My Year in Gaming 2017

Unlike most fans of interactive entertainment, I have very conflicted feelings about the state of gaming in 2017. So many big tentpole releases which enthralled millions of players during the last twelve months left me completely cold. Despite heroic efforts I just couldn't bring myself to spend much time in Zelda: Breath of the Wild's barren and directionless open world or push through more than a handful of its well-designed but unoriginal physics-based puzzles, the remarkably tense shooter action of Playerunknown's Battlegrounds was ultimately rendered pointless for me since the game is another match-centric multiplayer chore that I can't muster any enthusiasm for, the astonishing beauty of Horizon: Zero Dawn's post-apocalyptic environments was never enough to keep me coming back to the unsatisfying combat or rote mission design, Resident Evil 7's myopic "back-to-basics" philosophy and curiously restricted environments didn't hold a candle to RE6's sublime anime bullshit in my book and don't even get me started on the soulless grind that was Destiny 2.

The stark contrast between my own general apathy and the raving reviews and delirious Internet chatter made me think a lot about what it is that I actually want out of games. I spent many hours with Bioware's ill-fated Mass Effect: Andromeda (a decent but forgettable action RPG), but the rewarding systems and haunting world building of Prey made Arkane's underrated immersive sim the first release that really engaged me in 2017. After having gone back to the same developer's 2016 title Dishonored 2 (the actual best game I played this year), Uncharted: The Lost Legacy became the experience that more or less restored my faith in triple-A releases by delivering a lot of satisfying exploration combined with tight, effective storytelling and excellent performances. I thought I had grown tired of linear plot-heavy action titles over the past few years, but UC:LL's spectacular visuals and narrative highs left me with an unexpected desire for more experiences of the same kind. As a result, I went back to Naugthy Dog's own The Last of Us and challenged myself to the point of exhaustion by playing through the game again on the highest difficulty.

During the autumn, Life is Strange's unexpected return via Deck Nine's Before the Storm proved once again that we desperately need more developers (and publishers) who aren't afraid to use the interactive format to explore new stories and themes which don't fit the narrow genre categories still dominating the market. And while Wolfenstein: The New Colossus was a flawed first-person shooter, the razor-sharp ideological awareness which imbued every line of the game's blood-soaked script skillfully addressed the current political climate while also providing a fascinating deconstruction of white male power fantasies.

Finally, the confident return of Ubisoft's flagship series Assassin's Creed (or Ass-sassin, sorry about the typo in this video) gave me exactly what I wanted out of an open world adventure in 2017. The jaw-dropping landscapes, impactful combat and complex characters weren't quite enough to make Origins one of the best entries in the genre ever, but this was the first AC game in the series which left me wanting more after the campaign was over. Even after 50 hours spent on that impossibly large map, the sumptuous recreation of ancient Egypt still retained an extravagant sense of mystery which no other game this year came close to delivering. And its somewhat meandering main storyline notwithstanding, the narrative as a whole was surprisingly ambiguous and thoughtful in its representation of political struggle and the effects it has on individuals and the delicate fabric of society. As far as the moment-to-moment gameplay goes, Origins also benefited greatly from ditching the fancy but weightless stabbing of previous AC titles and replacing it with a weighty, Dark Souls-inspired melee combat which made tense duels out of even the most routine enemy camp exploration.

Overall, Assassin's Creed Origins and the four other games featured in this video reminded me that a very particular mix of escapism and emotional investment drives my continued interest in video games. And as difficult as it is to pin down what makes a particular game tick the right boxes for me, the crucial elements have never been about experimenting with finely balanced mechanics in a logics-driven sandbox which so many of the most popular releases of this year seemed to excel at (I would put both Zelda, Super Mario Odyssey and perhaps even PUBG in that category). While I'm still a bit bewildered by the disconnect between my own experience of gaming in 2017 and that of everyone else, reflecting on the games that actually did work for me has been a worthwile and illuminating experience.

Games I didn't play (much) in 2017 but might have liked:

Nier: Automata

Divinity: Original Sin II

Dishonored 2: Death of the Outsider

Yakuza 0

Elex

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