Often in the last 365 days it felt like I was at the end of my rope, hoping for the gallows door to drop so it could all just end. Yeah, that’s how dark 2017 felt A LOT. When doing a bit of reflection, however, I’m finding that it really wasn’t as bad. I both left and acquired some jobs at which I feel that career seed starting to take shape. I both met and moved in with someone whom I cannot fathom being more lucky to have (I’m still shocked everyday that they can deal with me as well). More importantly, this year saw games filling a role that they had not in years prior. They were my peaceful place. Sure, I played a ton of Dark Souls III and Bloodborne, but when gathering my Top 10 for the show this year, I found that 2017 was probably the best year I’ve had with video games since I’d really returned to the hobby in 2010.
While music is normally the hobby that plays this role, video games this year took a grand leap in the way I normally think about them. Sure, they are an escape, an outlet for fun and provide the feeling of overcoming adversity and plenty of other banal platitudes, but this year was different. The escape wasn’t an act of checking off trophy lists and increasing the platinum count. It was a place that made comment on the world in ways it had not done previously. The fun wasn’t just the laughs that Moose, Phillips and I tend to have on drunken PSN party chat, but the getting lost in stories both fanciful and simultaneously plausible and exploring worlds. The adversity wasn’t always some mythical, pattern-driven boss fight, but the limitations and barriers that come with being alive and full of self-doubt. While I played a lot that I genuinely loved, I played more games that I took reward away from than I’d ever done in the past. On top of that, a ton of games this year did things gamers had never really seen in games before. The only real regrets I can come away with game-wise are the ones I didn’t get to play and, more so than any year before, the honorable mentions actually should be in my top 10, but there can only be 10. Thank you, Video Games of 2017. If nothing else, you harbored a ton of hope for the future in me. Banana and out!
10. Regrets – Games I Missed
Cuphead, GravityRush 2, Yakuza 0, Divinity: Original Sin 2, Nex Machina, Tacoma, What Remains of Edith Finch, Xcom: War of the Chosen, Prey
10. Honorable Mentions
Fortnite: Battle Royale, Splatoon 2, Windjammers, Dark Souls III: The Ringed City, Earth Atlantis, Golf Story, Sonic Mania, Cosmic Star Heroine, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
10. Games of 2017
10. Wolfenstein: The New Colossus
If for no other reason, no video game has made my jaw drop as often as this. The story sets up, goes for it and sticks the landing all while finding new was for me to go “did that just happen?” On top of that, the moments aren’t hollow. Every single one of them is reinforced and given respect and weight. The ensemble cast here is so fully realized that I couldn’t not be interested in every single one of their strengths or flaws and all are acknowledged and dealt with, good or bad. Oh and the game play was not good.
9. Horizon Zero Dawn
While my #10 has an undeniably great story in itself. Guerrilla delivered a great ‘video game’ story. The way that you get the story of the world from characters in it and how the world was created and the narrative underneath it all while Aloy is learning who she is and how to deal with it is something truly special in this medium. The gameplay is deliriously and endlessly addictive and fun to the point one could just set out to do that hours on end. The fact that this developer had a serious of linear first person shooters prior to this and then just developed a new template for open world games is amazing. I say let them do something different next time as well.
8. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Speaking of developers taking a left turn, how one of the premier developers of character action games follow up a reboot of Devil May Cry? By taking (to my knowledge) the medium’s most serious look at mental health to date. Packaged in one of the PS4’s more beautifully graphic intensive games, this story is usually something that you’d see an indie developer tackle in a way that AAA gamers would avoid like the plague. By this choice, hopefully the AAA space makes room for more games like this.
7. Super Mario Odyssey
Can we take a moment and just marvel that this year’s biggest surprise was an underpowered console that had those with their 4k-HDR boners mocking at first glance then flocking to buy it once it came out? Then said console maker delivered multiple mind-blowing games and console experiences that could be taken on the go? Then there’s Super Mario Odyssey, a joyously colorful supernova of 3D platforming happiness full of adventure, smiles and creativity that basically has the demographics of a Pixar film. If you play this and don’t like it, you might need to get checked out.
6. NieR: Automata
I love that even this game’s principle creator, Yoko Taro, is confused and amazed by its success. This game hit me like Blade Runner (well, when I started to understand Blade Runner, that is). The way the actions of the player, the world and its inhabitants and the game’s overall narrative coalesce into a grand statement is a goddamn masterful miracle. One that should be taken note of. I can’t believe that a game like this ever got made, nor can I thank all those who signed off on it enough. Thank you most of all, Yoko Taro.
5. The End is Nigh
Edmund McMillen is one of the few making video games that just has my heart. He stole it with Super Meat Boy, told me I’d never get it back with The Binding of Isaac and basically stopped by in 2017 to check in and say, “yeah, I’ve still got your heart, Matt.” I love me a platformer almost without hesitation. This game speaks to the streaming nature of the game industry and the idea of literally making friends in a way that only McMillen could concoct.
The short sell is that this is Samurai Dark Souls. The accurate sell is that this may be the deepest combat in 2017. Upgrade trees for months, rhythmic fighting and keeping that Ki. It’s the most worthwhile time sink to be released on PS4 in 2017. Team Ninja, please give us more. The frustration I felt with each death and overwhelming sense of accomplishment with each victory has rarely been topped.
3. Persona 5
This series has style (read: STYYYYYYYYYYLE) and swagger and refuses to survive on that alone. Shoji Meguro’s music is better than it’s ever been and this cast, I think, is better than 4 despite not being as lovable. I love the series of heists this game turns out to be and the metaphor that each symbolizes. Like NieR, everything you come across can be used to serve the game in some fashion.
Like the aforementioned Edmund McMillen, SuperGiant games’ output will ALWAYS get my time. Their visuals, their off-kilter gameplay choices and the way they tell their stories. Bastion’s narrator, the hum button in Transistor and just about all of Pyre, a game about religious basketball with a colorfully beautiful world, deep lore, a lovably flawed ensemble of characters and a story of everyone looking for redemption. I love that this game affected the way I play other strategy games as well. The rites are fast-paced, tense and fun affairs with great funk animations. If you like SuperGiant Games, you should play this.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
So video games really went some places this year in stories, visuals, mechanics and twists on mechanics. But that much-maligned, often-outgunned console-maker who avoids achievement systems and moderately functional online play decided to change open-world games. Hyrule is built in a way that rewards exploration in a way no other game has done EVER, PERIOD. Every point of interest yielded reward in some fashion and that made me want to keep going.
Plenty of nay-sayers lob complaints of nostalgia because so many people drew comparisons to the first Legend of Zelda and how many still cite that game as one the series’ highest points. Low-hanging fruit in my opinion, but my guess is these are the same folks who will knock it for Link not looking as realistic as Aloy or Nathan Drake and unfairly dismiss it as cartoony. This game has layered systems in place to the point that recalls (to me, at least) Far Cry 2 where you could use the systems in place to your will. You can build air ships, use your magnetic power to zoom around the world in ways that made fast travel obsolete, or you could just marvel at the beautiful vistas as you wandered. No game in a while has done those things the way Breath of the Wild nailed them. It’s THAT good.