Rob's Game of the Year 2017

What a season, what a season! I actually played more than 10 games this year! The world may be in a weird and potentially dire place, but hey, video games were awesome this year! I snuck an 11th spot in as Pyre was a late addition and I still really like Metroid: Samus Returns.

List items

  • 11. Metroid: Samus Returns

    Samus Returns indeed, after Other M effectively put the series in cryostatsis for 7 years. And while this is a remake, it is still a fantastic return to the world of Samus Aran and her metroid murdering, ass kicking ways. The parry mechanic made me incredibly skeptical about this game from the get-go but it actually works incredibly well and feels like a strong addition to Samus's arsenal. It seems to take the right cues from Other M with cinematic moves when you properly parry a boss or finish them off. Samus feels really strong by the end of this game which wraps up with a nice surprise that got me more excited for Metroid Prime 4 whenever that will be. While it doesn't completely shake up the formula, it serves to remind us what Metroid is.

  • 10. Resident Evil 7

    I have kinda written off mainline Resident Evil games since RE5. RE6 was a disaster of which the causes still elude me. The only solid entry bearing the name has been Revelations 2, the Barry and Claire side story which felt like a better continuation than RE6. Needless to say, Resident Evil was in a dire place. In comes, Resident Evil 7, clearly apeing off the success of PT and injecting the series with the strong sense of horror its been lacking in recent years. It doesn't always land but it absolutely brought me back to desperate the ammo conservation, moody locations and over-the-top characters (in a good way) that's been lacking in the series since Resident Evil 4. It's weird to say a slow, lumbering survival horror game feels great to play but it absolutely does. Combined with the new RE Engine that rivals the Fox Engine in some scenes and RE7 becomes a fantastically immersive experience. Not even a mediocre final chapter and final boss can put a damper on this party. Welcome to the family, son.

  • 9. Cuphead

    This game is fucking hard...I feel like that should be the preface to every recommendation of Cuphead. It is gorgeously crafted game from top to bottom. An audio visual masterpiece at hitting the early 1930s rubber hose style animation with the overbearing morality tale. I have nothing but endless respect for the animators on this project and if its any consolation to what I can only imagine is countless hours, it truly has paid off. While I feel the difficulty of the game sometimes crosses the line from challenging to straight up mean, it doesn't stop me from loving the game as a whole. I remember seeing Cuphead tucked away in a Microsoft indie line up montage and it immediately grabbed me as something I wanted more of. That something turned out to be something I couldn't get enough of no matter how much I swore at it and got absolutely infuriated at some bosses. Remember, kids, don't deal with the devil.

  • 8. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

    Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is absolutely crazy game and I think if you can stomach some really gut punching violence, you should check it out. It doubles down on everything that made The New Order great .B.J. Blazkowicz predicament in this game is substantially more dire than before and Brian Bloom's performance hits home this good ol' Southern boys heartache even harder. I am not kidding when I say this version of B.J. Blazkowicz is absolutely one of my favorite video games characters. Between the writing and performance, there's a humanity to this seemingly unstoppable killing machine. And I think humanity, weirdly enough, what makes a lot of the stuff in Wolfenstein II work for me. It has stuff that would absolutely feel disgusting and exploitative in other stories but Wolfenstein II rides such a thin line between serious drama and the darkest of comedy. It's a game that has horrified me and made me laugh out loud multiple times, sometimes back to back. It's rare to get that experience, I didn't feel like The New Order totally nailed it but this one does for me. I really REALLY wanted B.J. Blazkowicz to get through all this goddamn shit and get back to a life that resembles normalcy.

    I suppose I should also talk about the gameplay in this video game and I would say it improves on The New Order in nearly every way as well. I felt stealth was a way more viable and fun option thanks to some smart additions. While the level design is nothing to write home about, I felt the locations chosen work exceptionally well at portraying how America is faring under the Nazi regime. Roswell, New Mexico is particularly surreal yet believable when you see KKK members walking openly in the street side by side with the Nazi police officers. Then you walk into this old diner and have to keep your cover as a firefighter while a Nazi officer asks for his strawberry milkshake. There's also notes and journals scattered across the world detailing accounts of Nazi soldiers and officers worrying for their families and wishing to avoid anymore conflict. It adds just enough gray into the stark black and white morality that the main story throws at you. This game also comes closest to Nier Automata as number of crazy moments, so that's worth noting.

  • 7. Yakuza 0

    I have loved Yakuza every since I took a shot on the series with Yakuza 4. The mixture of self serious, dire consequences main storyline combined with goofball shenanigans and lighthearted side missions is something that feels distinctly Japanese in all the right ways. Seeing Kiryu before he became the Dragon of Dojima was way more engaging that I ever could have guessed. The same can be said for Majima's transformation into the “Mad Dog”. Yakuza 0 evolves the mechanics of Yakuza in some brilliant new ones, despite having less characters than the previous two games, you have 3 styles per characters which an unlockable 4th hidden style. It feels incredibly satisfying to go from the slow hard hitting Beast style into the quick, dodge heavy Rush style.

