My (Very Late) Best of 2017 List

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I had no idea how arduous the act of whittling down a best-of list from 2017 would be, but goddamnit, six hours of writing later and I’m finally finished with my definitive list of the best games from 2017. I opted not to put them in numerical order, because I don’t honestly believe that you can compare a Golf Story to a Nier: Automata in terms of “better than.” Games are about the experience, the story, the gameplay, the sound, the music, the immersion, the freedom to escape from reality to an interactive world that’s lacking from other types of media. These are the games that do that the best from last year.

That being said, this is my personal list, and while I know there are many games I would’ve loved to have played, I work a full-time job and don’t own a gaming PC (sorry PubG and Divinity Original Sin 2), so these are the best games I was able to play last year. And man, was 2017 a fucktacular year to be a gamer. Let’s begin because this beast runs almost 4000 words, sorry. The Kindle version is coming out later this year.

Yakuza 0

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I’m one of those gamers who watched the Yazuka series from afar with intrigue and little else. For a series that dates back to the Playstation 2 era and somewhere around…7 games in the series (? too lazy to Google the actual number, sorry.) it’s kind of incredible I didn’t actually play a Yazuka game until the PS4 release of Yakuza 0. And boy, what an idiotic choice.

Yakuza was the first new game I bought in 2017 and after booting it up and playing through the opening hour, I was hooked. The game sets up a story of murder, intrigue, double-crossing, romance, restraint, brotherhood, hope, courage and disappointment with all the juicy, saucy bits between. While the main story’s tone is dire, serious and a tad melodramatic, the actual gameplay and copious side quests range from comedically disturbing to batshit crazy. For instance: Since the game is set in 1980’s Tokyo, and Michael Jackson was the biggest star on the planet, of course there’s a mission where you help a high-pitched, glammed out pop star named Miracle Johnson shoot a music video. Miracle’s character animations include a twist-in-place and an extended snapping of a finger whenever he’s pleased with your actions. Not to mention one of his only lines of dialogue is a falsetto “WOOOO!” After you complete all of the Miracle side missions he helps you set up a real estate empire in Tokyo as an advisor.

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Check out that Eric Garland lookin’ mother fucker on the left.

I could spend hours more writing about the quirky and goofy side quests, like helping a teenage girl escape a racket where she sells her underwear to creepy old men, or reuniting a former yakuza who went into hiding with his young son, and literally hundreds of other memorable missions. I can always gripe about the pseudo-outdated visual presentation and the chunky animations that are clearly holdovers from the PS3 era (as this game is based on PS3 assets, but really hi-res assets). Or how some parts of the story drag on longer than necessary, but as a whole, gamers who seek a narrative that rivals the original Metal Gear Solid in terms of tightness and performance, should be able to look past these minor gripes and see Yakuza 0 for what it is: the perfect introduction to a series that should end up on your must-play lists.

 

Nier: Automata

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WOW. That’s probably all I should say about Nier: Automata. But I can’t. Because it’s so fucking good. Like Yakuza 0, I knew nothing about the Nier series other than it dates back to the PS2 and includes the Drakengard games…okay, that doesn’t matter. Because the storyline in Nier: Automata, while loosely linked to the past Nier games, is completely self contained like a perfectly protected little egg. Which is a great way to think about this game.

On the surface level, Nier is a simple semi-open-world game by Japanese action/RPG developer Platinum Games and published by Square Enix. So immediately I assumed this game would be Japanese as fuck. And it is. You’ve got annoying anime voice acting, some convoluted dialogue and plot threads and some of the BEST FUCKING MUSIC EVER MADE FOR A VIDEO GAME! It’s one of the only video game soundtracks I listen to regularly (as I’m writing this, actually) In fact, the music is the only thing that kept me playing Nier past the first 15 hours of the 40 or so hour story. And I’m so glad I did.

The story really quickly summed up is you’re an android, created by humans to do android shit. That means murdering a lot of robots that are at war with humanity. And murder robots you do. That’s fine. But it’s the way in which the narrative weaves philosophy, love, hate, redemption and what it means to be human without a single human in the game stops short of mind-boggling. I don’t want to spoil anything other than, STICK WITH THIS GAME AFTER YOU “COMPLETE IT.” That’s where the egg I referenced earlier cracks open to reveal a delicious golden center that will force you to pause the game myriad times and say the words I opened this synopsis with: WOW.

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Oh Pascal…may the music in your village bring you the happiness it brought me.

