2016 hell
2016 as depicted in Doom. id Software

The headline says it all – 2016 wasn't so much a hot mess as a open-air tyre fire. An A-grade dinner party's worth of cultural icons have passed away, the world is still trying to wrap its collective head around Trump and Brexit, and someone shot Harambe.

Real life is starting to feel like a nightmarish dystopia, so there's never been a better year to escape into the world of video games.

While usually I'd steer clear of recommending video games as anaesthesia, it's been an excellent year for games, and whether you're in the mood for a calming drive on the Californian coast or a bit of cathartic bloodshed, games have got what you need to keep a brave face on as the world crumbles just outside of your WiFi range.

Here are five games to help you take your mind off things a bit. Pick your poison from the list below.

Doom - For gratuitous cathartic ultra-violence

Doom probably doesn't seem that relaxing, at first. Its greatest strength is the ebb and flow of every firefight; the feeling of speed and power that comes with each scuffle with a demonic horde.

Of course, in Doom, you're always fighting for your life, and never more than 30 seconds away from a fight. In our review we said that "id Software's 2016 reboot is the best shooter in over a decade" – and when you're trying to get some stress relief by beating monstrosities to death with their own limbs, it's hard to disagree.

Here developer id Software harked back to the original Doom in 1993, a time when things didn't feel quite so catastrophically awful, to recapture that game's distinct vibe with fluid combat and great level design.

Perhaps a literal trip to hell will help convince you things aren't that bad here on Earth.

Watch Dogs 2 - For fighting the establishment with your new best friends

Hackers have always been cool. You know it, I know it. Celluloid has been rubbing cool computer whizzkids in our faces since Hackers back in 1995, but in Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft created the first hacker group (real or otherwise) that I think I'd actually like to hang out with.

In our review of Watch Dogs 2 we said that DedSec were "more like a bunch of kids that watched Mr Robot, (and) decided they fancied the lifestyle" than a stone-cold bunch of criminal masterminds, and that is the reason they're so endearing. Each member has their own personality and desires, and their common goal unites them on a fun adventure.

Watch Dogs 2 Dedsec
The members of DeadSec (L-R) T-Bone, Josh, Sitara, Wrench (standing) and Marcus. Ubisoft

At the midway point of the game, suffering a critical setback, DedSec regroup and head off to a music festival in the desert, where they dance, drink and ultimately regroup to find their groove again.

The real world would have been mean-spirited enough without a Watch Dogs sequel starring as unlikable and obnoxious a cast as the original, so we're grateful for Ubisoft's change of tact. Why wouldn't you want to hang out with some people you actually like? That'd make a change for Christmas, wouldn't it?

Starbound - For building your own, better, universe

There's a whole universe out there, and while there were several games released in 2016 that purported to let you explore one, Starbound manages it best. Better yet, this game is the only one that lets you build your own monkey nightclub, call it The Banana and then invite all of your friends over to listen to the mating sounds of angry chimps.

There's an innate wonder to the 2D pixel art universe that makes up Starbound, making it a joy of discovery as you hop from planet to planet. There are abandoned ruins, prisons and military installations to explore as you continue your quest to mine each galaxy of its resources.

Starbound left Early Access on Steam this year after a long incubation period, so you could be forgiven for ignoring it amongst all of the excellent AAA releases that emerged in 2016. You should probably rectify that mistake though, and find a planet all of your very own.

Overwatch - Because it's just actually really nice

Overwatch was well-received at launch and has grown in repute since, adding new characters, maps and modes, to become one of the best shooters released this year. This means there's a lot of players, and your friends probably play it.

Better, this stripped-back shooter is so cleanly designed and easy to pick up that everyone you know can play together, no matter their skill level.

Overwatch is guaranteed to cheer you up. There aren't many shooters that look as good, and it has the most interesting cast of characters you're going to see in a shooter this decade – a mix of hulking Gorillas, lethal killers and plucky climate change scientists, all trying to make the world a better place through the judicious application of shooty shooty.

The Witness - For having a nice walk, and solving a few puzzles

To be perfectly honest, I'm too stupid to do many of The Witness' puzzles. There are literally hundreds of them spilling out of the beautiful islands of Jonathan Blow's unique adventure, and they confounded and confused me in equal measure.

When it comes to solving them, my success rate was a rather optimistic 70/30 split. But, when you're not expanding your brain in new and exciting ways to try and come up with puzzles, you're walking along trails from puzzle to puzzle and exploring a gorgeously-realised world.

The Witness PS4 PC
The Witness is set on a mysterious island filled with puzzles. Sony

Many praised Blow for the design work of his puzzles, and it's entirely deserved – but he should get equal praise for the sights and sounds surrounding them, offering players the chance to have a nice calm stroll before their next brainteaser.

Of course, if you can open locked doors, fiddle with pressure plates and don't mind horribly messing up repeatedly, there's an entire here that can swallow you whole for Christmas. The Witness isn't for everyone, but like many games it represents a moment of calm from the tornado of bad news that was 2016 – and that's invaluable.

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