2016 has managed to be great year for gaming on all platforms. Thanks to solid libraries from third-party developers, there have been some stellar experiences across all genres. Another side of gaming that’s been great has been the exclusive side. The PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U have each provided stellar experiences that you can’t get on the competition’s hardware.
As the year is coming to a close, each of the companies has put out some major heavy hitters making it likely that you’ve seen the best they have to show for the year. These titles will undoubtedly win awards later on from beautiful visuals, to gameplay design, all the way to GOTY nods once we prepare to say hello to 2017.
With that said, let’s take a look at the absolute best exclusive on each console and see who has really put their best foot forward in 2016.
PS4 – Uncharted 4
Chances are that not a single one of you are surprised by the PS4’s 2016 representative. Uncharted has been one of the premiere franchises of the PlayStation library ever since the first entry released back in 2007. Naughty Dog ditched the colorful mascots of yesteryear to drop players in an action-packed quest for fortune as one of the most charismatic adventurers around, Nathan Drake. The light-hearted humor, spectacular set pieces, and memorable cast helped to quickly cement the studio as one of Sony’s best and make Drake a household name.
Fast forward to 2016 and the developers decided to close out Nathan’s journey, taking on a more serious tone. What seemed like too much of a digression from what made the series so phenomenal ended up showcasing why Naughty Dog is revered yet again. Playing as an older, much wiser, protagonist and delving into themes of family, regret, and growing up, Uncharted 4 helped set the pace for a year full of big games with deep undertones. Not to mention the fact that it’s easily one of the best-looking games of the generation. The level of detail put into every single facet of Uncharted 4 was simply remarkable, fully showcasing what the PS4 hardware is truly capable of (a telltale sign of a truly great exclusive).
It’s no wonder that critics and fans alike really gravitated towards and appreciated this game even after the multiple delays. It was proof that good things do come to those who wait, and being able to witness Drake hang up his holsters in exchange for legitimacy and family was definitely a beautiful thing.
Xbox One – Gears of War 4
The Xbox One had a tumultuous time out of the gate when it first released, but after some time and a new leader the console really started to find its footing. What really helped the Xbox One start to make headway against its main competition, though, was the fact that Microsoft’s exclusives began to find their stride. Now that we’re in October of 2016, one of the best exclusives to grace the console since launch has released: Gears of War 4.
If you’re new to the Xbox family of gaming, Gears of War is quite possibly the best cover-based, third-person shooter you can get your hands on across all platforms. It’s revered for its tight controls, fun mechanics, and challenging gameplay. The series also offers fun competitive multiplayer as well as a tense horde mode that is sure to test even the toughest COG soldiers out there. All of this is punctuated by incredible, gory visuals which show off the power of whatever you’re playing on and help make the entire fight for humanity a bit more immersive.
Like Uncharted 4 on the PS4, Gears of War 4 switches things up just a tiny bit in the narrative portion while keeping the same gameplay players love accounted for (and improved in some ways). The previous entries were about saving the world as a hardened soldier, one who had seen indescribable horrors and was left as nothing more than a macho hulk of a man who cared about his team as if they were family. Marcus Fenix, the original trilogy’s protagonist, was not a man of many different emotions. The new series protagonist happens to be Marcus’ son, JD, and he’s quite different from his pops, particularly in the emotional range department. He’s not hardened by the horrors of war just yet, but he’s still as dedicated to his team and humanity as his father was, making him one tough cookie.
The different narrative route is definitely paying off, and Gears of War 4 is one to play if you own an Xbox One.
Wii U – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
The Wii U has had a relatively slow year even though Nintendo as a whole has not. The 3DS is still going strong with no shortage of great software, and as 2017 moves closer, so too does the still mysterious Nintendo NX. But that doesn’t mean the current console has been completely cast to the wayside, as some top-notch gaming experiences have made their way to the machine over the past couple of years. 2016 in particular saw the release of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, a crossover of Nintendo’s incredibly popular Fire Emblem franchise and Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions is the culmination of a crossover between the Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei series, but it definitely stands out on its own. The game is set in modern-day Tokyo, and revolves around a cast of teenagers trying to become stars in the entertainment industry. There’s a poppy, colorful style that permeates the entire game from its aesthetic, to its story and music.
The title also does a smart job of combining elements from both series, and feels more like a Persona game than anything else. Battles implement the weapon triangle of Fire Emblem games, while simultaneously using the elemental weaknesses you find in SMT. It all adds up into a system where exploiting your enemy’s weaknesses is the key to victory, and taking advantage of move-linking “Session” attacks. For anyone that has a passing interesting in either JRPGs or Japanese culture, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a must play.
It’s also a different type of offering on the Wii U, a console that has made its small successes behind the tried and true “cute” Nintendo stable of exclusives. A major JRPG, one that also happens to be a crossover, is somewhat risky. But it managed to captivate fans and even draw attention to the console amid a storm of major releases on the Wii U’s biggest competiton.
Who Wins 2016? Uncharted 4
I’m going to be honest, this wasn’t as easy as you may think. Each console has had some truly great games, and there’s a multitude of different factors that go into deciding what the “best” truly is. However, what Naughty Dog managed to accomplish with Uncharted 4 is something truly remarkable and helped to provide a true PS4 exclusive that was great on all fronts.
The presentation is the best we’ve seen on current gen consoles to date, from the dust that kicks up as you drive to the tears welling up in Elena’s eyes when she realizes that she can’t even trust and believe the man she loves. The action hasn’t slowed down at all, offering up situations that no person half as lucky as Drake and co. would possibly survive. The puzzles were well designed as well, making the trip to uncover a legendary pirate’s treasure seem even more engaging and fitting. It was almost as if we were reliving The Goonies, soliving mysteries and surviving against impossible odds while looking for the one thing everyone doubted.
What really helps Uncharted 4 stand over its competition in the arena of exclusives is the fact that it was a perfect sendoff for Nathan Drake as Uncharted’s protagonist. Nobody knew exactly what to expect going in; were they going to kill him? Have him fail? Kill someone else? What would the story be? The fact that we got to play as a Drake who was familiar yet changed by adventure and the irrefutable power of time was humbling and helped us enjoy the nostalgia of the glory days. We got to go on the same type of adventure fans were used to, yet somehow see it through a different lens full of wonder and worry. In a way, we figured out what mattered most right alongside our hero, and that’s something worth remembering.
Plus there was that Crash Bandicoot demo in the beginning of the game, and everyone knows that makes everything better.