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Chris Tilton's Top 10 Games of 2017

Composer Chris Tilton breaks down his top 10 categories of the year, and the 10 games that take home first place in each of them.

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Chris Tilton is a composer and he’s written music for a few TV shows (Fringe, Zoo) and video games (SimCity, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Black). He also started Exploding Tuba Studios, which released their first game, Divide, earlier this year. When not working he can be found playing video games, many of which are conveniently listed right here on this page.

Let’s get the “I didn’t have time to play, but I plan to get to soon” games out of the way: Wolfenstein II. NieR:Automata. Metroid Samus Returns. Horizon Zero Dawn. Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Thimbleweed Park. Now to the list. I thought about not ranking these, but everyone loves clearly defined ranks, so here we are.

10. 2017’s 2016’s 2015 Game of the Year: Rise of the Tomb Raider

I cannot believe I have waited this long to play Rise of the Tomb Raider. This is the best Tomb Raider. The only reason this is #10 is because I’m late to the party with this one. It otherwise might be #2 or #3 on this list. Lara to Siberia this time around, and, being largely unfamiliar with Mongolian mythology, I enjoyed discovering the treasures that fleshed out the backstory of the region. The primary thrust of the plot involves Lara going after an artifact against well funded mercenaries and teaming up with the locals that try to repel them. It’s filled with fun, memorable characters that stuck with me, including a nod to the “What are ya buyin’” guy from RE4.

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The Uncharted-esque spectacle in the main story missions is well done and is balanced with a player controlled pacing that involves exploring open areas filled with treasures, side quests, and some hunting. The set piece side activity to note is definitely the optional Tombs. The game makes sure you know they are there. I loved these, and was excited every time the “optional tomb nearby” alert came up. Some of the early ones contained the most memorable imagery in the game, so I highly recommend seeking them out. Otherwise, the combat set pieces all have a nice variety of approaches that can be taken.

The game makes no bones about portraying these mercenaries as ruthless assholes, so I had no problem stealth murdering every single one of them. Additionally, I recommend going the explosive route from time to time. There’s some great James Bond-like moments where you blow something up real good, and start all-out chaos. Check out the Blood Ties DLC as well, where Lara explores her house and fills in some character backstory. It made for a nice epilogue on top of what is a great action adventure.

9. Best Most Recent Final Fantasy Game: Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy was my favorite series growing up in the '90s. In fact, Final Fantasy VI was one of the reasons I wanted to try and write music in the first place. I fell off after FFX. My tastes changed and I was looking for other things in video games at the time. I’ve tried a few of the mainline FFs from time to time, but FFXV grabbed me. I liked the comradery, exploring the open world, and seeing a complex political story unfold from just the perspective of a close group of friends. It’s these character aspects that make it feel like a JRPG despite embracing many of the western RPG conventions that have developed over the last decade. Plus, it’s got Chocobos, classic FF naming conventions, music from previous FFs, pixel art. There’s FF franchise references everywhere.

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The combat is more active, but anyone who played SNES/PS1 era FF games knows the value of just spamming the “Fight” command for most low risk battles. The equivalent of that has been built into the battle system in the form of holding down a button. I liked it, and I branched out to the more complicated strategies as I felt comfortable. The open world doesn’t really support aimless wandering, as there’s not much to discover without being on some kind of active quest, but I did enjoy the road trips to new places. It seems there was always another rest stop beckoning me to go check out.

I seem to recall many shunning the linearity towards the end, but as someone who likes stories to wrap up when the momentum really gets going, I thoroughly enjoyed the increased pacing near the end. Plus, there’s a simple conceit during this section that allows you to continue exploring the open world, completing more side quests, etc. Final Fantasy VIII and VI are my favorite, but XV is definitely near the top for me. It’s different than the others, and I got invested. That’s all I can ask for.

8. Best Beat ‘Em Up That’s a Shooter: Destiny 2

Destiny 2, the most fun first-person shooter to control on the planet, is back with more shooting stuff. I’d already come to terms that Destiny wasn’t going to embrace its mythology in the way that I wanted or have the same tone as Halo, so I was ready to dive in and play the things I enjoyed about Destiny 1: Exploring the world, jumping into public events, and shooting lots of stuff. Destiny 2 delivered.

