Wow, 2017 was a wild year. If you’re a newshound like me, every day felt like a rush of excitement, anger and sadness. It was a lot to ingest day in and day out.
Personally, it was also a rollercoaster year. Outside of playing video games I work as a freelance photojournalist. I nailed my first full-time job in that field in May and was so excited to see my career finally launch in the direction I wanted it to. Two months later, the paper was sold and a few weeks later, I was laid off.
Everything I worked for felt like it slammed against a wall. Luckily my freelance work has kept me above water, but it’s felt like I was bounced out of a game of Call of Duty while on a hot streak.
But I push on regardless of what was thrown at me. I’ve learned to adapt, like I always have and I stay positive because of it.
Also, 2017 was a rad year for video games. Narrowing down a list is always difficult but this year felt especially so.
Let’s jump into my top five games of the year.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard:
I grew up a Resident Evil fan. The tension in the combat and puzzle-solving set was always intriguing to me. I loved the grotesque monsters that filled the levels across all the games (except Resident Evil 6 because boo that game).
I was super pumped to find Resident Evil 7 return to its roots in a way that felt modern and new. It’s terrifying and tense and felt like it was a game crafted by a studio that knew how to evolve the series.
But the second half of the game starts and felt like everything rad about it was thrown out the window. The Baker family and their truly terrifying home were gone in favor of some ghost ship and a mine that housed a totally random laboratory.
I really don’t get what happened to that second half of that game. But I loved the first half of Resident Evil 7 so that’s why it’s on here as an honorable mention.
OK, this is a weird one for me. I’ve never played a game in the MLB The Show series, nor have I played a baseball game since Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey JR.’s for the Nintendo 64.
I like most sports, baseball included, but for most of my life, I could barely carry a conversation with any fan. As a photojournalist I cover a lot of sports. Playing games like The Show actually helps me in real life. I’ve learned the rules and tactics associated with baseball. That’s because the game is actually fun.
It does a good job of funneling just enough baseball to you without it feeling overwhelming. But there are a lot of features packed into the game that made me feel like I had a solid grasp on the sport. It’s also an easy game to pick up and play, and I played A LOT of it over the summer. Oh, and the lighting in the game is super good. It gave each ballpark a lot of depth and character and made me feel like I was watching an actual game.
The first game on my list has to be the most outlandish title I played this year. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’ has a compelling story with a bunch of “I can’t believe that happened!” moments. With a colorful cast of characters the game is hilarious but also manages to tackle themes of racism in America I didn’t think it could handle in a mature way. The game’s comments on racism are sobering and a real gut-check for anyone who has or hasn’t paid attention to political news in 2017. It’s one of the most relevant games this year.
It’s combat is fine but I think it’s the weakest part of the game. Its health system and punishing enemies run in direct contradiction of the game’s pacing. It doesn’t take much to have to restart from a checkpoint, making me have to wait longer to get to the next story beat. While the two are similar in terms of combat, I think 2016’s DOOM did a far better job of balancing in-your-face combat against challenging enemies.
Still, there’s a lot to love about The New Colossus. It’s a fantastic second installment in what is sure to be a trilogy.
I’ve rooted for Guerilla Games, the studio behind the next game on my list, for a long time. I knew there was a lot of talent in that studio and was excited to see them branch off into something other than their sci-fi first-person shooter, Killzone (which I actually liked). So you can imagine my excitement for Horizon Zero Dawn when it was announced at E3 2015.
I had a ton of fun playing through Horizon and was thoroughly satisfied with how it all wrapped up (let’s ignore that unnecessary post credits scene, though). The game follows Aloy, a hunter living in a post-apocalyptic Earth filled with robotic animals and deadly humans. The lush environment creates a striking setting for large mechanical beasts to marvel at and fight. Horizon’s combat revolves around hunting these beasts as you learn to use different gadgets and styles of attack to bring them down. Each robotic animal has different weak points and you’ll spend a lot of the game trying to figure out the best way to approach them. I enjoyed every fight and couldn’t get enough of its depth.
The story itself played off my expectations that led me to being genuinely surprised at its revelations. Some of the plot points do turn into info dumps in the later sections of the game, but it I still think it paid off in a solid way.
Also, Aloy is one of my favorite, if not my number one character of the year. She is inquisitive about the world around her and her role in it. Aloy is caring and warm, but can be a formidable force. She’s a fire that can’t be put out by the most brutal enemies in the game.
I knew very little of Pyre, the third title from Supergiant Games, before its release back in July. I knew mechanically it was turn-based combat dressed up as a high-fantasy sport. What I didn’t realize until playing was that Pyre is an imaginative and vibrant journey with an intriguing cast of characters and surprisingly fleshed out gameplay.
Pyre does an excellent job of juggling a large cast of characters without any one character feeling left out. In time, I grew to understand and empathize all of the characters, including the more “villainous” ones in the game. My playthrough ended in a way that didn’t feel like it was overly happy or sad. But rather it felt meaningful to the decisions I made through my journey.
The turn-based gameplay is presented as a type of sport, known as the Rites. Two teams of three face-off in a sort of basketball / dodgeball hybrid as you try and extinguish the opponent’s pyre. The player controls one character at a time by passing an orb amongst them. When you score the orb into the opposing pyre, that character has to sit out the next round.
Each character has a set of active and passive skills that build up throughout the course of the game. There’s a lot of depth in matching and complimenting the skills with all three of your characters. I didn’t expect such a intricate and endlessly fun sport to come in Supergiant’s high fantasy adventure.
1. Night in the Woods:
My original plan wasn’t to have Night in the Woods be my GOTY. Its gameplay is minimal and not as in depth as the mechanics in Pyre and Horizon Zero Dawn. But no game on this list had such an emotional impact on me than Night in the Woods. It’s one of a handful of games that connected with me in such a deeply personal way.
Night in the Woods follows college dropout Mae Borowski as she returns to her hometown of Possum Springs. As she reconnects with old friends and family, she learns that the familiar had grown up in her absence. The dialogue between the wonderful cast of characters feels authentic for anyone who has lived or living through their 20’s. And more importantly, the game tackles mature themes like mental health and depression, in a way that felt responsible and respectful.
I made it number one on my list because it made me think about my own life in ways I haven’t before. I saw aspects of my life portrayed in some form through Mae and her friends. The game managed to put into words feelings and emotions I had felt for a long time but was never able to express.
I can’t forget to mention its charming art direction and excellent soundtrack. Every night my girlfriend and I jumped into Possum Springs, I felt transported to a world I wanted to live in.
In a lot of ways, I think this game was made for an older audience. I know it’s come at the right time for me. As I start to navigate through my late 20’s, I’m learning who I am and what I’m not. I’m learning what makes me tick and what makes me crack. Every day I feel like I learn something and nothing at all. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, and that’s what Night in the Woods showed me.
Damn, I love Night in the Woods so much…. Gregg Rulz OK.