Game of the Year 2017

 

Game of the Year

This is it, the cream of the crop. These are the 10 best games I played in 2017, with a few honorable mentions because there were just so many damn great games that came out last year.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
I had a great time playing through Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which was a new experience for me having not played it on Wii U. Deluxe doesn’t do much to break out of the traditional Mario Kart mold, though. The game looks, runs, and sounds great — and the battle mode is more fun than it has any right to be — but I won’t be able to justify a Mario Kart game on any top 10 list until they remove the blue shell, which is hands down one of the worst video game items in the history of the industry.

Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods has charming characters with some fun, witty writing, and the visuals and music really transport you to the town of Possum Springs. For me, though, there’s just a bit too much monotony in the daily interactions, and some of the mini-games had mechanics that could use some tightening. It’s an easy game to recommend for a rainy Saturday, but this is “Game of the Year’ and there just isn’t enough to this one.

Prey
I sadly haven’t put enough time into Prey to justify its inclusion on this list. While I’m really enjoying the world of the game and getting more into its story, I do have issues with the combat and how the game teaches you what you’re supposed to be doing. The enemies move a tad too fast compared to the sluggish, imprecise aiming, and the first few hours quickly overwhelm with the number of ways you can do a thing. Hopefully, that freedom becomes more of a positive as I continue to play.

Superhot VR
Superhot was my first experience with VR, and it was pretty damn rad. The visual style of Superhot is just as awesome in virtual reality, and the movement feels great. There’s more depth to the combat than you’d initially expect, but the missions do begin to feel a tad repetitive. Most unfortunately, my persistent motion sickness prevents me from playing more than 15 minutes at a time. Superhot works incredibly well in VR, but VR may just not be for me (or my stomach).

Tacoma
Tacoma is another game I didn’t get to spend as much time with as I wanted, primarily due to my crappy PC that can’t even run the simplest of games at a steady framerate. This one was on my radar coming from the makers of Gone Home, which made my top 10 list back in 2013. I enjoyed exploring the space and hearing the stories of each character, but the lack of interactivity got to me a bit after an hour or so. While I appreciate the different take on a space game, Tacoma didn’t hook me the way that Gone Home did.

 

10. Pyre

There’s something about Pyre that just hasn’t grabbed me. That might be a weird thing to say about my tenth favorite game of 2017, but it’s really the reason that Pyre isn’t even higher on this list. The game does everything that it sets out to do, and it does so exceedingly well.

The characters are interesting and have depth and backstory that are revealed over time, the combat rites are varied, with a learning curve and strategy that develops the longer you play, it has an amazing look and soundtrack that perfectly fit the world of the game, and the story is littered with enough detail and interest to keep you wanting more. Pyre is my tenth favorite game of 2017 because it does all of those things, but it’s only my tenth favorite game of the year because, despite all of those accolades, I’d still rather be playing any other game on this list.

 

9. Assassin’s Creed Origins

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Assassin’s Creed Origins is just a really solid game. It doesn’t wow in any particular category, but most aspects work as they’re designed and it’s kept me coming back for more, despite finishing the story in 45+ hours and having a million other things to play. There’s something about a well-made open world game that’s like a warm blanket — it’s all too easy to lose four hours playing Origins when I only intended to finish a single mission.

The art direction and detail of the game are outstanding, though the technical execution leaves a little to be desired. Still, the world of Origins is absolutely massive — with little to no loading — so a few muddy textures and the occasional framerate dip are forgivable. The addition of skills and loot don’t make as large an impact as you might think, but do add another layer of mechanics that make the side missions and exploration feel worth your time. The combat is a night and day difference. This is the first Assassin’s Creed game where I don’t actively hate having to fight people. And even though the main revenge story lacks nuance, Bayek is an interesting character that serves well as a blank slate for players. Origins is just a really solid video game that I’m sure I’ll continue to play in the coming months.

 

8. What Remains of Edith Finch

What Remains of Edith Finch represents that first-person indie darling that often makes its way onto my top 10 lists. Gone Home, Firewatch, and The Unfinished Swan all fit into that category, with What Remains of Edith Finch offering its own unique take on the genre. The story it tells isn’t something you’d typically see in a video game, and felt more like a collection of short stories with a similar theme. And that really works.

