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My Favorite Games of 2017

As I said in my previous post, the games listed there could easily be someone’s actual top 10 list for 2017. It was getting so bad that I had a hard time believing I actually had ten more games to talk about that I liked even more. Yet now, with this list in front of me, it’s clear how the following games rose above and meant so much to me this year. Most of these games won’t just be the best games of 2017, they will go down as some of my all-time favorites. If you know me, expect to hear these names over and over whenever it’s time to recommend something. The following is listed in descending order, with my overall favorite game of 2017 at the bottom. Enjoy!

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No one ever claimed that Dark Souls was too simple, but that didn’t stop Team Ninja from combining the structure and challenge of From Software’s masterpiece with a robust Diablo-style loot system, crafting, companion spirits, a weird clan system, multiple combat stances, and so much more. The crazy thing is that, although Nioh is complex and layered and brutally difficult, it all works. Nioh borrows many ideas from Dark Souls, but Team Ninja put a ton of effort into forging a unique identity. The world of this game walks a line between Japan’s feudal history and its spirituality, painting a somber world influenced by demonic forces that only a few powerful individuals can see. The total package is so good that it escapes the massive shadow of the games that inspire it.

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Outside of giving a handful of indie developers their blessing, Sega does not deserve Sonic Mania. This loving tribute understands what made the original games fun, and it  even surpasses them with clever boss fights, retro remixes, and excellent new stages. I want to believe Sonic Mania is the doorway to a new era for Sega, where they give their franchises to talented fans that understand what makes the games so special. Yet, it’s hard to get too excited when Sonic Forces was released in the same year. Either way, we still got Sonic Mania. If this is the last great Sega game, that’s still okay.

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Walking simulators get a bad rap — they’re often seen as short and cheap. What Remains of Edith Finch may be concise, at around 2-3 hours in length, but it is certainly not cheap. In those hours, developer Giant Sparrow lays out an ambitious journey through a series of vignettes. As you learn about the Finch family, you explore wildly different gameplay experiences and visual styles. The story of life and death is engrossing, but also quite dark and sad, its meaning open to interpretation. This is the kind of game you show your non-gaming friends and family.

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Pyre fell deep into my backlog for many months. I picked it up again right before finalizing this list, and I’m so glad I did. This blend of mystical NBA Jam and a visual novel is filled with stunning art, heartfelt characters, and deep gameplay. The story is only possible in a video game, with tough choices that are seamlessly accounted for. When you reach the end, the game provides an epilogue for every major and minor character. Their circumstances are the direct result of choices you made along the way. The next time someone complains about the end of Mass Effect 3, or the lack of meaningful choices in Telltale games, tell them to go play Pyre.

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On paper, Resident Evil 7 is not the scariest horror game ever made. The trouble is, Capcom made the brilliant decision to let you play the entire game from beginning-to-end in VR. The result? It is BY FAR the scariest video game I have ever played. I’ll never forget running from Jack Baker, ducking into a trap door with him inches away, and feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s a shame not everyone has the stomach for a VR experience like this, and I’m so glad I do. Resident Evil 7 isn’t just the best and scariest game in the series since the original, it’s the best VR game I’ve ever played.

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Assassin’s Creed: Origins is easily the most flawed game on my top 10 list. The first few minutes are an incoherent nightmare, and it only gets slightly less confusing over the next couple of hours. But then something magical happens. Origins begins to coalesce. The story starts to come together. The new systems and combat stop feeling awkward. Every hour after the first is better than the last, such that by hour 70 I was in awe of what I had experienced. Bayek’s journey is the new gold standard for the franchise. The series’ present day conspiracy plot may be in shambles, but the story of the assassins’ beginnings is mature, heartfelt, and powerful. Egypt is jaw-dropping, and I want to spend more time exploring it. Bayek is better than Ezio — there, I said it!

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Developer Ninja Theory has officially become one of my absolute favorite studios. Their take on Devil May Cry was right up my alley. Enslaved was no slouch either. More recently, the developer has re-organized with the goal of creating great B-tier games — games that look big and expensive but are made by a small team on a small budget. Hellblade is their first crack at it, and by far my favorite game of theirs. It tells an intensely personal story of love, loss, and guilt, filtered through the mind of a protagonist suffering from mental illness. Played with headphones, the game simulates the sensation of having voices in your head, seeing things that aren’t there, and so much more. The experience gave me intense empathy for Senua’s struggle, making every fight feel like a fight for her life. This exploration of mental illness accomplishes something truly special — it gives those who struggle to understand what their loved ones may be going through a brief window into their world.