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I spent a lot of time on Earth in Destiny 1, and I did here as well. It sprawls out like a Disneyland tour, with activities beckoning me to get involved in as I roam around. Unfortunately, a lot of activities are gated behind story campaign missions, which are the least exciting thing about Destiny. They are largely a solo affair, unless you rope in some friends to join you, consisting of traversal, arena with enemy spawns, more traversal, another arena with harder enemies, traversal again, then another arena with more enemies and usually some kind of heavy or boss. Oh, and they turn off one of the best features of the game (respawning without losing progress) for many of these encounters. Thankfully, all of this stuff and more already exists in the open world areas (with respawning!) and it is fantastic there. I progressed far enough through the campaign (I didn’t finish) to unlock most of the fun stuff, and I had a great 60 hours of playing.

To me, this game is like a beat ‘em up, especially the public events where you are just mowing down enemies by the dozens with a group of random strangers. If new maps and public event types are introduced down the line, I’ll probably come back for more!

7. Best All-Up-In-Other-People’s-Business Game: Tacoma

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In Tacoma, Fullbright takes Gone Home’s “found object” exploration/snooping, jumps to the future, and adds AR recordings to review the activities of a mysteriously empty space station. These AR recordings let you rewind, fast forward, and hack personal terminals from inhabitants that are visually represented by abstract shapes. Characters will often split up, requiring you to follow one character or set of characters, rewind, then follow someone else. Eavesdropping on fully voiced interactions adds a new dimension that Gone Home didn’t really have, and this is all layered on top of the traditional picking up and examining objects gameplay. Tacoma didn’t have the same emotional impact that Gone Home had for me, but I really enjoyed piecing together the fates of each character and their backstory.

6. Best Game That Makes Me Like VR: Skyrim VR

For me, VR has been a neat, but short lasting gimmick. Then I played Skyrim VR. I entered a world I already had an emotional attachment to and had invested 200 hours in. This was not a neat tech demo with some AI inhabiting a nordic village, it was Whiterun, and there off to the right is the grindstone where I improved a ton of weapons and sold them for profit. Everywhere I went triggered memories of all the fun times I had in this world. The experience felt like a Skyrim themed Disneyland where you are the sole visitor and everyone is there to focus on you. Perhaps it’s more like The Truman Show, but without all the deception.

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The version of Skyrim used for VR is vanilla 2011 Skyrim (no special edition enhancements here). There’s no mod support either, but it does include the three expansions, and I’m already looking forward to visiting Morrowind in VR. I compared my journey from Riverrun to Whiterun in both VR and the Special Edition (PS4) released last year, and I would choose VR. You don’t get some of the new atmospheric effects, but the texture resolution seemed pretty much identical, so I didn’t feel I was missing out that much. Simply living in this world is a huge step from playing on a flat screen. Conversations are no longer awkward stares into a zoomed-in camera, but rather just a person talking to you. This makes me wish every future Bethesda RPG has a VR option. Heck, give me all the previous ones, too.

5. Japan: Yakuza 0

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I’ve never played any of the previous Yakuza games, but always wanted to check them out. Yakuza 0 felt like a really nice entry to jump in and I’m glad I did. The side quests are the real draw to this game for me. They range from hilariously bizarre to really sweet and touching, sometimes within the same quest. The primary story is full of fun soap opera mafia drama, but I’m not a huge fan of the fighting. It’s a big part of the game, and it’s fun in small doses, but when it drags on with fight after fight, I find myself wishing it was over. Even though I have have not finished it, (Breath of the Wild interrupted it and I never got back to it), the adventures and antics of Kiryu and Majima have stuck with me all year. I plan on coming back and finishing it before Yakuza 6 is out.

4. Best Time To Be Into Mario Again: Super Mario Odyssey

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I have been pretty much done with platformers, including Mario games, for some time now. While I would often test out a new Mario game, Super Mario 64 was the last mainline Mario game I actually finished. But, Nintendo seems to be on a new wave of creativity here, and Odyssey is pretty magical from the start. It’s full of whimsy, often self-aware, and more variety than I was ever expecting. It’s truly impressive the amount of one-off challenges that are created using the same set of mechanics. A particularly memorable one was banking chain chomps into each other like a game of pool to hit a goal. Anytime I found some challenge off the beaten path that I was just not getting, it was so easy to walk away and then immediately find some other Power Moon to chase after.

