I recently started going back to college, and I’m taking mostly online courses, which is dominated by writing, so I figured I’d get some practice. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy writing most of the time, but as I get older, the wheels move a little slower and my thoughts becoming harder to articulate. Basically, I want to be able to get out what’s in my head onto the page/screen/whatever faster! Anyway, why am I talking about this?
Every year I intend to do one of these or something equivalent. I watch a lot of movies and play a decent amount of games, but dedicating large swathes of time to long-form writing isn’t always in the cards for me these days, as I often have to choose between doing one of my hobbies with the small amount of free time I have. I could play a game for a few hours, or watch a movie, or write, and as much as I hate to admit it, by the end of the day, being a stay at home parent and, now, student, my brain is mush, and I’m more likely to choose the activity that demands the least of my mental faculties as possible. I get lazy, you know?
While putting these lists together, I counted about 30 games that I touched (Hey, c’mon, be an adult.) this year, 20 of which I actually finished to completion, and the other ten being somewhere in the middle of. In my opinion, to really know whether something fully comes together, you have to beat the thing. I know, that’s not entirely fair, but if you’re going to engage in an honest discussion on a subject, I feel like you should have a good grasp on what it has to offer. Now, I would admit that there are some exceptions to this personal rule, there are two of them on my list, but I think what makes those games work, or not work, had that been the case, is self-evident in the types of games they are. I’ve listened to so many “Game of the Year” podcasts where more than half of the people haven’t finished the games they include on their site lists, and it drives me a little batty. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but it gets under my skin for some reason.
Before we dive into the list proper, I want to give a few shout-outs to games I feel like I didn’t spend enough time with to include, and a few that I never got around to but based what I’ve heard/seen could have ended up on this list.
What Remains of Edith Finch and Tacoma:
What can I say, I enjoy a good “walking simulator,” so it was weird that I never got around to either of these. I enjoyed Fullbright’s last game, Gone Home, and I was definitely excited to play Tacoma, but it being an X-Box exclusive and not having a very powerful PC for the latter part of the year, pretty much put the kibosh on that expedition.
And as far as Edith Finch goes, another game I was excited for, I just kind of forgot about it until recently. I’ll probably get around to it next time I see it on sale.
Another one that got lost in the shuffle. I actually tried to buy a copy a few days after it came out but everywhere close to me was sold out! Koei-Tecmo, and distributors, really underestimated the interest in this one. I could have gotten it digitally, but if I’m paying top dollar, on consoles anyway, I’m getting that box!
I’m a big fan of Japanese lore, especially when it’s of the samurai variety, and I’m a fan of the Dark Souls series, so this seems right up my particular alley. It looks like a mash-up of Onimusha, one of my favorite PS2 era series (Man, wouldn’t it be awesome if they brought Onimusha back!?!), and the before mentioned Dark Souls! I know this is shallow, but fuck yeah! Sign me up!
The only other game in this series that I’ve played is Yakuza 4, a game I really loved, but for some reason, I just never got around to playing any of the other games in the series. It seems like, for a while, Sega kind of begrudgingly ported these games, as we’re always a few years behind whatever their most current game is. Yakuza 0 was no different, and it came out last January in America to little fanfare.
Over the past year, though, word of mouth has gotten louder and louder about this entry, so when I saw it on sale a few weeks ago, I had to pick it up. I’ve only been able to get a few hours in but I’m definitely enjoying it so far. I just haven’t gotten deep enough into the systems, the story, and the mini-games to know how I feel about it relative to the games on my list.
Listen, I’m not going to lie, but I am a huge fan of the original three Sonic games for the Sega Genesis. It’s the system I grew up with, I never really got to play Super Nintendo until I was much older, and even then, most of that was through emulation, so when it comes to mascot driven platformers, Sonic was my dude.
I can’t believe I haven’t played this yet! What’s wrong with me! By all accounts, it’s a true successor to the original games, made by modders and level designers who have been at it, doing it as a hobby, for years. People that hate Sonic games, even people that are indifferent to the originals, seem to be loving this thing. I need to get drunk enough to impulse buy this thing some night. I’ve been kind of holding out for a boxed collector’s edition or something, but I’ll probably be giving in relatively soon. Seems like a great “turn your brain off” game.
I’m a big fan of Ron Gilbert, so him making an old-school style adventure game that’s riffing off of The X-Files, is definitely something that has peaked my interest. I love the art style, the sense of humor, and its unabashedly retro inklings. I actually own this one. I’m just waiting for a quiet night to sink my mouse cursor into it.
A Night in the Woods:
I’m about halfway through this narratively driven adventure game, and I’m of two minds about it. I oscillate between really enjoying it and relating to the characters, to rolling my eyes and audibly groaning. This is one of those games that I don’t think a proper opinion can be rendered until the credits roll because of how narratively driven it is. So, I’m hoping that what I don’t like about the story makes sense in the context of the whole piece. I could see it going either way, honestly, and depending on whether they stick the landing or not, this could either be a new favorite or a worst in a while.
