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DUBAI: It’s been a strange year, video games wise. So many releases have been HD remasters for the latest console generation or part 13 of ongoing series only diehard fans care about.

Microtransactions are getting even more common and the indie and retro games have kept chugging on.

Not that the re-releases are bad. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition are definitely worth playing, even if you played the games first time around.

Before I start on my choice for top 5 games of the year, let me give an honourable mention to a couple of games that didn’t quite make the cut, primarily because they’re annual sports releases.

NBA2K16 added a Spike Lee-directed story mode to its already impressive career mode, and remains one of the best sports games on the market, even if you don’t follow basketball.

Pro-Evolution Soccer has been through some good years and bad ones, but PES 2016 is definitely one of the good ones. Smooth, refined gameplay, weather effects, full Arabic commentary and a challenging AI makes this my football game of choice.

And onto the top 5, in reverse order.

5. Batman: Arkham Knight (multiple platforms)

The fourth instalment of the Arkham fight-and-puzzle series continues to build on past successes. Fighting remains as fast and furious as ever, and puzzles have become quite challenging at times. Scarecrow isn’t one of my favourite villains, but he’s well used in the game, and backed up by a wonderful cohort of allies, including Penguin, Riddler, Two-Face and Harley Quinn, a nd the environment of Gotham served as a superb battleground. Downsides includes a somewhat quirky Batmobile, silly race sequences and a ‘major reveal’ that was utterly predictable.

4. Until Dawn (PS4)

This story heavy, character-driven offering blurs the lines between game and interactive fiction in the style of Beyond Two Souls and Heavy Rain. It’s a creepy survival horror game that pays homage to the slasher flicks of the 70s and 80s, with a group of teens trying to survive the night in an isolated backwoods retreat while a killer stalks them. There are frights aplenty, the creepiness will have your hair on end, and no two plays will run alike.

3. Fallout 4 (multiple platforms)

Keeping the great open world game play of Fallout 3, boosting the graphics and a great storyline that involves a moral choice would be enough to earn Fallout 4 a place in this list. Adding in settlement development, which we first saw in the Fallout Shelter mobile teaser, is enough to get it into the top 3.

2. Halo 5: Guardians (Xbox One)

Great graphics, challenging combats and silky smooth gameplay help make up for a solo storyline that doesn’t quite deliver on its promise, but where Halo 5 really shines is in its multiplayer mode. The various classic arenas offer a variety of challenges, both in objectives and environment, and the huge Warzone maps, with up to 24 players, offer an even broader sweep of challenges. Teamwork is becoming increasingly crucial for victory on noth modes as players get more familiar with the maps and capabilities, bringing in a level of tactical sense and strategy that’s reminiscent of MMO guilds.

1. Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)

This year, there can be only one. Rise of the Tomb Raider stands head and shoulders above any other game I’ve played this year, making it the only choice for my Game of the Year.

If the 2013 reboot was Tomb Raider’s Casino Royale, bringing a new Lara to a new generation of gamers, then Rise is its Skyfall as the newLara — and the new game — slowly morph into the classic heroine and the legendary game we veterans remember, while keeping the survival/skill tree Crystal Dynamics have brought to the reboot. Excellent puzzles, thrilling battles, a Lara grown into herself, homage to the past and a superb storyline with a fully fleshed-out villain. Everything about this game is right, and I had a huge grin on my face every moment I was playing it.

I think Rise is destined to be an all-time classic.


Gaming disappointments

Metal Gear Solid V, one of the most anticipated games of recent years, had everything going for it in its early chapters, but flung it away with repetitious missions and a storyline that requires a degree-level understanding of Metal Gear back story. It also lead to Hdieo Kojima’s acrinomious parting of ways with Konami.

Star Wars: Battlefront, though it is a great game, suffers from a lack of players — at least when I’m trying to get a fight. A multiplayer-only game needs a decent pool to make it work, and its frustrating to wander through Battlefront’s great variety of interesting battle modes to find them all empty save for the slaughterfest in Blast mode.