    The story works incredibly well as a crime epic spanning two cities and multiple plot threads entangled in two future yakuza legends. It has one of my favorite villain teams in the form of the Dojima Lieutenants, in particular, Kuze. He feels like a man out of time, better suited for an era of feudalism and bloodshed as oppose to diplomacy and back room deals. He's one of the most relentless villains in recent memory. The other two Dojima Lieutenants are no jokes either and there's a particularly great reveal with Kiryu's final boss fight that made feel like the series was really coming full circle with Kiryu considering Yakuza 6 seems to be the last game with him a starring role.

  • 6. Persona 5

    I think for me and a lot of people, this is one of the most anticipated games ever. The successor to one of my favorite games, Persona 4, it was hard to curb my enthusiasm as each preview for the game looked better and better. This game is absolutely bursting with style. You know you've passed the high water mark for style when your UI is part of your trailer and people get just as hyped for that as the actual gameplay. This is the best playing Persona or SMT has been. It both streamlines and maintains the level of complexity expected from these games in some very smart ways. Everyone having a gun attack that is unique to each character is one of my favorite new additions to the core mechanics. The dungeons themselves I feel are some of the best in the series, highlights include Nijima's Casino, Futaba's Palace and the final run to the last boss.

    I go back and forth on whether I like this cast more or less than Persona 4 so I feel like it's safe to say they are roughly on par for me. Futaba and Makoto stand out as the strongest of the bunch. As for the story, that's a bit trickier for me to qualify. I feel its lows are lower than Persona 4's but likewise its highs are higher. I wish a late game twist turned out to have more impact than being brushed under the rug in a few hours, it just falls short. The entire concept of the Phantom Thieves is fantastic to me and has an interesting moral dilemma that I wish could have gotten more focus. For such a long game, (I clocked in nearly 110 hours) it's very telling that after the credits rolled, I immediately wanted to jump back in and see what the other confidants I missed out were up to.

  • 5. Pyre

    Supergiant Games has become a studio I can count on. Ever since Bastion, when I was first introduced to their colorful yet dangerous world full of interesting characters and moral ambiguity, they have been a studio I have kept an eye on. So it may be surprising that I was pretty lukewarm on Pyre until I actually sat down and played it. Weird fantasy sports game in what seems like a typical high fantasy setting? I sorta counted myself out of this one as this year was already packed of fantastic games.

    Despite a slow start, Pyre really gets moving. The Rites themselves become tense affairs towards the end as the game ramps up in speed. I think halfway through the game the gameplay systems finally all clicked together for me. From there onwards, this might be my favorite playing Supergiant game. All the different abilities of the races and countering the enemy team line up makes for a strong action and strategy component.

    The cast of eccentric characters you find as an exile in the Downside was 100 percent the draw for me. I wanted to learn everything about each of these characters, as each has a storied past and intermingle with other characters to paint the picture of this larger world. It's one of the strongest cast of characters in recent memory. The use of hyperlinked text is really smart as you can just mouse over terms and get a brief definition in case you forgot, which might be the case as there's a lot to the world of Pyre. I could go on but Pyre really is a game best discovered for yourself.

  • 4. The Evil Within 2

    How did this even end up on the list let alone in the top 5? Strongest candidate for most improved sequel? I would say so!

    Evil Within 2 rights all the wrongs of the first game. To the point where it re-introduces you to Sebastian Castellanos as...guess what, an actual character! It's great. It actually makes STEM make sense in the context of this world and plays with the idea that you are in someone's head way more than the first game ever considered. Evil Within 2 truly feels like the perfect marriage of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, scrapping the Saw inspiration from the first game. While arguably generic, I found the town of Union great as your middle America suburb town gone to hell (literally in some sense) really interesting to poke around it and find out how STEM works.

    All of this is pulled along by strong cast of characters but still Sebastian stands out as empathetic and believable lead. It says something about the quality of writing here that the closest comparison I can make to Sebastian is Max Payne. He's a man wrecked with guilt and self pity who slowly learns not everything is his fault as the antagonists feed off his weaknesses. It's tour de force of psychological storytelling taken to its logical extreme and conclusion within the concept of STEM.

    In a year filled with memorable and fantastic games, Evil Within 2's final moments will stick with me for a while. It knows exactly what is needs to do to tell the story of Sebastian's desperate struggle against the powers that be. The way it manipulates persepctive and location is something I haven't seen done in any other game. It truly is unique and unique to the medium at that. Whereas Evil Within 1 was a game I couldn't wait to be done with, Evil Within 2 was a game I couldn't get enough of while feeling incredibly satisfied with the wrap up.

