Hi. Here are the ten best videogames from 2017
(these unofficially serve as DigitalChumps’ official picks until someone else on staff decides to do this):
Yakuza 0 is an arena where young men test the limits of conformity by beating the living shit out of anyone standing near its boundaries. It’s a circuitous Japanese drama and an evolutionary branch of the beat ’em up genre that somehow operates as a utopian compromise between professional wrestling entertainment and gratifying interactivity. Even after a dozen years and seven (or eleven) games, Yakuza 0 is an impressive and easy invitation to its namesake’s adrenalized world. My review.
Gnog distills the joy of fiddling with switches, dials, and knobs into a potent liquid and then uses that fluorescent elixir to invigorate a monster’s brain. The result is a collection of orderly puzzles eager to illustrate logic while soaked in giddying medley of spaceships, electricity, and mother birds. If you were ever allowed to peer inside of a candy monster’s skull, Gnog is precisely what you would find. My review.
RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD
Resident Evil 7 is a smart and effective response to the challenge of creating a modern Resident Evil game. When amplified by virtual reality, however, Resident Evil 7 transcends the limitations of its medium and becomes a menacing decent into reactive terror. After a capricious and misguided series of experiments, Resident Evil has finally created stable and powerful statement of identity. My PlayStation 4/PlayStation VR review. Will’s Xbox One review.
WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH
Life isn’t often what we imagine and death isn’t usually what we expect. What Remains of Edith Finch responds by capturing death’s despair and tragedy through life’s lenses of whimsy and fantasy. Every emotion and detail is left in frame, exposing profoundly anguishing themes that nevertheless develop into endearing pictures of hope and determination. Edith Finch creates a portrait of a family that, even in their doomed eccentricity, feels not only sanguine, but also deeply human. My review.
Platinum Games + Square-Enix
Nier: Automata is the videogame twin of those tabletop games that demand players disfigure and destroy its pieces. In Automata’s case, PlatinumGames’ house-brand of action sustains engagement and empowers director Yoko Taro’s disarming unorthodoxy, positioning Automata as cordial agreement between boundary-obliterating determination and boisterous violence. As a videogame designed to experience the paradox of poignant optimism, Automata isn’t the most efficient mechanism, but it’s easily the most effective. My review.
Christian Whitehead + PagodaWest + Headcannon
It’s easy to love Sonic Mania. An impassioned team’s take on Sega’s emblematic hedgehog delighted skeptical critics and satiated ravenous fans. The odds of this happening—of Sonic narrowly escaping his cursed cycle—were not tough to bet against. Despite a smattering of dissimilar attempts across a variety of platforms, there wasn’t a Sonic game that nailed it like his 16-bit heyday. Sonic Mania, on the other hand, accepted Sonic’s inherited limitations (or problems) and transformed them into practical solutions. Steven McGehee’s review + a giant Sonic Mania feature I wrote.
Persona 5 will be beautiful forever. Meticulous thought and consideration has been applied to Shin Megami Tensei’s durable model of dungeon crawling and Persona’s paragon of social simulation, creating a brilliant pulse visible through (almost) every aspect of its performance. Keeping this pace across a formidable length is Persona 5’s most impressive trick, ensuring it will steal your heart without wasting your time. My review.
STAR FOX 2
Nintendo + Argonaut
Star Fox 2 is imperiled by time. In 1995 it would have been a technical showpiece on an ancient platform. 2017 may view it as a ghastly sideshow unqualified to compliment twenty of the Super Nintendo’s best and brightest as part of the SNES Classic. While time corrupts a sincere appraisal of Star Fox 2’s merit, it leaves behind the benign peculiarity of its survival. Star Fox 2 is a weird, wonderful what-if that slipped out of a black hole and into our present reality. My review.
SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY
The range of Mario’s talents extends wildly in every available direction. Both traditional platforming challenges and adventure game-styled ideas knock on the door of intuition and often kick it wide open. Most actions, no matter how improvisational they may seem, are met with some kind of clear acknowledgement and appreciation from Super Mario Odyssey. Plenty of games want to make the player believe what they’re doing is extraordinary. Odyssey convinces players they’re both empowered and inspired. Steve Schardein’s review.
