GOTY 2017: Stu's Picks

Wowsers trousers what a year for gaming 2017 was! I certainly subscribe to the sentiment that it was potentially the best year of releases since 2007, a year in which the following phenomenal titles were delivered to eager gamers: Super Mario Galaxy, Bioshock, Portal, Mass Effect, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Halo 3 and Rock Band. Tough competition for sure but I believe that 2017 is certainly up there with some of these behemoth titles.

Before I kick off the main event, if you would be so kind as to allow me to highlight some titles that are worth of honourable mentions! I also wish to share those special games that I wish I had given more time to over the course of the year.

Honourable Mentions
 

Lawbreakers

Possibly the most interesting title of 2017 simply because I cannot remember such a misstep of a release in recent times. Lawbreakers arrived on the scene with a questionable art style, one that does not lend itself well to cosmetic based micro-content and little to no marketing, all the while attempting to take on behemoths such as Overwatch and to win people away from the PUBG craze that was sweeping the world at the time.

No surprises then that the player base soon evaporated and at times it could take up to 10 minutes to find a match. However, with all this in mind, it was a unique experience for us as a group. We had fun and the community became so small that you soon began recognising random players. This is obviously bad for the game itself but added a strange sort of camaraderie to the proceedings. As Earl mentioned, the fate of this game was a tragedy but one that was completely avoidable. It baffles my mind to this day that the release of this game was handled so badly, almost like an afterthought and this from industry veteran Cliffy B. It beggars belief!

 

Cat Quest!

Meow! Cat Quest from The Gentle Bros. is a delightful pun-filled romp through a cat-inhabited world. It is a very colourful RPG that takes place entirely on a world map setting. Or, as the developers put it: “Think of it as the overworld of Final Fantasy, the combat and exploration of Zelda, and the open world of Skyrim all in one cat package!” Simple fun and addictive. The game is purrfect for the Nintendo Switch and highly recommended for commutes!

 

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Your mileage may vary on how well you think Hellblade handles the topic of mental illness or PTSD, some have gone as far as  to criticise the title for using this sensitive topic as a narrative tool altogether but personally I don't think that is particularly fair, as lots of games use arguably much more questionable topics as a narrative base. Ninja Theory at least appeared to take the subject seriously as a framing device for their Norse/Celtic adventure.

The topic of mental illness aside, Hellblade represented an interesting experiment in "independent AAA" gaming. I hope to see more examples of this, or even more AA titles as over the latest generation that range seems to have all but disappeared. 

Recommended for a nice little story, decent mo-cap and acting (as is usually the case with Ninja Theory) and a nice art style with the blending of two mythologies.

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Shame Games

I bought a lot of games in 2017. I played a lot, but not all. Two games that remain unfinished and my biggest shame are the following:

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Zelda: Breath of the Wild

What can I say about this game that hasn't already been said? Multiple GOTY awards, a breath of fresh air to the long-running franchise and a veritable playground of physics and imagination. Easily breakable weapons do get a bit annoying for the early parts of the game and some shrines seem a bit broken using the Pro Controller but there is no denying the beauty of this game. Remember when playing this game: if you can think it, you can do it!

 

Super Mario Odyssey

Arguably the ultimate killer app the Switch was waiting for, and if looking at current sales and especially those for Christmas, it did exactly what it needed to do in bolstering an already well-performing console. This game is pure bottled Nintendo. Colourful, fun, innocent and childish in the best ways. A masterclass in balancing accessibility for younger gamers and challenge for the more mature Nintendo fans among us. Remember when playing this game: if you can think it, you can do it! Oh, Nintendo!

 

Top Games of 2017

And now to the main event, after much deliberation, my top games of the year 2017!

10 - Everybody's Golf

Golf games can always be kind of fun. Add into that RPG type elements, humourous characters, golf cart racing and fishing and you have a potential golfing classic on your hands! The core game is great fun. It always remains satisfying to pull off a perfect drive and as you continue to level up, attempting hole-in-ones becomes a pleasant pastime.

