Game of the Year 2017

2017 existed as something of a holding pattern. Nothing major shattered my world and for that I suppose I should be grateful; no panic attacks, no vertigo episodes, no loss of any loved ones. In fact with a pay rise at work the year in retrospect was a positive one. The only real negative beyond world events that escape my influence would be the waiting and delays with my assessments at the gender identity clinic where issues with my blood and testosterone levels continue to drag things out. That said I am lucky to be in the position to even have such issues and with an endocrinology appointment penned in for the summer my transitioning will hopefully hit full speed soon; if my work has taught me anything it is the randomness at which life likes to take extreme measures with people.

In the world of games 2017 was something of a bumper year for me with 50 games started and finished. The list below covers all of them and in the main I got something positive from each. Even the worst experiences often have some aspect that I appreciate in isolation, and while the insidious march of psychological manipulation and gambling in games continues, the overall breadth and quality of games continues to shine brightly.

List items

  • Hollow Knight was like a little puzzle box; this mysterious and meticulously crafted object where careful manipulation and a keen eye allows one to unravel its myriad secrets. The way its cutsey gothic world expands through exploration was the highlight of my gaming year and no other experience has so beautifully built upon the Dark Souls approach to narrative through exploration before. The aesthetics are equally majestic and the combat tight and responsive.

  • Similarly Night in the Woods is layered in such a way to disarm then delight. Nothing hides desperate existential dread quite like the mundane routines of the everyday and the story’s slow descent into swirling emotional torment is bittersweet in its heady mix of humour and heart-break. It’s written better than anything else in 2017 and boasts some of its best characters. Games often struggle with depicting relationships but Night in the Woods is striking in its nuanced depictions.

  • A massive improvement over the first game in pretty much all aspects. It looks better, plays better, improved voice acting, writing, narrative, with more options for role playing than ever before. I never touched the Dungeon Master mode but it too marks another agreeable addition to Larian’s magnum opus. The only downside was that I never got to play it co-op as otherwise it ranks as one of my favourite RPGs in a long time. The level of player choice and flexibility is kind of unprecedented given its married to a proper narrative arc where the various party members have some personal stake.

  • I still don’t think the decision to set it in an open world was a great one, nor the decision to voice characters so appallingly, but the Zelda magic is all still there only now with everything spread out over a much wider area. There’s no doubting the majesty of this iteration of Hyrule and the many secrets it hides are enticing, the puzzles are as ever designed with thought and care whilst the variety of outfits and items is always welcome. Not a fan of the weapon degradation but the experience has more than enough wonder and awe to mitigate most of my issues.

  • I cannot think of a better performance in a game in 2017; the eyes, the grinding teeth, the voice…the writing might not be as elegant as I’d have hoped but the impact was quite extraordinary. Ninja Theory managed the very difficult task of approaching such a highly charged and sensitive subject with skill and insight. That it never overshadows the story is another great achievement within a game that is well paced with more than enough gameplay and visual appeal to elevate it beyond a pure narrative project.

  • Despite leaning heavily on its luminous past, Persona 5 was fantastic; a coherent and nicely escalating narrative, an engaging ensemble cast, amazing outfits, striking art and music with the turn based combat tweaked and improved without ever venturing into any of that awful real time nonsense that can ruin an otherwise thoughtful and tactical battle system. But perhaps its biggest achievement was to sidestep the awful bad-anime-soap-opera dross that can blight these kinds of adventures.

  • Despite issues with the title – most of the original game was set ‘before the storm’ – it surpassed my expectations of a Life is Strange prequel. Ashly Burch’s absence was actually something of a boon as her replacement brings some much needed awkward vulnerability to the usually more emotionally armoured Chloe Price of the original game. Add in a much tighter romance story full of all the wonderfully overwrought pressures of adolescence and I’m all in with a box of tissues and a tub of ice cream.

  • Neatherealm pretty much hit the apex for solo fighting games with Injustice 2. Somehow manages to have loot, procedural generation and a full fat story whilst boasting great graphics, animations and a beefy character roster.

