With June in the rear-view mirror, we've reached the halfway point of this year we call 2016. That means it's time to assess the year so far, and talk about the games that have impressed us most. No Man's Sky, Abzu, Mafia 3, The Last Guardian and so many more are yet to be released, so who knows how many of the games below will be on our final GOTY top ten.
So, here are eight of the games that we've loved most this year, in alphabetical order (not a ranked order, for our own collective sanity).
Dark Souls 3 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
As the First Flame flickers and fades, so too does the Dark Souls series, but there was no room for sentimentality in Hidetaka Miyazaki's final outing - which is thankfully as intense and punishing as fans expected. Despite signs that the series' formula is starting to fray around the edges, Dark Souls 3 boasts some of the finest boss encounters in the franchises' history and manages to perfect its gloriously brutal brand of gameplay. "Victory Achieved".
Doom (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
The thrill of frantic, violent combat against demonic hell spawn is a base pleasure, and one that Doom doles out like a satanic, super-charged PEZ dispenser, but the simplicity of its joys shouldn't overshadow the intelligence of its design. This year's Doom manages to strike the perfect balance between adapting the classic series for the modern gaming landscape while retaining what worked about the original.
Firewatch (PS4, PC)
How do you craft a video game with a mature themes, without falling into the pitfalls of cliche and contrivance? You make Firewatch – a succulent pastel-shaded foray into the wilderness, that pivots on two incredibly well voice-acted characters that air their hopes, fears and frailties exclusively over a walkie-talkie. Nerve-shreddingly tense one moment and beautifully contemplative the next, Firewatch is a 'walking simulator' that climbs higher than its peers have ever dreamed.
Hitman (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
It took a while for Square Enix and developer IO Interactive to decide on a release model for its new, episodic Hitman game and that confusing process took a lot of the wind out of its sails. What they settled on was the most sensible, and best model for delivering, to the world, the finest Hitman product in ten years. We're just about halfway through this first set for six locations and so far each has been a quality and classic Hitman level – the perfect settings for a core set of mechanics that have distilled the Hitman formula into its purest ever form. There's no other game like it out there.
Inside (Xbox One, PC)
The most recent addition to this list is one of the most secure in its place. Unless there's a barrage of perfectly-conceived classics on the horizon, it's a certainty for the final version of this list come December or January. It's the game that proves Playdead weren't a one-hit wonder with Limbo, but a developer with their best still to come. That's still the case. Inside – a puzzle-platformer set in a dystopic, Orwellian nightmare world – may just be proof that they have talent to spare and more to come. Playdead's future is certainly brighter than its games.
Overwatch (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
I wasn't particularly interest in Overwatch until I decided to give the open beta a go. After that, I immediately slapped down a pre-order and readied myself for what would likely be my choice game of the summer. I've barely put Blizzard's perfectly-pitched hero shooter down since. Yes, I'm one of those awful people who plays as Reaper more than he should – but if there's been a more satisfying feeling in gaming this year than pulling off a Death Blossom in overtime and eliminating a whole team, then please tell me.
Stardew Valley (PC)
The surprise indie hit of 2016, Stardew Valley's endearing brand of farming, fishing and all-round agricultural bliss took Steam by storm in February – and deservedly so. Viciously addictive, endlessly charming and superbly polished (despite somehow being the work of just a single person), whether you are picking crops or picking a spouse, Stardew Valley is pastoral perfection.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (PS4)
An effortless send-off for adventurer Nathan Drake, Uncharted 4 enhances the legacy an already cherished franchise while raising the bar for character-focused storytelling in a blockbuster, gun-slinging, wall-climbing action game. Naughty Dog's nuanced portrayal of a man torn between domesticity and the thrill of adventure is played out with confidence, but never at the expense of spectacular set-pieces or the series' trademark humour. While Naughty Dog has admitted it may pass the torch on to other developers for future Uncharted games, for now, this is a fitting end for a treasured hero.