WOLFENSTEIN II: THE NEW COLOSSUS
Wolfenstein was once garishly celebrated for its postmodern take on murdering hoards of genocidal maniacs. Starting with The New Order and continuing through The New Colossus, it’s now earnestly embraced for operating by a similar thesis. Strokes made to detail the portrait of a Nazi occupied, alternate universe United States are audacious, horrifying, uplifting, hilarious, and—in each specific instance—monstrously effective. “The Casting Call” sequence in particular is a perfect microcosm of The New Colossus’ performance; on its surface and deep inside its core, The New Colossus goes there, running away with wild artistry and never looking back. Steven McGehee’s review.
Other games I greatly enjoyed this year:
Uncanny Valley – Uncanny Valley thrives in the unknown and dies in the familiar. Playing is a push and pull between two opposing conditions, and in time perseveration shoves mystery over the edge and becomes a dominating force. Consequence, the commanding authority of Uncanny Valley, is resistible when it’s ultimately undermined by routine. My review.
Puyo Puyo Tetris – The alchemy involved in fusing two classic, beloved falling-block puzzlers was thought to have been forbidden by both science and religion until Sega violated god’s law and released it in North America. It took more than three years for Puyo Puyo Tetris to get here but, in a competitive environment, gosh was it worth it.
Nidhogg 2 – Nidhogg 2 is the madhouse on top of Nidhogg’s foundation. Formidable swords and a low-fi aesthetic are swapped for a gleeful array of sharp objects and a ridiculous style that embraces the 90’s grossest toys. Nidhogg’s singular focus isn’t lost or diluted, it’s amplified with a jubilant response to skill and spontaneity. My review.
Cuphead – StudioMDHR’s ode to Fleischer’s animated shorts operates it systems on an unprecedented scale. No game has ever looked like this and, in all likelihood, nothing short of a Cuphead sequel will ever look like this again. It’s bursting with kinetic activity and authored with love, which is a weird thing to say about one of the most merciless games of 2017.
Gravity Rush 2 – When I played Gravity Rush 2 I was let down by imprecise control, recycled Gravity Rush environments, and a hasty, left-field third act. When I look back on Gravity Rush 2, however, there’s a fondness for a game that accelerated third-person action away from genre norms, into political strife, and inside kaleidoscopic floating cities. Wistful reflection is a distortion of reality, but it’s also the way I’ll choose to remember the better parts of Gravity Rush 2. Steven McGehee’s review.
Pyre – Pyre understands the primal thrill behind executing a dangerous slam dunk and the dueling probabilities of luck and dexterity necessary to make it happen. With Pyre, Supergiant Games’ passion for systems-driven trials of skill and fondness for vibrant, wistful fantasy converge in the Mutant League NBA Jam daydream role-playing game I never knew I always wanted. My review.
Polybius – Polybius’ tempestuous pace and kaleidoscopic assault indulge its urban legend while its principled operation betrays its sinister infamy. It’s a spiraling supersonic tunnel shooter that only seems like it’s bulldozing cognitive ability, and parsing its putative chaos tips its scale from pandemonium to precision. By allowing fury to give way to Zen, Polybius lives up to its legend. My review.
Superhot VR – Superhot VR is a slow motion power fantasy. This is also true of the original Superhot, but Superhot VR’s application to the virtual world transforms vicarious pride into primary euphoria. Abstraction is erased; you’re there, performing inside a cloud of action sequences that borrow pages from Hong Kong and Hollywood’s best playbooks. My review.
Tacoma – An abandoned space station, impetuous corporate interests, a curious A.I. — Tacoma’s facade floats between charming futurism and abrasive, old-fashioned avarice. This may seem like inhospitable space to explore the depths of benevolence, but the power of identity and humanity are alive and well supported inside of Tacoma’s twirling science fiction architecture. My review.
Gorogoa – Through its characters, its designer, and its player, Gorogoa keeps an outsider’s perspective in a present state of mind. Straightforward action—shifting panels and considering different points of view—doesn’t preclude logical twists or emotional complexity. In only a couple hours, Gorogoa creates a window into a daydream and a companion to despair. My review.
Gang Beasts – Gang Beasts’ madcap brawling creates a dynamic alliance between conflict and chaos. It also enables human responses like surprise, merriment, revenge, and screaming. Driving a wobbly creature to comically murder another flailing mess, as it turns out, is a pleasant and repeatable practice. If only three of your friends could always come along for the ride. My review.
Mild disappointment, 2017: Metroid: Samus Returns. Not perfectly replicating a seventeen-year-old Game Boy title could be forgiven (especially after what AM2R accomplished in 2016), but Samus Returns’ languid pace and arduous performance doomed it out of the gate. It’s not a bad game—I liked it enough to finish it—it’s just out of step with the modern interpretation of Metroidvania. Outland, Axiom Verge, and Guacamelee all played with genre norms better than Samus Returns. Steven McGehee’s review.
