2017 was not an easy year. As the world witnessed injustices that brought about nausea, anger, depression, and outright hatred – we all sought relief in media. Fortunately for us, the games industry was in a hot streak this year – providing one of the most impressive crops of new releases ever. Here’s the ten games that kept me grounded over the past twelve months.
Night In The Woods
Night in the Woods is a game about a place.
It’s a very specific place, and it’s one that not everyone has lived. A millenial storybook adventure about Mae, who returns to her small hometown after dropping out of college – Night in the Woods crafts an impeccable story of woe. Possum Springs is a perfect recreation of a community that is being slowly smothered out of America. A mining town that clings to industrial roots, praying for salvation.
Possum Springs is dense with some of 2017’s most charming characters, whose stories range from hilarious to heartbreaking. Night in the Woods captures the painful subtleties of returning home.
I can’t think of the last time a game got me as high on pure adrenaline as Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds.
Every multiplayer shooter has tense encounters. Those legendary firefights that have the whole game on the line, the ones that stick in your mind for days to come. In PUBG, those moments happen in every match for almost every player. This ‘Battle Royale’ style of multiplayer (previously seen in mods for ARMA 3 and H1Z1) is perfect for staging high-stakes conflicts that always feel fresh.
This is the biggest innovation in competitive shooters since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins
It should’ve been impossible to make another great Assassin’s Creed.
Ubisoft bled this series dry. They applied its open world format to several of their main franchises, and emphasized quantity over quality wherever possible. Yet Assassin’s Creed: Origins isn’t just great – it’s inspiring. Egypt has never been tackled with such authenticity, detail, and empathy for the common citizen. New combat and traversal systems make exploration a joy. It’s a world full of great stories, and I couldn’t get enough.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Talk about a game coming at just the right time.
2017 was a year that for many reasons, left me with a need to express some violent rage. Against Nazis, against fascists, and against those who simply stand aside while the first two assume power. Wolfenstein has always been a source of Nazi-killing catharsis, but The New Colossus goes bigger than ever before. Following up on the stellar character work of The New Order, this sequel digs into an America that has embraced the German regime.
It’s a depiction that strikes a little too close to reality, and that makes every bullet twice as satisfying.
What Remains Of Edith Finch
Over the past few years, so-called ‘walking simulators’ have evolved from a punchline to a regular source of indie innovation.
The second game from Giant Sparrow (The Unfinished Swan), Edith Finch is a collection of vignettes, collectively telling the story of a family that falls to a fatal curse. As you explore the labyrinthine, Tim Burton-esque house – the humanity of these family members comes into clear view. The vignettes are wildly diverse in presentation, tone, and control. It’s a stellar creative showcase that still works as a singular piece.
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator
From the outside, Dream Daddy is easy to ignore as a quick cash-in for the Twitch and Let’s Play audience. But beyond the seemingly ironic facade is 2017’s most earnest character study. You play as the new Dad in town, working through your daughter’s last year of high school – and a whole suburb of hunky fathers. It’s the writing that makes Dream Daddy such a delight, mixing magnificently crafted humor and a progressive take on romance. It finds humor in the struggles of fatherhood, male friendship, and suburban complacency.
Dream Daddy dares players to put aside their sarcastic view on life, and question why we write so many parts of the world off as a joke.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
I had a complicated relationship with Horizon: Zero Dawn this year.
At first, Guerrilla’s open-world adventure came as a pleasant surprise. The unique setting and dynamic combat drew me in, while the visual fidelity left my jaw agape. I was intrigued. Then The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild came out.
While it’s unfair to compare two games that ultimately attempt very different goals, Zelda‘s approach to open-world design made the narrow paths and traditional quest design of Horizon unpleasant. It wasn’t until later in the summer that I finally returned – and immediately fell back in love.
Horizon might not redefine the open world genre, but it might do the fundamentals better than any predecessor. Hunting these epic beasts gave me a sense of accomplishment, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the implications of its late-game story reveals.
It make have taken me some time, but Horizon proved itself over this year.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Now, onto the game that broke video games for me for awhile.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an open world adventure that adds a level of dynamic, gameplay-altering systems so rich, it feels like the next great leap in game design. Every dungeon, shrine, boss fight, and story beat can be experienced in any order – yet every possible combination comes off as a wonderfully polished experience. Nintendo has always set the highest bar for themselves with linear game experiences, and Breath of the Wild maintains that same standard – free of player constraints.
In five years, there won’t be an open world game on the market that hasn’t learned something from this wildly successful experiment in exploration. Playing it now was like seeing into a wonderful, thrilling future. Which made going back to the present all the more jarring.
I always assumed that I hated difficult games. In my years of playing stuff, I’ve always been willing to accept my middling skill level – and write off titles that brag about pushing players to their limits. Then along came Cuphead.
The debut game from Studio MDHR already won me over with its stunning 30’s style – hand-drawn in every frame, and backed by a soundtrack of original jazz hits. But while I expected to be turned off by the game’s punishing difficulty, I instead got drawn deep inside. The run-and-gun tactics are grabbed straight out of Gunstar Heroes and Metal Slug, but Cuphead makes a vital improvement. No matter how badly you’ve lost, victory is never more than three minutes away. Every boss, stage, and challenge is brief – built of multiple stages that are mastered, run after run.
Even when running through the same three-minute boss for four straight hours, repetition never set in. Each run made me believe that it could be the winning one, and that I could get back at the Devil. The moment I finally did may be the finest I’ve felt all year.
Super Mario Odyssey
How do you maintain a brand as iconic as Mario? He’s one of the most recognizable characters in the world, second only to Mickey Mouse. Yet unlike that rat, Mario is still at the forefront of his industry – starring in three hit games this year alone.
While Mario has always been great, Odyssey is the first in a long time to feel fresh. Rather than settling into the same established set of worlds, themes, and characters – this is a game about seeing the wider world. Mario and his new pal Cappy travel the globe, chasing down Bowser as he prepares for an unwilling wedding with Princess Peach. This journey touches worlds made of lunch, islands of papercraft, and even a city filled with human beings.
Each one is an open sandbox, reminiscent of the expansive level design of Super Mario 64. Hundreds of hidden moons dot each one, and the new capture ability change up control in radical ways. It’s both a perfect entry point to the series, as well as a touching tribute that will delight the longest-standing fans.