The new season is here, but is it really all that new?
2017 has been a totally wild year, yet for all the political, social and climatological turmoil and uncertainty that the year has wrought, it may be the best year for video games since, well, ever. Sure there was a handful of high-profile releases that let me down in big ways; Mass Effect: Andromeda, Nier: Automata and Night in the Woods all spring to mind, but the year was more than salvaged by a cavalcade of always-reliable franchises, wildcard phenomenons and under the radar gems. Not only that, 2017 was also the year I first got my hands on Until Dawn, a game so good that if it had been a new release, it might’ve been my #1, so shoutout to Supermassive.
2017 was packed with great games from top to bottom, so many in fact that I could easily make a top twenty list if I had to. It’s been such a strong year that games like Mainlining, Tokyo Dark, Wolfenstein 2, The Sexy Brutale and Divinity: Original Sin 2, all of which would be shoe-ins for high placement any other year all wind up missing the cut for me. It’s been a year like none other, one that’s catered to every possible conceivable taste and interest that a person could have, and one that will hopefully set the scene for an even better year in 2018. With all that out of the way, let’s get down to the brass tacks, nuts and bolts.
Sometimes after a long, tiring day at work, you just want to put your feet up and unwind with something low-impact, relaxing, and oddly heartwarming. For me, that game is She Remembered Caterpillars; an esoteric, chilled-out, yet still appropriately challenging fungipunk puzzler that boasts a subtle and underrated score, compelling prose and a gorgeous hand-drawn art style. I don’t know if there’s a single game this year that has quite mastered the art of charm in the way She Remembered Caterpillars has; it wins you over the minute you see it in motion, and it never lets you go.
9. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
This was a tough one; for the vast majority of the experience, I loved Danganronpa V3. The game grabbed me early, and as the hours flew by, I expected V3 to easily crack my top five, if not come up just short of the top spot on this list. Unfortunately, the game’s cynical, botched ending forces me to knock it down a few spots, yet, as bad as it was, I still adore 95% of the game. While not as strong as Goodbye Despair, V3 still manages to ramp up the stakes amid some of the wildest and most over-the-top storytelling games have to offer. The mysteries are on another level here; with the fifth trial in particular being a real rollercoaster. If only they’d stuck the landing.
8. Yakuza 0
I’ve been a big fan of Yakuza since jumping on board with the third installment, and while that game still holds a place in my heart, it’s hard to argue that Yakuza 0 doesn’t set a completely new standard for the series. Yakuza has never been afraid to blend over-the-top wackiness with nuanced and genuinely sharp character writing, but 0 takes things to another level. Not only does the game keep the laughs coming – with the Miracle Johnson substories being particular highlights – but it also fleshes out the world in which Kiryu lives to amazing degree, and humanizes Goro Majima in a way that, prior to playing it, I’d have hardly believed. The love story at Yakuza 0’s core is one of the best games have told in a very long time, and I couldn’t be more excited to get my hands on Yakuza 6 next year.
7. Everybody’s Golf
Here’s my hot take; golf is for assholes. When I think about golf, I think middle-aged middle-to-upper class men wearing terrible clothes slowly smacking a little white ball around while projecting an air of smarmy self-superiority that, quite frankly, makes me gag. So for Everybody’s Golf to do away with all that; to demolish golf’s inherent sense of smug self-satisfaction and classism, and instead let me run around a course as something resembling Gollum with pink dreadlocks, screaming “X-GAMES!!!” as I drive a golf cart off a spectator stand into a pond below, I gotta give it credit. Clap Hanz deserve all the kudos in the world for turning the world’s worst sport into something that doesn’t completely suck, but the fact that they’ve actually made it fun is nothing short of a miracle.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever played a game the way I did Persona 5. I took the week of its release off work in order to quickly grind a review out, and wound up playing it for 12-16 hours each day to ensure I got it done in time. The thing is, though, that I’d never have known I was spending so much time with it; such is the quality of Persona 5’s writing, gameplay, music, and just general style. Sure, it’s not perfect, the game’s writing occasionally clashes with its themes of rebellion and self-identity, and I’ll never accept that my favourite end-game Persona, Scathach got busted down to the mid-game level, but even so, Persona 5 is a hell of a ride. Also, Tae Takemi.
5. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
I’m not sure there hass a more intense moment in my life than the first round I ever played of PUBG. I genuinely thought I was about to have a heart attack as my pulse raced, and yet I managed to win on my first attempt. It’s a high that’s hard to explain to those who haven’t felt it for themselves; such is how well PUBG ramps up the tension every time you play it. Every action is crucial, every movement could be your last. It’s such an intense, exhilarating, and often frustrating experience, but it’s all worth it when you get to tuck into a chicken dinner at the end. Please get rid of the aimbots, though, Brendan.
Detention really came out of nowhere to be the best of a strong lineup of horror experiences in 2017. Resident Evil 7 and Observer may have been wider in scope, but neither comes anywhere close to matching Detention’s overarching sense of disquiet and unease. Throw in some truly messed-up visuals, distinct art-style and nods to some classic Asian horror staples, and Detention is a wonderfully unique and incredibly effective debut effort from Taiwanese studio RedCandle Games.
I’ve never really connected strongly with any of Supergiant’s previous output. While I can see the value of games like Bastion and Transistor, neither one really ever held any lasting appeal for me, so I was pleasantly surprised by just how good Pyre is. From it’s drop-dead gorgeous visual stylings, to it’s wonderful music, Pyre’s presentation is immaculate, and combined with some incredible writing feats, it’s something special. With an overwhelming number of ways the story can unfold, Pyre manages to feel completely natural every step of the way; it never feels like the story’s been stitched together despite the granularity on offer, and every character feels well fleshed-out in a way that often makes it truly difficult to decide who to part with. The actual Rites themselves are also a lot of fun to play, and the atmosphere is aided by Logan Cunningham’s supremely good performance as The Voice. Pyre is a beautiful game. Play it.
2. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Much the way that I’ve never really connected with Supergiant’s previous output, I’ve had even less affinity for Ninja Theory’s work through the years. I’m not a big character action guy, and I expected very little from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice when I picked it up, almost more in service of supporting the concept of a return to the era of B-tier games than anything else. Colour me surprised then, when what I wound up getting wasn’t a fairly by-the-numbers piece of character action schlock, but a well-told, surprisingly sincere, mostly-narrative experience with a strong grasp of Norse and Celtic mythology at the core of a story about mental illness. Pushing the boundaries of game design on a purely technical level with bar-raising audiovisual work, and a stunning performance from Melina Juergens, combined with tight combat and a surprisingly solid script, Hellblade proves something incredibly valuable; that the mid-tier game can still work. It might be the most important lesson games have learned this year; as “Triple A” publishers continue to push the boundaries of ethics and decency in seedier and more manipulative ways, studios like Ninja Theory can, in fact, deliver high-quality experiences at affordable prices on sensible budgets without any of the bullshit EA, Activision and the like are pushing. Here’s hoping that Hellblade is a trendsetter in that regard.
1. Emily is Away Too
If I’m being completely real here, I don’t think Emily is Away Too is the best game of the year – that honor goes to Hellblade – but it is definitely my favourite game of 2017, and probably belongs up there with Mirror’s Edge and SSX 3 as one of my favourite games of all time. Emily Too brings me back to the one of the happiest periods of my life; a time of hope and optimism, of finding myself and finally fitting into my own skin. It reminds me of all the long nights spent chatting with friends around the world until the sun rose, of naive, doomed teenage relationships, of finally being a part of a subculture I wish existed where I was. Emily is Away Too hits me right in the heart; but it’s more than just a cheap nostalgia ploy, it’s a truly fantastic game in its own right. It makes me happy in a way that’s hard to put into words, and it’s helped me rekindle my fondness for a lot of things that I once felt pressured out of enjoying. I can’t stop thinking about it, and that’s why it’s my Game of the Year. 2006 for life.