Thoughts on Games of 2017
***Game of the Year***
---Horizon: Zero Dawn - This one takes many of the best ideas from so many other games and blends them all together in a chunky stew of intense and speedy combat, epic exploration, satisfying leveling, and gorgeous graphics. The story is one of the most complex and interesting post-apocalyptic tales I've seen told in a medium that often tends towards those stories. To say too much about it would ruin a lot of great moments in the game - there are a wealth of fascinating revelations, compelling plot twists, and well-fleshed out characters - but suffice to say that it blends a lot of genre tropes together in a new way and earns its attempts to provoke introspection in the player. I can't rave enough about this one.
+++The rest of the top 10, in alphabetical order+++
---Destiny 2 - Destiny 2 is wonderful, but odd. It does basically everything better than the first game did, but it has nonetheless failed to involve me in the same amount of timesuck that that the first game did upon its release. I think the novelty of what the first one accomplished and the process of refinement over its lifespan were just more compelling because they were new…and Destiny 2 doesn’t have that in the same way. Nonetheless, I played a ton of Destiny 2 in 2017 (on PS4 and even a little on PC), and think it is probably the game on this list I will most likely sink a ton of time in to during 2018.
---Everything - This is one of the more thought-provoking and innovative games I have played, ever. Everything defines genre, is both massive in scope and manageable, and transcends many of the conventions of the medium in an attempt to be, well, a transcendental experience. I don’t know that it succeeds on that last point entirely, but the effort is well worth experiencing. A great take on the game by is this one by Ian Bogost (https://www.theatlantic.com/.../a-video-game.../520518/) - that essay reflects a lot of my own thoughts on playing the game.
---The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - What this game accomplishes from both a design standpoint and from a sheer "fun factor" standpoint is nearly unparalleled. I don't know if Nintendo will ever again create the kinds of innovative games that have the same level of long-term influence as their most revered 8-bit and 16-bit titles...but this is arguably the closest they have gotten to that high water mark since that time. The way that it blends open-world dynamics with a lot of classic Zelda gameplay and design is really astonishing, and I enjoyed every minute I spent on this game
---Player Unknown's Battlegrounds - There’s not much I want to write about this game that probably hasn’t already been written many times by many others, but suffice to say that this game became something to pick up and play with some regularity in the second half of 2017 for me. I will never be someone who dives deep into learning the nuances of the maps, the various techniques for gaining advantage, the differences between all the gear, etc. - but it is cool that the game offers some sophistication on top of its goofy exterior.
---Polybius - Before polygonal-3D graphics were a thing, Polybius is what everyone assumed virtual reality games might be like in the future. This is Jeff Minter’s best work: a trippy and complex Tempest-like game that oozes style, humor, intensity, and challenge. The game has a fantastic soundtrack and mind bending visuals. After taking off the VR headset for a 20 minute game session, a friend of mine declared the game to be a hallucinogen simulator, and I am inclined to agree.
---Resident Evil 7: Biohazard - I played through RE7 entirely in VR, and it is a stunning accomplishment in creating genuine fright for the player. The switch to a first person perspective for the franchise is handled here in a way that retains all the suspense and panic that the series has always been known for, and the best parts of the series (memorable characters, hunting for scarce ammo and supplies, incidental music, etc.) are carried through flawlessly along the way. This is both my favorite Resident Evil game of all time and my favorite VR game available.
---Sonic Mania - Sonic Mania is a triumph: it is everything that was great about the original trilogy and the erasure of everything that was frustrating about other more recent 2D and 2.5D entries in the series (eg. Sonic 4). It does an excellent job of both paying homage to classic Sonic titles and yet infuses the gameplay with enough new ideas across its dozen or so levels to make the old series seem fresh.
---Super Mario Odyssey - This is the best 3D Mario game since Super Mario Galaxy 2 and should absolutely be experienced by everyone who owns a Switch. The hat gimmick works really well to give Mario a level of interaction with the various worlds he moves through that hasn’t been seen in the series so far…though I found the campaign to be a bit easy compared to the standards of most of the other main Mario titles.
---What Remains of Edith Finch - This is very much a game that feels inspired by the genre-defining titles put out by devs like The Chinese Room (Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, Dear Esther, etc.) and Fulbright (Gone Home, Tacoma), but Finch nonetheless offers a fresh and more fantastical take on the “walking simulator.” Some of the later levels are especially engrossing, and the game’s visuals are some of the most creative I encountered in 2017. This one is well worth the short time it takes to play through it.
***Honorable Mentions: Doom VFR, Arizona Sunshine, Gorogoa, Wolfenstein II, Skyrim VR