  • About as good as any golf game can be, beef up the visuals and you'd be pretty much done for put put perfection. Well designed courses with a near endless stream of unlocks and outfits with none of the cosmic boredom or existential torment real golf inflicts.

  • Alas the story didn’t grab me as it did so many others, and whilst I found the characters relatively clichéd and undeveloped there is no doubting the scale of creativity on display. For an experience with quite a lot of backtracking, dull side missions and relatively minimal RPG elements it did well to hold my attention right until the final ending of endings. The combat is balletic and entertaining but the real highlight is Automata’s depth of imagination and 2B’s disgustingly beautiful dress.

  • The year’s premier walking simulator; starts off relatively slowly but crescendos nicely through a varied set of stories that are at times tragic, funny, whimsical, and sometimes outright strange. Lucas Finch’s in particular sits as a highpoint of video game storytelling. Perhaps a little uneven in places it nevertheless addresses a number of uncomfortable topics in interesting ways, even if it has to contrive things a little with the world’s most labyrinthine house.

  • As a fan of the Total War games generally and given how great the first Warhammer title was it was hard for me to imagine this second iteration letting me down. Would have preferred more factions and units but what is there is still fantastic. Battles are spectacular and beautiful to behold and the larger empire building mechanics scratch that Civilization itch nicely. Something of a holding pattern maybe but where the passengers are all in first class and there’s an endless supply of nibbles and drinks.

  • Definitely a soul’s game at heart. It has its differences in terms of having full on levels etc. but the feel is very familiar and the gameplay equally engaging. The setting helps to give a sense of distance and freshness but with a fixed protagonist and a much more ‘chatty’ narrative it loses some semblance of mystery and instead feels quite pedestrian. That doesn’t hurt matters too much though as there’s tons of cool loot to find and many a dramatic boss fight to overcome. Certainly one of the better spiritual successors to From Software’s legacy.

  • Whilst not quite at the level of Injustice 2’s smorgasbord of modes and customisation options it runs it pretty close and really makes a mockery of Capcom’s most recent offerings. It also helps that I'm not completely incompetent with Tekken's fighting system and that the series retains all it's outlandish excesses.

  • I liked Resident Evil 6 so my standards are clearly non-existent which makes my positive assessment of RE7 something of a given. The first few hours especially are fantastic with some full on delightfully creepy survival horror set within some Trump sponsored utopian theme park. The intricacies of the house and the surrounding area give a sustained sense of mystery and discovery which acts as a well thought out update and homage to the first game's mansion.

  • A very good Bioshock clone, one that manages to have an identity all its own and stand as more than a match for its obvious influences. The tale of grand designs gone awry is not new, but the execution is tight with a satisfying amount of variety of abilities, side quests and moral choices to be made. The zero gravity sections add a wondrous sense of scale whilst the plot ramps up the stakes and the tension all the way to the suitably dramatic conclusions on offer.

  • Much better than I had expected. It isn’t so much the story that excels but the ensemble cast and their believable relationships. They are proper characters with pasts and their own depth of personality. The connection I felt to their plight as people was really bolstered by how detailed their personalities were, so whilst there isn’t much of ‘game’ here it still has a great deal to offer with some great nerve shredding moments to enjoy late on.

  • The Uncharted series, despite the lavish financial care it has been afforded over the years, retains awareness for what it is at heart – a b-movie. There’s no worthy cause using the medium as a vector for its message, no pretensions to psychological profundity, just a load of fabulous looking action nonsense. The Lost Legacy, Naughty Dog’s fun-size spin-off does absolutely nothing to change this and goes the extra step of cutting down its campaign length so as to not drag out the experience and kill the pacing.

  • Ideally I’d have wanted to play this co-op but the singleplayer experience was still solid overall. As one might expect from yet another open world game the missions inevitably blur into one another, but the visuals, competent controls and plethora of gadgets and potential tactics kept things entertaining enough. The story was another checklist of baddies to kill but the world and the gameplay were sufficiently fun for me to not run into any burnout.

