During last year’s list of favorites I started off by commenting on how the year was garbage culturally. I had absolutely no clue how bad 2017 was going to be comparatively. On year later with my career things have balanced out a lot emotionally and am actually feeling hopeful for future opportunities again. On the opposite side of work, the games went for this year were bananas in the best sense imaginable. It’s been a non-stop slew of quality releases for all types of players. I feel like I managed to play a great mix of what interested me on the new release horizon, as well as dipping back into older releases that I missed.
As with most years from working in an industry bombarded by the holiday season’s demands – (I work adjacent to retail) a lot of what closed out 2016 actually started off my 2017. It’s always a nice release after wrapping up a hectic work schedule when I can start off the year with the best releases of the previous one.
Here we are together at the end of the year which means a look back at my favorite games of the year. As with previous years my rules are simple for what qualifies…
- Choices are NOT limited to what was released in 2017. Platform ports, remasters, backlog, etc make it too complicated to just restrict options to recent releases.
- Choices must be the first time I’ve played them in that form. What I mean by this is Final Fantasy XII (PS2) and Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4) are two different releases for me.
- These are my personal favorites and are not indicative of anything beyond that. Technological, cultural, or sales achievements are not weighted in my choices.
Before we get into the runner ups of 2017 – Games that just felt short of being the cream of the year – I want to do something a little different. In previous years I’ve just focused on what’s good. I’m not a big fan of highlighting failures for the sake of taking swings at creations people put tens of thousands of team hours into in order to bring their dream to fruition. Please don’t confuse this with a “worst game of the year” category for me. What I want to talk about here is how disappointed I was in Dragon Quest Builders. As a late 2016 release I didn’t get to spend much time with it, really only partaking in the demo on PS4. The visuals are charming and the concept of a story driven Minecraft appealed to me. Opting for a handheld experience I picked it up on Vita and ended up spending a good 10-15 hours working through the first chapter of the game. I enjoyed running around it’s vivid fantasy world gathering resources and fighting monsters, something it handles significantly better than Minecraft ever has. The play loop was great. Get a new recipe for crafting, slay a few slimes for their jellies, break a few blocks for ore, head back to your base and continue to level it up by adding or reinforcing structures. Eventually this leads to new friends joining in and fleshing out the world lore a bit. Eventually it brings you to the point of picking up a narrative about how creating power leads to it beckoning evil to come and challenge it. Sure enough when your town is at it’s peak you get to encounter a massive boss battle that is a combination of puzzles, tact, and thwacking it about. It all tied together really well. So why did it end up here as my Bummer of the Year?
All that time and collecting is thrown to the wayside once you finish that boss battle and leave your town for good. The game hard cuts to Chapter 2 as if it’s an entirely new story. All 4 chapters operate independently of each other. The impact that has on the experience is losing all recipes, all crafting materials, all gear, all the friends you met, all the structures you’ve built. Everything is a hard wipe as they throw you into the next self-contained piece of game to let you do it all over again. I’ve never come down from a gaming high so hard as when I realized what had happened. I pushed through a few hours of that chapter until I just got tired what felt like backtracking on all my progression I spent the first dozen or so hours doing. With that I give a big fat raspberry to this game.
Yes, I know there is a free play mode where you can use all your recipes learned so far. The problem with that is you’re still going to be playing through four micro stories to unlock all the recipes and resources from those campaigns… not to mention all the time spent building four distinct cities up from scratch and none of those towns are made available into that free play mode, leaving you with the need to start a fifth city up again. Sorry DQ Builders, I got better games to be investing those hours into. Speaking of which…
The best of the rest, what almost made the cut but were just shy of the mark. Either way these were still standout games in a pretty fantastic year of games.
Alien: Isolation has been in my peripheral for awhile as a game I needed to play despite survival horror not being my preferred genre by a country mile. It’s adherence to the source material was praised far and wide making me want to consider diving pass my preferences to take it in. I was absolutely terrified of Androids and space creatures throughout, but was so absorbed by lil’ Ripley’s struggle to survive I couldn’t put it down. My love of late 70’s sci-fi saw me through what was easily one of the jaw-dropping games I’ve played this generation.
