It’s about that time of the year when every online publication and YouTuber churns out a Game of the Year list. Actually, that time was a few weeks ago, but it’s still 2017, so I reckon I can get away with it. When have I ever been timely?
I don’t want to do a straight Top Five or Top Ten list because that would exclude games I really want to talk about. I’ve still done the traditional GOTY list, but I’ve also thrown in some other random awards and honorable mentions.
Let’s start off on a negative note, lest you forget that I am a miserable bastard at heart. This is a category I’m calling:
AWARD ONE: “I Don’t Understand Why People Love This Game”
Honorable mentions: Super Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild, Doki Doki Literature Club (review)
I’m being a touch unfair here as I haven’t completed either Super Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild. I’ve played enough of Odyssey that I’m confident my opinion won’t change much, however I may end up enjoying Breath of the Wild. Stranger things have happened. Odyssey is a huge disappointment. I enjoy a good collectathon, however I much prefer it when collecting minor items is a secondary task that you work towards while trying to collect the more important items. In Odyssey, collecting minor stuff is all you do. Some moons reward a substantial amount of effort and feel like stars akin to the classic Mario games of old. Unfortunately, far too many of the moons are lying out in the open and available via simply breaking open a crate or performing a ground pound on an obvious location. This cheapened the thrill of collecting the more challenging moons and left me feeling like I was going through the motions as I collected enough moons to move to the next location without ever accomplishing anything memorable.
I won’t say much on Breath of the Wild as I haven’t played enough of it. I appreciate how Link can climb on any surface and the decluttered open world is a welcome change to the open world formula. Other than that… well, the story doesn’t interest me in the slightest, the combat is probably okay, and I’m fairly sure the weapon durability is designed to hide how simplistic the combat is. Forcing the player to change weapons every two minutes makes combat feel varied when it isn’t. But I’m not a huge Zelda fan anyway, so this game isn’t for me. It’s only on this list because of how much praise it’s received from nearly everyone else. BOTW is generally considered to be the game of the year with both critics and the public and (so far) I don’t get it.
Doki Doki Literature Club is offensively bad. It wastes the player’s time with two hours of tedious nonsense and some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen and then gets “spooky” by using mental illness for shock value and making the screen go pixelated occasionally. Go play a good visual novel instead, or indeed any other game. I don’t care that it’s free; it’s shit.
Winner: Prey (review)
Prey might seem a strange choice of winner for this award. Unlike the other three, it didn’t sell all that well (or, in the case of DDLC, get downloaded for free) however those who did play Prey seem to love it. Prey is often talked up on message boards as if it’s some underappreciated classic that doesn’t get the love it deserves, regardless of the fact that it was fairly well reviewed on release.
Whereas DDLC is offensively bad, Prey is offensively mediocre. Immersive sims tend to play out at a slower pace, however my life is mediocre and dull enough as it is. I don’t need a game to recreate that experience. Prey’s idea of immersion is making sure ammo and health is limited and giving you a few emails to read and audiologs to listen to. Prey presents choices but fails to follow through on them. None of your choices matter. You never get locked out of any areas and enemies can always be defeated with a variety of weapons or powers. Don’t worry about making the right upgrade choices; they are all equally useful/useless. Choosing between the human and typhon routes makes little difference. Story choices are meaningless with the exception of a tiny bit of dialogue at the end of the game which is vague enough to be pointless. I found absolutely zero value in replaying the game other than that the second playthrough reinforced all my opinions from the first one.
Prey has some hardcore fans and I simply don’t get it. I occasionally feel that my review score of three out of five was too generous. Prey is nowhere near a four and it sure as shit isn’t a game of the year. Prey wouldn’t have been notable in 2014, let alone 2017.
(NOT AN) AWARD: Games I Probably Would Have Loved If I’d Completed
I played a lot of games in 2017, but I also spent a lot of time writing scripts and editing videos, in addition to other work and life stuff. I never had ambitions of playing every game released, but there are some I’m currently playing or intend to play in 2018. I want to give them a shoutout in case people are curious about the omission of certain big-name titles.