The online mode does seem a bit of a crazy mess as it is a pseudo MMO which seems to have lost some personality in the process, as it all comes off a little hectic and I never really got the feeling of competing against real people.

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9 - Fortnite

Early on I played quite a lot of PUBG during its Early Access period, but eventually I bounced off a little, no fault of the game but instead a combination of personal factors including a hot summer in Spain and my PC being located in a windowless room!

Shortly after that, a good few of us jumped onto Fortnite with the release of its Battle Royale mode and whilst comparisons are obvious between the two, they are certainly different enough to co-exist. Where PUBG can be slow and tense, Fortnite is colourful and fast and involves dancing and human bushes, a whole host of wacky weapons and of course the main feature that sets it apart, the crafting of structures. Something I suck at to this day but adds an extra element of fun and strategy.

The Battle Royale mode is totally free and available as a standalone. Highly recommended to scratch any battle royale itches you may have if you own a PS4 primarily.

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8 - Persona 5

Confession time, I have not finished this game. I have, however, played enough to feel confident including it on my list. Had I finished it, I am confident that it would be higher but alas, it is what it is.

I have completed 5 palaces and maxed out some of my social skills - something I am yet to do in real life! This game is gorgeous. Everything about it is just so... cool. The characters, the music, hell, even how the menus and fonts appear on screen. A lot of time and love went into how this game looks and because of that, it is an absolute treat to behold. 

Fans of Persona will not be disappointed and anyone new to the franchise but curious about the blend of high school sim/JRPG should defintely not hesitate in picking this beauty up!

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7 - Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

The Resident Evil series has been a bit down in the dumps since the classic Resident Evil 4. Suffering an identity crisis as it moved away from horror into action, perhaps after a misguided misunderstanding of why Resident Evil 4 was so successful. Yes, it redefined the series and arguably the genre by killing the tank controls and moving to an over the shoulder control scheme, but it was still Resident Evil and it still had elements of horror and the need to survive. In Resident Evil 5, I remember vaulting over cover and taking out machine-gun-wielding zombies with a rocket launcher. It just wasn't scary and I scare easily in video games. Resident Evil 6 continued this direction but tried to balance it with multiple campaigns to shoehorn in some more traditional survival horror elements. It was a bit of a mess and a misfire, I think most would agree.

Then comes along Resident Evil 7, and it is first person. At first, this perspective shift inspired scepticism in most. For me though, I was not so invested in the franchise, and therefore I remained optimistic and interested. Fast forward to the release and reception and who would have been able to predict that a Resident Evil that is so drastically different on the surface would be the game that really understood the roots of the series, and put it back on the right path?

Overall I do wish that the game tied in more to the franchise than it ultimately did, but from start to finish the experience was exciting, tense and great fun. I would certainly give my stay at the Baker's place five stars on Trip Advisor!

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6 - Assassin's Creed: Origins

Assassin's Creed fatigue is a real thing. Each game is generally very similar and most of the time the only difference year-on-year is the setting in which the familiar gameplay takes place. Ubisoft are well aware of this and it is clear that is why they decided to take more time in development between Syndicate and Origins.

As a long time fan of the series who did feel the fatigue with each new release, I have to say this was a very good idea. Whilst it is still very clearly an Assassin's Creed game, in my opinion it made enough tweaks to feel fresher. The combat is completely different to previous titles, closer (but not quite as good) to Dark Souls, and the overall structure is more akin to The Witcher 3 than any preceding AC titles. The setting is also really interesting, the characters are strong and it looks absolutely fantastic.

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5 - Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a bit hit and miss, it is a bit janky in places and some of the character designs could be considered controversial to say the least, but despite this it manages to have a certain charm and I have happily put in 100+ hours already, and I am not even half way through the game. This game is huge. The combat is great fun, the music is fantastic at times and the characters are overall likable despite some artistic shortcomings. The game world is also huge and stunning in places.

