et geekera’s Ten Favourite Games of 2017
It’s kind of amazing to hear talk along the lines that 2017 could be one of the greatest years in gaming history. Nintendo has to take a lot of credit for that. Many weren’t sold on the Switch concept, especially after the initial sizzle reel but it’s turned out to be a big hit for Nintendo, both critically and commercially. According to GOTY Picks aggregation, 188 of 276 game of the year awards went to Nintendo exclusives which is amazing dominance of the industry. I’d say the Switch thing has worked out pretty well for them.
But as we wont to do around here, it’s time for us to go through et geekera’s favourite games of 2017.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
For as great as I said that 2017 was in terms of great games, after those top Nintendo games, there’s a lot great games but I didn’t have a 9+ out of 10 game this year. There are a lot of games in my 8 to 9 range but nothing above that. The closest game to a 9/10 is Horizon: Zero Dawn.
I’ll admit to being burned out on open-world games by a decade of generic Ubisoft open-world action adventure games. Fortunately, Horizon went out of its way to not be another standard open-world game. It had the world building, creativity and character work that Ubisoft has only dreamed of since Assassin’s Creed II. While Horizon pulled in elements that are familiar from other games like the Ubisoft trademark radio towers (as climbing tallnecks), Mass Effect style dialogue wheel, crafting and ubiquitous third-person shooting but they’re tweaked or executed in such a way that you seldom feel like it’s a soulless rehash assembled by a board room committee watching sales figures and focus groups.
One of the surprising things about Horizon was that it was developed by Guerrilla Games. They previously did the Killzone series which ranged from award-nominated caliber games to decidedly mediocre. After the underwhelming Killzone Shadowfall, it seemed like the franchise was finished and so often a cancelled franchise takes its developer with it. Sony stuck with Guerilla and it sure paid off this year.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Dontnod’s Life is Strange was a surprise smash hit when it was released in 2015. What could have been quickly dismissed as a cash-in on Telltale’s success with modernized adventure games ended up being our top game of 2015. Dontnod went from struggling after Remember Me to being a hot commodity after LiS’s success.
However, the follow-up to Life is Strange was handed off to Deck Nine, a developer that had a questionable track record under its previous name, Idol Minds, while Dontnod worked on Vampyr and Life is Strange: Season Two. In addition to the pressure of making a prequel to a beloved story (ask George Lucas about the challenges of doing that), the game fell victim to the SAG-AFTRA video game voice actors strike that meant that all of the actors who featured in Life is Strange: Season One wouldn’t be able to reprise their roles in Before the Storm.
Despite the early concerns about the developer and the actors, Before the Storm was pretty good, on the whole. It suffered from a story that intrigued the fanbase being wedged into only three episodes which represented three days in Arcadia Bay. Sure, the original was only five episodes for five days but it still allowed for character development. At five days, Before the Storm would have been a Game of the Year contender. It would have made the whole experience feel less rushed because Deck Nine had a lot of work to do in order to bridge the gap between Chloe meeting Rachel and the start of Season One.
As I wrote in my reviews of Before the Storm, Deck Nine found a very good point at which to stop and leave the gap between BTS and LiS:S1 to our imaginations. We know the end point of Before the Storm and the starting point of Season One. Not all the questions we had were answered but the building blocks were put in place if you asked the right questions and dug around enough. While BTS didn’t quite live up to the original, it was still on the high-end of gaming this year.
Super Mario Odyssey
You know, I’ve never really sunk too much time into a Mario game since Super Mario Brothers on the NES. I’ve played some Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U but it never really captured my attention. It was an objectively great game. It was fun enough when playing it. I just never felt drawn back to it like some great games that I’ve played. The games on the top kept drawing me back to them. I never thought “I guess that I should probably get back to that game.”
However, Super Mario Odyssey does such a great job of creating all these unique worlds with different challenges, enemies and tasks that I never felt like I was playing the same level over and over again. Nintendo keeps finding ways to keep running and jumping feel fresh every time you reach a new world. It’s a testament to how much work went into designing each level and all the tiny pieces that make them up. Sure, not all of the levels are spectacular but it’s a fun and enthralling game from start to finish.
