A far better writer than I once stated, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and to be honest, with last year, he was half-right.

2016 was a stinker of a year and was filled with more than its fair share of disappointments. The world of gaming was not immune to this, with a continuing trend of shoddy game releases, including Street Fighter V, Mafia III and of course (the now infamous) No Man’s Sky.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t also some pretty great games around to drag us back from the brink. As the year drew to a close, we gathered all the Ready Up team together and locked them in a room, forcing them to debate the merits of the very best of the best the gaming world had to offer us in 2016.

The white smoke has appeared and the votes have been tallied and counted. The red carpet is out, so strike up the band and start the ceremony.

It’s time for the Ready Up Awards 2016.

Best Story

In some games it’s not all about mashing buttons, high scores and headshots. Sometimes we just want to be transported into a narrative where we can try and live vicariously through our on-screen counterparts. This year’s best story nominees saw a strong leaning towards independent games with Firewatch, Inside and Oxenfree all making plays for the top spot. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End kept the big boys in the running with a tale of brotherly love, bringing a conclusion to Nathan Drake’s story arc. However, it was Play Dead’s mind-bendingly bleak look at free will, Inside, which took the trophy. The game provides not one, but two desperate conclusions, although the jury is still very much out on just what either of them truly mean.

Winner: Inside
Runner-Up: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Best Aesthetics

The eyes have it. It’s not all about the graphics as the other categories can attest, but there is something undeniably vital about what we see that really connects us to the game. Graphics don’t have to be processor-searingly hyper realistic, either. A clever use of colour, light and shadow can make a real difference. With the rise of VR machines this year as well, this category is by far the most disputed. So it was good to see a varied range of experiences on offer, again heavily dominated by indie games such as the quirky Owlboy or the ingenious slow-mo shooter Superhot. In spite of the competition, Inside once again pulled away with the title, with the smoky atmospherics of Firewatch yapping at its heels.

Winner: Inside
Runner Up: Firewatch

Best Sound

This category is often diverse, as we open it up to not only the best soundtracks, but also environmental sounds. If graphics open the door to a game for you, then its sound design can pull you right through. Admit it: you will catch yourself humming an insanely catchy ditty in the shower or making a certain sound effect when you find an item in a drawer. You’re all thinking about it right now. This year saw some thumpin’ choons hit the gaming arena, not least in the rhythm game Thumper. Likewise, Hyper Light Drifter matches its impressive visuals with an equally impressive soundtrack bit-for-beat. But after seeing off some seriously tough-sounding competition, it was the stirring soundtrack of film composer Henry Jackman for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End which stole the top spot.

Winner: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Runner Up: Hyper Light Drifter

Best Multiplayer

This category was an outright battle of the Overs. Plucky little indie kitchen simulator, Overcooked, took on the might of Goliath in the form of the immensely popular online first person shooter, Overwatch. No one else even got a look in. Both games have been well-loved and well-played this year, both on streaming platforms as well as in our living rooms. Overcooked is certainly a tasty dish, but loses out due to being limited to purely local co-op play. Ultimately, the massively successful triple-A title that everyone has been talking about all year took the crown. Quelle surprise!

Winner: Overwatch
Runner Up: Overcooked

Biggest Letdown

There were more than a few disappointments this year. Developers both big and small continued the trend of over-promising and under-delivering. Nowhere was this hype felt more keenly than in the PR disaster that was No Man’s Sky. No surprise, then, that it swooped an easy victory in this category. But don’t let its failure outshine some of the other clangers that dropped this year; the disappointment left in the wake of Mafia III and Mirror’s Edge, as well as the short-lived frenzy that was Pokémon Go, both surprised and frustrated the team in equal measure.

Winning Loser: No Man’s Sky
Runner Up: Mirror’s Edge

Biggest Surprise

This year, Pokémon Was Back™. Its surprising return was fueled by the prospect of actually being able to live out your Pokémon trainer dreams via Pokémon Go, before the cold hard reality of the grind set in. Other positives this year included the return of several classics. Titanfall 2 released a second installment, this time allowing you to play offline with a well-received single-player campaign. Hitman returned and beat out the critics who said that the episodic format would never work. However, as far as we were concerned, the greatest surprise of all was the success of major reboot DOOM (2016), which rocket-jumped out of hell yet again to wreak mayhem on the first person shooter market.

Winner: DOOM 2016
Runner Up: Hitman

Best Character

It is always tricky finding that special someone, especially when everyone has their personal preference. Narrowing down the favourite character category to an outstanding winner proved equally difficult. Lots of great characters made the list, possibly for their sparkling dialogue: Geralt from The Witcher 3’s Blood and Wine Expansion, The Joker from Batman VR, as well as Internet-favourite Dartrix from Pokémon Sun and Moon. The cute, wheelchair-bound Racoon from Overcooked was easily as popular as Sam Drake from Uncharted 4. It was the character-driven narrative of Firewatch that stole the march, however, with both of its characters taking the top two spots despite their combined lack of visual screen time.

Winner: Henry (Firewatch)
Runner-up: Delilah (Firewatch)

Best Indie Game

It has been a real renaissance for the independent game market of late, with some truly classic tales and thought-provoking games which could easily make you forget that they were drawn up on the back of beer mat for around the cost of a sandwich in London. This year was no different, with a large variety of games filling your every gaming need; whether that’s pumping hundreds of hours into maintaining a simulated farmstead in Stardew Valley, or expending lifetimes into trying to beat the devil in Reigns. Head-scratchers such as The Witness featured heavily in the lists, along with the “Dark Souls on a budget” hit, Salt and Sanctuary. In the end, it was Inside and Firewatch which continued their sweep of the gongs, stealing the limelight once again from their fellow indie challengers. There wasn’t much between them, but Inside once again took the top spot.

Winner: Inside
Runner Up: Firewatch

Best AAA Game

When you’ve got all the resources money can buy, making a successful AAA game is a breeze, isn’t it? Well, not if the Biggest Letdown category is any measure! Also, by and large, our 2016 awards have been dominated by the little guys. In fact, we had to give them their own award so that they continue to feel special. That said, there were still some big-budget corkers this year as well. Titanfall 2 and DOOM made a welcome return. Hitman stole the show by drip-feeding itself throughout the year. Dark Souls III returned us to the Souls’ series trademark brand of beautiful torment. But it was the return of everybody’s favourite tomb robber (without a whip, anyway) who stole the show. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End simply couldn’t be beat.

Winner: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Runner Up: Hitman

Most Anticipated Game of 2017

And so at the very end we look forward to 2017 and the host of amazing games that await us this year. We are a very excitable bunch when it comes to Bioware, so we have enormous anticipation for continued space adventures in Mass Effect: Andromeda. JPRGs handily make the list with much excitement for Nier: Automata and Persona 5. Everyone was pleased to see that Red Dead Redemption 2 (or is it 3?) will finally be moseying back onto our screens in the coming year. But, far and away, our most anticipated game of 2017 is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nobody at Ready Up, it seems, can wait to get back into Hyrule.

Winner: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Runner Up: Mass Effect: Andromeda

That’s what we all thought. How about you? Did we get it all wrong? Or maybe, just this once, we were spot on. Sympatico. Whatever you think, let us know in the comments below and tell us about what games made 2016 special for you.