  • The game where Greg Kasavin finally ascended from his Tarantino-esque habit of making everyone essentially the same character and created a wonderful menagerie of creatures whose journey to escape the Downside was equal parts humorous and harrowing. Jen Zee’s extraordinary art as ever anchors the experience and gives this fantasy ritual sports action adventure more magic than it might otherwise deserve.

  • When you put out something as seminal as Dirt Rally you are at risk of backing yourself into a corner, a gilded corner of gold and worldly delights but a corner nevertheless. CM has clearly tried to take advantage of the goodwill for DR and transplant its appeal into their more mainstream Dirt series. Alas, whilst the motivation to bring the knife edge cornering and precision driving to the masses is a noble one, it cannot escape the inevitable compromise such aspirations bring. Similarly, the prospective reviewer of D4 who has a great love for DR must be wary to not confuse D4 for what it isn’t, rather assess it for what it is. D4 is a very well made, content rich experience that sees the series at its most sober. The more flashy events of Rally-cross and Land-rush are here, but framed within a more low-key atmosphere.

  • Despite my indifference to Aloy as a character and pretty much everyone else in Guerilla's post apocalyptic adventure it still manages to captivate with it's sublime visual design and fidelity. Few experiences in 2017 were as magical when it came to how it felt to simply 'be' in its world, the hollowed out wreckages of the past bringing some much needed poignancy which felt lacking elsewhere. Beyond this it was a competent open world adventure with the usual slew of crafting and hunting one might expect.

  • Hated the first game, felt modest approval at the end of the sequel. The second half somewhat lets the experience down but for a while it combines later day Resident Evil shooty fun with a dash of body horror and general weirdness. Exploration was rewarded and a smattering of side missions made the most of the semi-open world. I would have hoped for more intrigue and weirdness in the latter stages but the overall experience was good fun.

  • Certainly better than the first game and with a lot longer tail for solo players to hang on to once the main campaign was finished. Alas, once the soft cap was reached in terms of level there was little motivation left in me to continue, but for the time I spent with it I had a great time with the combat, exploring and fantastically silly outfits. If the approach to DLC and general content wasn’t so exploitative and stingy I’d have it higher in my list but unfortunately some things seem ‘destined’ to stay with us, like liquorish and irritable bowel syndrome.

  • My favourite of the series to date. Fantastic setting with sumptuous visuals and the overhauled combat was much more fun that the Arkham based counter clusterfruit-cakes that characterised my time with earlier iterations. Story is still a mess but Bayek makes for a solid and sympathetic lead. The addition of loot to find was also fun as was the discovery tour update that I hope more games will take and expand upon. However the stench of micro transactions still hangs in the air like a biblical plague and censoring of statues comes across as pathetically prudish.

  • BJ seems to be channelling Solid Snake these days with all his introspective grumbling and it works for the most part, giving the old warrior the same weary pathos. The game itself was as grizzly and violent as one might imagine with colourful array of Nazis to slaughter in a variety of gruesome ways. It was also incredibly silly with its circus of ‘zany’ characters and sci-fi nonsense. The tone therefore is all over the place but one suspects that no one at Machine Games was taking things particularly seriously.

  • Rebellion finally seem to be making some pretty good games these days, admittedly they’re all Sniper Elite games but given they were the chumps that made that awful Vietnam…thing, it’s always great to see a developer improve. Sniper Elite 4 expands its world to allow for some great freeform tactics in taking down your targets. One complaint would be that you can’t really snipe your way through everything but SE4 is far removed from the linear shooting galleries and all the better for it.

  • I was ‘forced’ to play RiME by a friend and begrudgingly I gave it a spin, I need not have worried as it was certainly worth my time; a beautiful game with smart yet rarely frustrating puzzles. One could probably predict where the story goes but the adventure is full of striking architecture and natural beauty which creates an immersive context for the block moving, button pressing and enemy dodging antics you’ll be forced to contend with.

  • Another game recommended to me by the same friend who suggested I try RiME. Whilst not as fun overall Hob is equally pretty and competent in its puzzle design. Combat was a bit of a chore and it feels like an amalgam of lots of other, better games but the sum of its parts deserve more that the fate metered out to Runic Games following its release. Hob does a nice job telling its tale without any dialogue; it’s just unfortunate that it never fully grabbed me.

