Best Games of 2017
My favorite games from 2017.
My favorite games from 2017.
I've been a fan of the Zelda series for a long time. I've enjoyed every game that I've played to at least some extent, but it's fair to say that the formula of long tutorial > enter dungeon > find item > kill boss > find next dungeon was wearing a little thin. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was a step in the right direction by giving you more freedom in how you acquired gear and choose where to go next, and Breath of the Wild takes that even further. It almost feels like they went back in time to the original game, and decided to focus on different elements to modernize it instead of the direction they've been taking for decades. Extended explanations, complex dungeons, and a set narrative path are all gone. Instead, after a short opening section where you acquire four magic powers of varying usefulness, you are thrust into a completely open Hyrule with a single objective (defeat Ganon, of course) and left to your own devices. There are hooks as far as major events you can pursue, but those feel more like suggestions than instructions. Link can climb almost anything and drift from place to place on a paraglider, two abilities that make getting anywhere you can see both possible and enjoyable. Instead of looking at a map screen to find points of interest, you actually spot them and mark them down yourself. It's different and exciting. You never know when you'll find a hidden shrine containing a clever puzzle or combat challenge, or a village full of people you can trade with or help out, or a camp of monsters you can terrorize or mess with, or the ruins of something that an old war left behind many years earlier. I wish the game had more traditional Zelda content. I really miss the big dungeons, and almost all of the side quests are not up to the standards of modern games. But the core experience of being in this world is too good for me to say it's not my game of the year.
I can only imagine how much I would love Prey if I liked the combat. Because everything else about the game, besides the long load times moving between areas and kind of a chunky pace near the end, is great. Talos I is a space station that has been taken over by strange, otherworldly aliens, and it's one of the best realized locations ever in a game. You have a lot of freedom to just explore its different levels and learn about its history. You always have a lot of options in how you approach your objectives. You might crawl through a vent, or hack a locked door, or find a keycard for that door in a room you didn't have to explore. You might use your "GLOO Cannon" to create a platform for you to jump through a window, or inject yourself with alien technology to take the shape of a small object and squeeze through a tight opening. You can be stealthy and sneak by enemies, or confidently wreck them with powered up weapons. The story is really fun too. You're never sure who's on your side or really telling the truth, you're not even sure you're being truthful to yourself, and the constant second guessing has a solid, logical payoff. Prey has everything I like about this kind of game, and for the most part, it succeeds at its goals. If only I liked the combat.
Despite starring anthropomorphic animals, Night in the Woods is one of the most relatable games I've ever played. You control Mae, a 20 year old college dropout returning to her hometown for the first time since leaving. She doesn't want to talk about why she dropped out. She doesn't know what she's going to do for money. Her relationships with her friends are different. Old businesses she liked have closed and been replaced with new ones. The feeling of not knowing what the hell you're doing with your life is one that I think lots of people understand, and Night in the Woods nails it. It's also very sharply written, funny and touching when it wants to be. It also has a cool look with a fun art style and really great work with colors. It also has another side to its story, a dark, scary side that works surprisingly well with the other stuff, which adds an edge to the narrative without taking it over. It was one of my favorite experiences with a game in 2017.
When you first play Nier, you'll get a decent action RPG with a slick but shallow combat system, some cool customization options, some uneven anime voice acting and character designs, passable graphics, a great soundtrack, an an intriguing but vaguely unsatisfying narrative. Then the game asks you to play it again, and it starts to open up. You're repeating a lot of the same stuff, but with a new perspective and new revelations pushing you forward. Then you keep playing it, and if you're still along for the ride at this point, you're getting a truly unique game, where the flaws don't seem to matter as much and what they're doing with the combination of story and medium is one of the most memorable experiences you'll ever have. If that sounds interesting, you should play Nier.