Odyssey takes you from kingdom to kingdom, each with their own feel and hook. There are a few that aren’t great, mostly because they require a lot of tricky 3D platforming with some kind instant kill pit or lava, but the majority have been delightful. I had about 200 when I finished the game, but I see people talking about hundreds more than that, so there’s clearly more to do if I feel like I want to keep coming back. It’s one of those games that’s just a joy to just run around.

3. Best Space RPG named Mass Effect: Mass Effect Andromeda

This might seem odd to many for this game to be this high up on my list considering it’s mixed reception and unfortunate disbanding of the creative team who worked on it. I’ve seen a lot of folks call this a “straight to DVD” sequel to describe it, and that’s not far off. However, I love the world of Mass Effect and I still enjoyed meeting new characters and exploring. While there are many frivolous side quests that end up being XP grinds, there’s a lot to like here. The character banter between you party members is really good and enjoyable, and that made even the most mundane of side quests feel like there was some kind of character progression.

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The main story has a fun mystery, and while it doesn’t get as resolved as much as I wanted it to, I enjoyed the journey, and was mournful when it was all over. If you want a space RPG with characters you enjoy getting involved with, I think it is worth your time. It doesn’t have quite the impact the original trilogy did, but if you recall, that was not without its controversies either. Come back soon, Mass Effect.

2. Best Franchise Comeback: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Given that I wrote music for a previous Assassin’s Creed game (Unity), you can take this recommendation with a grain of salt. However, I was really pleasantly surprised with Origins. It took me a little while to warm up to Bayek, but once you meet up with his wife Aya, it turns out to be a good tale of conflict between commitment to the people of their country and their commitment to each other. The gameplay is what fully sold me, though. Although there some exceptions, the missions are almost always reliant on the interacting of systems with a simple “Go find your target and eliminate however you want” directive.

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Completing missions usually involves heading over to an area, using your eagle to scout/mark targets, and then execute however you wish. I like getting in and out without anyone knowing I’ve been there. Sometimes that’s because I’m a stealth assassin master, and sometimes it’s because I had to murder everyone in the area because I wanted to loot everything in peace. Egypt as depicted in Origins is also just a fun place to explore. There are some massive deserts to traverse, but the world is littered with cities, farms, temples and other locations. What’s more, is that every location has a mini-goal, usually in the form of getting past some guards in a restricted area to loot treasure, gear, or other such artifacts.

Another nice surprise is essentially optional tombs. These don’t have elaborate puzzles to solve, but rather underground networks to navigate with occasional traps or hidden passages. Like in Rise of the Tomb Raider, I really enjoyed seeking these out, and finishing them fleshes out a little more of the 1st Civilization stuff. There is some present day narrative elements, but it’s pretty minimal, and mostly just adds more questions. I do hope they return to flesh out the present day story someday, as that was a big draw for me in the early AC games. Still, Bayek turns out to be a great character and I enjoyed my time with him and Aya. We did some great assassinating together.

1. Best Game That Reminded You Why Video Games Are Great: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Playing Breath of the Wild felt like being a kid again where nothing else matters except for Link and his adventures in Hyrule. Once I began, I could not think of anything else. "Where should I explore next? Oh, maybe that south eastern area. I can’t wait to get to death mountain! Etc." It’s an open world with a variety that I haven’t seen before.

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Deserts. Snowy Mountains. A volcano. Tropical forest. It just goes on and on and every location is breathtakingly beautiful and different. An it’s not just the terrain, every direction held something interesting, a village, some ruins with a secret, an enemy encampment, a shrine. Oh the shrines. I love them. Short and sweet puzzle dungeons. Seeking them out was as fun as solving the shrines themselves.

I wasn't a big fan of the combat shrines, but I did enjoy the enjoy the combat in general, including the weapon degradation. I liked having to think on my feet in the middle of a conflict and improvise. The tools the game gives you are so fun and rewarding. Sword broken? I'll grab this rock. Oh it's metal! Use the magnetism to lift and drop it on the moblins head! I don’t know what Nintendo can follow this up with. This is one of those games in a decade.