  • Not as funny or as impactful as the Stick of Truth but that was largely to be expected since the novelty is diminished here. That said its still good fun with an improved and expanded combat system, more variety to its RPG elements and overall it’s the better game. But exploring the same town, encountering some of the same jokes just doesn’t let the experience ever rise beyond being merely ‘good’.

  • Indeed we were, my best buddy and I. Not exactly a full formed game but rather an extended demo of some quite smart asynchronous co-op. Between it, Clandestine and now A Way Out we are hopefully at the advent of some truly top tier co-operative adventures.

  • I liked Sonic Forces, perhaps more than Sonic Mania. Whilst the latter lacks the psychotic awfulness that is modern Sonic’s attempts at story, character etc. sonic team’s 2017 attempt keeps the pace up pretty much all the time with very few dips in momentum that cripples the traditional sonic experience. The extensive character customisation is also a great feature in these days of loot box Armageddon where the repressed furry in you can be expressed in all it’s neon woodland creature glory.

  • Shocking for me to admit but not as fun as Sonic Forces. Admittedly it could be due to the lack of customisation which for me is second only to a game that pays me to play it, but I rather feel it’s due to it being easier to keep the action free and flowing. The levels in Mania were fun but I never could really get up a head of steam and the length of the levels discouraged me from multiple attempts to improve my performance. Shameful for sure, but eh, fuck shame.

  • 20XX doesn’t suffer due to its homage to Mega-man, but rather it suffers from being a little too anaemic in its roguelike elements and overall content. This is not for the want of trying, there are in fact a large number of ideas on display, it’s just that none of them do a great deal to give the experience the kind of staying power it clearly aspires to. 20XX is a very good game at its core, but feels undermined rather than enhanced by its influences outside of Mega-man.

  • Not anywhere near as bad as I was anticipating; much like Sniper Elite 4 there is some clear improvement in terms of the series as a whole but whilst I prefer the overall design in Ghost Warrior 3 with it's stronger sniping focus the technical elements are alas far weaker than Rebellion's effort and the story is not even remedial in its maturity or execution.

  • A fast passed kaleidoscope of colours and effects with a twin stick shoot buried somewhere underneath all the psychotic levels of visual flourish. The visual design can make it hard to see what I’m doing at times and it isn’t the most fleshed out of experiences but it’s a lot of fun for all its relatively brevity. Nice music too.

  • Having fallen out of love with the series with Mass Effect’s 2 non-story and privation of RPG design elements I still retained a hope that Bioware could turn things around for me. MEA perhaps wasn’t going to be the turning point for me but even I was taken aback by how lacklustre it all is. The story is dull as are the characters, the semi-open world hides nothing particularly exciting and whilst there is more of an RPG aspect to it, the weapons and armours are pretty much as boring as everything else on offer.

  • This is a game for someone who has never read a book or watched a movie that didn’t have a sole 4 star daily mirror review on its DVD cover. After Infinite Warfare’s escalating tension and stakes, Sledgehammer’s flirtations with one of the darkest periods of recent history never reach first base intellectually or emotionally. But stuff blows up nice I guess.

  • It’s been a while, but Fifa is still fun and has never been more feature rich. The Journey – Alex Hunter Returns is also glorious. It’s a noxious mix of bad soap opera and cringe worthy celebrity cameo and it’s all the better for it. Its ridiculousness is made all the more entertaining by its 100% commitment to its ridiculousness. Hope they add the WSL in the next one, hopefully.

    Oh, but on the topic of Ultimate Team: There is no pit deep enough to bury this odious filth. The design is staggeringly blatant in its attempts at psychological coercion; lots of timed events with minimal rewards to anyone who isn’t extremely dedicated, rich, or stupid, you could be patient and simply play until the next iteration or do the only noble thing and snap the disk in half and gouge your own eyeballs out with it, hell it’s probably the most pleasant experience with the wretched thing.