  • 3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

    The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the game that exists in the alternate timeline where the first Zelda game became the template as opposed to Link to the Past and I love it. I feel pretty confident in saying Breath of the Wild is the best at being an open world game in the purest sense. It is possibly the most fun I've had simply exploring in a video game ever. The fact that Link can climb virtually everything made seeking out little secrets a joy instead of busy work. This combined with the beautiful Ghibli-esque landscape and characters made putting down Breath of the Wild one of the hardest tasks this year. If you ask yourself “Is there something over there?” chances are the designers thought that too and put something there. The game is packed with incredibly intuitive puzzles that require no hand holding or tutorial pop ups. Everything just feels very natural.

    While the story and characters are in short supply, what we do learn is interesting and new take on the Zelda mythology. I really like the idea that the heroes failed and Link just barely managing to survive is put in stasis for 100 years to finally try to clean up the mess. The Champions, Zelda included, are a strong line up of likeable and unique characters and while my personal favorite is Urbosa, all of them are great. I felt compelled to track down all the memories as everything bit of information I learned made this incarnation of Zelda one of my favorites. She's a fighter who rejects her status as princess and at the same time is frustrated that Link just naturally THE hero. It's a really fantastic take on the Link and Zelda relationship. I just wish there was more to see.

    All in all, Breath of the Wild is a game I will likely keep coming back to in the months to come whether it be for the DLC or just simply to explore. Despite my 100+ hour save file, it's a game I never got bored of.

  • 2. Super Mario Odyssey

    Super Mario Odyssey might be the best 3D Mario game, it even ranks up there with the best Mario games period. If Breath of the Wild wasn't enough, this is the best selling point for the Switch. I wasn't sure Nintendo could actually top Galaxy's level design but they went ahead and did it. Much like Breath of the Wild, the game is filled with secrets and rewards for exploring. Odyssey truly feels like the developers thought of everything to the point where I can't name a single aspect of the game I was disappointed with.

    Odyssey comes together in such an inventive and beautiful package, it's hard to say anything that hasn't been expounded upon by the praise its already received. Every kingdom felt incredibly unique and finely crafted. The capture mechanic is my favorite thing in a Mario game and that is taken to its logical conclusion up to the very end in what will probably become known as the best ending to a Mario game. Every aspect about the level design, visual cues and controls is intuitive yet so clever. I really have to applaud the design team behind Odyssey but not just them, from the music to the visuals to even the cutscenes, in a Mario game no less, stands tall as some of the best the medium has to offer.

    If you play even 20 minutes of Super Mario Odyssey and don't crack a smile once, I would seriously consider medical attention. This game is pure video game bless. Please don't stop the Nintendo train.

  • 1. NieR: Automata

    Anyone who's talked with me on the topic of games over the past years will probably find no surprise at this being at the top of the list. Surprising or not, Nier Automata somehow managed to soar pass my high expectations.

    I'm one of those people who adores the original Nier. It might have been a culmination of right time and place but the week I spent going through the entirety of Nier is one of my favorite video game memories. The esoteric world combined with possibly the best soundtrack in video games and some of the most well realized yet oddball characters made sure Nier would be a game I will be referencing for years to come. It had its technical shortcomings, looking like an upscaled PS2 game and simplistic combat but the world, narrative and characters shined through it all. In comes Platinum Games, setting off to make a personal dream game of mine: a Nier sequel with Platinum combat. And boy, did they fucking do it.

    Nier Automata is a game about hope and perseverance. It doesn't beat you over the head with those themes and it recognizes the absolute existential despair that comes with life. There's something I find incredibly true about Yoko Taro's writing both in Nier and to a lesser extant Drakengard. His stories ruminant on the darkest aspects of humanity but never does it feel like it's trying to. It feels like a natural exploration of what makes humans...human. Is there still hope when all of humanity is gone? What does it mean to be gone? Is anyone truly ever “gone”? Nier Automata delves into the kind of sci-fi existential that I love. Everyone has a story and it probably isn't a nice one. Everyone does with the hand that's dealt to them. You have to make the best of a bad situation.

    2B, 9S, A2 and the entire cast really say something about being dealt a shit hand and having to work with it. Each of three main androids have something fascinating about them to me and I loved getting to know them more. The game is full of a side quests that could be brushed off as filler fetch quests but that's a very shallow take on them. They do a lot to flesh out the world and there's some strong writing tucked away in there. They also gave me an excuse to explore this beautiful and varied world.

    It's weird for me to say that a game in which the plot is about androids and robots fighting as proxies while SPOILERS both the humans and aliens have been dead long ago can feel incredibly uplifting but it actually is. The final gameplay sequence of Nier Automata had me in tears and smiling with joy. It's an absolute triumph in interactivity. Don't give up.