underwater life, with tons of real-world species represented. They might school together by the hundreds or dart in and out of the tall seaweed alongside your little diver. Both extremes and everything in between them are just riveting to watch unfold. The moments of swimming through the remains of Babylonian-inspired architecture, with massive towers and intricate tile-work, made me wish that the screen would wash away so that I could really be in that gorgeous place.  

There’s a narrative that plays out and I enjoyed it very much. But playing this game is also about finding connections and losing yourself in movement, exploring the stunning environments and giving your eyes a treat. Nava is a huge talent, and based on how much I loved Abzu, I can’t wait to see what he makes next. Anna Washenko

Stardew Valley (PS4, Xbox One)

I love my job. I really do. But after spending just a few hours in Stardew Valley, I was ready to chuck it all and move to an idyllic small town to grow radishes and sunflowers. If the console launch hadn’t fallen just outside our cut-off date, Stardew Valley would certainly have been in GamesRadar’s game of the year contention. 

Stardew Valley is the ultimate feel-good experience. Every step of progress I made was a source of joy. I was giddier about buying new seeds from Pierre than I’ve ever been for my own grocery shopping. Each day I got to harvest crops made me smile. Buying and raising my first chicken was a proud accomplishment. And of course, I couldn’t wait to befriend all of the townspeople, to hear their stories and help them realize their own dreams. Each element of this game is masterfully done, from the evocative soundtrack to the charming pixel art. I really can’t decide if I idolize Eric Barone (aka ConcernedApe) for his creation or hate him for being so bloody talented at everything. But there’s no question about how much I adore his work. Anna Washenko

Gears of War 4 (Xbox One)

A tragic case of ‘great game overlooked because its precursors kind of ran out out of steam’, Gears of War 4 actually does everything right in terms of reinvigorating the tired franchise. After the sequel-bloat and unfocused excess of later Gears, GoW4 strips things back to the values that made the original game such a vital and affecting experience in the first place. Tight, oppressive, deceptively tactical cover-shooting, in which an intelligent, immaculately thought-out maelstrom of level design and strategic balance hides just below the surface of a big, brash, likeable, popcorn façade. Wait, did I say ‘likable’? Yes I did. Because as well as resetting and refreshing Gears’ still borderline flawless core action, Gears 4’s narrative reboot is a desperately smart piece of storytelling sleight-of-hand. Maintaining the drama and sense of impending doom, but lightening everything up with the warmth, humour, and genuine humanity of a younger, zestier cast, Gears of War 4 makes a glorious return to the series’ sweet-spot, while also fixing all of its major, historical bugbears. Dave Houghton

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