Nier: Automata is not only one of the finest games of 2017, but of all time. There are plenty of articles dedicated to the greatness of this game. Pay them attention, do what they and I say, and play this game through to the final ending. Once you do, I’m sorry, you’ve just ruined the story in ever other game, henceforth.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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When people talk about 2017 being one of the best years of video games — what they really mean is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out as a launch title on the Switch and changed everything we knew not only about Zelda games, but about how to (pun intended) breathe new life into open-world games. To call Breath of the Wild a masterpiece is an insult to Breath of the Wild. Why do I have such strong feelings for a game from a series that’s been stagnant since the Wii/Gamecube? Because it came out almost a year ago and I’m still playing it.

Zelda taps into what makes video games great and why I fell in love with them as a five year old. Fittingly, the first game to do that for me was the original Legend of Zelda. What Nintendo accomplished with their tired series is nothing short of revolutionary. What’s so revolutionary is the simplicity of the game. There are no tutorials, no long expeditionary dialogue, no three hour intro sequence to get through to unlock the whole game. What players do get is the freedom to play. Like the original Legend of Zelda, there’s little to nothing telling you what to do. This was further helped by my initial decision to turn off the head’s up display, so my game screen was almost devoid of stats, numbers, maps and all that extraneous garbage. The only thing you’re encouraged to do is explore. And that’s where someone like me can lose 100 hours of their life. Probably more, if I’m being honest.

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You can go anywhere, climb anything (rain permitting), explore, and you’re encouraged to take your time. It’s like what real life should be like, and not a capitalist hellscape.

The narrative is absolute shit. That should ruin any game’s chances of making any top ten list, especially one being written by a storyteller. But when you factor in what a monumental sense of freedom, reward, exploration, scale, discovery and accomplishment the game provides by breaking its systems and devising your own solutions to the hundreds of puzzles and trials is more than any gamer can ask for.

Breath of the Wild is one of those rare games that turns non-gamers into gamers, even if it’s the only game they play. The simplicity of this game is oxymoronically complex, the world is real, varied and always willing to treat a curious player. The bottom line is everyone should play Breath of the Wild. It’s one of the only games that allowed me to be distracted enough from the Trump presidency and nightmarish GOP onslaught on our freedoms and rights, so it’s basically like therapy. Let it take you out of your head and into a world of fun and possibility.

 

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

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Remember before, when I was talking about Nier: Automata and I used the simple one-word opener of “WOW”? Yeah, apply that to Wolfenstein 2. Full disclosure, this game is another therapeutic experience because you can, and are encouraged to murder a fuck-ton of Nazis. And holy shit, did that feel good in 2017.

While Wolfenstein 2 is set during 1961 in an alternate universe where the Nazis won World War 2, the way the developers and writers weaved in today’s bananas Nazi resurgence language, the game feels more now than now. There’s a hidden collectible in the form of a newspaper where the paper is interviewing a dapper nazi like mother jones did with professional dickshit Richard Spencer. One narrative scene has the main protagonist walking down the streets of Roswell, New Mexico during liberation day (the day the Nazis conquered America) and along with a cadre of Nazis and Nazi officers are KKK members kissing Nazi ass. They’re depicted as the actual fucksticks they are, sucking up to the Nazis, learning to speak their German like good little shitstains. But you do get to fucking murder all of them and it feels good. Damn good.

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KKK members look really good wearing a lot of bullet holes in Wolfenstein II

While many gripe about the shooting in this game, I found great satisfaction in the way Wolfenstein encourages you to keep moving, switching weapons and obliterating nazis and their machinations with an almost balletic bravado. Once you get the combo of auto rifle/auto shotgun, Nazis become what they’re meant to be; the final resting place for a lot of bullets.

Outside the debatably spotty gameplay, there are some lagging areas during your playthrough (The New York-post-nuking level comes to mind) where it’s easy to get lost due to samey and monotonous level design, but these moments are sparse. I will concede that the gunplay and gameplay are the weakest parts of Wolfenstein II, but it’s still leagues better than most shooters in my opinion. But that story, tho…

From the opening moments the game shocks you and sets expectations high. Somehow, the opening scene, where a major character from the last game is brutally murdered and tortured before your yes, pales in comparison to where the rest of the game will take your emotions. There’s sincerity and heart in every one of the characters you interact with and the game does a phenomenal job of making you care about each and every one of them. From holdovers from the first Wolfenstein to the new cast, each character oozes charisma and purpose. The story is so tight, even when it goes into bonkers Nazi-Base-on-Venus-to-audition-for-a-role-in-a-movie-written-by-Adolf-Hitler-himself territory. And it’s a story that can only be done in a video game. That’s why I love Wolfenstein II so much. It sets the bar for gaming narratives and is a prime example of allowing the wildest fucking ideas room to breathe, work and make it to the final game. More than almost any game this year, Wolfenstein II goes for it and, boy, does it shoot a beautiful big bloody hole in the face of Nazis real good.

