Game of the Year time is upon us, and the entire Giant Bomb crew locked themselves into the deliberations bunker for a solid week. We weren't allowed to leave until we had whittled down the best game of the year, but we also came to a number of other conclusions. Day One of our deliberations yields the following collection of winners.
Webster's dictionary defines The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as one of the greatest games that just barely snuck onto last year's Game of the Year list. It's a long game. Sometimes these things take time to marinate, to grow on you, to fully and truly understand. Well, we're glad to soften the blow a bit this year by recognizing its now fully-formed splendor.
Following up on Hearts of Stone from late 2015, 2016's Blood and Wine expansion makes The Witcher 3 as enticing a prospect as it ever was. Since its release, CD Projekt Red has added these two fantastic and fully realized campaigns to an already bursting game and they introduce some of its most memorable characters and locations. It's really hard to argue against the support and legs the game has had into this year. Even the interface tweaks and updates that came along with the expansions have refined what was already a great experience. I daresay, it might be the best time to be playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
It should come as no surprise that a new Blizzard game turned out to be a big hit, but Overwatch impressed even when considering the studio's excellent reputation. Some worried that it would feel like a cast-off mode from the cancelled Titan or a Team Fortress clone, but that turned out to be far from the case. With a varied cast of memorable characters and no shortage of useful powers, Overwatch managed to come out of the gate swinging in 2016. It's still one of the most talked-about and played games in the industry months later, and we anticipate hearing about it for years to come.
Until recently, Palmer Luckey was, by all accounts, the poster child for the burgeoning VR industry. Why wouldn't he have been? A boy genius inventor who seemingly forged an exciting new technology by his own hand? A feel-good story of self-made success is the kind of thing PR and marketing people adore, especially when faced with the task of figuring out how to sell a risky, but potentially major new technology to skeptical consumers. VR has been such a distant-seeming technology for so long, but suddenly, here was this smiling, enthusiastic face, beaming with positivity about the viability of commercial VR, and doing so with a functioning, as-close-to-affordable-as-we've-ever-seen headset in-hand. It was a perfect pitch, so of course it turned out to be anything but.
How Luckey went from TIME magazine cover boy to manning a Facebook tower in Alaska is a strange, sordid tale. You could probably pinpoint the first major cracks in the facade all the way back in 2014, when Zenimax launched its lawsuit against Oculus, claiming that former Zenimax employee (and VR enthusiast) John Carmack had aided Oculus using proprietary information and technology. That lawsuit saw further clarification this year, and in so doing, attempted to poke major holes in Luckey's much-vaunted origin story.
Though that lawsuit is still awaiting its day in court, its claims cast doubts over the carefully built image Oculus had been pushing since the company's earliest days. Yet even those claims paled in comparison to an even bigger blow-up around Luckey's public-facing image in 2016. In September, the Daily Beast reported on Luckey's apparent role as a financier in a pro-Donald Trump shitposting group called Nimble America. This group, though not directly affiliated with the Trump campaign, had its roots in the grim corners of the web most thoroughly dedicated to electing Trump via the "magic" of racist Pepes and white nationalism. Said "meme magic" was something Luckey was quoted as saying "sounded like a jolly good time," until suddenly it very much wasn't.
Luckey attempted to backpedal, but Daily Beast's Gideon Resnick had receipts in the form of emails he exchanged with Luckey, where the Oculus founder stated in plain terms that he was the anonymous financier members of the group had been pitching to supporters on Reddit. Eventually, Luckey offered a tepid apology built around the flimsy excuse that he was actually voting for Gary Johnson, as if that were ever the point.
To be clear: who Palmer Luckey voted for is not, and has not ever been the point. Around 20 percent of Americans voted for Donald Trump, and it stands to reason some of those people work in the video game industry. By itself, simply voting for Trump does not a "Hottest Mess" make. What does make for a scalding hot mess is the complete unmaking of a man's image over the course of a year, through a combination of legal issues, ill-conceived statements, and an at least tangential association with (and documented financial support of) some of the most mortifying elements of 2016's Grand Guignol political theater.
Though Luckey hasn't been heard from in the months since his sort-of apology, it seems likely that he isn't done with Oculus. It's hard to know if we'll ever see him as the face of the company again, but given that Oculus is on record saying he's still employed, it's plausible that his fingerprints will continue to exist on whatever Oculus does going forward. How that will sit with potential developers for Oculus remains to be seen, especially in the wake of some devs' stated opposition to working with Oculus so long as Luckey maintains a role there.
Regardless of how it all ends up, Luckey's image is forever changed by what took place in 2016, and while the industry certainly saw its share of hot messes this year, none were as severe, as all-encompassing, as the various events that pushed VR's golden boy completely out of the spotlight.
After disqualifying Rez Infinite due to the vast majority of that game coming from a year other than this one, this category became a much cleaner discussion... even if we ended up renaming the category to get there. Superhot's mix of stark white areas and its eerie, glowing ASCII terminal makes the whole game work. It adds a cold and sinister air to the experience that ends up being positively vital as you slowly punch, throw, and shoot your way to its conclusion. Without that style, Superhot would be a really neat tech demo and little else. With everything all lined up like this, Superhot ends up coming off as one of the better games released in all of 2016.