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I was so sure Cuphead was going to be a gimmick. It was in development for so long. When concerns that the game was just a boss rush surfaced, we were shown side-scrolling levels that looked terrible. When the game finally came out, it was a relief to be so incredibly wrong. Cuphead is a brilliantly-designed 2D action game from top-to-bottom. The game is, for the most part, dozens of boss fights. But they are all so multi-faceted and well-constructed that it doesn’t matter. Every death in Cuphead is a lesson. Yes, you have to die a lot to learn the patterns of the various bosses. And yes, there are times when the game can feel unfair. But every time I called bullshit on an unfair attack, I later realized there was a way to consistently avoid it. Bonus points: it may be the must visually-stunning video game…ever?

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The Evil Within 2 was the biggest surprise of the year. I didn’t think the first game was nearly as bad as people made it out to be, but even I can see that EW2 is a massive improvement. Nothing from the first game is wasted, or tossed aside. Instead, this is a true sequel, revisiting characters and concepts from the first game, but improving on all of them. The gameplay is expanded with an open world element and satisfying stealth. The story is willing to poke fun at itself, but it is also deadly serious and earnest at the right moments. The Evil Within 2 is a huge game, and it would have been easy to lose steam towards the end. Instead, the last few hours are an emotional rollercoaster that left my jaw on the floor.

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All year I put Horizon: Zero Dawn against a gauntlet of amazing games and every time it stood out as my clear favorite. It’s an open world game that refuses to waste your time with busywork. It’s a mainstream graphics showcase that gives players full control over their character, rather than stiff Arkham Asylum-style combat or QTEs. It’s a game about killer robot dinosaurs, but the sci-fi mystery behind their origin is one of the best game stories in years. It’s not afraid to stop the action for an hour of exploration and storytelling, nor is it afraid to kick your ass when the time is right. Horizon defies expectations, fires on all cylinders from beginning-to-end, and refuses to take shortcuts, providing a wealth of things to do that are all carefully crafted. It has the best qualities of big-budget games, without all the sterilizing and safe choices that so many triple-A games fall victim to. It is everything I come to video games for in one incredible package.

Why Some of 2017’s Best Games Missed My Top 10

The following games could easily be someone’s top 10 of 2017. It says a lot about the quality of games in 2017 that I have ten more games I liked more than these. The problem is, we all like top 10 lists. They’re fun exercises, and I had to make some harsh cuts. The following games all meant a lot to me. I want to honor them all with a shout out, but also explain why they missed the mark. I’ll follow up soon with my actual top 10 list. Enjoy!

Destiny 2
I wish I could bottle up my first few weeks with Destiny 2 and come back to them whenever I need a nostalgia trip. It truly felt like Destiny had started to realize its potential. But the more I played, the more I noticed the holes. Where were the cool secrets, like the Black Spindle quest from Destiny 1? When were we going to return to the stories of Eris, Variks, and The Queen? Where was the endgame? At this point Destiny 2’s situation has gotten much worse, with the controversy around microtransactions completely overtaking the conversation. But man, those first few weeks were really good.

Wolfenstein II
My love for developer Machine Games’ work goes all the way back to Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Needless to say, I was over the moon for most of Wolfenstein II. Unfortunately, the last act rushes to the ending, as if the team was suddenly forced to finish the story under duress. The tone and pacing was off in a way that cast a shadow over the rest of the game for me. I was distracted enough to take a more critical look. And if I’m being entirely honest, Wolf II just wasn’t very fun to play.

Nier: Automata
The biggest issue with Nier: Automata is that it’s a Platinum game that doesn’t live up to the Platinum pedigree. Platinum’s involvement was supposed to fix the flaws of the original Nier. Instead, we got a repeat of Yoko Taro’s revelatory storytelling…and a repeat of gameplay that can’t quite live up to it. For many, this was enough. For me, it was a bit too much déjà vu. If the collaboration ever happens again, I hope we get the same Platinum that made Bayonetta 1 & 2.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is a brave and unexpected game coming from Nintendo. It has more in common with Far Cry 2 than any previous Zelda game. It can also be incredibly boring and directionless if you wander in the wrong direction. Journey to a tower in the distance and it’s more or less guaranteed that it will start raining by the time you get there, preventing you from climbing it. The main quest often fails to capitalize on the systems-driven open world, drawing more attention to its limitations than its strengths. BOTW is so much more than these complaints, but these issues were enough to keep me from devoting hundreds of hours to it like so many others.