Mechanically, the game is simple, but I appreciate the diversity in the types of things you do. Each vignette has some different type of gameplay element, whether it’s flying a kite, doing a loop-de-loop on a swing, or bouncing a rubber frog in the bath. The sequences last varying lengths, as well, and I never felt like one overstayed its welcome. I wouldn’t say the visuals are a particularly standout feature, but different aesthetics are used to great effect. My largest complaint would be that not enough attention was given to developing the backstory of the house itself. You spend your time exploring the different rooms, and I’d have liked more detail and interactivity with the world. Still, the character stories are the real draw here, and all of them are worth experiencing.

 

7. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

As the only eligible game this year that I’ve played before, it was hard to think about where The Zodiac Age should land on my list — or if it even belonged on the list. Is it fair to knock another, actually new game off the list so that this one could be on it? Did it have meaningful new and/or improved content that justifies the release of a remaster? Did I have more fun with it than other games in 2017? The answer to all of those questions was “yes,” so Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age earned its spot on my top 10.

I don’t need to dive into the story or characters since those remain unchanged. But pretty much everything else about the game went through some element of updating. The music was re-recorded and sounds great. The visuals were updated, and while the game isn’t going to blow you away graphically, it looks much better than it did on PS2. The ability to fast forward gameplay by 2x or 4x was a smart move, allowing for easier exploration and grinding. And the largest change — the implementation of a job system — took some warming up to but ended up offering more diversity in party members and more strategy around team composition. The Zodiac Age is absolutely the definitive way to play Final Fantasy XII, which was already a pretty damn great RPG.

 

6. South Park: The Fractured But Whole

South Park: The Stick of Truth was my game of the year back in 2014, so I definitely had high expectations for The Fractured But Whole. In a lot of ways, the sequel improves upon the original. The combat has some added depth with the ability to move around the playfield, and instead of choosing one class, you’re eventually given access to powers from several. There’s also more variety in the types of enemies and bosses you fight.

The biggest reason that The Fractured But Whole doesn’t take top honors this year comes down diminishing returns — though 2017 being a much stronger year in gaming certainly doesn’t help, either. Too much of The Fractured But Whole feels familiar, despite the new developer and concept. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the superhero vibe, and the game takes more than a few fun jabs at how ridiculous the world of superhero movies has become. There’s also the same great flavor text on items and brilliant designs for the armor sets. But while I loved my overall experience with the game, it just doesn’t feel as special the second time around. And the game’s reliance on more of the recent humor connected with me less. I’m an old school South Park fan.

 

5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Yes, Breath of the Wild was mentioned as one of my most disappointing gaming experiences in 2017, but it does so much so right that it had to earn a spot on this list. For the sake of full disclosure, I’m about 30 hours into the game and nowhere near being ready to fight Ganon, but what I’ve played so far has left quite a strong impression — in both positive and negative ways.

A lot of the ways in which you interact with the menus and world seem poorly designed. Switching between weapons, bows, and shields is tedious and unintuitive. Cooking isn’t all that fun after the first few times, and there’s no great way to batch cook things or even look at recipes. Stamina drains way too fast while doing simple things like running. Rain and thunderstorms make it near impossible to explore the world at your own pace. And some of the dungeons and trials are uninteresting. Still, the sense of wonder in Breath of the Wild is more than any other game this year. There were so many times where I’d round a corner or climb a mountain, only to find something special waiting for me. Basically, if it weren’t for some head-scratching design decisions, Breath of the Wild would have been my game of the year with a bullet. That’s how I can find it so amazing and disappointing at the same time.

 

4. Rime

I totally didn’t expect for Rime to end up this high on my list, but when I sat down to think about my favorite games of 2017, I could only justify three games as having a better overall experience. Similar to Breath of the Wild, there are small things that hold Rime back from reaching the heights of games like Journey. It doesn’t run all that well, which thankfully doesn’t have a huge impact on the gameplay. But the gameplay is also extremely simple and platforming feels more like a thing the developers need you to do so that Rime doesn’t turn into just a movie. No game is perfect.

However, most everything else about Rime will stay with me for years. It’s a beautiful game that combines aesthetic elements from the games on which its clearly inspired: Zelda, Journey, and Team Ico’s classics, Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. The music is absolutely haunting and heightens every emotional moment. The environments are more varied than you might expect, and there’s a true sense of progression as you move throughout the space. And the story, while simple when taken at face value, really makes you think throughout and does a great job of encouraging collectible gathering, as that’s the only way you’ll get additional context for what’s happening. Some of the “video game” parts of Rime aren’t the best, but the overall experience is something that touched me greatly.

