I’m going to make my games of the year heavily qualified as in, “I didn’t play two of what I’m taking on faith to be absolutely worthy to be top ten games of the year,” namely: Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Otherwise, I think I got a pretty good sampling of 2017’s gob-stopping release list as well as a few from 2016 that I should have gotten to last year.
I hate surprises and burying the lede.
Game of the Year for GiffTor:
Horizon Zero Dawn
Starting off, we have robot dinosaurs. The staff has discussed on more than one occasion what the pitch meeting for this game must have been from Guerilla Games to Sony. “Hey, listen, we know we’ve done this sci-fi shooter thing for a while with Killzone. We’re thinking our next game is going to be post-post apocalypse with robot dinosaurs. Want to give us a hundred million dollars?”
The character scripting is incredible. There aren’t any foils, the lead is believable, female, and the closest you get to a stereotypical love interest in the burly guy with awesome facial hair is, “Well, dude, I gotta kill some more robot dinosaurs and save civilization, let’s get a beer later and we’ll talk.”
The graphics were as good as I’ve seen on a console, the control scheme was tight without holding your hand, and at no point did I ever feel over-powered. I always knew I was fighting robot dinosaurs using tech-ed up Bronze Age tools. I could go on for 2,000 words about this game, but the spectacle, size, action, and story is fantastic. Horizon Zero Dawn was my hands-down 2017 Game of the Year.
The Runners Up (In some semblance of ranking)
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus
When I got to play Wolfenstein: The New Order, I was completely unprepared for the narrative kidney punch that game delivered. Then I got into Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, which unintentionally exposed the fact that without the story’s impact, the new Wolfenstein games were no more than competent first person shooters. Then, in November, I had a little surgery and our EIC took pity upon me and gifted The New Colossus to me during my recovery. MachineGames realized that their real gift to the long-running series wasn’t reinventing the FPS, but giving us characters, primary, secondary, and what would normally be “Oh, would you please get out of the way,” NPCs that grabbed us by our emotions while we weren’t murdering Nazis and other white supremacists in the good ol’ USA.
The New Colossus doesn’t introduce anything mechanically new to the FPS genre but for one conceit: Frau Engel and her propaganda machine perpetually paint you as some kind of evil, terroristic golem, but if you’re playing on any difficulty but “Don’t Hurt Me, Daddy,” you’re going to die a lot, which is hardly in harmony with the BJ of legend. I took some meaning from that: if you want to play as B.J. Blazcowicz, supersoldier, you can. You can make everything Frau Engel says true, at least from the standpoint of your battle-prowess. If you want to play as how the resistance fighters feel, though, play on a harder difficulty. There’s a palpable sense of horror and lingering dread that hangs throughout the game as you claw your way towards striking a defeat into the Nazis. I’m not sure if that’s what Machine Games intended, but it’s a critical analysis that grabbed me and hasn’t let go.
The “Get Away From Her, You Bitch” award of 2017 must not go unmentioned: Anya, at the end. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t: finish the game already because daaaaamn.
I’m not even sure what I love about this game. It’s not very pretty. Even at full retail release, it’s glitchy. The controls aren’t great. Although the guns are realistic, they don’t feel good, for the most part, because of that very realism. I’m not particularly good at it. When I end up in the top 20 or so, it’s because I’m good at flying a long distance and kitting up before coming from an unexpected direction.
But what Plunkbat has, more than any game this year, is a series of brilliant moments, perfect for clipping for video highlights. When Coop decides that brakes are for babies and we end up on a roof. When I throw a grenade instead of rolling it and kill my team instead of the guy shooting at them. When ¾ of the team is dead and the last man standing goes “guns up” with a handgun against overwhelming odds. When the game’s physics engine decides to spike its vodka with LSD and our VW microbus goes semi-ballistic thanks to a pebble in the road. When the first notification you have that someone is shooting at you is the SPANG off of the cast iron skillet you have hanging off of your backpack.
This game is ridiculous and that’s exactly how it should be.
Apparently, I find space combat relaxing. ROCKFISH Games’ 2017 roguelike starfighter sim was my go-to when I didn’t feel like playing online or getting really bogged down in side-quests and the grind. With some interesting mechanics like a limited time to gather resources in each level (which felt like a little bit of a nod to FTLs pursuit mechanism), and requirement that you spend all of your money on upgrades or lose it each time you die and start over from scratch (meaning unlocking those other expensive ships and upgrades instills a whole ‘nother motivation to not die), Everspace was my drop-in and play a round or two game this year. It’s also terribly pretty and features some fun side-slipping combat and one absurdly over-powered missile.
It’s got a plot that only unlocks as you move forward further and further through the levels, which can be a little frustrating as the game is punishingly difficult with accumulating battle damage and never enough nano-bots to repair your decaying ship. However, some of the sting is taken out of things with your sarcastic co-pilot AI who rarely misses an opportunity to remind you of your failings - in your current incarnation or last one. Although I’ve only made it through three gates so far, Everspace was the 2017 space shooter that I needed to really scratch my X-Wing: Alliance itch without ever needing to buy a loot box.