I honestly don’t know a lot about this game other than the pedigree of the team that made it. I’m a big fan of Super Giant and their prior releases, Bastion and Transistor, so I imagine that I’ll dig this one. I heard it’s a compelling visual novel with some weird, basketball esque sports game. The art style is incredible, it reminds me of the comic book Saga, and it certainly has an intriguing gameplay style, so who knows?
Well, now that I’ve thoroughly exhausted myself, and your patience, I imagine, let’s get on with the list proper! Here are the ten best games I played this year.
10 BEST GAMES OF 2017:
10. South Park: The Fractured but Whole
South Park isn’t for everyone, and if you’re not a fan of the show, TFbW would probably fall pretty flat for you. If I’m being honest, this and its predecessor, The Stick of Truth are pretty generic RPGs. They are surprisingly good at what they do, but that’s really only relative to the fact that they exist inside of a licensed property and the expectations for such things are incredibly low.
BUT I really enjoyed my time with this one. It has just enough mechanical depth to keep you on your toes, even if it does get kind of tedious by the end, and the writing is generally good enough to keep you chuckling, and, really, at the end of the day, that’s all it has to do.
It may seem weird to have a game on here that meets that oh so hefty requirement of “good enough,” but sometimes that’s just the way it works out. Sure, I wish the story came together a little better, and I wish it was, maybe, 5 hours shorter, but a number ten is a number ten, and “good enough” is good enough.
9. Resident Evil VII
The first ten hours of this game are so effective that even though it starts falling apart towards the end, as it begins to buckle under the pressure of having to explain its narrative, which can’t really help but become silly, but man, it is quite the ride until up until then. And, honestly, it never gets THAT bad.
This is easily the best the series has been since Resident Evil 4, and a lot of that has to do with how well it manages to forge its own path. It does so by, ostensibly, ignoring most of what came before narratively. It never feels disrespectful to the series, though, and it manages to recreate the feeling and energy of the original few games.
The only thing that keeping this from a higher ranking on this list is that it is a tad bit late to the party. It feels like Capcom has been watching what’s been going on with the survival horror genre for the past five or so years and made a really good one of those. So, even if it is probably the most effective version of one of these, first-person survival horror games, it isn’t the most original.
I had such a good time with RE7 that I ended up buying a copy of it even after having already beaten it through a Redbox rental. I got a Playstation VR over the holidays and I’ve been waiting for a good time to fire up this one. I sincerely have some mild anxiety about playing it like that, but I hear it’s the best way to experience the game. I found the first bit of the game pretty freaky without that, so here’s hoping!
Ah yes, the joy of challenge! There you are, friendo! It has been a while since I’ve had this much fun with something this damn hard. What makes it all work, though, is that it’s fair. Every time you die, and it will happen pretty frequently, you know who’s to blame, and it’s not the game. It’s you, just in case there was any confusion. It’s your fault. It’s okay, though, as it is easy to get into a kind of hypnotic rhythm with the game. The gameplay loop becomes second nature after only a few minutes of playing, and through some clever visual clues and markers, you are encouraged to keep going.
The thing that really pushes Cuphead to the head of the platforming pack is the art style. The incredible hand-drawn work lovingly recreates 1930’s era cartoons that give the game such a vibrancy and life. You’ll happily subject yourself to the vicious whims of the game just to see the next level and boss. Seriously, it’s what got me to stick with the game for as long as I did, and I’m not even an animation buff or anything.
I almost didn’t bother with this one, but as it turns out, the required system specs for it were pretty low, so I was able to play it on my mediocre laptop. If you’ve been on the fence about it, I’d say give it a go. Maybe wait for a sale, though, as that difficulty, however fair it is, isn’t for everyone.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This is one of those “exceptions” that I mentioned earlier. I did not finish this game, but I feel like I got out of it what I needed, and certainly spent enough time with it to have a substantial opinion, about 40 hours.
The thing is, though, I’ll probably never finish BotW. The actual game, the objectives and the story, are pretty tedious and boring, in my opinion. None of that stuff ever felt like anything more than window dressing for the main course: Exploration. The world that this development team created is oddly magical. You never quite know what you’re going to find or come across. I was never bored and frequently challenged by the environments, the enemy variety, and dungeons.
In a weird way, it has the same thing holding it back that Resident Evil VII does. Nintendo has obviously been paying attention to what’s been going on in the open-world spaces of gaming and they went and made a really good Nintendo version of one of those. And while that’s cool and all, it did feel a little bit redundant in 2017, especially how sparse and empty the game feels after a few dozen hours. BUT that few dozen hours is pretty mesmerizing.
6. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (HD Remaster)
Yeah, yeah, I understand if you think this one is cheating, but hey, it came out this year, and I’m pretty sure that The Zodiac Age is new to the US, so there!
This game has aged incredibly well, and now with the improved job system, and the acclimation allowed by time to develop a taste for this kind of gameplay, in general, it was a real joy to return to the world of Ivalice.
I feel like people often forget about Final Fantasy XII, I know I would often disregard it in the past, and honestly, I only picked it up because I have a compulsiveness problem, especially when it comes to things that have Final Fantasy in the title, but I’m really, really happy I did.
I think it’s only available on PS4 as of now, but while writing this I came across an article that said it was coming to PC on February 1st! So, whether you’re an old die hard, or a newcomer, this is the best version of the game available and should scratch that JRPG itch.
5. Persona 5
How did I ever find the time to finish this? I put about 125 hours into this behemoth and it’s a testament to the amount of polish and streamlining that kept me engaged for almost the entire duration. This is not my favorite Persona game, Persona 4 still wears that crown, but this is, by far, the best playing Persona game.
It has an incredibly addictive gameplay loop, and those hours and hours spent playing never felt like a grind, even when I was literally grinding. It just keeps bringing new things to the table through mini-games, managing your Personas, trying to find a good team balance for each of the dungeons, and a story that, while not my favorite in the series, keeps you invested enough to keep going, but this is more of a mechanical victory, in my opinion.
It’s just such a smooth, tight playing game, and something for other games in the genre to aspire to. From the games elegant UI and menu systems to the snappy navigational controls, everything has been polished, polished, polished. I guess that’s what you get when it takes the better part of 5 years in production.
I don’t think I’ll ever play this one again, but relative to the other games that I played in 2017, this easily earned a spot on my list. I have precious little time to game these days, so if a game keeps me playing for 125 hours then it can’t be that bad!
4. Everybody’s Golf
This game being represented here is incredibly indicative of my life at the moment. When I became a father, I went “Full Dad,” and now I spend large amounts of my gaming time playing a fucking golf game. A fucking good golf game, though.
Everybody’s Golf is probably one of the most aptly titled games I’ve ever come across. It literally is for anybody. Within seconds of picking up the controller, you totally get what it’s selling. It’s a light and breezy, almost ephemeral experience, kind of like a party game if you want it to be. Or, it can be an in-depth and intense golf simulator. It all depends on you, your mood, and what you have going on in your life. Well, that last bit really is pretty specific to me, but whatever, it’s my list.
It started as something to pass the time while I was watching my son as he’d snooze most of the day away, but still need a lot of attention. I could easily pick it up and play a few rounds while holding him in one hand and the controller in the other. Seriously, when you need it to be, the game is a fantastic casual experience. Which is saying something, in my opinion, because the term “casual” is generally considered some type of pejorative rather than the boon it is here. Often games of this ilk aren’t given their just desserts
What has surprised me the most, now that my son demands all of my attention during the day and leaves no time for gaming, is how much I play it during the times I could be playing anything. Just the other night I booted up Battlefield 1, let it get to the menu screen, stared at it for a few seconds, sighed, and then exited out of the program and put in Everybody’s Golf instead.
It is during these times, mostly in the evening, where the game reveals itself as much more than a “CRUSH THE BALL EVERYTIME” arcade-style golf simulator. This isn’t some Golden Tee bullshit! This is some Everybody’s Golf diamond encrusted shit! Okay, I’ll calm down, but, for real, the number of things there are to level up, collect, fine tune, and skills to hone makes for one of the most involving, in-depth games, outside of Persona 5, that I played this year.
Even if you’re not normally into golfing games, I certainly wasn’t, give this one a try if you haven’t already. It’s a delightful experience, and one of the best times, in terms of just pure fun, that I had all year.
So, this is another of those “exception” games, as I’m currently in the midst of playing it right now (Well, when I’m not golfing.), otherwise it would be my number one. Unless it completely falls apart in the last leg, which is something I can’t really imagine because of the type of game it is, an immersive first-person simulator in the tradition of System Shock.,
There are so many things to say about Prey that I’m at a loss as to where to start! This game harkens back to an older era of PC science fiction game. I name dropped System Shock because, in a lot of ways, it feels like more of a successor to that game, and its sequel, than the actual spiritual successors do (Bioshock). I’ve spent hours combing through the mysterious, derelict Talos 1 trying to uncover its secrets while making my way deeper into its belly.
The ship is a character that you get to know, get to love, get to care about. Arkane Studios really knocked it out of the galaxy (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Ah, we like to laugh!) with the way they designed the ship and what’s to be found. It’s all-encompassing, as every corner, every locker, every terminal, and every room leaves something to be discovered.
