Danny O'Dwyer makes a ton of gaming documentaries over on his Patreon, Noclip. He lives with his wife in one of those tiny states on the east coast, but spends lots of time flying around the world talking to developers and staring at Adobe Premiere timelines. He's also a real good dude. Find him on Twitter at @dannyodwyer.
When I wrote my Giant Bomb Game of the Year list for 2016, I had clocked in 7 months at GameSpot before leaving to form Noclip. That means I had 7 months of responsibly playing as many games as I possibly could. Those days are gone.
I’m honestly a little embarrassed. This list is written by a man who has worked for himself for 12 months. Who played whatever games he wanted, not what he thought he should. In fact most of the games I played a lot of this year were older games we covered in some of our docs. For instance, I played a bunch of Final Fantasy XIV and The Witcher this year. I played through The Witness again. God knows how many hours of Spelunky I clocked in.
At times it felt like there were so many great games coming out that I’d never catch up with them. I’m halfway through Wolfenstein (good story, pedestrian shooting). I’ve played the first three hours of The Evil Within 2 (too scary--I have to play it during the day). I’m dying to get back to Night in the Woods. I’m four hours into Assassin's Creed Origins. I played one level of Cuphead.
So the games on this list are games I’ve either completed, or dumped enough hours into that I’m confident in their quality. Apologies in advance.
When this came out on Switch I was already playing Everybody's Golf on PS4, but as a huge fan of Sensible Golf on the Amiga, the similar aesthetic of Golf Story won me over immediately. Golf Story also did something that most golf games don’t and that it break away from the monotony of golf. Golf is a boring sport revolving around a fun mechanic. By taking the pure fun of hitting the ball, and applying it to loads of different mini-games and quests, it held my attention far more than I was thinking. The slow parade of new zones, new mission types, and a charming story kept me coming back to Golf Story all year.
I’m not really sure what to say about this except it’s a bloody good Mario game. It’s the same colorful, joyful, varied type of Mario adventure you dream of. Level design is tremendous, no one zone overstays its welcome and there are some absolutely fantastic nostalgic moments in there--even for a curmudgeon like me who didn’t play much Mario growing up. Mobility is varied, especially when you take into account the amount of beings you can become using your hat. It’s the feel-good hit of 2017. What else needs to be said?
We didn’t even know this was a game until June and here it is almost in my top three of the year. I’m a big fan of XCOM going back to the old DOS games, but I’ve always struggled to keep my interest in those games the longer they went on. For whatever reason, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle hooked me throughout. The increasing complexity of the levels. The constant addition of new enemies and weapons. The level design, animations and humor the game. I just loved it all. I think I’ve flown over 20 times these past 12 months, and most of my time in the air was spent with this delightful game.
Breath of the Wild is going to win a lot of Game of the Year awards, so I’m not going to try and exhaustively explain what it is about that game that makes it so wonderful. Let me instead tell you about my favorite part of the game; the photo hunt mode. Wandering the world, finding new zones, learning how to climb, ride and parachute made exploring in Breath of the Wild an absolute joy. Using those mechanics to search for specific locations on the map where a photo memory was taken, was an absolute dream. I loved climbing to the highest vista to try and figure out what angle the photo was taken from. Looking at the surrounding ruins to imagine what the world looked like 100 years earlier. Finding each one was deeply satisfying as it was based entirely on my own intuition and skill. It didn’t matter to me that the reward for finding these things was more god-awful cut-scenes with some of the worst dialogue and voice acting in recent memory. I was just happy to hit the road in search of the next one. Eventually the combat got a little too easy, and the hunt for Korok seeds grew weary, but Breath of the Wild is one of the finest open world games I’ve ever played. As somebody who didn’t grow up playing Nintendo it’s also the first Zelda game I’ve completed. Sorry Ocarina. I’ll get around to completing you eventually.
What a wonderful surprise this game was. I’m currently knee-deep in footage of this game as we’re releasing a documentary about the development of Horizon Zero Dawn this month (subscribe!) but at the time I started it up my expectations were pretty mediocre. Killzone was a fun series but I wasn’t expecting Guerrilla Games to come up with a story I’d care about, let alone one that would keep me coming back day after day. Horizon Zero Dawn is an incredible first attempt at an open world game. The world they have created is utterly fascinating, diverse, rich with lore and bizarrely believable. The combat with machines is tremendous, especially when played with intention at the harder difficulties. The story & performances are terrific, the quests are reminiscent of Geralt’s adventures, and unsurprising for a Guerrilla game--it looks absolutely terrific. I played Horizon during a tough time of the year. One where work was really starting to make me feel overloaded and trapped. I was spending weeks in my tiny apartment in Oakland editing and analyzing spreadsheets. Slowly retreating inwards. Horizon Zero Dawn let me explore a vast, gorgeous, naturalistic world full of people making the best of bad situations. It pulled me back to reality and helped me bring color back into my world. Don’t let anyone ever tell you games aren’t powerful.
For my 14th birthday I got a copy of Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear and I probably played it every day until I turned 15. It was a game where choice was critical. You could die from a single gunshot, it was difficult to beat terrorists in all-out firefights & learning the layout of each building was crucial to understanding cover. This was one game in a wonderful era for tactical shooters. One that petered out as the genre split into pure military simulators like ARMA, and more run and gun shooters like Rainbow Six Vegas and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.
Battlegrounds scratches an itch I’ve had for over a decade. This is a game where the number of bullets in your magazine matters. Where the type of helmet you have matters. Where the decision to push or stand your ground are based on the type of scope you have attached.
It takes the level-learning of games like Counter Strike and blows it up to the size of an island. It’s a game that forces you to think critically about each and every situation and come up with the best plan. Knowing which doors are open by default can keep you alive. Should you hide in a bush, or fire your pistol to goad a player into engaging with you before blowing them away with your M16? Should you dive into a northern town and loot-up in quiet, or go to school for some spice? Should you go for the crate, or keep driving to avoid the blue? How about taking off your shoes so you can differentiate your footsteps against other players? It’s a game of decisions, both big and small, that result in a unique story for each and every match.
Over the past few months they’ve addressed many of the technical issues that hindered the game. The frame-rate and UI has been improved, there have been new weapons added, new vehicles, new ways of moving, new perspectives to play from. The hackers seem to be gone, and we now have a second map to be bad at for 100 hours before we learn how it works.
Too many shooters are focused on keeping you playing through unlocks. The genre is full of brain dead skinner-boxes where the act of shooting your foes is less critical to success than the amount of hours you’re willing to grind to get to the next unlock. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is a shooter which rewards skill and clever decision making with victory. The triumph of your first Chicken Dinner is among the most powerful I’ve ever felt playing a game. But I’ve also loved all those games where I get shot from behind, or never found a good gun, or ignominiously died outside the playzone. Because PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is a game that doesn’t hold your hand and lead you to victory. Each kill, each dinner, is entirely yours.