The Games I Played in 2017

The worst year most of us could've imagined wouldn’t have been much worse than 2017. This year gave us the following: dystopian nightmares brought into reality by sycophants and cowards. Capitalistic greed reaching its inevitable, destructive conclusion. A bigoted baby as a president and given free reign by people who chose money and power over morals. Despair is constant. Hope is scarce. Next year might be worse. But at least we had good video games?

Referring to this year’s crop of games as simply “good” is like describing Ajit Pai’s face as “slightly punchable”. This was an all-time year for the medium, with a full catalog of memorable games that will be talking about for years to come. Every type of gamer was satiated. You could explore open worlds with diverse environments and secrets to discover. You could play tiny, affecting indie games that helped the expand the notion of what games are capable of. You could play games that leave you exasperated and angry at the depths publishers will steep to in order to extract maximum profits. There were more games than anyone could ever keep up with. At this time, I’ve only played seven games released in 2017, so rather than scoop the diamonds out of the muck, I decided to just rank the games I had the chance to play over the course of the year. Overall, these games are a good mix of brilliance and profound disappointment, which is a pretty good description for 2017 as a whole. If your favorite game isn’t on my list, It’s simply because that game sucks and you have bad taste. Here's to 2018!

List items

  • Nintendo is a company defined by reinvention. Their consoles and games refuse to follow market trends and exist in their own world, for better or worse. The last couple years had skewed towards the worse end of that dichotomy. I’ll die on “The Wii U wasn’t actually that bad” island, but the system was still a commercial disaster. Nintendo’s genius is singular and vital to the industry, but, outside of Splatoon, there had been few examples of their creativity delivering on its potential. It was fair to question whether the company could make their increasingly fleeting moments of brilliance slightly less fleeting. But Nintendo tends to show out when their backs are against the wall, and this year proved that axiom true yet again. The Switch is the great console the Wii U should’ve been, and the games released for it are good and interesting in surprising ways. I was excited for Super Mario Odyssey by the time I heard the phrase “New Donk City”, but by the time I started playing it, I was feeling full up on open-ended sandbox games with dozens of hours of side content and an overarching story that only unfolds at my pace. Over 200 hours of Persona 5, Nier, and Horizon will change a man. Nintendo showed why that sentiment was false. It wasn’t the genre. It was the imagination.

    Each kingdom is an intricately designed diorama that constantly throws new things at you while continuing to be a peerless platformer we’ve come to know and love an indulging fan nostalgia along the way. There doesn’t seem to be any idea that wasn’t met with anything less than an affirmative “hell yes!” The childish exuberance that courses through most of Nintendo’s best work somehow becomes more surreal and gleefully discordant as Mario explores more and more worlds that are completely alien to him. Super Mario Odyssey has so many moments that make me smile involuntarily, from the hundreds of moons I’ve found due to blind faith in Nintendo’s design process to the NES-style levels that somehow exist in the world without a loading screen, to the objectively perfect festival scene in New Donk City. How many other games would reward you for sitting with a lonely man on a bench? This game is so damn weird, I love it. I’m not usually inclined to obsessively mine every bit of minutiae out of a game, but I definitely plan on finding every moon and purple coin that’s evaded me so far. I’m 600 moons in, and I’m still nowhere close to being sick of Super Mario Odyssey. This game is special.

  • Robot Dinosaurs! Is there a more attractive combination of words in the English language? No one expected Guerrilla Games, a developer who had previously been such purveyors of sludgy monochrome shooters with the Killzone franchise, to suddenly discover the entirety of the color spectrum and create a universe that pulls from the earliest parts of human civilization and far-flung science fiction pontifications. Fewer expected that such a fusion would be so successful. It’s been a while since I fell for an open world this hard. I had to see everything this world had to offer, and document it via Horizon’s photo mode. Watching these machines go through the motions of real animal behaviors became a regular past time (Although it still frustrates me that I couldn’t make the machines fight each other more easily).

    Horizon is iterative more than innovative, but I enjoyed playing it much more than the recent Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed. I usually hate bow and arrows, but I loved how the weapons felt in this game. The moment to moment story about the three tribes was just okay, but uncovering the mysteries of the world and how it became this way kept me going until the end. They even made audio logs a powerful storytelling device again. One of 2017’s few pleasant surprises.

  • Following Persona 4 is basically an impossible job. That game was a comet across the sky that dropped from the heavens and into my heart. I’ve watched the endurance run multiple times, played through the game twice on my PS2, and played through most of the game again on my Vita (Rest in peace.). Whatever Atlus followed that with would be a comedown. It’s definitely colored how some of the characters and the story affected me. The crew in Persona 4 was a much cooler hang than the Phantom Thieves were, and I missed some of the small-town intimacy of Inaba. But when taken on its own merits, Persona 5 is a spectacular RPG. It just plays so well. Every annoying quirk from Persona 4 was dealt with in a way that kept dungeon crawling from feeling too stale. Coercing enemies to become your persona was a surprisingly engrossing tactic. Being able to switch out team members on the fly is a game changer. I was able to capture hearts in a couple in-game days and focus on the social interactions that make this series so special. I eventually grew to love this version of Tokyo, and realized its sense of big city culture shock was a feature, not a bug. And no discussion of Persona 5 would be complete without commending the game for its impeccable style. It’s not quite Persona 4, but it never could be.