The writing is also exceptional. Most of the time going through e-mails, and rummaging through desks in these types of games becomes a tedious nuisance at some point, but that hasn’t happened as of yet in Prey. The lives of the people of Talos 1 are actually interesting. Like, they make jokes and call each other out on their bullshit. It’s not just going through reams of business and technical e-mails that maybe/kinda/sorta give you tiny breadcrumbs about the larger world. Yeah, those things are in there as well, I don’t know how you really get around that, but it’s amidst a lot of “flavor text” that gives these ghosts a real presence and life.
But this is a video game, party people, and all that stuff would be well and good but if it didn’t play well, then who gives a shit. I’ll say this, it’s not for everybody because even though it looks like a first-person shooter, the game wants you to engage with its power mechanics and wants you to look at each room and enemy encounter like an environmental puzzle, rather than something to blast through. It invites patience and experimentation. It really does feel like you can play the game any way you’d like, using your morphing abilities to find clever solutions to almost any problem. It really is rare that you absolutely have to resort to just shooting at enemies. That’s not to say you couldn’t play the game like that, the controls (Console pleab over here!) are a little sluggish but with enough practice, you’d get the hang of it. You’re not going to want to, though. There’s a delightful jankiness to the way this game lets you almost break it constantly.
Prey probably isn’t for everyone, but it was one of the only times this year that I felt like I was playing something specifically designed for my sensibilities. And by that, I mean an old school PC gamer. I haven’t had this much fun exploring and problem-solving in a game in years.
2. Nier: Automata
This game is an above average third-person action game that feels like it came out in the middle of the PS3’s lifecycle. So, how did it end up on this list, and many other’s lists as well? It transcends all of its shortcomings by telling a story that would be otherwise considered trite if told through any other medium.
The story of Neir: Automata is pretty par for the science fiction course, especially nowadays, as every time I hear about something even vaguely sci-fi related it’s about Artificial Intelligence and what exactly constitutes being alive. The thing that elevates this story is the direction of series creator Yoko Taro, and how he makes the player and the decisions made by the player, complicit in the tragedy of what’s going on. I don’t want to get too deep into it, it’s not something I want to risk spoiling for anyone that might stumble across this and would like to check the game out. The Meta-Narrative is the real meal and it’s real, real good.
The story is so creatively told, in fact, that it makes getting through the game, which can feel like a little bit of a slog at times, more than worth it. Hell, it even wraps it all up in a way that makes what you’ve been through feel part of the piece. It’s crazy, this didn’t become a contender for my favorite game of the year until the credits finished rolling. It was one of those things that when I was finished I thought “Yeah, I liked that,” but over the next few weeks it never was far from my thoughts, and eventually the full breadth of what I’d experienced had hit me. The depth of the game can only be known after your finished with it, and it’s an easy game to give up on before you reach its final and truest conclusion, so the finer points get lost on a lot of people.
Listen, there are some mechanical things and some level design things that definitely leave something to be desired, I wouldn’t ever say otherwise, but if you decide to check Neir: Automata out, stick with it and dig deep into the lore. It takes a little bit to get going, but if you are a fan of good science fiction, that is able to uniquely tell a story, then you owe it to yourself to give this one a go.
1. Horizon: Zero Dawn
This is the both objectively and subjectively the best-made game of 2017. I know that sounds mildly robotic, but I’m not sure that I played a game with a more thoughtfully designed world, tighter controls, and sincerely creative mechanics all year. I had a smile on my face the entire time.
I loved killing and hunting down robot dinosaurs; Stalking my prey throughout deserts, tundras, and woodlands, sometimes stopping just to marvel at the spectacle of the world that Guerilla Games has created. It was so full of life and spontaneous events that hours would go by without me even noticing. Every valley brought something new, whether that was an enemy, or an interesting sidequest, the game keeps giving you new things to do, making you think about creative ways to use your toolset.
At some point, when you start coming across larger prey, the game becomes a puzzle to be solved. Where should you set your traps? How can You exploit their weaknesses? How can you use the environment to your advantage? You will have to find ways to answer these types of question. Having said that, the games never unfair about how it builds its challenges, and it builds towards these more complex encounters in a completely measured way, as it doles out new weapons, traps, and abilities. I never felt blindsided by anything, the game gives you what you need pretty fast, which makes the rest of the game seem more of an expedition.
While I wasn’t taken with the story as much as some, I thought it was pretty predictable and the main character, Aloy, is just shy of boring, it is well executed. It’s pretty much the complete inverse of Neir: Automata, actually.
If you haven’t gotten around to this one yet, and you own a PS4, it is definitely a must-play. I like it so much I’m actually going to get the DLC, something I rarely do, and keep playing it well into 2018.
Well, I am completely out of steam. This ended up being way longer than I had anticipated, but that’s what usually happens. Honestly, I wish I understood brevity. Anyway, that’s my list! See you next time I get bored and need to kill some time!