GOTY 2017

This year was certainly a journey. I spent a whole lot of time playing what feels like a ton of games - many long, and even more of them great. Without a doubt it was a great year for games, but even more specifically it was a great year for narratives, characters, and diverse styles. What I found when making this list was that every game has something about its narrative hook or presentation of its world and characters that I could hang on to, and for most of them the narrative was the strongest piece of the whole.

So, here we go, my 10 favorite games from 2017 - and the things about them that meant the most to me. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

List items

  • Adventure relies on many things. There must be danger, excitement, exploration of the unknown. Adventure requires an adventurer to be brave and bold, to forge past known boundaries and walk the line of their own limitations. A truly meaningful adventure needs stakes - a reason to care about the quest, the adventurer, and the world around them. An adventurer also needs to rest, to gather supplies, and do the mundane chores of rugged exploration, because no grand adventure can be had without it. The heart of adventure beats in The Legend of Zelda still.

    Breath of the Wild is a staggeringly large and open game - and not just for a Zelda title. This incarnation of Hyrule is as impressively large as it is deep, complex, and still beautifully simple. There are few games where you can do so much and yet requires so little instruction, and this is because of the simple and dynamic systems that lay the foundation of what Breath of the Wild is. Every interaction with the world, its inhabitants, and items are so completely genuine and intuitive that it just makes sense, even if you didn’t know all of the rules from the start. Exploring Hyrule's highest mountains and deepest secrets reveals the world’s rules and history, while never failing to show you something new, or at least interesting. I am completely dumbfounded that I put so much time into this game, and probably enjoyed almost any hour of it more than any single hour of any other game this year. That is why, without question, Breath of the Wild is my favorite game of 2017.

  • The Talos 1 space station of Prey contains mysteries, stories, challenges and victories for the player to uncover and experience. This expertly crafted example of level design doesn’t feel like a video game level - it feels like a place. A place where people lived, worked, loved, feared, and ultimately suffered. Talos 1 exists within a larger context, but it is the star of this show, and the player’s journey through the station in the role of Morgan Yu is a winding road filled with difficulties and opportunities to peel back the station’s many layers. Every character that lived on Talos 1 had a name, a job, a story, and often a dire outcome. These strands form a complex web that inform every room, desk, and hidden stash you can explore.

    The most direct obstacle before the player is the seemingly unknowable Typhon. This alien species employs otherworldly powers and presents a very real danger to Morgan and beyond - Morgan is a brilliant scientist, not a soldier. The tools available to you are scrappy, creatively cyberpunk, and create a multitude of options for solving problems beyond putting a bunch of bullets into everything. Use the GLOO cannon to build platforms above a room of enemies. Gain the advantage with turrets, gas canisters, and a well timed ambush. Harvest Typhon organs and use them to craft neural implants to give yourself new abilities. Find a way through. Peel back the layers. Survive.

  • A tortuous journey where mythology and psychosis take center stage and the player experiences the perspective of a lost and broken warrior. Melina Juergens in the role of Senua is one of the best performances ever in a game, and the horrifying, raw emotion of Senua’s deteriorating mental health made me anxious, afraid, and sorrowful more than once. Hellblade is an audio-visual masterpiece, where scenes of serenity and thrumming rainbow-tinged distortions meld into fiery, claustrophobic anguish, and then to utter darkness. A black where you can only see Senua’s face through a grainy filter, scanning the cold emptiness for whatever may be lurking. The other actors involved are also used to great effect as a set of haunting voices that sway between taunting, deceptive, and helpful, constantly whispering in Senua’s ear throughout the entirety of the game. While ultimately a relatively short narrative journey, Hellblade proves that games can still show us something we’ve ever experienced before, and the impact from Senua’s journey has stuck with me well after reaching the end.

  • Trying to gain further understanding of death and loss is a lofty topic for a video game, as is working to fully understand how others see the world through their life, even up to those last moments. What Remains of Edith Finch attempts to do something tangential to that, by presenting us with a set of magical short stories portraying the final moments of the members of the Finch family. As the last Finch, Edith takes us through the curious family home and each of the deceased are given a spotlight in the form of a unique and often bizarre vignette. These stories utilize varied gameplay mechanics, visuals, and narration, wrapped in bittersweet magical realism. You don’t really come away knowing exactly what happened to everyone in their last moments, but you certainly know what they were feeling, and I think this story recognizes that the feeling is just as valid, if not more so than, the actual truth of things. I love the beautiful visualizations and creativity displayed in this short and sweet compilation.