Also, there’s a moment early in the game where I thought Nintendo gave a little nod to the fan joke (I won’t call it a theory) that Bowser and Peach are the one’s in love and Mario’s just a violent stalker. I doubt that’s what they intended but I thought it was funny.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Who thought that a Naughty Dog game wouldn’t be a top pick for Game of the Year? Prior to Lost Legacy, each of Naughty Dog’s last four games picked up a significant number of GOTYs with Uncharted 2, Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us picking up the most GOTYs of their respective years with Uncharted 3 picking up the 4th most in 2011. So it’s almost a shock that Lost Legacy only scored one Game of the Year award and that was only a Readers’ Choice award from IGN India.
It’s not that Lost Legacy is a bad game. It looks like an Uncharted game and it plays like an Uncharted game. Does it feel like an Uncharted game, though? It misses just a little for not having the familiar comradery of Nathan Drake, Victor “Goddamn” Sullivan and Elena Fisher. The relationship between Chloe and Nadine is a fun one to watch develop but I almost feel like the Uncharted name brings a certain set of expectations.
It’s probably for the best that they don’t go back to the Nathan and Friends well again, though. While Lost Legacy was an Uncharted adventure, it didn’t beat you over the head with fan service to remind you that it was an Uncharted adventure (I’m looking at you, Star Wars: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). The base elements were there, it was just a different take on it. I missed those characters that I loved from the main series but that is the harshest criticism that I can levy against Lost Legacy. Lost Legacy just happened to come out in a year with a lot of great games.
Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy
Can I name an HD remake onto my favourite games of the year list when the originals came out two decades ago? Well, since it’s my list, I’m allowing it. I doubt that it will make too many other top ten lists but I tend to be an inadvertent non-conformist.
The thing about the N. Sane Trilogy that stands out the most to me is showing the evolution of level design and mechanics in the game. Playing the games in quick succession allows you to see how Naughty Dog learned and grew over their first three Crash games which means that the games all have their own flavours. You go from Crash 1 where it’s a pretty straight forward 3D platformer to Crash 3 where they’re pushing the bounds of the hardware (a trick they continue to this day with Sony’s consoles).
Of course, this being a remake, your mileage will vary depending on how much you loved or hated the original games. As a fan of the originals, I was more than happy with more of the same. My biggest complaint (besides realizing that I’m too old for some of these levels) is that the save controls are atrocious. When that’s your complaint, you know a game is alright. I’d say that Mario fans might enjoy this too but you guys have Odyssey this year so you’re covered.
Also, this probably would have been #1 on the list if Crash Team Racing was included in this set. It’s only the best kart racing game of its generation. What do I have to do to get an HD CTR? Mario Kart is still killing it (with Wild Animal Racing as it’s only contemporary) and we haven’t seen a new Crash Racing game for 12 years nor a good one since 1999. Sony / Activision / whoever needs to make this happen for the 20th anniversary of CTR.
Monument Valley 2
It’s a shame that time is finite because I played the first Monument Valley the year after it was released. If I played it in 2014, it was a lock for the best games of 2014 list. Having been wizened up to Monument Valley three years ago, I was on the look out for the sequel that came out in 2017.
The game is very familiar for anyone who played the original. The same MC Escher inspired puzzle solving and gorgeous visuals and soundtrack form the basis of the game. However, the addition of a second player-character opens up new puzzles that go beyond the Escher-style perspective-based puzzles. This game also includes a story. The first game had a plot but it wasn’t really integrated into the game or gameplay. MV2 solves this by including some dialogue scenes into the game but it doesn’t overwhelm the puzzle elements of the game.
Sometimes, you don’t want more of the same but Monument Valley was such an anomaly in both gaming and mobile gaming that the sequel being so similar to the original is exactly what we needed.