I’d been waiting on the full release for a while and then forgot it came out, so this was a 2017 experience for me. The missions are more puzzle game than shooter and figuring them out is always rewarding. The cherry on top, however, is watching the replay in full speed after you finish a mission. It’s like the first time you see John Wick after he’s busted up his basement and gone to work. Slash the bullet, throw the sword, grab the shotgun out of the air, shoot that guy, throw the shotgun at the next guy, grab his pistol, shoot those two guys, grab the assault rifle, spray the corner...SOO-PER-HAWT.
Add in the minimalist design style, the ‘story,’ and a malevolent AI? I’m in, particularly in a game that really lends itself to short play sessions. You can pop in and out of without any significant penalty, which is always a pretty great type of game to have in your library. SUPERHOT is a unique experience that looked at bullet time, said, “Yeah, that’s cool. But what if it was bullet time all of the time?” and provided the answer: “It’d be awesome.”
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Hellblade is a pretty profoundly disturbing game in the best of ways. With your heroine suffering from what seems to be some kind of schizoid disorder and an audio track that reflects that (“Was that my kids crying upstairs in bed or was that in my, er, Senua’s head?”) Hellblade nonetheless is an absolutely beautiful game that was smart enough to know when to quit.
Clocking in at somewhere between 6 and 8 hours, it’s the perfect length for a game that otherwise would have suffered from a fairly shallow combat system and enemy library. Ninja Theory turned out something special with Hellblade, though - it’s a story that transmits the pain, confusion, and loss that Senua feels that looks amazing and makes you run fire-mazes while trying not to pass out from smoke inhalation.
As much as it was a year for giant, awesome, great looking games that I couldn’t even keep up with, 2017 was also replete with weird, awesome, great looking games. Enter Hollow Knight, in which you play as a knight errant using a rusty nail for a sword. Also, you’re a bug.
I got into Hollow Knight very late in the year and, as such, don’t have quite as much to say about it as some of the other staff. What I do have to say is this: it is a metroidvania game. It has a soundtrack that marries tightly with the different areas of the map, its controls are tight, like they need to be in a game with so much platforming, its weirdly atmospheric graphics are gorgeous, and it has a cast of NPCs who are alternately frightening and endearing. It also has grubs that need to be rescued that make pretty much the most adorable sound this side of a puppy growl.
I’m going to be wall-jumping, air-dashing, hack-slashing, and back-tracking in Hollow Knight for a good long while yet, but even in the short month that I’ve had it, I can say this: in a year full of knock-your-socks-off releases from the big developers to two-man teams, Hollow Knight measures up with the top of the class of 2017.
Batman: The Enemy Within (Episode 3: The Fractured Mask)
Playing Bruce Wayne as the bad guy while trying to balance the Batman with shadowy Agency Director Patricia Waller’s orders was something else. TellTale’s stories since The Walking Dead premiered have been full of choices that made me shut down my console, reboot, and wait through the interminable loading sequence, but the painful decision making on what is the least harmful option to the most people was difficult in an excruciating manner this time around.
While not much has been done to change the overall gameplay, it wasn’t a system that needed much refinement. TellTale’s games are story vessels with some gameplay interspersed, and that’s just fine. When I want to sit down with some tightly written DC fare and not think about whether alcohol will lessen the blow of The Justice League whenever I feel masochistic enough to watch it, I still have two more episodes of Batman to finish.
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander
One day 18 months ago or so, I was bemoaning the lack of space games in my life. Justin L. provided me a pretty eclectic list (which included my most-played game of 2016, Double Damage’s Rebel Galaxy). I’ve worked my way through most of that list and the last entry to make it into my library was Massive Damage, Inc.’s turn-based, X-Com-ish Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander. To simply compare it to X-Com isn’t fair to the game, with the resource gathering, moving of fleets around the starmap, classic side-view turn-based RPG style space combat, base building, and sending red-shirted ‘away teams’ to clear sections of your star base to allow expansion.
Halcyon 6 has a tongue in cheek sense of humor, fun MIDI audio, bright pixel-art graphics, and, at times, a punishing difficulty level. Although 2017’s brutal release schedule knocked me out of a consistent play regime, I have a feeling that Halcyon 6 is going to be a game that I’m going to come back to over and over in the future when I’m in the mood for some slower-paced sci-fi combat that lets me ponder my moves rather than pounding on my keyboard and mouse.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
I don’t remember why I took a break from Uncharted 4 between when I got it and when I finally finished it. If you had me a gun point (and were able to accurately aim it) I would say that it’s the series’ serviceable-at-best gun battles that broke me every so often. At any rate, I did end up finishing it because the adventuring, dialog, and story of these games are worth every blown shot.
Uncharted 4 maintains the humor, the scoundrels, the gorgeous graphics, nail-biting climbing, over-the-top set pieces, and themes of family and friendship that we’ve come to know and love of the series, but it introduced something new that struck a chord with me and ultimately convinced Nathan it was time to hang up the holster: growing older and growing up. We haven’t seen much of either from our modern-day pirate until his farewell tour, but the final bit there at the end, after the adventures are all over, really hit home emotionally with me as we get to see Nathan Drake, treasure hunter and ne’er do well transform into Nathan Drake, relatively responsible adult and father. An appropriate send off, if you ask me.