Significant disappointment 2017: Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Through fifteen hours, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is akin to a five year old making up an insane story without regard for either logic or punctuation. You’re not sure what’s actually important, why it’s taking so long to get to the point, and whether or not it’s worth sticking around. Obviously these are “early” observations about a 100+ hour experience, but a lack of clarity and editing around mammoth ideas and ambition can easily poison hope. I’ve been on board with Tetsuya Takahasi’s work since Xenogears blew my fifteen-year-old brain into pieces. I think this is where I get off.
Games I regrettably missed in 2017: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Dragon Quest VIII (3DS), Night in the Woods, Yakuza: Kiwami, Battle Chef Brigade, Prey, The Evil Within 2, Hollow Knight, Nioh, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Matterfall, Nex Machina, The Sexy Brutale, SteamWorld Dig 2, Snipperclips, West of Loathing, Observer, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA, Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap, Rime, Blaster Master Zero, Statik, Stories Untold, Rain World, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, The Surge, Ode, Finding Paradise, Splatoon 2, Heat Signature, Golf Story, Ever Oasis, Dead Cells, Flint Hook, Strafe
Special Achievement in Publishing Award 2017 – Bethesda. In ten years of writing these lists I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to recognize a publisher, but look at the volume of work Bethesda published this year: Prey, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, Wolfenstein II, and The Evil Within 2 along with Switch ports for Doom and Skyrim and VR releases for Skyrim, Doom, and Fallout 4. It doesn’t appear that many of those sold very well! Especially after the squirm-inducing pariah commercial Bethesda ran at The Game Awards. I have no idea how they’re paying for any of this (other than releasing Skyrim on as many platforms as the human mind can imagine), but the creative, zero-bullshit side of gaming stands to benefit from their direction.
Objective Game of the Year 2017: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Imagine working at a massive publisher and trying to find the market for the next h u g e multiplayer game. Imagine seeing a niche enigma with title like “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” a $30 price-tag, a severe early access stipulation, a single map, and glitches as far as the eye can see. Imagine it selling over twenty million copies on a single platform in nine months. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has disrupted every foreseeable forecast on its way to becoming the largest gaming phenomenon since Minecraft. Its influence on shooters, multiplayer organization, and structured engagement for years to come is undeniable. Even in its horribly broken form, Microsoft is packing it in with its holiday Xbox One X models. A game of this size and this scale shipping broken on the most powerful console in existence is a statement of direction and power.
Steve Schardein Game of the Year 2017: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Steve likes this videogame.
Greatly looking forward to in 2018: Drift Stage, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, Red Dead Redemption 2, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Psychonauts 2, Crackdown 3, State of Decay 2, Vampyr, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove, Kentucky Route Zero Act V, UFO 50, Shadow of the Colossus PS4, Spelunky 2, Dragon Quest XI, Wattam, Yoshi Switch, Kirby Switch, Kirby Battle Royale, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, Bayonetta 3, Jupiter & Mars, Devil May Cry V, Donut County, Virtual On x Index, Concrete Genie, A Way Out, Dead Static Drive. Oddworld: Soulstrorm, Witchfire, Afterparty, The Alliance Alive, Moss
Not coming out in 2018: Final Fantasy VII Remake, Death Stranding, The Last of Us Part II, Dreams, Shadows Die Twice, Shenmue 3, Kingdom Hearts III, Shin Megami Tensei V, Metroid Prime 4, Below, Anthem, Cyberpunk 2077
Mild disappointment, 2018 (speculative): Far Cry 5. After a provocative and promising debut, Far Cry 5 will almost certainly shy away from exploring its projected image and default back to a basic morality tale. It will also be complimented by the serviceable, predictably impressive template inspired by Far Cry 3, Far Cry 4, and Far Cry Primal. It’ll be fine, but those expecting a narrative with the power of Wolfenstein II or direction with the strength and risk of Breath of the Wild are marks, man.
Shit-in-Mouth 2018 (speculative): Detroit: Become Human. Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain cast David Cage as an impassioned creator waiting for technology to catch up with his vision. Beyond: Two Souls and interviews conducted to promote Detroit: Become Human suggest he’s somewhere between charlatan grifter and empowered hack. Cage doesn’t seem to understand that genuine emotion cannot be labored from weak stereotyping, perfunctory plot beats, and apolitical melodrama. Detroit will say nothing about anything.