Project Cars 2
I’ve mentioned time and again that I’m a racing game fan. I don’t have an Xbox (until the One S costs less than a Switch in Canada) so Forza isn’t an option for me and an always online Gran Turismo isn’t really piquing my interest. With all of its improvements this year, F1 2017 should be my top racing game but I felt bored with it. That was a game that wanted me to do everything but race. All the fun was locked behind an unending slog of a career mode. That’s a shame because the racing was actually really good.
Fortunately, Slightly Mad Studios released Project Cars 2 this year. While I liked the original, the sequel improves on it in almost every way. With over 100 cars and track layouts along with a career mode that lets you race for a championship in nearly every car category under the sun with minimal restrictions, this feels like a racing game about racing rather than a racing game about the cars. Sure, you might not have as many cars as Forza or GT and the graphics aren’t nearly photorealistic (though still very good) but the cars are fun but challenging to drive. The AI have no problem racing you hard and as fairly as you choose. If the penalty system wasn’t so damn stupid (a carryover from the first game where the penalty system was often non-existent), it would be an instant must play for every racing game. Instead, it’s only very highly recommended for every racing gamer.
Over the Christmas holidays, I tried out Golf Clash on my phone. I figured that the “clash” in the title was the dev’s way of trying to cash in on Supercell’s Clash brand recognition but it sure struck me as a clone of Clash Royale. The main menu is nearly identical to Clash Royale. The free-to-play monetization and your golf bag is set up like your deck in CR. I’m shocked that the ladder isn’t identical but it sure looks and feels like a generic Clash clone but with touch-screen golf.
But if you’re looking for a golf game, Golf Story is the one to play. I wish they released it on the PS Vita or even (gasp!) on mobile. It’s a fantastic little bite-sized RPG (well, bite-sized for an RPG at around 15 hours long). It looks and plays like an 8-bit golf game rather than your standard intimidating RPG. RPG elements are really limited to RPG-like (or maybe RPG-lite) quests and some stat improvements as you gain experience. People intimidated by the triple-A RPG genre (think your detailed BioWare, Final Fantasy and similar RPGs) won’t be scared off here. I’m actually kind of shocked that it hasn’t picked up any best sports games of the year awards.
And now for the part of the list where I list games for the year-end best games that are on my to-play list but I haven’t played yet for one reason or another (usually time and/or money)…
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I really thought about getting a Switch when it launched back in March. However, the sizzle reel that introduced it left me a little confused. It’s a game console but was it built around party-style multiplayer? Could a small tablet console that might only be just as powerful as the underpowered Wii U be able to run top-quality games? Would this actually be a portable console or would it be a home console that has limited mobility?
Well, nine months later, it looks like the Switch is a success. Nintendo has sold 10 million Switch consoles since launch which has it outpacing the Xbox One at the same point of its life. The games have also been critical smash hits. The tops of those games is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As of writing, it’s won 59% Game of the Year awards. For comparison, over the last five years, the best a game has done in collecting GOTY awards was The Witcher 3 in 2015 which also picked up 59% of 2015’s GOTYs.
I’ve never played a Zelda game, something that I feel is akin to sacrilege, but it seems like every time that a Zelda game comes out, it’s in the conversation for a game of the year award. I know that Mario is the Nintendo flagship but if you want to play what is near unanimously considered a great game, you play a Zelda game. Am I in a rush to drop 40 hours into a game, even this year’s near-consensus Game Of The Year? Not really but it definitely seems like it would be worth that effort.
What Remains of Edith Finch
I actually intended to play it after finishing Life is Strange: Before the Storm. The problem is that the game hates my PC. Is it my computer trying to save me from another critically acclaimed walking simulator that I will inevitably be disappointed by and question why I still by those games? It’s entirely possible given my track record with critical darlings like Gone Home and Welcome to the Rapture.
The difference between Edith Finch and the other entries in the genre is that this game bounces between a few short stories, each with their own setting and mood. My main complaint about Gone Home and Rapture was that each had a short story with a predictable plot twist so you went through the motions until it ended. From a look at some reviews, this different approach to walking simulators puts it to the top of the genre. I don’t necessarily believe those critics because they’ve said the same of other walking simulators that I’ve disliked. I guess I’ll see how good it is if I can ever get it to run.