  • When it comes to sports games, I don’t ask for much. The FIFA franchise has reached a baseline level of good that means that EA would have to seismically screw up to keep me from playing the newest rendition for forty hours at the minimum. Career mode dominates my time in this genre, and FIFA 18 was the year that this mode finally got the overhaul that’s been needed for years.The AI tactics still aren’t where I want them to be, and their version of Jordan Henderson continues to look more “Vegas wax figure” than man. But these details are small in the grand scheme. It’s the only reality where I can see Liverpool not shoot themselves in the feet, hands, and superfluous third nipple to win the Premier League. The Journey is also the best story in a sports game, and it’s not even close. That’s worth something.

  • There’s a chasm of quality between Nier and Battlefront 2, but some people might be surprised to see Nier this low on my list. I really wanted to like Nier more than I currently do. Let me explain: I loved the way the game’s experiments with form and storytelling, treating each playthrough like a season of television. The commitment to world building all the way down to the mechanics of how you save the game is impressive. The list of side characters I’ve ever met who have affected me as much as Pascal is short. Every encounter with him left me wanting more. He’s the robot stepdad of your dreams.

    But after playing through the game three times, the idea of roaming through the world destroying generic machine enemies for the 800th time fills me with dread. Nier Automata needs to be open world to get its ideas across. But the environments are very drab and crossing this overly vast expanse became very tiresome very quickly. You should’ve seen my face when I unlocked the ability to fast travel. Christmas presents don’t give me that much joy. The combat would’ve been described as uninspired ten years ago. My completionist streak is urging me to see the two endings I have yet to see, but the dozens of enemy mobs I have to shoot and slash to see it through actively impede me from doing so.

    And it’s all in service of a story that, while filled with cool images and presented incredibly well, isn’t really tailored to my tastes. The way the machines and androids reckon with their autonomy is fascinating at times - some of the context given to boss battles in later playthroughs is heartbreaking, but Nier is ultimately another “robots discovering they have feelings” tale. The future horror stories that interest me the most - Black Mirror, Twilight Zone, The Fallout series - are more focused on how humanity reacts to such calamities. When you remove humans from the picture altogether, it becomes more of a science experiment, and I struggle to invest in that. Sorry!

  • Star Wars was the first thing I chose to love. My earliest childhood memory is watching the remastered original trilogy tapes. I convinced my mom to fake a doctor’s appointment to see Episode three on release day. My first viewing of The Force Awakens is the best theater experience I’ve ever had. Star Wars means a lot to me. This backstory is why I feel Battlefront 2’s total failure so heavily. It’s almost impressive how thoroughly EA managed to poison the well for three giant franchises (Mass Effect, Need For Speed, and Star Wars). But Battlefront 2 is the Mount Everest of completely preventable fuck-ups. Enough’s been written about the predatory design of the multiplayer and the various ways that segment of the game is awful. But the single-player is even more of a letdown.

    Viewing the end of Return of the Jedi from the Empire’s perspective should be fascinating, the writing ruins the plot before it has a chance. The premise collapses under the simplest questioning. It’s taken as a given that Iden Versio’s reversal is inherently meaningful, but Battlefront 2 does little to justify this. Why does the destruction of her home planet upset her to the point of defection? What was her life like there? How is this the first time Iden has seen evidence of the Empire engaging in nefarious tactics? She goes from diehard Empire defender to joining their sworn enemy in the span of about ninety minutes. The gameplay is just as dull. Sometimes a space battle gets thrown in and those are enjoyable, but those sequences aren’t prevalent enough to elevate the dreck that surrounds them.

    Rather than tell an original story that earns its own space in the canon, the campaign becomes an edition of Star Wars Madlibs. Heroes from the original trilogy show up constantly, for little rhyme or reason other than EA wanted to give players the chance to demo each character before, in an ideal world, you move on to the multiplayer you don’t want to play. This overwrought deference to the past is put into even more stark relief by what Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi. The thing that makes that movie so great is the number of chances it takes to add to the universe in surprising ways, such as the casino planet full of war profiteers, or the quad-boobed slug seal monster that provides Luke Skywalker with delicious space milk (These points are equally important in my mind). Battlefront 2 had the opportunity to really show what it’s like to be indoctrinated in the ways of the Empire from the moment a person is born, and it chooses to do the exact opposite. Bummer.

  • I wiped this game from my memory until I wrote most of this list. I reviewed the game when it was released over the summer. Go read that if you want more detailed exploration of my disappointment. There was a rumor floating around a couple weeks back about a remastered version of Burnout: Paradise. I will pray to whatever deity makes that happen.