Mario Odyssey
Mario Odyssey goes for it. Few ideas seem to be off limits, and the result is a game full of incredible highs, and enough lows to keep it off of my top 10. New Donk City is one of Mario’s all-time great worlds, but you have to pass through a few pretty dry locations to get there. The Bowser encounters are incredible, but the Broodals are ugly and uninspired. The movement controls blossom into something incredible once you start combined long-jumps, dives, and hat-throws; but, they’re soured by bad, mandatory motion controls that are completely impractical in the Switch’s portable mode.

Splatoon 2
Nintendo’s platform is the biggest obstacle between Splatoon 2 and true greatness. It’s cute that so many people love the game as a “solo multiplayer” game, but that’s no excuse for Nintendo’s Y2K-Dreamcast-tier online service. When I did manage to get friends together to play (with voice chat courtesy of a Google Hangouts call),  Splatoon 2’s excellent gameplay rose above the hassle. Plus, it convinced me that motion controls can be truly great if done right.

Doki Doki Literature Club
Doki Doki Literature Club feels like generic anime wish fulfillment for a couple hours. And even when it suggests that there is more going on behind the scenes, there’s really no reason to trust it yet. When the turn happens, though, it’s brutal, upsetting, and reframes the opening hours with value and purpose. DDLC is a tough game to recommend outright, but if you’re interesting in a mindfuck, this is for you.

Player Unknown's Battlegrounds
Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds was a phenomenon I didn’t expect to experience in 2017. Luckily I got my hands on a capable gaming PC right at the end of the year. I get it now. PUBG introduces a level of tension and anxiety to multiplayer combat that I haven’t experienced outside of a handful of games. PUBG also represents the most time I’ve spent playing games with a mouse and keyboard since Half-Life 2. This game is cool, but personally, I’m more excited for the first console/controller-focused copycat.

Statik
Dirt Rally and Resident Evil 7 demonstrated that dense, fully-featured games can work in VR. Statik, on the other hand, is a reminder that a game that works within VR’s limitations can be just as satisfying. This puzzle game confines you to a chair with a strange device shackled to your hands, giving a perfect 1:1 sensation of sitting in a chair with a controller. From there it presents a sequence of really fun and creative puzzles with some light storytelling stringing it all together. The game ends sooner than I would have liked, but that also means that each puzzle is a wholly original idea.

Prey
This is where this list starts to give me some trouble. I loved Prey. It’s a game I intend to return to. My issues with it are minor. I even loved some of the things that people criticized it for — namely, the ending. Prey is a systems-driven game in the Thief-Bioshock-Dishonored-Deus-Ex-mold. It’s rumored that it may have been called System Shock 3 at one point, and it lives up to that distinction. It features a massive, fully-realized space station packed with possibilities. And while we got lucky with this sub-genre in recent years, these kinds of games are still rare, and they take a hell of a lot of work to create. Developer Arkane should be proud of what they did here.

Gravity Rush 2
My number 11 game of the year. Gravity Rush 2 is ambitious, unique, and refreshing. Exploring its world is an absolute joy. I didn’t want it to end. I was surprised by the strange and wild directions the story took. Sure, it felt like they threw in the story of Gravity Rush 3 just in case they never get to make another one (and they probably won’t), but that just made it feel like a true journey in the end. Most of all, Gravity Rush 2 had some things to say about class structures, wealth, and poverty, which it told through the open world and gameplay in an impactful way.

Red Ring Circus Awards Show 2013 – My favorite games of the year

2013’s Old Game of the Year – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Metal Gear Solid 3 is such an unstoppable force of awesomeness that I almost want to just quit here, call 2013 a wash, and say that Hideo Kojima’s 2004 masterpiece (played in HD Collection form) is my game of the year. It’s the Metal Gear game I never saw coming — a sequel that is actually as good as the original. After the fascinating mess that was MGS2, I never suspected that Kojima was capable of good gameplay again, let alone the most methodical, intense stealth action I’ve ever experienced in a game. Sure, he messed it up again somewhat with MGS4, but it seems he knows what to do as long as you’re playing as Big Boss. Playing through MGS3 thrust Ground Zeroes into the role of my most anticipated game of 2014.

Runners-Up — Resident Evil (Gamecube), Shadow of the Colossus

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