Wolfenstein II is an enjoyable, old school first person shooter where you generally sneak around, capping Nazi officers with a silenced pistol to avoid reinforcements, until you're spotted, when you pull out a machine gun in one hand and automatic shotgun in the other and blow away everything that moves with abandon, scooping up ammo, health kits, and bits of armor like a vacuum cleaner. It's fun enough, but the real draw, as with the last game, is the story. B.J. Blazkowicz is one of my favorite modern game protagonists, and his supporting cast is among the most diverse and compelling in the medium. Every story scene in the game is a treat. It might be touchingly considered or completely outrageously insane, but either way I'm completely drawn in. It's unfortunate that a video game taking place in an alternate reality where Nazis won WWII and are walking the streets of America is "relevant", but I love that it pulls no punches and walks a delicate tightrope with aplomb.
When Battlegrounds is working, it's one of the most thrilling multiplayer games I've ever played. You are dropped, alone or in a small group, onto a large island with 99 other people and nothing but a parachute and the clothes on your back. You have to look for resources - weapons, gear, armor, medical supplies. There is a force field slowly closing in on a single random point on the map, and if you're outside the circle, your health is constantly being drained. Certain places are getting hit by airstrikes. You might find yourself dropping right next to an enemy and frantically scrambling for something to defend yourself. Or you might get into a pitched urban firefight. Or a tense sniper battle across rolling hills. Or madly charging towards a safe point in a truck while the force field closes in on you. Unfortunately, you might also spend twenty minutes grabbing equipment before you get nailed by someone you didn't see, all that effort for nothing. That stinks. Luckily, it's only a minute or two before you're in your next match.
Horizon is an open-world game with stunning graphics, a unique combat system, a cool sci-fi setting, and a new main character that I ended up liking a lot. There were some things that bugged me about the game, but it was a strong beginning for a world that I hope I get to revisit in a sequel. It takes place in the far future, after our society has been destroyed and is being slowly rebuilt from scratch, while the humans have to deal with the problems of both large bands of bandits and huge, violent robots, often resembling extinct animals. Figuring out what the whole story is really about is a strong draw, and there are some interesting side stories as well. Experimenting with the different choices for weapons, ammunition and traps, learning what works against what sorts of enemies, is also a lot of fun. There are some small annoyances, but it's definitely worth a try.
For my money, Naughty Dog is possibly the most reliable studio when it comes to releasing smart, beautiful, well-written, hand-crafted action adventures. The Lost Legacy started as an expansion for Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, but it became big enough to release as a stand-alone title, and it's yet another satisfying entry in the series. It stars two previous supporting characters, Chloe and Nadine, as they explore the cities, jungles, and ancient temples of India searching for a priceless artifact. You get the expected mix of climbing, wandering, puzzle solving, and shooting, and a nice story with some really good character work. Two standout sections are a large open area you navigate with an off-road vehicle and an ending that combines a lot of elements from previous set pieces in the series into one breath-taking climactic sequence.
The third and possibly final Dishonored game, at least as far as this setting goes, is a satisfying conclusion to the series' broad story beats, and it brings some interesting tweaks to the gameplay formula. While the first two games star characters trying to return a status quo to a chaotic political landscape, Death of the Outsider is a more personal story about someone with less privilege, and her struggle and drive for revenge ties into the game's abandonment of direct action being an undesirable goal. The series has always allowed for violence, but it punishes it by making the world a nastier place to walk around in if you drop too many bodies. That's gone this time, and along with "contract" side missions that encourage different play styles, I found myself interacting with the world in ways I hadn't tried before in the series. Billy's set of powers is smaller than Corvo's or Emily's, but it's good enough for the game's shorter length, and the final mission aside, the level and quest design is as strong as the series has ever been. A great final note.
Resident Evil has existed for over twenty years now, and the series has had a long and inconsistent history. They really seem to nail it with every third numbered game, though. The original Resident Evil brought horror games to the mainstream, Resident Evil 4 is one of the best action games ever made, and Resident Evil 7 is the freshest the series has felt in years. After a few action-heavy games, they returned to a slower pace and scarier tone, and while the gameplay basics are a throwback to the series' roots, its horror influences and immersive setting bring those forward to the modern day. The game gets weaker as it goes on and focuses more on combat and the sillier aspects of the series' familiar storytelling concepts, but it's mostly a really strong game, right when they needed it.
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