Dec 31, 2017
Scott Ellison II’s Top 10 Games of 2017
Outside of gaming, 2017 will be be a year to remember – or one you want to forget. It’s personally been one of my best years, as I’ve started a new day job, bought a house, and feel like a proper-ass adult for the first time a long time. But we’re here about games, and what a wild ride and great year for games 2017 was. This has been the hardest list to assemble for the 2,017th year in a row, because not only did I play so many games, but there were a lot to like and even love – 2018 has a lot to live up to.
Let me quickly talk about games that I have played, but haven’t spent nearly enough time with:
- Assassin’s Creed Origins: I only have about a dozen hours in the game, but I don’t believe I’ve dug beneath the surface of Bayek’s journey through ancient Egypt to find a proper place in my list. I firmly believe Assassin’s Creed Origins is the best looking, realized, and focused game of the series. It explains why the assassins upheld the tradition of taking a finger during initiation and where the term “eagle vision” comes from. Converting the series from a third-person, action-adventure series into a third-person RPG was the best move. There’s a sense of progress and evolution of acquiring new and different weapons, and constantly improving your gear so that Bayek feels more powerful as the game progresses.
- Super Mario Odyssey: This is the first proper 3D Mario game I’ve played in decades, and it feels really good. The Switch is the absolute best platform for this game, and is just incredible. Levels have moons tucked away in every nook and cranny and beg for exploration in ways that other games make feel like a chore. Super Mario Odyssey is a joy for all ages, and I’m eager to dive into it more as we begin 2018.
And now, the list!
Honorable Mention: LawBreakers
While this game has and continues to struggle to find an audience, this was a game I really enjoyed. It just so happened to be a game that I was getting really good at it. Boss Key Studios is comprised of some very talented people, and I don’t know of it was the timing of its release, or a crowded multiplayer shooter market, but there wasn’t as many people playing as much as I’d like. I still am questioning the “cops vs criminals” aspect of the game, but appreciate the symmetry in its character roster that doesn’t actually duplicate characters for each side, making it feel like there are unique characters being played. The anti-gravity elements aren’t overused, but done sparingly so that the movement is shaken up during different stages of level that utilizes each character’s unique mobility differently. This is a game where a someone playing alone, is able to hold their own and not require such dedicated teamwork.
If nothing else, Kingsway wins “Best OS” for 2017. However, Kingsway is much more than that. In a sea of roguelikes, Andrew Morrish has developed a game like nothing else. Kingsway is not easy, but the permanence you obtain through each playthrough, whether successful or more likely, through failure makes it feel as though you’re making progress. With Kingsway’s operating system user interface, becomes a familiar way to play the game from the moment you boot it up. I am happy to receive the blue screen of death as it means I’m able to start another playthrough. Most other roguelikes upon death feel deflating, but death is encouraging and rewarding in Kingsway.
9) Heat Signature
Emergent moments drive Heat Signature. Infiltrating in motion ships let you feel like that one-episode character in “Firefly” named Jubal Early (http://firefly.wikia.com/wiki/Jubal_Early). There’s been constant improvements to Heat Signature that has made it even better than when I reviewed it. The missions themselves lend to repetition, but the ways in which you can approach missions can be different. Even then, if you play the missions the same, the dynamic elements shape the course of the mission. The integration of your Steam friends into the game is just so smart, and it’s fun to free captured friends.
8) Sonic Mania
What happens when SEGA lets anyone but SEGA make a Sonic game? A great Sonic game gets made. My nostalgia for Sonic was reborn with Sonic Mania. There was a nice blend of old with new levels, and the second act of each level was wonderfully remixed in a way that not only changed up the music, but the gameplay as well. Having played the game on Switch, looks and plays wonderfully with its portability. The developers were aware that not everyone likes Tails (does anyone?). You can play the game just as Sonic, a la Sonic the Hedgehog, and forfeit Tails from being able to lift you out of bad areas. Playing as Knuckles feels different, as it did in Sonic & Knockles or plugged into Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Sonic Mania is not 16-bit, as there are way too many frames per second and animations, but it evokes the look well enough to make you feel like you’re playing something retro. Sonic Mania is how Sonic should look, play, and feel going forward.
