9. Halo 5
No-one expected much from Halo 5. The fifth iteration of a series left behind by the original developer, everyone was ready for a tedious cash-grab. Halo 5 is actually the middle of the second Halo trilogy, but the game was the first for Microsoft's Xbox One and it delivered.
The game is held up solely by its combat, which excels in both multiplayer and solo play. It’s tight and balanced, with an added verticality to the maps enabling plentiful tactical options. Every round feels satisfying, and in the moment, you could forget that it’s no longer Bungie pulling the strings.
This comparison to Bungie has always dogged 343, but Halo 5 is proof that not only do 343 deserve the comparison, but they're worthy successors. After the disappointing Halo 4 and disastrous Master Chief Collection, they finally understand what makes Halo tick. Once again Halo is the best sci-fi FPS on the market. Hail to the Chief.
8. The Magic Circle
A game that perhaps didn't have quite the impact it deserved, Jordan Thomas's scathing satire of game development is also a fascinating experiment in systems design. Casting you as a lowly game tester who teams up with a rogue AI to overthrow a dictatorial auteur developer, the Magic Circle sees players exploring a half-finished game world, subtly tweaking its systems to fulfil their own ends.
The Magic Circle attempts that trickiest of design balancing acts, combining a carefully scripted story with heavily player-adaptable systems. This admittedly comes at a price. In its most traditional FPS moments, The Magic Circle is rather weak, and it almost bursts at the seams from its own ambition. But it's also wonderfully feisty, with a witty script propelled by superb vocal performances, including the return of Stephen “Garrett” Russell. Meanwhile, building your own NPC army of fire-breathing dogs and helicopter tortoises is bizarrely brilliant fun. It's a game with a lot to say, and that it manages to say it all without ever losing sight of the player is worthy of admiration.
7. Rainbow Six: Siege
Slipping into our list like an SAS operative through a breached wall, Rainbow Six Siege marks the triumphant return of the tactical shooter. It’s a slow-burning multiplayer game of building up and knocking down defences, which emphasises trying to outwit the enemy rather than trying to outgun them. Each match comprises long stretches of tense preparation, often culminating in a brief yet terrifying bursts of ferocious combat where death can come from any angle. Walls, floors, and ceilings are just slightly more stubborn doors, and most cover provides only the illusion of protection.
Siege’s ingenuity is in how it encourages teamwork between players, even when those players are thrown together from far-flung corners of the Internet. The complex and intimidating map design, where most rooms have multiple points of entry and almost every corner is a potential deathtrap, quickly hammers home the fact that going it alone is usually a terrible idea. Hence players naturally stick together, covering one another, adapting to their teammates abilities and play-styles.
Siege still works best with a group of friends, and there are times when it doesn’t work at all. But that it makes complex online teamplay even remotely possible is a huge achievement. And when all the gears are moving in unison, it's probably the best multiplayer experience you'll have all year.