- Yakuza 0
- Persona 5
- Hollow Knight
I’ve played around 30 hours of Yakuza 0 and I’m at least two-thirds of the way through the main story. It’s easily going to get a four out of five in my review and probably a five. Yakuza 0 manages to balance the tension of a yob battle over a piece of real-estate with hilarious side quests in a way that ends up far less disjointed than it has any right to. The combat system is fun, although I would have preferred to focus on fewer styles to truly master them instead of trying to balance six of them in my head. Yakuza 0 is such a good game that I now want to play all of the others in the series. I can already recommend it.
I’ve put a good twenty hours or so into Persona 5 which is nowhere near enough to pass judgment on a game so huge. It hasn’t quite got its hooks into me like Persona 4 did, but there’s a lot more of the journey still to uncover.
Hollow Knight looks gorgeous and I’m sure I’ll have a great time with it. I’m probably going to wait until it comes to console, but when it does it will be a day one purchase for me.
AWARD TWO: Excellent Retro Throwbacks
I’m one of those annoying people who pretty much hates anything Sonic related after Sonic & Knuckles. I don’t even rate the 2D games all that highly anymore. They were great when I was nine years old and didn’t have a Nintendo console to play the Mario games. However, I’ve gone back to those Sonic classics many times over the years and don’t particularly enjoy them anymore. It therefore came as a bit of a surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed Sonic Mania, a game that shamelessly goes back to the classic 2D platformers of the early nineties. It’s a lot of fun, although I enjoyed the second half a lot less than the first. I’d like to see a follow up remove the lives system and do something better with the special stages, but Sonic Mania brought a smile to my miserable face.
Back in the mid to late nineties, the move from 2D platformers to the 3D variety didn’t go all that smoothly. While some games tried to mimic Mario 64 and go fully 3D, others such as Crash Bandicoot kept it simple and reaped the benefits. Eventually. It wasn’t until the third game when Naughty Dog nailed the formula, so playing through this trilogy serves as more of a history lesson of game development than a collection of late nineties excellence. Well worth trying though.
Winner: A Hat in Time (review)
2017 brought us an excellent throwback 2D platformer, a rebooted early 3D platform series, and a new 3D platform game based on Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine. It’s been a journey through history that culminated with the excellent A Hat in Time. Built around a responsive jump and dash mechanic, you propel Hat Kid through four wonderful worlds that serve as much more than just basic collectathon arenas. Challenges are fun and varied in a way that (so far) Mario Odyssey has not managed to match. It’s a fun and charming game that is probably better than any of the games it takes inspiration from. That should serve as fairly high praise.
AWARD THREE: Single-Player Games You Should Play
In no particular order, I want to give a shout out to Nioh (review), Assassin’s Creed Origins (review), and The Evil Within 2 (review). These are all big releases that have been generally well received but aren’t likely to top many game of the year lists. There were huge games released this year that captured most of the attention such as BOTW, Mario, Horizon, etc. and it was one of the best years for indies I can remember in a while. It’s not easy for “good” big budget games to grab the headlines, but these three deserve your attention. They are all regularly on sale at 50% off and represent great value while also taking new twists on established genres.
Nioh justifiably gets compared to Dark Souls, but it’s much faster, with a more expansive loot system and a historical setting and story. Origins is not just another Assassin’s Creed game. It changes a hell of a lot of what we’ve come to expect and while not every change is a huge hit the overall experience is fresh and fun for a good forty hours. The Evil Within 2 fixes many of the flaws with the first game such as rough combat and stealth, but doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original’s story.
If you want to support some single-player games from 2017 to help level out all the loot box nonsense, then I highly recommend these three. They should be different enough to offer something to everyone’s taste.