The game is closer to Xenoblade Chronicles X than the original game in my opinion, but then I spent more time with X than 1 personally. Keep that in mind if you are considering purchasing this title based on previous Xenoblade experiences and preferences.

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4 - Life is Strange: Before the Storm

How do you do a Life Is Strange game without Max, without any supernatural powers and with a new developer? Well, you do it by understanding the world Dontnod created, the characters they brought to life and with fantastic writing. Deck Nine succeeded with Before the Storm where many fans thought they would fail.

Before the Storm is a prequel to the original LiS and centres on the relationship between Chloe and Rachael which of course was the catalyst for some of the events of the original title. How did they meet? How did their relationship develop? What happened leading up to Max's return to Arcadia Bay? Obviously not going to list any of this here but if you have any interest in this franchise, Before the Storm is well worth your time. I'd like to give a particular shout-out to a scene revolving around William Shakespeare's The Tempest in an early episode!

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3 - Horizon Zero Dawn

I actually surprised myself when I remembered this game came out in 2017 because I bought it as soon as it released early in the year, but for various reasons got distracted and put it to rest.

Fast forward to the Christmas break and I decided to pick it up and start again from the beginning. I quickly found myself lost in this beautifully realised post-apocalyptic world. Great writing, great characters and a bit of an injection of Witcher 3 style open world questing and exploration (I understand that some Witcher devs were on hand to help Guerrilla during development).

One of the things that I really appreciate about Horizon is that it balances multiple tones very well. Overall it is a sci-fi story, but obviously it has a lot of tribal elements and influences. The strong writing really makes you care about both aspects of this, and they do not feel tonally at odds which each other.

The best part about my delay in getting back to this fantastic game is that I could jump straight into the also fantastic Frozen Wilds DLC!

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2 - Nioh

Nioh is a fantastic mix of the Dark Souls structure and Ninja Gaiden gameplay set in a very interesting dark fantasy version of the Sengoku period of Japan. The game revolves around Irish character William who travels to Japan on the behest of the Queen of England, during an ongoing war with Spain. During his travels, he crosses paths with fictionalised versions of real historical characters (William himself is based on a degree of reality) and battles funky demons.

The combat in Nioh is a lot of fun and the challenge is tough but fair. I would say that overall the game is on the easier side than a standard Souls, but is a lot of fun to play nonetheless.

Possibly the best thing about Nioh, in my opinion, is the structure. It is level based rather than open world, which means it presents a lot more quality of life aspects than the usual Souls titles. I can jump in, do a couple of missions, and take a break.

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1 - NieR: Automata

I am still shocked that this game exists at all. The fact that it was also such a critical and commercial success compared to its predecessor is simply the icing on the cake. I will forever be grateful to Sony for recognising the validity of this franchise and giving it another shot, seeing as the original game from 2010 was generally overlooked.

I am also really happy that this game has catapulted director Yoko Taro to a similar spotlight as other famous game directors, like Hideo Kojima.

The music in this game, as with the original, is absolutely fantastic. I have not stopped listening to the OST almost daily since completing the game itself, I just recently spent some serious bucks on a vinyl collection of both this and the original game's soundtrack, and I couldn't be happier.

NieR: Automata is a lot deeper than it may at first appear, and really tells an interesting story in a unique way whilst at the same time making great use of some more common video game tropes. Platinum Games created a very fun and solid foundation for Taro to weave his nihilistic but eventually almost hopeful tale, of a group of androids locked in a perpetual cycle of war, whilst searching for a higher meaning to their existence.

Overall, as much as I love Automata, obviously, I feel that a lot of its critical acclaim could be interchanged with the original NieR Gestalt/Replicant, so whilst I am happy that NieR is finally getting the love that I dearly believe it deserves, I can't help feel a little bit upset that the first game was so criminally overlooked. I really hope that a remaster of the original is on the cards!

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Well, there you have it! My top games of 2017. Overall it was a fantastic year for gaming and I am hopeful that 2018 will be even better!

I hope you enjoyed my list and I hope you had a great gaming year!