Best Games of 2017

I’ve stated multiple times that I believe this year has been incredible for video games. I don’t recall another time when so many quality games have been released, seemingly in instant succession.

Interestingly, it’s also been a year where discussions have included the possible death of story-driven games and micro transactions choking the life out of the industry.

Yet we see Sony continue to go strong, while Microsoft making huge gains (in perception if not financially), and Nintendo hitting homerun after homerun in a fashion unprecedented in even their storied history.

Below is this lowly blogger’s opinion for the best games this year. I won’t even try to single out one for the crown (although I probably have an idea who). I think any list or award for GOTY ultimately comes down to personal preference. Instead let’s just marvel at what we got in 2017.

I also want to acknowledge the gaps in my game selections. I know titles like Destiny 2 and Player Unknown Battlegrounds made huge waves in the industry. While I can agree to their legitimacy on other people’s Best Of lists, they won’t appear on mine simply because they don’t sit in my wheelhouse which tends to be more story-driven and single player.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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I initially slept on the previews for this game despite the hype. I hadn’t owned a Nintendo system since the DS and hadn’t played a Zelda game since Link to the Past. But the acclaim was so loud that I ended up buying a Switch just to play this game.

And the hype was real. Incredible game systems all worked in conjunction flawlessly with each other. Elements such as the stamina wheel or item degradation deter me on paper but seemed perfectly natural in the game.

Most importantly, the sense of wonder and discovery that the original strived for is fully realized here. I’ve never experienced an open world so meticulously crafted yet without feeling too manufactured.

 

Persona 5

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I almost hate that this game came out this year because in a normal year, Persona 5 would dominate Best Of conversations.

I can’t name a more perfected example of turn-based combat. Despite over 90 hours of gameplay, I never found it to be a slog to enter a battle.

Visually and musically, no other game (except maybe Cuphead) oozes so much style. Every menu or UI element was thoughtfully crafted to fit in this world.

And since I prefer plot, I put heavy emphasis on Persona 5’s engrossing story that felt intimate yet expansive at the same time. It effortlessly introduced a cast that I developed a deep affection for.

Heavily steeped in Japanese anime and RPG mechanics, this isn’t a game for everyone, which is a shame because everyone should experience this work of pop art.

 

Horizon Zero Dawn

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I’ve already sung this game’s praises in two entries on this blog so I’ll try to keep this succinct.

This game is an easy choice for anyone’s GOTY list, and I regard this highly on mine for its polish. In an age where patches are a common occurrence, I greatly appreciate that a game can come having virtually no issues. Every aspect of the game, from visuals to mechanics to AI to story, are top notch. This is Naughty Dog levels of quality which is rare nowadays.

 

Super Mario Odyssey

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This game absolutely deserves all the acclaim, but if forced to, I’d probably place Odyssey below most other games on this list.

Again, it may be preference but the lack of a deep story is a knock for me. I know Mario games have never been that way but maybe that’s also my point. Mario games have rarely deviated from the purely plat forming collect-a-thon.

In light of that, it’s amazing how within that narrow confine, how Mario games continue to innovate and surprise.

Also, the joy and charm are on abundant display. New Donk City was a head scratcher for me …until I actually played it. What seemed odd and disjointed on sight, ended up being a highlight for me in experience. I literally couldn’t stop smiling while running around in that level.

But ultimately, I’m not that into puzzle platforming. And I found the controls infuriating at times. I fully believe that Nintendo crafted the controls purposefully but I often felt Mario wouldn’t do exactly what I wanted. How Mario takes an extra step to slide when I suddenly shift in an opposite direction is cute and charming, but not what I want during puzzles requiring precise control and movement.

 

What Remains of Edith Finch

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Some might argue that this is barely a “game” but the level of storytelling here is compelling enough for me to list it here.

There’s nothing revolutionary in the gameplay or graphics but the main thrust is setting and story. You become fully immersed in the macabre mood as the history of this cursed family unfolds.

Also, the game switches up play styles to enhance each individual story which is greatly effective.

Just recalling moments to friends will make this unassuming game sound like the most out there, insane experience. Like how you play as a baby drowning in a bathtub seen as an underwater musical. Or as a person losing their mind through a split screen showcase of evolving video game styles. Or a horror movie chase via moving comic book panels.

 

Night in the Woods

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Like Edith Finch, lack of cutting edge gameplay or graphics keep this game from mainstream appeal. But the art style and mature story elements showcase how the indie scene is a fertile ground for video games as an evolving art form.

I wasn’t fully sure of what I was getting into when I booted up this game, and the childlike visual style disarms you from the emotional weight the game eventually thrusts upon you.

This game unapologetically explores adult themes such as failure and disillusionment better than most film or television. Especially as an adult, the idea of growing up to feel limitless potential shift into missed opportunities is starkly poignant. And the game doesn’t cop out with a rosy finale which makes the game so much better.

 

Cuphead

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This deserves a spot simply for how stunning the graphics are. Hand-drawn in the aesthetic of 1930s cartoons, there’s no other game that has ever looked like Cuphead. I hope it’s success encourages more games to develop unique art styles.

Like platformiing, I’m not much for run-and-gun style games. Probably because I simply suck at video games. But I appreciate Cuphead’s adherence to a level of difficulty rarely seen since the days of the NES.

 

Dishonored: Death Of the Outsider

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A hard choice to put here because of the level of quality this year, but this inclusion is really more for the series overall, which has been criminally under appreciated.

