Hey all! I've finally gotten around to putting together a list for this year! Here we go:
10. Slime Rancher – I went into Slime Rancher hoping for a fun, low-impact experience and it definitely met those expectations. Unfortunately, it did not exceed those expectations. Balancing ranching with exploring was an interesting tension; but, I ultimately found my farm to be a tether that prevented me from ever really exploring to my heart’s content. The game’s strongest moments were when I was able to just barely jet to some far-off hill and find a new type of slime. Yet, whenever I had one of those moments, my inventory would be near-full and I’d need to head home to keep my farm from destroying itself. Slime Rancher flirts with something special, if it could only divorce itself a little more from the loops of Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon.
9. Dead Cells – I’m not a huge rogue-lite fan, but this was a good one of those. Dead Cells has come a long way since I last played it. The version that is out there now seems to fix some of the issues I had with repetitive gameplay and heavy reliance on luck. Dead Cells manages to strike a good balance between the slow buildup of Rogue Legacy and the bursts of luck-fueled success in The Binding of Isaac. However, some of the specific designs, like the high risk, high reward curses, interacted poorly with how busy the game can get with particle effects and character models. I enjoyed what I played of Dead Cells; but, I don’t really feel the need to play more.
8. Battlerite – I’ve weaned off of Dota (thank goodness), but Battlerite captures enough of what I like from Dota to scratch that itch without ruining my interpersonal relationships. So that’s a plus. Battlerite might have one of the more benign free-to-play designs I’ve seen, opening the game to a price sensitive audience without becoming wholly pay-to-win or exploitative. The game makes a lot of smart choices in how it fuses MOBAs with fighting games and the punchy matches help keep things firmly in the fighting game serving size. I’m looking forward to seeing what new characters come out in the near future because the options right now feel a little generic and same-y in spots. This game will really open up when it has a Meepo or a Hakan, you know, something weird and beautiful.
7. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – I really enjoyed Hellblade on the whole. The story was well told and the visuals were breathtaking in spots. The combat didn’t fully work for me and that soured an otherwise great experience. But I’ve never seen a game deal with psychosis in the way Hellblade did and the nuanced, empathetic way the game treats Senua is worth seeing. Each of the voices in Senua’s head takes on its own personality and impacts how you read the world around you. The world itself can be full of faces and words when seen through Senua’s eyes. Hellblade is one of the rare experiences that has made me understand in a clear way what people mean when they say they see the world differently. It helps that there are some really clever perspective and combat puzzles to accompany the game’s lesson in empathy.
6. PUBG –PUBG was a fun obsession for a few weeks and its simple core held up for a remarkably long time. I’m not much for shooters and even PUBG wasn’t able to overcome that handicap in the long run. Yet for a few short weeks, it was glorious. I quickly found that the Mary Kisch school of PUBG is wildly effective and rode that to strong finishes in a few games. I haven’t felt a jolt of adrenaline quite like when I survived to the final 2 in a rainy map and every sound resonated with the stabbing violence that might follow. Once I started playing with friends that PUBG really opened up and facilitated some fun sessions of talking and laughing. PUBG is probably the game I’m going to reach for when I just want to hang with friends online, and that counts for a lot.
5. Doki Doki Literature Club – DDLC shook me. It is the first and only horror game to give me nightmares as an adult. It is easily the scariest game I’ve ever played and I recommend it to anyone into a scare; however, and I must emphasize this, TAKE THE GAME’S TRIGGER WARNINGS VERY SERIOUSLY. When the game says it contains violent and disturbing imagery, IT FUCKING MEANS IT. If you have any issues with self-harm, maybe don’t play this game in one sitting or approach with caution. Coming out the other side, I do not regret playing the game or even getting surprised by the game’s tougher content. But I did uninstall the game because of how much it upset me and because of where I thought it was going. Thankfully the game handles it’s serious content well if you can make it through. So give DDLC a try! "It’s frighteningly kawaii", raves @zombiepie!
4. MTG: Unstable – Unstable breathed fresh life into an otherwise rote year of MTG. Turns out that having fun is a goal unto itself, even for a game with such a competitive tournament scene. Rather than explain all of the great mechanical decisions in Unstable, I’ll just share some of the great moments I’ve seen while playing. One, I was called in to three games in a row by a kid using Better Than One and the last one ended in us losing because my teammate gave me too much of his deck and he ran out of cards. Two, explaining the rules to all of my players at the beginning of every draft takes like 10 minutes because I need to explain assembling contraptions on sprockets and cranking them. That’s just a great sentence to have to repeat. Three, someone cast Summon the Pack on themselves and opened a pack of Iconic Masters that contained a foil Archangel of Thune and an Obstinate Baloth, resulting in him summoning about 10 creatures out of nowhere and giving his whole squad a +1/+1 counter. I lost that game. You should play Unstable while you can.
3. Persona 5 – Persona 5 is maybe my second or third favorite Persona game and that actually isn’t an insult! The series is excellent on the whole and an entry that combines some of the strengths of 3 and 4 with the demon negotiation of the earlier games is a winner. Unfortunately, the game also imported one of the worst elements from Persona 3 (a huge, randomly-generated dungeon) while losing some of the most compelling elements of 4 (almost every dungeon is the inner world of a central character you really care about). All of this combines to make a good, not great entry in a storied franchise that runs about 20 hours longer than it needs to.
2. Pyre – What do you get when you combine fancy 3 on 3 basketball with an innovative story structure? Well you get a great freaking game! Pyre is just the right length and learning about all of the caravan members propelled the game even when the gameplay got stale near the end. The central story conceit was novel and the writing that had to go into it is frankly daunting. Supergiant’s trademark art and sound design were in full force again with an expanded palette. What might stand out the most is how Pyre manages to use the isometric perspective that Supergiant mastered in both Bastion and Transistor and create something wholly new. Here’s to hoping they eventually make online multiplayer!
1. Detention - I did not expect to love Detention. When @2mello suggested we play Detention for a podcast episode I went in expecting a passable, indie game in the mold of a Silent Hill. What I got was one of the most complete and tonally consistent games I’ve ever played. Detention tells the story of a school girl, Fang Ray Shin, wandering a haunted school after a typhoon in Taiwan during the 1960s. The game almost immediately makes use of the historical context of Taiwan’s martial law period and it just never stops. The game takes concepts from other horror games and adventure games and recontextualizes them using a moment in history and a biographical focus to breathe life into otherwise rote tropes. The game never ceases to surprise. It never turns away from its bleak appraisal of a truly terrible moment in Taiwan’s history. Detention is the only game I felt compelled to replay this year and I can comfortably say that it is one of the rare games that is even better the second time. And at only 3-5 hours of playtime, Detention is perfectly paced for one horror-filled session. Doki Doki Literature Club might have been the most horrifying game I played this year, but Detention is the best horror game I’ve ever played. You owe it to yourself to give Detention a play.
And here is the Deep Listens award show if you've been following the show and want to know what we settled on: http://deeplistens.libsyn.com/game-of-the-year-2017 The categories were: Best Comedy, Best Drama, Best Horror, Best Action ,Best Adventure, Best Character, Best Soundtrack, Prettiest Game, Best Performance/Voice Acting, Best Mechanic, Worst Story, Best Twist, Game of the Year 2017, Gino's Platypus Award for Game That Should Not Be, Billy's Grindfather Award, John Paul Sartre Memorial Award for Game That Best Expresses the Ultimate Futility of the Human Condition, Bonus subcategory: Anthropocene Award for Game that most horrifyingly portrays a problem with modernity, ZP's "Help I'm Trapped in Sysiphean Torment" Award, and Game of Our Year 2017