2017 was a banner year in games. From the revival of the hedgehog in Sonic Mania, the true sequel to Sonic & Knuckles, to the rebooted Prey, which introduced us to one of the best grunt enemies in recent memory.
The Rabbids’ schtick became palatable for many in Mario’s terrific XCOMalike Kingdom Battle, and seeing what the studio behind Killzone could do in a massive open world with Horizon Zero Dawn was really exciting. Night in the Woods expertly showcased the mundanity of life, while Hellblade’s portrayal of psychosis was eye-opening for me.
Here are five other games that I particularly enjoyed over the past 12 months:
I didn’t care. I didn’t care up until about six months after it launched, to be honest. I saw a few of the screenshots and videos being shared on social media, but it wasn’t until I had a little summertime lull that I said I’d give this series a go and jumped into the prequel. I played Kiwami shortly afterwards, and now can’t wait for Yakuza 6. I liked it.
One of Zero’s greatest qualities is that it never punishes you if you’re new to these characters by dwelling on nods that become more clear in the chronologically later Yakuza entries. It serves as the perfect introduction to the Tojo Clan, Kashiwagi, Sera, Nishiki, and of course dual-protagonists: Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. The Tarantino-esque style interweaving of their two stories is an absolute delight, as is the dichotomy between how deathly serious the situation can be at times, and how ludicrous some of the side missions are. One moment you’re in the middle of an emotionally charged altercation with a gangster, the next you’re attempting to fool a film crew into thinking you’re a TV producer, or belting out some bangers at the karaoke bar, or trying to teach a group of would-be hooligans how to be tough. When you’re on the offensive it rarely feels stale because of Majima and Kiryu’s different combat styles, weapons at your disposal, and the fact that money comes flying out of enemies when you punch them in the fucking face.
Admittedly, there are some cultural differences that don’t play as well over here; it’s not flawless, basically. But the character development, the fleshed-out and condensed world, and the thoroughly enjoyable ass kicking had me for 30+ hours.
Super Mario Odyssey
I never owned a Nintendo system growing up. Sonic was my boy, and obviously far superior to the chubby little dungaree-wearing mascot on the other side. I don’t have the same attachment to Bowser’s nemesis as most others do, and that’s why when I gush about Super Mario Odyssey it should really hit home that it is an absolute masterpiece.
Every Kingdom has something to offer and diversifies from the last: the busy streets and scalable skyscrapers of New Donk City are a joy, as are the post apocalyptic-like Steam Gardens, and the sun-drenched beaches of Bubblaine. You’re rewarded for being a curious little plumber and investigating every inch of these stunning levels collecting the moreish moons that are found all over the place. Some are pretty easy to grab, while others are only attainable once you perfect your Strictly Come Dancing pro style movement.
Mario’s biggest revelation in years is his hat, of course. Discovering that you could control a Goomba, a T-Rex, an Uproot, or an actual zip never failed to make me smile. And that ending. Oh. That ending.
A fictionalised timeline where the Nazis won the second world war shouldn’t feel as relevant as it does, but in 2017 that’s where we are. The BJ Blazkowicz led resistance in 1960s USA is sick of the Third Reich and willing to spill blood in order to restore some semblance of peace to America, and the rest of the universe. The New Colossus is a first-person shooter first and foremost, and really good at it, too. There’s no doubt that certain sections feel nigh on impossible at points, but when it all comes together and you’re using some futuristic laser gun to destroy Nazi robots, it’s exhilarating.
The sequel to The New Order stands apart from its contemporaries because of the humour from Blazkowicz’s crew, as well as the harrowing backstory of BJ, and the best villain this medium has seen in years. While some may argue that making a Nazi a detestable person isn’t the most difficult of tasks, General Engel combines theatrics with destruction in a way that makes her a special breed of evil. She’s the perfect mix of the exaggerated and the downright chilling. And that pretty much sums up why Wolfenstein 2 is one of the best games released this year; it goes from poignant quiet to a daft roar with more assuredness than most could wish for.
What Remains of Edith Finch
First-person, narrative-driven video games have come a long way in the five years since Dear Esther. In many cases we’ve seen games that can be described as a collection of scenes you stroll through, passively taking in the narrative and having no effect on proceedings whatsoever. Unfinished Swan dev Giant Sparrow played with all expectations the genre is associated with when the studio made What Remains of Edith Finch, though.
The Finch family is one filled with sadness as every branch on the tree has fallen due to a dreaded curse. As the titular character you return to the family home to figure out what really happened to Edith’s relatives via a series of playable sequences focusing on each individual family member. Some are straightforward, some are fantastical, but all will give you a better understanding of how they met their demise. And you’ll never be able to predict what they are either. It may be a campy interactive comic book, or a tear-jerking bit with a rubber ducky, or an isometric sailing game. It’s one thing to always surprise, but to do it well and within the confines of the story is a massive achievement. At times it’s beautiful, on occasion it’s deeply saddening, but it is always a triumph.
I didn’t really get Nier Automata for a bit. Like, it’s developed by PlatinumGames so the combat is of a certain quality, but as action games go it isn’t as engrossing as, say, Bayonetta, or even DmC. But then I walked the wrong way. Well, I chose a path and it wasn’t the one I needed to run along to get to my objective, so a message popped up on screen telling me that protagonist 2B and 9S had abandoned their mission and fucked off home: The end. I then got it.
When you finish Automata for the first time a message pops up on screen thanking you for playing, and encourages you to play more. A lot will be relatively pleased with their time and call a halt to proceedings there: don’t. That’s more like the conclusion of the first act in a multi-layered tale that asks questions of existence, belonging and humanity’s relationship with machines, rather than the end of the game. A lot of video games aim to emulate movies, and do so very well, but Nier Automata has no interest in that. It aims to be the gamiest game of 2017 and by God, does it game.
You can hear me say all of the above in a handy little video below, if you so wish, and be sure to check out Alice’s selections, as well the official game of the year by listening to this week’s VideoGamer Podcast.
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Author: Colm Ahern