2017 was a special year for video games, the kind that only comes around once a decade.
This year, as I sunk time into 110 games, I couldn’t help feeling like the Shania Twain of games journos. “That don’t impress me much,” I sang under my breath, as I struggled with Monster Hunter: World’s clunky combat system. “That don’t impress me much,” I sang, a little bit louder, in lament of Into the Breach and Chasm’s commitment to procedural generated design. “That don’t impress me much!” I screamed like a hellish ghoul, as the God of War before me failed to live up to the 10/10 scores critics had trumpeted before release.
“Man! I feel like a demon,” I cackled, transforming into the darkest Shania.
Fortunately, 2017 produced enough great games to keep me preoccupied through 2018 and beyond. I need to issue a few apologies, though. Divinity: Original Sin 2, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Nioh and Yakuza 0—I know I apologized for missing you last year. I’m still sorry, now, and I’m still planning to get to you. Hollow Knight: you too.
But, for now, these are the best games of 2017 that I played in 2018
I tried to keep the blurbs for each pick short. So, when I could, I’ve linked to articles I wrote that give the more complete version of my thoughts.
The Surge is sci-fi Dark Souls. Its futuristic factory setting isn’t all that interesting; its boring main character, Warren, is mostly a blank slate; its bosses are often near impossible to defeat without the help of a walkthrough to explain their arcane tells.
The Souls-like formula works. The combat— with light and heavy attacks assigned to the shoulder buttons— is satisfying as always. Its pretzel-like levels are still incredibly rewarding to explore. Its writing is bad, but the world still manages to be almost intriguing at times.
After two expansions with increasingly out-there settings—the amusement park-themed “A Walk in the Park” and the Western-set “The Good, the Bad, and the Augmented,” I’m excited to see what developer Deck 9 does in 2019’s sequel.
I’ve written a lot about Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy. It’s simple enough that you can understand its basics after a brief session, but complex—and clunkily precise—enough to inspire endless rage-quitting from the Markiplier set and endless think pieces from myself.
You are a naked bald man in a pot, tasked with propelling yourself up a mountain of random goods and produce using only a sledgehammer. It’s frustratingly difficult and you will fail a lot. But it’s also a self-conscious meditation on the nature of difficulty and failure.
By far Foddy’s most compelling and accessible game to date, Getting Over It was my constant companion through endless basketball games at my old job as a sports reporter. We’ll always have half-time, Bennett.
A Big Mood can cover over a multitude of sins. Observer indulges in some awful stealth sequences, features indecipherable side quests and, in fact, the second half of the game is, by and large, pretty bad.
BUT! That mood! Set in a grimy cyberpunk apartment complex in a futuristic Krakow, Bloober Team’s walking sim casts players as Daniel Lazarski, an aging Polish “observer”—a detective with the ability to hop inside people’s minds via cybernetic implants and search for clues in their subconscious.
When he gets a distress call from his estranged son, Lazarski heads to the tenement building where his son lived and finds a decapitated corpse in his room. From that horrifying moment forward, Lazarski doggedly searches the building, talking to inhabitants through blurry vidscreens and creeping through dim and dirty cellars. This apartment complex and its residents offer compelling glimpses into a bleak future.
Observer’s miserable world is, for a time, a thrilling place to be.
Audio logs—the tired video game staple that’s only slightly better than bloody messages scrawled on prominent walls—finally make sense in Tacoma. While Fullbright’s follow-up to Gone Home doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of their debut, it improves on Gone Home’s basic mechanics, introducing a rewind system that allows the player to trawl through hours of video clips to piece together what happened to the departed crew members of the titular spaceship.
It’s a smart conceit; a helpful foundation for developers who want to do compelling, logical environmental storytelling.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
A year and a half after it first debuted, it’s easy to forget how WTF this crossover seemed when Kotaku first reported on its existence in May of last year. Mario… with the Rabbids? Mario… in an XCOM-style strategy game? Mario… with a GUN?
That skepticism began to melt away when Ubisoft showed the game at 2017’s E3, and dissipated entirely when the gaming public got their hands on it. Kingdom Battle is great; a stellar turn-based tactics game with a Mushroom Kingdom coat of paint, that expertly ramps the difficulty from the tutorial-ish opening world up to the one-wrong-move-and-Luigi-gets-it challenge of Worlds 3 and 4. The most ambitious crossover in history? No. The Mario spinoff I hope gets endless sequels? Yes.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Uncharted 4 brought some cool changes to Naughty Dog’s flagship series, including a climbing pick that made the act of scaling the game’s plentiful cliffs more interactive and a grappling hook that turned Nathan Drake into Spider-Man but if Spider-Man killed a lot of people. But, those smart additions were buried in a game that was collapsing beneath its own weight; a globetrotting epic more in terms of length than anything else.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy maintains the new mechanics that worked in Uncharted 4, but incorporates them in a game half 4’s length. And, after four games with Nate, it was a pleasant change of pace to see Chloe Frazer front and center, at times sparring with and at times charming former villain, Nadine Ross.
Doki Doki Literature Club
A subversive satire of dating sims, Team Salvato’s visual novel puts a disturbing, meta twist on romance games, serving up a genre-bending work that initially presents as sweet and saccharine, but slowly reveals its dark heart.
Additionally, it commits wholeheartedly to the Literature Club part of its name with enough commentary on the craft of writing that you’ll pick up some useful tips along the way.
Infinite Fall’s platformer/adventure game/2D walking sim perfectly encapsulated the feeling of returning to your hometown after a few years away, and did so while offering powerful insight on mental health, politics and religion. It also (like the Twitter feed of its lead artist and co-writer Scott Benson) is funny as hell.
Editor’s note: spoilers to follow
I played Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus on Switch this year, which is NOT the best version of the game. The textures are muddier, shooting is harder with the nubby Joy-Cons, and it’s often impossible to see the ammunition and weapons on the ground, but for their glint.
It may not be the best way to play it, but even on Switch, Wolfenstein II stood out as a beautifully written, gonzo FPS that isn’t afraid to go to some wild places. What other game has you contemplating the protagonist’s abusive childhood in a walking sim-style visit to their old farm house one moment and watching them decapitated via katana on live TV the next?
Machine Games stellar sequel may give you tonal whiplash, but you can’t help but feel that the maniac in the driver’s seat somehow knows what they’re doing.
Butterfly Soup is a horror game where you’re forced to eat a big wriggly bowl of antenna-and-wing gumbo.
Nah, it’s a visual novel about queer Asian teenage girls falling in love and playing baseball. And, it’s the best written game of 2017, a nostalgic trip through the lives of four characters coming of age in 2008, with believable portrayals of young love, and sharp, grounded, hilarious dialogue.
And it’s free, with a sequel slated to release in the summer of 2019. Play this game, and pray with me that Brianna Lei continues to tell brilliant stories like this.
After all the experiences I managed to live throughout 2018, my new comprehensive list of the best games of 2017 goes like this:
9.Night in the Woods
8.Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
6.Resident Evil VII
5.What Remains of Edith Finch
4.Super Mario Odyssey
2.Horizon Zero Dawn
1.The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Let’s check back in at the end of 2019. I still have at least 10 games from 2017 that I need to play before this list can be comprehensive. What a year.