  • What a missed opportunity; amazing art, interesting combat, loot, secrets… the potential here was immense which makes the quite meagre content all the more disappointing. The reliance on multiplayer could be explained by an equally meagre budget but for the solo adventurer there is little to offer beyond the few hours needed to see everything there is to see. A full blown RPG based on what’s here could be quite special but the game I played felt like an impressive demo for something else that doesn’t exist.

  • Never felt particularly invested in Billie’s adventure but the world of Dishonoured continues to delight and I enjoyed the action in this spin off a bit more than the second game proper. I know some people were annoyed by the removal of the chaos meter, but having all the stealth skills of a flatulent hippo it was reassuring to know that once I was inevitably discovered I could always revert to enthusiastic bloodshed as an alternative strategy without getting a poopy ending.

  • A game that in principle appealed to me but as a largely solo player I never really managed to get into it. The combat system was great, especially for one on ones, but the lacklustre story mode meant I didn’t really feel compelled to keep playing. One for fans of multiplayer then but I do hope we see some sort of expanded sequel that takes advantage of the neat little systems introduced here.

  • Bitterly disappointing; it looks amazing, I like Kat as a character and the gameplay can be thrilling when done with care. Alas the clunky missions and repetition hits early and never lets up. Soaring around the sky is a unique and awesome experience but it deserves so much better than to be surrounded by such a pedestrian and overlong adventure.

  • Not really sure what Relic were trying to achieve here. The MOBA elements never feel all that vital whilst there isn’t a great tactical bent that we saw in Dawn of War 2. The campaign flits between factions so you never get a chance to get to grips with any of them and it all ends relatively quickly with little to no payoff given the story is so underwhelming. More’s the pity, the game looks nice and controls well enough and I’m a big fan of the visual design and nihilistic atmosphere. Thankfully the developers have recognised its lack of appeal and have wisely moved on.

  • Far from appalling, just naff really; feels like it was put together with wet cardboard and spit. No real replay value, boring visuals, underwhelming violence, like a weekend trip to Herne Bay.

  • The runt of the open world litter, the attempts at Saturday morning cartoon fun is severely undermined by a lack of humour (although they do appear to be trying to be funny) and Volition subscribing to generic open world game monthly, taking a special interest in the top trends for making your open world as tedious and as empty as possible. To be fair it is functional and some of the agents are quite fun to play with, but the missions are repeated beyond a joke and the number of upgrades are diminished by their complete lack of impact or overall significance.

  • Alas not quite the dominatrix simulator I yearn for but you do get to command lots of burly warriors to earn you glory in the fighting arenas of Rome and beyond. Unfortunately beyond the well done pixel art and over the top splatter there wasn't a great deal to keep me coming back one I'd reached the campaign's end. A nice idea for sure but one needing a little more scale, scope and depth to do itself justice as the sense of repetition crept up on me much sooner than I would have liked.

  • Aside from Velvet Crowe being one of the more impressive JRPG protagonists of recent years (not exactly a strong field, but whatever) Berseria offers little beyond some occasionally pretty environments. Combat gets tired quickly, as does the level design, the quests, the backtracking, and most of the other characters in a story that’s padded to within an inch of its life. A shame really as I only played the bloody thing as it seemed to offer something a little different, alas all it offered was 3 characters who deserved to be in a better game than this turgid dreck.

  • Beyond some arresting artwork I can’t think of any other game that was as boring. I love weirdness and intrigue, but all I got from Tides was an overwhelming desire for a biscuit and a light snooze. The RPG elements felt anaemic, the combat unsatisfying and obtuse whilst the story and characters didn’t really do much to pull me in. I never played Planescape Torment but I hear fans were no more engaged than me with this so going back to that game at some stage is still on the cards despite Numenera’s best efforts to dissuade me.

  • Oh dear, after SF5 one could have hoped Capcom would try to make sure Infinite didn’t fall into the same pit of miserably poor content offerings. Alas, in it fell with its half-arsed visual design, modes and story. Limited character selection and customisation only adds to the woe of playing the damned thing which hurts more when you realise that the combat is actually quite good, it’s just everything else that’s chalkboard scratching levels of awful.