Coupled with a distinct art style, inventive skill sets, and top notch level design, these games deliver on par with the best titles out there.

Recycling the game engine and much of the graphics from Dishonored 2, this is really more of an expansion but is probably acting as a swan song for the series.

Still, I’ll try to be an advocate for the series and tell everyone to give them a go.

 

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

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Naughty Dog is in a tough spot. When you’re so synonymous with top level work, everyone stops batting an eye when you release something in the same stratosphere of quality. I harken to a band like Radiohead… everything you do is great so then it just seems like more of the same. I guarantee you that if any other studio released something like The Lost Legacy, the industry would be showering it with praise and accolades.

Like Dishonored, this release is more of a half step than a full release which hurts its perception. But you can’t deny the same level of care and craft the went into it.

Plus, I love playing as Chloe and found it as enjoyable with her as I did with Nathan.

 

Doki Doki Literature Club

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Probably the pick that seems most out of left field. But if you’ve heard any chatter about this game, you’ll realize this isn’t your normal anime dating sim. All the genre tropes are there but the game’s developer masterfully uses them to upend all your expectations.

It’s hard to gush about this game without giving away what happens and I implore everyone to check it out, especially since it’s free on Steam.

I’ll just tease further by saying I hadn’t been this shook by a game since PT.

 

Life is Strange, Before the Storm

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I love these games. There’s an emotional heft that’s disarming. Sure, it’s about teenagers in their full-on awkward, angsty phase, but there’s no irony or judgement in the depiction. It’s completely sincere and honest. The story swings effortlessly between the joy and goofiness to the raw emotion and rage that come with that period in our lives.

This prequel nails everything that the original was great at. I don’t think this game reached the same peaks as the first game (with its mind-blowing alternate realities and surreal ending) but it also avoids some of the clunky depths as well (bottle hunting and bad teenage dialog).

It fleshes out the character of Rachel and the intense friendship between her and Chloe. Which is so much more tragic since we known what happens to both of them in the original.

I think the new developers had such an uphill battle on this one but they knocked it out of the park.

——–

Again, this year was incredible. I left off great games like Little Nightmares, Wolfenstein 2, Call of Duty: WWII and so many others.

I guess I should also note a few disappointments, top of the list for most would probably be Mass Effect Andromeda. I don’t consider it a terrible game but considering this year’s competition and that it had to live up to the Mass Effect name, it just wasn’t what anyone wanted. But after reading about the tumultuous development, it’s actually amazing the game came out at all and played as well as it did. It’s a shame that Bioware and EA have effectively killed of the series for the time being.

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Let’s Play: Life is Strange, Before the Storm

There are dozens of reasons why this game should not be good. It’s a prequel. Made by another studio. Without the previous main character. Featuring a character that some players found annoying. That didn’t have the powers that gave the first game its hook. That wasn’t using the original voice actress that gave the character so much life and depth.

But Life is Strange, Before the Storm does a great justice to its predecessor. The things that the first game is well known for, such as an emotional story and a well-written bond between teenage girls, are just as powerful, charming, and engaging in the prequel.

I wasn’t sure a prequel based on Chloe Price, the assertive and abrasive best friend in Life is Strange was going to work. Chloe’s arc in the first game meant that she had to be in a low place by the end of the prequel. And while the original game gave enough weight to Rachel Amber to make her feel massively important to the story, she was essentially a plot device, and I never felt much need to get to know her beyond her role in Chloe’s story.

But I was wrong on both accounts. Before the Storm manages to keep the essence of Chloe’s spirit while telling a story with highs and joys that still ends at a place that reasonably lines up to the start of the first game.

Deck Nine also did an amazing job of bringing Rachel to life. It was probably a complicated dance to make sure she still fit all the descriptions in the first game while becoming a believable character in the new one. She was still the perfect girl that everybody loved and admired, but she had the other shades that could convince us that she and Chloe could get along so well.

This game didn’t put as much emphasis on any unique gameplay mechanics or hooks, but really zeroed in on that relationship and made it soar. I loved every moment that Chloe and Rachel were onscreen together.

And it also made my heart break anytime I remembered their ultimate fate in the original. It’s a testament to the writing that I care so much about Chloe, Rachel, and Max that I’d gladly ditch their original destinies and just keep playing more sequels of them having regular teen antics.

Now, is the excruciating wait for the sequel being developed by the original team at Dontnod. I’m not even sure it will star any of the original characters but can only hope it will have the same depth of storytelling as these other games.

Doki Doki Literature Club Review

In what’s really a departure for me, I fired up my Mac and played a Steam game.

Highly recommended by a few IGN staff and with enough intriguing non-spoiler hints, I chose to dive in to Doki Doki Literature Club. Plus the game was free.

The game comes off initially as a cloying continuation of a strange genre of video games: the dating sim.

However, after the first two hours, it becomes evident that the game is setting up the player for a huge twist.

I don’t actually want to say more to ruin anyone’s experience with this game. I’d just say dive in without learning anything more than the bare minimum and prepare to power through the sometimes awkward feelings of playing a japanese dating sim.

In hindsight, this game is extremely well written and thoughtfully mapped out. It leans hard on the tropes of the genre but only to completely blow them up by the end. I came to appreciate the light-hearted tone and dialogue at the end because of what comes after.

The game also has a plethora of secrets and easter eggs and it’s been fascinating to dive into those online.

Again, I highly recommend checking this game out. And don’t read anything about it until you do.