  • It doesn’t go nearly far enough to say that Nier Automata is a sweeping and intricate theme piece on the ideas of humanity, growth, struggle, finding value and direction in the absence of purpose, and exposing the flaws of conscious thought and life itself. The fact that this narrative attempts to tackle these ridiculously lofty and broad topics is worthy of praise, but the fact that it actually hits on them in multiple successful ways is what makes Nier so special. While it is difficult to discuss in a spoiler free way without sounding completely insane and indulgent, Automata manages to build a world where the player can see all the component parts of life laid before them. There are complicated and seemingly impossible difficulties that arise from the interactions of different (and often flawed) ideals, cultures, and impulses that are created by existence itself, and these are compounded when the individuals involved don’t even really fully understand what they are doing or why. Ultimately experiencing this world and its ups and downs can be overwhelming, disheartening, hopeful, and uncomfortable. It is so dense with potential that I imagine every player’s major takeaways could be wildly different, and subject to extreme changes over time. I love that games are reaching a point where that is the case.

  • Video games often love villains, impending apocalypses, and worlds full of characters who are defined by their worst tendencies. Pyre offers a unique and endearingly uplifting view of not just a wasteland, but one populated solely by characters thrown out of society as criminals. Pyre’s cast, through honest characterization and vulnerable moments, prove their depth and humanity time and again. Even more noteworthy, all of the characters develop into likable or at least understandable people with hopes, vices, likes and dislikes - they are never simply evil. There is only one honestly negative force in Pyre that rises to the level of an evil villain that needs to be destroyed, and it is not a character, but rather a system that serves no good purpose to the characters you grow to know and love. This quest through the beautifully haunting wasteland of the Downside is emotional, peppered with occasionally nail biting sports-as-combat encounters in the Rites, and shows masterful vision and polish. Pyre is an incredibly creative work worth celebrating from just about any angle.

  • Being a paranormal vigilante in Tokyo through Persona 5 is a cheeky, swanky, and brash journey. The characters get swept up in the game’s call to “Wake up, get up, get out there” and rebel against the society that they find oppressive. Even through the constant complaining about “the adults” and “society”, there is a genuine message of the tired, downtrodden, and powerless fighting to grasp their own voice and power. So much about Persona’s design feeds into the idea of teen criminal capers to steal the corrupted hearts of adults. The visuals, the music, the flow of breaking into a deformed cognitive palace across multiple days that culminates in sending a personalized calling card to up the stakes of the final heist. Of course, you’re also still a teenager with school, work, friends, and, well, those Big Bang Burgers aren’t going to eat themselves.

  • In a world controlled by thoughts, the least stable people are the most dangerous. Deranged villains, greedy corporate suits, and our beleaguered hero Sebastian Castellanos prove this theory out time and again throughout this grimy psychological thriller. The Evil Within 2 is ridiculous, campy, tense, and a joy to play. Following in the footsteps of Resident Evil 4 is no small thing, but this is perhaps the most successful take on that style of game since. Guiding Sebastian through the nightmares of the fractured mind-town of Union controls incredibly well, including great feedback for stealth movement. The multi-level methods of progression are empowering and flavorful, and always encourage exploration. Give me that green gel, weird cat wearing a Christmas bow. I need to inject it in my brain so that I can learn how to use beer bottles to escape when an enemy grabs me.

  • For a game about murdering a whole lot of Nazis, Wolfenstein has so much genuine human soul. The relationships between a wild cast of characters can be tense, tender, chaotic, silly, overplayed, subtle, fiery, joyful… I could go on. And then, even past the amazing cast and surprising writing, MachineGames manages to deliver what may be the most amazing and ridiculous couple of hours of cinematography, bombast, and just straight-up-jump-out-of-your-seat-screaming moments. And even then! Beyond the characters, and the big scenes, there is still more to hang on to. The world of The New Colossus is more than just a Nazi war machine and rubble. It outlines how the people at large responded to it. How those who already clutched unfounded hate found shelter under the boot of the Nazi regime, and those who already knew a world of oppression found the soul of revolution. This is a wild ride that should not be missed.

  • In many ways the best video games are the ones that hone in on something simple and execute it as well as possible, and this year Cuphead was a great example of that. A rewarding challenge with extremely precise controls, unique and creative combat and enemy design, and a sense of style that stands among the greatest visual pieces of video games. That is what Cuphead promises and delivers in spades. I love figuring out the boss patterns. When to parry and when to use my super move. When to retreat to safety and when to get in close for the kill. Cuphead combines the pure thrill of pattern recognition, relying on reflexes, and building simple but effective strategies to deliver a phenomenally crafted adventure through a gorgeous world. You really can’t ask for much more than that.