My Top Ten Games of 2017

Every year, I publish a GotY article which is a bit different from most of the others online. Rather than announcing my favourites of the games that came out in the year, I look at the best games I played for the first time since my previous list. I do this partly because I don't have the time or money to buy and play every high profile game released in a year, but I also do it in an attempt to set these lists apart from others and to be able to spend more time in a year celebrating games beyond the shiniest, newest releases. Without any further ado, and in purely alphabetical order, here are my top ten games of 2017.

ABZÛ

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ABZÛ is a persuasive argument for environmental conservation not just because it reminds us that the destruction of ocean habitats occurs, but also because it showcases the awe-inspiring magnificence of life in Earth's seas. There is a vibrancy, diversity, and multitude to the aquatic animals of ABZÛ which makes you want to protect them. A strong consciousness of pacing and a swelling score by Austin Wintory make this underwater epic movingly beautiful.

Everything

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As a rule, games are about doing, but Everything is a game about being. Alan Watts is the perfect philosophical narrator, imparting wisdom and insight without even a shred of arrogance and David O'Reilly's design matches Watts's light-hearted spirit and his penchant for big questions. Freeing you from any single physical form, Everything satisfies the avid explorer by not just containing a large universe, but more crucially, giving you many perspectives to experience that universe from.

Fallout 4

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When I see that someone I know has picked up a game and immediately dumped 50+ hours into it, I think "I could never spend that much time on one piece of media". That's a lie because I banked 77 hours in Fallout 4, the majority of that in a few months. This was my open-world loot game for the year: an RPG bursting at the seams with sights to see and items to accrue, and one packed with diversions that develop your understanding of its lore and characters. The magic, however, is that unlike so many other big budget games of its ilk, Fallout remains full of quiet, sombre moments, and 4, in particular, is frequently fascinating as a politically and historically reflective game.

Hitman (2016)

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In many Hollywood action thrillers, the protagonist is someone who you want to be not just because they have a suitcase of smart gadgets but also because in a pinch, they can get wildly inventive with whatever tools are in their immediate vicinity. Most games don't follow suit, giving us a taut, pre-packaged set of moves with which to complete our mission, but Hitman goes in the other direction, making its environments into playgrounds of interactive weaponry and disguises. In Hitman, the assassinations and escapes are not planned by some game designer, they're planned by you, creating a huge possibility space and a sense of ownership over all your work.

Inside

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Inside is so much more than just Limbo with another dimension. There is a human activity in its purgatory that Limbo's lacked, but far from it making you feel less alone, that humanity is used to create the sense that you are being hunted, and that the sick fate of the protagonist is not that they were abandoned in a careless place, but that there are powerful forces above them plotting their demise. A painstaking care for art direction and a bent towards social commentary make Inside a sobering gauntlet.

Night in the Woods

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The bravest media is the media that's most earnest. Being edgy or cynical gives you a shield, but being honest with emotion and sentiment makes you vulnerable. So Night in the Woods is an exceptionally brave game. The characters in it speak the way people speak, the crises in their lives are true to the adversities that real twenty-somethings face today, and it is not remotely embarrassed to portray love and warmth between friends.

Solitarica

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Solitarica is really just its developers showing off, but I'm all for it. They took a familiar, mundane gameplay format, one that you wouldn't think to play with unless you were bored out of your mind at your office job, and turned it into something you can't put down. Chaining long combos together feels like tearing down opponents with your bare hands, rewards matter, and Righteous Hammer get highly imaginative with the silly curmudgeons which inhabit their fantasy realm.

Thumper

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While I love Guitar Hero and its derivatives, it's been sad to see the rhythm genre stagnate in their wake. What it needs more than anything is games that think outside the box, and Thumper is so outside the box, it's terrifying. Between the uninhabitable dimension its set in, and the furious, experimental soundtrack, you feel like you're peering into a place no person was meant to see. The game's simple mechanics allow it to demand fast input, making it a ride of exhilarating, animalistic instinct.

Virginia

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The evolution of video games as a storytelling medium is going to consist of not just tightening up dialogue and making the subject matter more relatable, but also writers and directors attaining a mastery of symbolism and subtext. Virginia is a masterclass in these aspects; it contains no spoken words and so has to rely on subtle character interactions and a visual language it constructs from the ground up. The result is a story about authority and attachment that reveals elegant and touching new connections and implications every time you return to it.

The Witness

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The Witness, like Everything, did for me what any philosophical piece is meant to do. It, at least in some small way, changed my worldview. Jonathan Blow's gallery of puzzles shows you can be much smarter than you think as long as you maintain patience and perseverance. With a great synergy between environment and gameplay, a rich internal logic, a seemingly bottomless barrel of secrets, and multiple parables within it, The Witness is a potently thoughtful game which gives rise to equally thoughtful reactions.

That rounds out 2017. Honourable mentions go to the following games: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Doki Doki Literature Club, Doom (2016), OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood, Orwell, Quadrilateral Cowboy, Syndicate (2012), and The Talos Principle. Thanks for reading.

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