AWARD FOUR: Game of the Year
Honorable Mentions (roughly in order):
- What Remains of Edith Finch (review)
- Gorogoa (review)
- Cuphead (review)
- The Sexy Brutale (review)
I nearly devoted an entire award to indie games, but my game of the year list ended up being dominated by them anyway.
Starting in reverse order, The Sexy Brutale focuses on gruesome murders while somehow being bloody charming at the same time. The puzzles could be a little tougher, but at around six or seven hours for $15 I’d say it’s still damn good value. The music is catchy and there’s even a decent story to tie things all together at the end. I’m desperate to play more and with any luck it sold well enough to get a sequel or at least something similar from the same developer.
I haven’t reviewed Hellblade yet and probably need another playthrough to cement my opinion, but it’s clearly a phenomenal game and completely deserving of all the praise it has received. Complaints about the limited puzzles and combat are totally warranted and yet both felt appropriate for the setting and experience that Ninja Theory were going for. I’m aware that people make similar excuses for game’s like BOTW and its weapon durability system, so I accept that I’m being a touch hypocritical here. Still, with a set of headphones and a dark room, Hellblade is a terrifying depiction of mental illness that I won’t forget for a long time.
Cuphead is so beautiful that I didn’t mind spending fifteen hours trying to beat the multiple tough boss fights even when dying for the thirtieth time. I didn’t like the odd touch of randomness or the decision to restrict the final two fights to “normal” mode, but those are minor complaints. Cuphead is so much more than a difficult boss rush game. Despite seeing plenty of video footage before playing the game, I still couldn’t quite believe how good it felt to play an old-school cartoon. Cuphead has been praised from all directions and deservedly so.
Gorogoa came out right at the end of the year, and as such, I feel like it’s going to go largely unnoticed. Don’t let it pass you by. Gorogoa is one of the best puzzle games I’ve ever played. The artwork rivals that of Cuphead at times, with pictures merging together as you move tiles around to create puzzle solutions and help a young boy save his town from a dragon. It is a touch short, but it’s available for $5 on iOS and will probably be on sale in the new year to reduce the Switch/PC price from $15. You absolutely must play Gorogoa.
What Remains of Edith Finch has perfected the walking simulator. Edith’s story is told through a collection of mini-games as she moves through the Finch family house to rediscover the story of her ancestors and decide whether the Finches really are cursed. Each family member has a story told through a different interactive sequence that ranges from controlling animals, to playing as a baby in a bath, and working a boring factory job. The latter of which is one of the most memorable sequences in a video game. What Remains of Edith Finch is a masterpiece.
Winner: Horizon Zero Dawn (review)
Horizon Zero Dawn combines a fantastic post-apocalyptic story with a deep combat system that rewards planning and patience as you seek to take down huge machines and bandit camps on the way to discovering the truth about Aloy’s past and the future of humanity.
Horizon doesn’t reinvent the open world genre, but it does improve on nearly all of the flaws that plague the genre. There’s a solid story that you’ll be desperate to uncover, meaty side quests which are better than many main quests in other games, and it’s actually fun to fight things instead of just being a chore. Unlike many of the other games on this list, Horizon actually has its fair share of flaws. Fighting bandits is dull, the open world is cluttered, there are too many invisible walls that you can’t climb compared to BOTW and Origins, and inventory management often slows the game down when you’re most immersed.
However, the whole package comes together so beautifully that Horizon’s flaws are easy to overlook. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game for fifty hours and been desperate to know what happens next. Horizon answers enough of the questions it raises to leave the player feeling satisfied but teases enough mysteries that a sequel feels necessary instead of just inevitable.
It’s easy to overlook Horizon. There are new Zelda and Mario games out this year, PUBG has taken the world by storm, and fans of niche Japanese titles are spoilt for choice. Horizon is another open world game that at a glance doesn’t do much new. Even after fifty hours, I’ll admit, it doesn’t do much new. It just does it better.