Donkey Kong ’94 marks the second year in a row I was blown away by a Gameboy game. Last year was Final Fantasy Adventure having me dig into the past. Going into DK after hearing high praise on a video game music podcast let me go past the idea of it just being old school DK. Once I got into past the start I saw through that to the deeper puzzle side of this monstrous game. Dozens of levels, tons of Mario moves, and a really accessible formula left me binging nightly on that gray-scale gorilla hunt.
Final Fantasy 15 was not quite what I was hoping it’d be. After spending a fair amount of time drooling over the Episode Duscae demo and pondering what it would finally bring to the table, getting my hands on it left me a bit at odds with it. The first half of the game was too open world for my liking, struggling to find direction for my four heroes. Where it really clicked with me was the back half of the game once they threw you on rails (literally) as you progressed towards the end of it and beyond. So much of the enjoyment I took from this game came from external sources, watching YT videos revealing lore and pondering on the events that occurred prior to the start of our time with Noctis. I think the story of what was is better than the story of what is contained within the release. That being said it felt cheap to include this in my top of the year given the heavy reliance on speculation piecing together what could have been is the real reason I loved this game so much.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage is as much of a mouthful as any Square game has ever been, but I love it all the same. Having a penchant for the poignant tales of the world I’m naturally drawn to Aqua’s story. Beyond Sora she’s my favorite in the series as her selflessness and integrity remain unblemished throughout. Fragmentary Passage is the first piece of new release we’ve seen for KH on console since 2005’s Kingdom Hearts 2. Advancing the story even just a smidge is enough to whet my appetite on this release. Thankfully the game play is super responsive and plays like a dream while being visually stunning to boot. It’s widely accepted to be a tech demo for the engine that will eventually run Kingdom Hearts 3, but I love it all the same. Demo or not it was fun, interesting, beautiful, and contained bits of story that had me on the edge of tears. Again.
Subsurface Circular is probably the game on this list that you’re least familiar with. Rarely spending time in front of a computer for games it was hard to pass on Subsurface. Coming from Bithell Games (Thomas Was Alone, Volume) put this on my consider list by that merit alone. I’ve loved their games on PS Vita. Add in the atypical nature of it being a text adventure game in the setting of a futuristic subway detecting your way through a disappearance and pushing your way through a sociopolitical driven robot pre-revolution was right up my alley. Quick enough to knock out in two sittings filled with cheeky self-referential moments, the wit and play of this charmed its way into one of my favorite games this year. An easy recommendation for anyone that has a few hours to burn and wants to dig into the potential pitfalls of capitalism in an approachable package.
Sidebar: VR. One last additional nod I wanted to put in is for it’s own category. With PSVR over a year old and a slew of smaller experiences available I wanted to take the time to highlight one. Everyone continues to argue the legitimacy of VR as a platform. Despite where you fall on how these translate into being games feels irrelevant; they’re just a means to dismiss an entertainment experience by discrediting it’s identity. As not to compete with the rest on the list I’m giving a dedicated spot to VR experiences in all their forms. This year’s choice?
I Expect You to Die is a celebration of the infamous James Bond villain quote uttered by Goldfinger as his fancy death trap situation slowly aims to murder Mr Bond. It’s a serious of escape rooms themed around 70’s spy fiction placing you as the good guy trying to escape impossible odds using only what you find in the environment. The introductory stage has you inside of a car, on a plane, needing to escape the plane alive with the car. Leaving the car will kill you as the plane is filled with poison gas to prevent your escape. Working your way through all the gadgets in the car has you rolling down windows, flipping visors, opening glove compartments, loading grenades, lighting the environment with cigars, playing with the radio, and a slew of other activities to piece together your escape. I played through it passing the headset back and forth with a friend as we made our way through three of the puzzles together. It’s a riot to play, and extremely amusing to watch your friends muck about trying to find a solution. It’s pretty accessible relying on the move controls and placing you in situations where your character is sitting. I had no problem passing it around to friends and them intuitively understanding how to work in the environment towards their escape. While the final level still eludes my grasp, I’d easily recommend this to anyone looking for new software to try in VR. Below is a sample of my Friend Dave giving it a go.
Alright, bought "I Expect You To Die" and playing with my buddy. Yeah, this is hilarious. pic.twitter.com/UlJCIXfRUy
— Chris // Punk (@PunkrawkBbob) February 5, 2017