I’ve played approximately two billion video games this year. Narrowing that list down to 10 was a painful and bloody process, but I finally managed to choose my favorite games from one of the most exciting years in recent memory.
Getting Over It is the closest we’ll ever get to a playable parable. The concept is simple: swing a hammer and climb a mountain, but the actual realization of that goal is clumsy and fraught with failure. Getting Over It is a cruel game. Foddy’s nightmare debris mountain has taken on a near-mythical quality as streamers and players share their infuriating failures and accept defeat after losing hours of progress. Yet, in the face of that accumulated failure and frustration, players keep coming back and climbing simply because the mountain is there.
Getting Over It is a surprisingly honest game in this regard; it expects you to fail but believes you can succeed. My co-worker Tim Rogers has increasingly impressed upon me the value of video games as actual things that we feel and touch and experience. Getting Over It is the most honest version of itself, and every moment I spend with it, even those when I fail, is delightful.
Resident Evil 7 is a game about a house. That house has monsters and cannibals inside. There are guns and puzzles and dangerous traps, but it’s mostly about the house itself. In crafting a richly detailed space, Resident Evil 7 embraces a subtle form of horror. Every bit of stirred-up dust and every creaking footfall ignites the imagination and gets the heart pumping. While the game eventually leaves these moments behind in favor of bloody boss fights and bullet-spewing submachine guns, these are not the moments that leave an impression. Instead, I recall hiding in a dark corner while an immortal killer stood mere feet away. I remember descending into a cellar full of mold and corpses and rust. Those are the moment that make Resident Evil 7 a genuinely great game.
We all deal with death in different ways. Some people rage and fight back, some lose themselves in imaginary dreamworlds, and others live in a perpetual state of denial. What Remains Of Edith Finch captures all of these sentiments in a series of vignettes that are as beautiful as they are sad. As players explore the dilapidated Finch house, they see each family member’s dying moments. Some are as swift and sudden as being hit by a train, while others are a long and tortuous spin into depression. Edith Finch paints a world of dreams and imagination that nevertheless feels grounded. In spite of the fantastical embellishments—the young girls turning into monsters and the artist fading into the white void of his paper—this is one of the most human and relatable games in a long time.
One time, in PUBG, a supply drop floated down right on my position. When I opened the crate, I found an AWM sniper rifle and a 15x scope. It was like a perverse, violent Christmas that gave me everything I needed to outlast the dozens of players still left in the field. I shot enemies from unimaginable distances and disposed of them with ease. And then I realized that I spent so much time hunting stragglers that I was nearly on the other side of the map from the safe zone. I stole a car, rushed down the nearest road, crashed into a Jersey barrier and died.
Everyone who plays PUBG has a story like this. Everyone has their own war stories of amazing victories and pitiful defeat. This game is a terrifying storybook with tales written in blood and luck. It’s awesome, and I can’t think of any feeling better than winning a chicken dinner.
Every single screenshot of Breath of the Wild looks like a meticulously assembled mosaic. You can see each individual part that contributes to the greater whole. Breath of the Wild’s dozens of systems mix and match to create a game world where every moment feels magical. Whether throwing a sword at a monster during a rainstorm so that they will be struck by lightning or braving a ruined temple full of laser-shooting guardian robots to find a hidden shrine with secret rewards, Breath of the Wild constantly surprises. In eschewing the strict structure of previous titles, Breath of the Wild reclaims a sense of wonder long missing from AAA games.
I called Sonic Mania a “mixtape” in my review, and I stand by that assessment. Sonic Mania is celebration of everything blue and fast. The Sega Genesis holds a special place in my heart; it was my personal doorway into worlds brimming with color and personality. Handing Sonic over to fans and long-time mod makers created a game that didn’t just return the series to form, it iterated and expanded on everything that made fans fall in love with it to begin with. Sonic Mania is deviously clever and knows it.
There’s a lot of things you can do with a Nazi and a hatchet, and I was glad to try every last one of those things. The New Colossus arrived during a time of frustration and balkanization, when real-life Nazis marched to uphold the deluded notion that man was not created equal. BJ Blazkowicz’s bloody campaign doesn’t always work. The tone shifts from slapstick to grindhouse to personal drama at relenting speeds. The New Colossus finds itself in that chaos; its heroes are imperfect, its villains monsters, and the message clear: resist at all cost. It might seem trite and heavy-handed years from now, but it feels right in the moment.
When Yakuza released in 2006, marketing was eager to paint it as a successor to cinematic tradition and in-depth crime drama, touting a cast of high profile voice actors and an exciting open world. The message didn’t land, and the series labored in relative obscurity for over a decade. Yakuza 0 has refined that message into something far more honest. This is a game about singing karaoke with your best friend, hiring a chicken to manage your real estate assets, and learning life lessons from a man called Mr. Libedo. But it’s also a game about standing up for what you believe in, crying honest tears as you sacrifice everything for your brother, and understanding that the world, while bright and full of spectacle, is not always the kindest place. It’s silly and bold and emotional. It’s a great entry point into the series and one of most exciting games of 2017.
Jack King-Spooner’s independent title focuses on a mother in an fictional Muslim majority country on a quest to find her lost husband and daughter. The game is lovingly assembled with stop motion animation and gorgeous music that pack every new screen with splendor and heart. There’s giant spiders, mechas, and an entire arcade of robust and interesting playable games. This game came at the right time for me personally, offering a window into a more pensive world when I needed it most. The care and focus poured into Dujanah is intoxicating, making it a testament to the importance of independent creators.
Disclosure: I backed Dujanah’s Kickstarter before working for Kotaku.
“Do you think games are silly little things?” “Is it all pointless?” “Do you admit there is no meaning to this world?”
These are the questions that Nier: Automata asks the player near the end of the game, and the answer to every single one of them is a resounding “no.” Yoko Taro’s bizarre tale of androids locked in a never-ending war with alien machines is a revelation. The combat is fun, the side-quests charming, the dialog campy, and the world design painfully forlorn. Games are not “silly little things,” and Nier: Automata proves it. Play it.