7) SteamWorld Dig 2
Image & Form heard the complaints about SteamWorld Dig being too short and punishing, and completely fixed that for SteamWorld Dig 2. I’ve played the game on both the Nintendo Switch and PC, and the artwork is so incredibly gorgeous. The handcrafted feel of the world that you explore is much more satisfying than the randomly generated worlds of the previous game. All of the upgrades, pneumatic pipe fast travel, and actual digging is so relaxing. The boss battles get a touch difficult toward the end, but completing them becomes very rewarding. Image & Form make games with impressive art, and ultra-satisfying gameplay. SteamWorld Dig 2 is an absolute must-play.
Studio MDHR have absolutely nailed the art style of the 1930s cartoons we all know upon seeing them in motion. The devil is in the details, where you can see the different between what’s backdrop, and what is foreground just by how it is drawn and highlighted. Cuphead is undoubtedly difficult, but somehow manages to not be controller-breaking or rage-inducing. There’s only a handful of variety to the boss battles, which make up almost the entirety of the game. It may take multiple attempts, but you quickly learn how to defeat each boss. The shops contain a lot of different weapons, and each level can be completed with any weapon set, but some weapons are more efficient to completing with less deaths. I’m hoping this isn’t all we see of Cuphead, or Mugman, because this artstyle is so unique in gaming and the gameplay is so rewarding as you defeat each boss. There’s so much more for me to do in the game, but I can’t help but recommend such a fantastically villainous game.
5) Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
This released in December 2016 on PC, and was released in 2017 to Xbox One and PS4, so I’m going to talk about this one now. Shadow Tactics from Mimimi Productions is decidedly slow-paced, but is absolutely exciting. You play between four heroes, with a different combination you’re given as playable with each mission. Hayato is is a ninja who sneaks and is deadly up-close as well as from afar. Yuki is quiet, but small, and can’t carry dead enemies away swiftly. Mugen is a heavily-armored samurai who is able to strike multiple targets at once. Aiko can disguise herself and make enemies sneeze to limit their vision cones. Takuma is old wise-ass who has a rifle and can pick off enemies from the furthest distance than any other character. You can strategize attacks with “shadow mode” to prepare each characters to execute what you give them in tandem. It is so fantastic to see a plan go into action. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Showgun also encourages saving, and often. There’s even a counter that will display on the screen if you go more than a minute without quicksaving. If the developers had that in mind, then you should use it as things can go awry quickly. I’m hoping a sequel gets made, because I’m ready for more. It takes about 25 hours to complete the main story, as you spend nearly an hour to two hours on each mission. That doesn’t seem exciting from the outset, but trust when I say you are fully invested to every second you’re spending in the game to get everything right. Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is all about little victories that lead to big smiles.
4) Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I’ve never played a Zelda game before. Well okay, I take that back, I played the NES original, but not one beyond that. Becoming a new Switch owner, I decided to play Breath of the Wild, and I was so pleased. Not only is it not like any other Legend of Zelda game before it (so I’m told), it’s also not like any other open-world game before it. It’s a game you’re able to explore and play at your leisure. Quests come through conversation, and finding solutions are to be found by you, not by following what the pop-up text tells you. The non-combat shrines are my favorite things to do in the game. Combat in the open-world of Breath of the Wild is almost pointless, as all it does is reduce the durability of your weapons. That said, this system never bothered me. It was weird at first, but after a couple of hours I got used to it – and I just never got into combat unless I had to, or needed to. I ended up playing the game a lot like Assassin’s Creed at first, where I went after all of the viewpoints to unlock the map. It was hard to get to certain ones, but was enjoyable to open the map up. I could go on, and on about this game, but every system and mechanic works so well, and was a truly freeing feeling in an open-world that did not impose restrictions or consequences to experimentation.
3) PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
With nearly 250 hours since its release onto Early Access, you’d think this would be higher on my list – perhaps up 2 spots from here. Being the most played by me doesn’t automatically make it my game of the year, though for a time it was. But truth be told, even in its “1.0”, it still needs some work and has some issues. Now, I had avoided the Battle Royale mod from games other than it being “mod” for reasons I can’t explain. Then, I was given access to PUBG and immediately fell in love with it, as did my friends. From going from hiding in bathrooms and avoiding combat for a top 10 or top 5 finish to aggressively finding players made me enjoy the game more. PUBG may seem like an enigma to some, where death is final and the loop is time-consuming. The loop is that 100 players are dropped onto an island where a blue circle of death claims anyone who is not safely within its confines. This repeats until the circle is reduced to a size where it forces players together and into combat to determine who is the best of the best. Whether solo, duos, or squads, PUBG provides variance on the traditional multiplayer format that gives a semblance of realism in its gun handling that straddles simulation and arcade that appeals to all kinds of players. The Enrangel map has its topography and layout ingrained into my brain as I have intimate detail of every major town to where to find the best loot and how to quickly loot for efficiency. Death does come quickly, but the more time you spend in combat, and if you play tactically, you are able to outwit and outgun your opponent and get even better geared for the final circles. It has become the number one played game on Steam for good reason. I’ve amassed several chicken dinners and haven’t gotten tired of the taste.
2) Horizon Zero Dawn
Guerrilla Games have made of one of my favorite games in recent memory. Perhaps this is because the game takes place in my own backyard, the majority of Colorado and Utah (now Wyoming with the Frozen Wilds expansion). It takes the post-apocalyptic formula, and flips it on its head with an unraveling story at a constant and rewarding pace. It uses the real-world inspiration of these places to great effect, and has a detailed history to read about and discover. For only having a launch PlayStation 4, I was constantly floored at the game’s visuals, details, and overall presentation – it looks way too good all the time. Whatever magic Guerrilla Games performed, should be taught to others. Aloy is a fully realized, and designed protagonist. Armed with primitive, yet futuristic weapons make her very versatile and dangerous. Complete with a leveling system, RPG mechanics, and dialogue choices, you can somewhat shape the type of person Aloy is, and what events take place in the game. I loved the story and mystery that surrounds the history of the human race and why this robot animals roamed the landscape, and the reveal is so sweet, touching, and ultimately infuriating to see who is responsible for the way things are, but you can’t do anything because they have long-since passed. All you can do is uncover the truth and learn from their mistakes. The game is full of bad guys to fight who are (for the time being) living, but also can hunt animals in the wild to craft better weapons and other things to improve Aloy’s survivability and arsenal. Traversing the open world feels natural and dangerous as it should, and you’re introduced to new enemies at just the right times where you know you’re ready to face them. Horizon Zero Dawn is exemplary on everything it does, and it is a game I want more of and none of, because it is the closest thing to perfect I’ve played.
1) Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Machine Games have returned with what is the most timely game to-date. The current political nature of the game lends to a desire to wipe Nazi’s off the planet in this alternate 1960s world. Escaping near-death, William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz returns to start a revolution in hopes of returning America to its former glory and independence. Yes, Wolfenstein II is a first-person shooter, but is one with heart and smarts. It has characters that are developed, or develop over the course of the game that evoke real emotion from the player. It is an evolution of the FPS genre it has sorely needed, but builds on what Wolfenstein: The New Order did so well in 2014.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is not the game you show to your parents, but it carries weight that matters and is worthwhile and offers longevity thanks to post-campaign missions and a Season Pass.
!!! SPOILERS BEGIN !!!Combat from one level to the next is completely different than the last; from wheelchairs to exploring nuclear-radiated cities, to closed areas to open, from Earth to Venus, and even riding mechanical dogs. I loved resolving my daddy issues with great impunity. I laughed as I auditioned for myself while Hitler puked his guts out. I lost my head when I lost my head, but how I obtained a new body and was able to continue was so batshit crazy, I couldn’t help but just be more invested in the fact that this series can now do anything it wants. There are so many moments to talk about, especially near the end when B.J.’s pregnant wife’s shirt goes aflame and she tears it off to dispatch the last of the enemies while straddles you from the first-person perspective is something I won’t soon forget.
!!! SPOILERS END !!!
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is not afraid, to do or say anything. Machine Games have made an incredibly important, hilarious, and engaging game that stuck with me long after the credits – this is why it is my Game of the Year for 2017. #NoMoreNazis