As another year comes to an end, I've found myself once again in the position where I haven't actually played ten new releases - or at least not ten of note because I'm not putting every mobile junk food game I tried for ten minutes on here. Having said that...
I bounce off of F2P mobile games all the time, including quite a few this year like Fire Emblem Heroes, Amazing Katamari, and Jeff Gerstmann approved eSport WWE Tap Mania. So, I was pretty shocked with how much Crazy Taxi Gazillionaire actually hooked me and kept me checking in on it multiple times per day for weeks on end.
Nostalgia for Crazy Taxi was certainly what pulled me in initially, especially the inclusion of The Offspring, but the characters and writing were what really kept me coming back. Keytar playing bears and mimes that silently communicate reservations about late stage capitalism are exactly the sort of characters that we need in 2017.
Another major part of the appeal was that at no point did I feel like I was being railroaded into buying some $99 "best deal" in order to progress. The game seems content to just let you watch an occasional ad rather than constantly putting up roadblocks that are nearly impossible to breach without opening your wallet.
The sports entertainment monolith of WWE continues to produce mostly mediocre wrestling shows and awful games, but thankfully Japan is stepping up with the likes of NJPW and Spike Chunsoft's Fire Pro Wrestling World.
A lot of the appeal of this game is just marveling at the dedicated mod community that surrounds it. Even though this game doesn't include any licensed wrestlers, the fans put in a ton of effort putting real world wrestlers into the game with incredible attention to details like tweaking the AI sliders to try to replicate a given wrestler's in ring mannerisms.
The gameplay itself I could somewhat give or take, but I do at least appreciate it being different from what Yuke's continues to churn out on an annual basis with their WWE games. I'm sure this is the wrestling smark in me talking, but I think I prefer the focus on putting on quality matches over the Yuke's approach of treating wrestling like it's any other sport where the main motivation is winning.
The upcoming addition of manager mode next year also has the potential to significantly broaden the appeal of this game.
It's not the Prey 2 we were promised, but 2017's Prey is a very good game nonetheless.
If you've played anything in the BioShock/System Shock lineage of emergent FPS games, then you pretty much know what you're in for with this game. The world and story of this game is essentially a carbon copy of any of those Irrational games - a bunch of people isolate themselves from the rest of society and toy around with technology and/or extreme social ideologies beyond their control and eventually the whole thing blows up in their face. The gameplay also follows suit with offering you a range of abilities that allow you the flexibility to decide how you want to tackle the various scenarios it throws at you, whether it be through stealth, guns, or powers drawn from the alien DNA coursing through you.
There are scattered bits of interesting character work here and there (the relationship between Danielle and Abigail being the big standout), but overall, I think the main thing this game lacks is some real personality. Most of what's here feels a little too paint by numbers and generic to effectively distinguish itself.
There's been no shortage of pontificating on PUBG this year, so I'll try to keep this as brief as possible. It's a very fun game that continues to be plagued by distracting technical issues.
The story of this game's creation and breakout success, from its roots as an ARMA mod to breaking records on Steam for concurrent players, is maybe more interesting than anything in the game itself.
As a side note, every games media person that was carried to the dinner table by Matt Pascual should be required to go back and revise their review score for Agents of Mayhem to be a 10/10. I only approve of Matt Pascual's charitable efforts when it's #ForTheKids and not when it's handing out chicken dinners to people that are bad at video games.
It didn't get much love from the Giant Bomb staff, but XCOM 2 was a great game last year and the War of the Chosen expansion has made it even better.
The new factions, hero units, and the titular Chosen go a long way towards making the world of XCOM 2 feel more alive and vibrant. No longer is this just a world where you're saving the world's faceless masses from an endless horde of generic enemy soldiers.
I'm also a big fan of the way new systems like covert actions and fatigue force you to build a larger and more varied roster rather than just leaning on one core group that you send out on every mission. New environments and mission scenarios, many involving the new neutral faction of The Lost, keep things feeling a lot more varied and fresh than playthroughs of the vanilla game.
Skyward Sword was a bad game, and more than anything, Breath of the Wild's willingness to breakaway from the mold of its predecessors feels like a clear acknowledgement of that fact. There are still plenty of touchstones here to remind you that this is a Legend of Zelda game - boomerangs, Gorons, Master Sword - but they're scattered across a new Hyrule that is now a full blown open world sandbox rather than just a glorified hub for accessing towns and dungeons.
The way this game embraces emergent gameplay is something to really behold, and I give a ton of credit to the game designers for figuring out ways to subtly push players towards experimenting and fully exploring the world and its mechanics. The previous entries in this franchise have always been defined by the slow trickle of new tools and abilities, so for this game to give you nearly everything up front is a huge change of pace.
The only significant thing that holds this game back for me is a bit too much inventory management. If juggling weapons, shields, and the cooking system were a bit less intrusive and tedious, this game would almost certainly be a lock for the top spot on this list.
This game was Nintendo going all in with one of its biggest franchises and gambling on something new, and I'm thrilled that it paid off. They could've easily just given us yet another Legend of Zelda game with their insanely high production values and been done, but instead they gave us something totally fresh and innovative that is going to be hugely influential on games in the coming decades. One has to hope that this success may push Nintendo to break from convention with even more of its classic franchises.
Recent years have been very kind to CRPG fans with the genre making a long overdue comeback, and Divinity: Original Sin 2 is one of the best to emerge from this wave of new games.
The first Divinity: Original Sin had a lot to like, interesting combat mechanics and high production values chief among them, but the one area where it really struggled was the writing. Beset by cheesy humor and puns that would make even Giant Bomb moderator and pun-aficionado @mento blush, that game struggled to find the right tone, and its characters and central plot were almost entirely forgettable. Larian Studios clearly took the criticism to heart though because the standout in this sequel is the dramatically improved writing. The core characters that comprise your party are now actually the best part of the game, each with their own unique personalities and plot lines that play out over the course of the adventure.
Alongside the vastly improved writing, it's a little disappointing that the combat has taken a bit of a step back. It's not terrible by any means, but the new physical/magical armor system discourages you from making use of the full range of your abilities. If this game is fortunate enough to receive a substantial "Enhanced Edition" update like its predecessor, this is the one thing that I hope they give serious attention to improving.
Remember when the Wii U was a totally irrelevant console and people were worried the same would be true of the Switch? Nintendo sure did dissuade those fears this year. Not content to just release the most inventive and possibly greatest Legend of Zelda game ever, they also released quite possibly the best Mario game ever.
In much the same way Breath of the Wild made Hyrule feel like a sandbox, the new approach this game takes with moons similarly encourages exploration and experimentation to a degree that no previous Mario game has.
While the initial trek to the credits alone would be enough to make this one of the best games of the year, the post-game is where this game truly shines. Following in the footsteps of games like Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario 3D Land, a lot of the best and most challenging content doesn't open up until after you've technically "completed" the game. It's astounding just how much game there is here.
The way the levels morph and change multiple times throughout the course of the game makes keeps things feeling fresh for 50+ hours. After the credits in particular, everything has a happy party/vacation vibe with all of the characters intermingling between kingdoms, and it's great to have a game that embraces pure fun and joy like this in the hellscape of 2017.