 

Star Wars Battlefront 2

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I may literally be the only person who has played this game and enjoyed it. That’s because if it goes “pew pew” and “[lightsaber sound]” and “beeb-boop” and “[Vader Breath]”, I’m probably going to love it. Thankfully, what makes Battlefield 2 a controversial choice isn’t the gameplay. It’s basic, arcadey and relatively forgettable, but it works. Not well at first, mind you. The time necessary to get into anything resembling an enjoyable experience with Star Wars Battlefront 2 is like having to piss on a stretch of road through Nebraska — painful and unnecessary (since you could probably pull over and pee anywhere rather than endure the unbearable tingling). But after you unlock your first few star cards and get to know the various character classes, you begin killing a lot of rebels and empires and robots and Jedi and Sith and x-wings and everything Star Wars.

Whoo-wee, is Battlefront 2 a very pretty game. It runs at 60fps on PS4 and after playing it, Destiny 2 feels like a PS3 game. Incredible lighting, textures and sound overwhelm the player and transport them to their favorite childhood Star Wars fantasies.

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Yup, it sure does look that good while you play it, too.

Don’t get me wrong, Battlefront 2 is not a good game, and it probably should be avoided unless you have as much of a wet spot for Star Wars as I do. The online modes are fun, but predictable. The single player game is fun, but predictable. The arcade mode isn’t fun, but it’s predictable. See the pattern? Yet here I am, with countless thousands of dead  at the end of my blaster in a galaxy far, far away, and I still boot it up once or twice a week to see a Star War. I never said this list was for everybody.

 

Super Mario Odyssey

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I may be in the minority here, but I couldn’t wait to finish Super Mario Odyssey. That’s not to say that it’s not one of the most polished, fun, tight, colorful and joyous gaming experiences of the year. Somehow I feel like I just wanted more. Still, I can’t let my lasting impression sully what was a celebratory and uplifting time spent with gaming’s most iconic character.

If you’ve played any Mario game since Super Mario 64, you’ve played what’s at the bulk of Super Mario Odyssey. Odyssey mixes up the jump here, run up this, hit-this-boss-three-times formula enough to give it a fresh coat of paint that’s appealing at first, but 10 hours into the game, that paint begins to chip. Using the new character of Cappy to toss at enemies and possess a large majority of them, transforming Mario into an amalgam of himself and the creature is a ton of fun. This is where Odyssey shines. Coupled with some of the best level and world design in recent memory, the levels of Super Mario Odyssey are a delight to explore. The game is constantly rewarding the character with coins, Power Moons (what makes progression in the game possible), or special level-specific coins that you can’t help but peek around every corner and inspect every angle. It’s such a strong testament to the level of detail and encouragement Nintendo is able to pack into their games. I would almost say (and will say) that Super Mario Odyssey cherry picked these lessons from Zelda.

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It’s a me, fuggin’ Mayrio!

While I was ready to move off of Super Mario Odyssey sooner than I would have liked, I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the Mushroom Kingdom and rescuing Princess Peach for the thousandth time in my life, and that’s saying something about the staying power of Mario and the amount of elation this game can offer players.

 

Resident Evil 7

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I don’t feel like Resident Evil 7 got the spotlight it deserved in 2017. Purely on terms of rebooting one of the most popular and recognizable and predictable series in gaming, Resident Evil 7 could stand on its own as a non-Resident Evil game and I bet it would have still sold well. Now if you add playing it on PSVR to the mix — get ready to shit your pants while you play a video game.*

RE7 is disturbing, unsettling, terrifying and the best VR experience available. If you were sitting on the sidelines about VR, I cannot recommend this game enough. It’s totally worth it the first time you’re being stalked through a horrendously decrepit farmhouse and the 3D audio queues you into something walking behind you. You physically turn around and a nightmarebeast looms over you and you yell at 2am and wake up your neighbors because your walls are really thin. That literally happens over and over. Capcom, the developers, did such an amazing job at peppering grime and filth and gore throughout the game to never allow you to feel completely at ease. It just works so well.

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You haven’t lived life until you’ve watch a demented-ass family eat entrails in VR.

The story may be largely forgettable, but the tension, setting and atmosphere are the stars here. Fans of Resident Evil should certainly play it, but newcomers have a superb jumping off point for the series that requires no previous game knowledge to enjoy. Play Resident Evil 7 in VR if you can.

*I didn’t actually shit my pants playing this game, but I would have liked to so I could’ve only written “I literally shit my pants playing this game. play it.” it would have saved me a lot of time. 