 

3. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

As I said in most other categories, it’s hard to imagine a Naughty Dog game not earning a spot on my top 10 list. What’s weird is that despite Uncharted 4 earning my game of the year in 2016, I might like The Lost Legacy even more. 2017 was just a crazy good year for video games. Coming out of Uncharted 4, I had greatly enjoyed my time with the series but was ready for a break. Nathan Drake’s story was clearly over and I wanted Naughty Dog to focus on new IP. Then they announced a standalone DLC, The Lost Legacy, starring Chloe and Nadine. My interest was piqued, but still, my interest in the series was at its lowest point. But once Naughty Dog built The Lost Legacy into a full game of its own, I was more interested. Could this be a new direction for the series? And it definitely is.

The Lost Legacy doesn’t completely change the Uncharted formula. You’re still climbing on things, solving puzzles, and hiding behind cover to shoot dudes. But each one of those pieces has perhaps never been better, and there’s new flavor brought to the table in each area. The first big section of The Lost Legacy is an open space where you can accomplish side goals and take down bad guys at your own pace. It’s a refreshing change and makes me want to see what a fully open world Uncharted game might look like. The second half is more linear, but the puzzles, in particular, are fantastic. The shadow and statue puzzles will go down as some of the best in the series. But really, the best part of The Lost Legacy is the writing of Chloe and Nadine. Uncharted has always been great at balancing the serious with the witty, and The Lost Legacy puts a new spin on that. In another year, The Lost Legacy might be my game of the year. But it’s hard to ignore what these other two games were able to do.

 

2. Horizon: Zero Dawn

From March until November, I firmly thought Horizon: Zero Dawn would be my game of the year. It’s an absolutely fantastic new IP that I can’t wait to be further explored, it looks gorgeous from a technical perspective and highly unique from an artistic one, its story and world are full of twists and turns, encouraging exploration, and while I got a bit bored of the combat toward the end, it’s highly polished, specific, and fresh. Horizon: Zero Dawn truly is the whole package, and with a few small tweaks, the sequel will be a favorite for game of the year when it releases.

I love the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn. It isn’t wholly “new,” as the game takes place in a version of the U.S. and the post-post-apocalypse aesthetic has been done before. But the lengths to which Guerrilla Games built out the world is impressive, nonetheless. There is so much history and backstory to uncover, including journals, audio diaries, and even collectibles. But the “modern” times are also interesting, with countless characters that are well developed and have unique personalities and cultures. And seriously, the game looks incredible. It’s a joy to play Horizon: Zero Dawn, and while it doesn’t have a bearing on this ranking, I’m having a great time with The Frozen Wilds DLC, which is just the excuse I needed to get back into this world.

 

1. Super Mario Odyssey

These top two games are so close that I’m honestly relieved to post this article, as that will finally stop the back and forth in my head. It’s just impossible for me to ignore the absolute polish and freedom of Super Mario Odyssey. As I stated in my review, the game doesn’t quite reach the “new” feel of Super Mario Galaxy, but it’s hard to fault a game for maybe being a tiny bit less ambitious while executing on its ideas almost perfectly. Super Mario Odyssey is just about enough reason to buy a Nintendo Switch on its own.

I don’t need to rehash the earlier categories, as Super Mario Odyssey justifiably ranks highly in music, look, and world. Nintendo has almost always excelled in those “style” categories, but they haven’t always done a great job of implementing a new gimmick. Super Mario Odyssey allows you to “capture” different creatures in its world, which then enable you to move around in the style of the creature. The creative ways Nintendo found to empower this freedom and choice are impressive. I’m not sure I love that there are so many moons to collect, as that takes away a bit of the prestige of earning one, but the sheer amount of variety here makes up for that fact. The controls are also as tight as they’ve ever been. In a historically great year in gaming, Super Mario Odyssey still does more than enough to justify itself as my favorite gaming experience of 2017.

 

And there you have it, my absolute favorite games of 2017. I’m sure you’ll disagree with at least some aspects of these categories, so let me know your favorite games in the comments below, and be sure to check out all of my video game reviews!

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