So as gaming goes this was… actually a good year. Not quite bottled lightning with an ice-cream float, but certainly not a jockstrap full of angry and litigious bees either. I think anybody with semi-functional neurones will agree we got the A-grade material in the first six months and all the energy disappeared from the industry post-summer, but half a year is better than nothing, and so are the following games.
- PREY (2017)
Number ten on this list was tricky, as I found myself torn between three possible candidates, all for different reasons. Would I give a spot on the list to Prey, the Sexy Brutale, or Persona 5? Basically, do I award the bronzest of bronze medals for effort, for ingenuity, or for style? Eventually I settled on Prey by merit of having a dash of both the other qualities as well, not to mention having the balls to homage Bioshock without having to directly rip it off (and you should never rip off Bioshock’s balls, that’s just impolite). Check this one out for its rich science-fiction story, though not for the balancing issues and frequent, often irritating deaths.
- NIGHT IN THE WOODS
Despite a monumentally slow start and the occasional hiccup where social drama bumps up awkwardly against thriller horror, Night in the Woods manages to do the one thing that can justify a walking simulator – have an engaging story. And though the protagonist looks like a DeviantArt original character drawn by a talentless fifteen-year-old, Mae turns out NOT to be an infuriating Mary Sue, but a complex and flawed figure who’s worth investing in emotionally, with a journey that’s interesting enough to be worth sticking with even in the feet-dragging sections.
I dropped it a couple of notches for the daily commute and the Guitar Hero bits though. I’d feel like a liar if I didn’t.
- RESIDENT EVIL 7
After failing so hard with RE5 and RE6 that Capcom were lucky not to have burnt down their own studios in the process, the team obviously realised that they should take a step back, have a think, and go back to the basics. Big scary house, fumbling protagonist who keeps getting injured, intimidating enemies and the kind of horror that actually has an impact, i.e. getting your hand chainsawed off and having to run around with a bloody stump, trying to nudge the ammo clip into a pistol. And though it loses a bit of faith with its own premise in the last act and would’ve been well-advised to shake off the silly puzzle elements that haunt the series, Resident Evil 7 is one of the most effective big-budget horror games since Alien: Isolation. If you weren’t scared of rednecks even after the Trump election, you will be now.
- WEST OF LOATHING
The surprising successor to the free browser game: Kingdom of Loathing, this western comedy game brings a satisfying (if rather unbalanced) turn-based combat system to the table, along with the playing cards, whiskey and the pocketful of spare change that was presumably the budget for the art department. With solid writing that’ll make even the gloomiest cynic snort their drink from time to time – I can raise my hand and vouch for that – West of Loathing is a solid indie game that reminds us that comedy doesn’t have to be Uncharted’s snarkiness or Sunset Overdrive’s unhealthy pop-culture parody obsession.
- SUPERHOT VR
Take note, this is how you translate a game into virtual reality – by exploring a core mechanic that’s actually improved by being in virtual reality in the first place. With Superhot’s central idea of slowing down time when you stop moving, that takes on a whole new perspective in VR, as you contort your body into all sorts of bizarre positions to try and avoid the bullets slowly chugging towards you through the air, matrix style. And it means you can pull off all manner of epic tricks that make you feel like a bona-fide badass. Use the motion controllers to gun down a couple of bad guys, throw the empty weapon at a third enemy, snatch the sword he drops out of the air and turn to bisect a fourth enemy on your flank. It’s an experience so mind-bogglingly cathartic and satisfying I practically wanted to have a post-coitus cigarette afterwards.
- DARK SOULS 3: THE RINGED CITY
Nobody will be more surprised than me to see two separate DLCs on this list, but there’s really no way of getting around it – they’re both really, really good. After a rather tepid addition to the canon with the Ashes of Ariandel add-on , it seemed like the last chapters of Dark Souls were set to fade away without much excitement… And then The Ringed City changed everything. Beautiful design, thrilling gameplay, hours of material, and a bombastic, incredible conclusion that feels like the most perfect way you could end a series that is in itself about the end of all things – not with a whimper, but with the kind of bang that made my eyes actually widen with amazement when I realised the true implications of what I’d just seen. Well-bloody-played, From Software.
- XCOM 2: WAR OF THE CHOSEN
And unlike The Ringed City, this DLC is less of a conclusion and more of a revitalisation. XCOM 2 was a game I found myself less impressed by as time went on, but this is exactly what it needed. A whole new campaign with new characters, missions, mechanics, ideas, and more importantly, three very punchable enemies to center all of our bubbling aggression onto. Nothing will make your heart plummet like seeing one of the cackling, melodramatic Chosen snatch your best soldier and drag him screaming into a portal to be tortured, and nothing will make you want to punch the air like putting a shotgun in that Chosen’s mouth and watching yellow blood spray over the opposite wall when you pull the trigger. Especially the Warlock, that insufferable cu-
Newsflash: pretty game looks really pretty. Far less obvious newsflash: pretty game is actually very well made and not just selling itself on looking pretty.
Yes, Cuphead’s 1930s cartoon style is so utterly wonderful and encapsulating that it’s really hard not to start grinning as you watch the newest examples of the artwork bounce energetically into shot, combined with a suitably lively gameplay model that, whilst blisteringly challenging in those last few missions, is never truly unfair and always worth pushing through, just to see what comes next. If you like your tough games as much as I do, this is definitely for you.
- ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
I guess reinvention is the name of the game this year, as franchises worked to improve themselves in new and interesting ways (or worsen themselves, if they’re Shadow of War or Star Wars: Battlefield 2), and Breath of the Wild feels like a good example of that. A well-crafted and delightfully organic form of gameplay, one that’s fine with you going straight to the final boss if you think you’re tough enough, squire. This Zelda game is all about experimentation and discovery, not just discovering the world through exploration but seeing how you can play with the mechanics to have that unique edge in combat. I mean, how many games with axes and trees will actually let you combine the two and actually start playing lumberjack? Surprisingly few, I must say. And if you can drop that tree trunk on a moblin’s head, all the better.
- HOLLOW KNIGHT
Newsflash: pretty game looks – oh, wait.
Yes, Hollow Knight is my game of the year for 2017, and quite deservedly so. This cute little mash-up of Metroidvania, Dark Souls, and even Earthworm Jim is a beautiful, bittersweet, bewitching little romp through adversity and triumph, as our diminutive insect hero pioneers across an underground kingdom of bugs laid to waste by a mysterious sickness. Drawn in an elegant, simple style and matched by a sound design that imbues everyone with character even before they start speaking, Hollow Knight may just be one of the best indie games in the last few years.
Happy New Year to everybody, and thanks to everyone who enjoys my work here or on other websites. Hopefully next year will bring even better things – but who really trusts hope, anyway?