Horizon: Zero Dawn

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I had a hot internal debate whether or not to include Horizon on my best of 2017 list. That’s not because it’s a bad game. Far from it. It’s visually and narratively one of the strongest games of the year. But I think, for me, Horizon is a victim of its timing. It’s a game that was supposed to be released in 2016, got pushed to 2017, and merely weeks before the (arguably) best game of the year came out, Breath of the Wild. Even with that handicap, the fact that I was struggling whether or not to include it is a testament to why it should be on my list. Because next to Zelda, most games pale in comparison.

Horizon is pure fantasy, sci-fi crack. The setting is a world wherein robotic dinosaurs and massive beasts rule the world and you, an outcast girl from a tribe called The Nora, have a peculiar affinity for killing these beasts. The game drip-drops a fantastic story throughout one of the most gorgeous game settings created. On a personal note, I fucking love that you play as Aloy, a heroine who isn’t 90% tits and 10% ass. She stays fully clothed throughout the entirety of the game, beats the shit out of men with logic, reason and force and saves the goddamn world. Respec, sistah. The story Guerrilla games penned rivals some of today’s best sci-fi and each beat is rewarding and dangles the next carrot of revelations just out of reach.

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“Hey ma! Someone crashed a gitdam UFO inta a dang dina-sore!”

Sliding, jumping, dodging and climbing your way around the world takes a bit of getting used to, but once you master combining stealth, tripwires, the various types of arrows and melee combat, you’ll be fucking up robot dinosaurs with the style and grace of ballerina who dies a lot. Because I died a lot playing Horizon. And I think I like that — a game that forces difficulty on players who don’t vary their gameplay. It’s an excellent way to reward the gamer for actually learning each of the game’s weapons and utilizing them to their fullest effects to surmount the high difficulty of some battles.

I’m glad I kept Horizon on my list, and I have no doubt that the inevitable sequel will be when the series comes into its own. It’s still a stellar effort by a studio known for their dark and grimy first person military gun-fests.

 

Golf Story

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I know what you’re saying. What the fuck is Golf Story? It’s one of my favorite games of the year, asshole. Stop being such a dick.

Golf Story is pure video game bubblegum. It’s good in short bursts, you can take it with you wherever you go because it’s on the Switch, and it can get old after you chew it too long.

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One of the best things about Golf Story is how everyone treats the main character like absolute shit. But it’s cool because he’s kind of a dick to his ex-girlfriend at the beginning of the game.

This 2D golf role playing game has enough charm, witty dialogue and basic ass, arcadey golf to scratch that Mario Golf or Hot Shots Golf itch. The music is a delight, the actual game of golf is accessible and rewarding, and the developers found a great way to keep things fresh. Almost. Extended play of Golf Story can lead to feelings of repetitiveness as you tread from golf course to golf course solving various problems and helping the Non Player Characters with silly problems. That’s why I played the game over the course of three months, you only need a half hour here and there to enjoy it, and I believe everyone should have at least one or two of those games in their arsenal.

While it doesn’t have the same pedigree or polish as the others on this list, Golf Story is a fun romp through a colorful world and achievable challenges that everyone should enjoy.

 

Assassin’s Creed Origins

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A fucking Assassin’s Creed game as a best of the year? Yeah, I didn’t expect it either. But here we are, the last game on the list, and it’s Assassin’s Creed. Somehow Ubisoft revamped a series I once went from thinking was the best thing games ever made to a series I actively avoided due to horrendous stagnancy. Then Baek of Siwa came along and happened to live in the best time period and best Assassin’s Creed world to date. Egypt.

I want to gush and wax poetic about the visual beauty of this game, but even though I stopped and took more screenshots in AC Origins than I have in any other game, the mouth-agape visuals aren’t even the most impressive part. It’s that country I mentioned in the last paragraph. Origins’ version of Egypt is set around the time of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar – the landscapes range from open, endless desert, to Grecian cities, Egyptian villages and Roman strongholds with mountains, rivers, grass and PYRAMIDS in between. It’s in this world where the best parts of Assassin’s Creed Origins shine.

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No, but, it actually looks like that when you play it.

Origins deserves many accolades for something that used to be the series’ weakest cog: side quests. The game does an exemplary job turning boring ass fetch quests into engaging, narrative-driven experiences. So much so that the main storyline feels like it’s lacking the same care as the side quests. Which is a real shame, because there are lots of shiny parts about this game just slightly tarnished by the main story. However, if I can overlook the shit story of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I owe AC Origins the same respect.

From relevant and necessary gameplay changes, a major visual overhaul and one of the most beautiful and compelling open worlds ever made, Assassin’s Creed Origins deserves your attention. Even if you think you hate the series, Origins fixes what broke old Assassin’s Creed games and opens up a new swath of possibilities for the future of the series.

Holy Fuck that’s a lot of writing in one day. Fitting for a lot of gaming in one year.


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