2017 has been a funny old year, and I say that speaking as far from the literal sense as is possible. The year has featured an almost incessant barrage of disheartening news and political events, and continued to further nurture the sense of the unease and dissatisfaction that was brought to the forefront the previous year. The sheer volume of what I would loosely term ‘appalling news shit’, wove a path through the year that I often found hard to stomach. Because of this, 2017 very much felt like a year to shy away from; to bolt the door and shut out the bad noises coming from over the hill. One can only hope, almost certainly naively, that there will be some sign of daylight in 2018.
Despite all this negativity, it is widely acknowledged that 2017 has been a gosh-darned good year for gaming. Several marquee releases for Nintendo transformed the initially promising potential of the Switch into a full blown must-have console system contender – one I still have yet to own, sadly, despite several letters to Santa. Other platforms fared well too over the year, leading to a deluge of quality titles and nowhere near enough time to play them all which, as problems go, isn’t bad going. What follows here then, is a run through of the highlighted from the year that I did manage to play.
Finally released after a drip feed of marketing, Persona 5 was probably the game I was looking forward to most this year. Behind its attention grabbing asthetic, Persona 5 spins a decidely darker tale than its previous installment. Focusing on a group of disenfranchised outcast teenager taking on a series of corrupt institutions that dominated their lives in Tokyo, I found the themes of the game particularly resonated in a year that has often left me wondering what has happened to the World. P5’s youthful and rebellious optimism echoes the anger and spirit of undefeated youth, yet to submit to the unjust systems that we compromise with in weary broken adulthood. It’s a big, bold, angry game, that wears its passion on it’s sleeve. I also love some of the commentary on modern social media outrage, and fickle nature of such platforms.
As everyone who played it has mentioned already, the game looks and sounds incredible – I can’t think of many games where I’ve avoided skipping an after battle stat breakdown because the background music is so god-damnned funky. The audio/visual experience is like nothing else I’ve seen outside of it’s own lineage – and is cohesive in a way that ties into and strengthens its aspirational core. It’s a graphic design tour de force, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at it.
There were two games this year that I had been less than enthusiastic about when I had initially heard about them. Life is Strange – Before the Storm was treated with some trepidation prior to release; fans of the original game, didn’t understand the need for a prequel about Chloe and Rachel relationship. I myself was concerned that this was just an opportunistic spin-off that would harm the fondness I had for the original game. With Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, I was simply unsure that the world needed yet another Uncharted game. Obviously, since I’ve bought them both up, it’s fair to say that I was wrong on both counts.
With Before the Storm, Deck Nine produced a game which brings insight into the life of Chloe Price, a character I had previously struggled to empathise with in the first game. Here she is allowed to blossom, revealing a vulnerable core which shines a light on her inability to accept and cope with changes happening around her. In the end the game leaves you with a better understanding of a number of different characters that enhance the previous game. That it manages to retain much of the same magic as the first instalment, without the backup of the time travel and mystery trappings, impressed me greatly. Across the board, it does a lot more with less, telling its ‘small-stakes’ story in a way that feels much bigger than a lot of other game narratives.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy benefited from some distance from Nathan Drake, and a shorter, more taut game length which meant it avoided the main line game’s perpetual issue of going on a bit too long scene by scene. The relationship between Chloe (it’s been a good year for Chloe) and Nadine is fun to watch develop and, as with Before the Storm, is played out thoughtfully. The result made me feel a little bit more exciting about next year’s The Last of Us sequel, another game which I had previously felt worked as a self contained story.
Horizon Zero Dawn was an interesting surprise on the PS4. What initially looked like to me as yet another open world game quickly showed itself to be a solid game which was a lot of fun to play through. Robot dinosaurs are a concept that’s hard to make look bad (though the Transformers movie franchise managed to), but there’s more to it than that in the game – Aloy is an interesting character, and the lore and story of the world in Horizon is fascinating. The mechanics of the game itself, unfortunately didn’t do it for me, but I enjoyed the narrative.
When a game that looks like Night In the Woods begins and the main character, a cute looking cartoon cat called Mae refers to herself early on as a ‘Trash Mammal’, you know something interesting is about to happen. Night in the Woods tells an incredibly well-written tale of a small mining town struggling to find it’s place in the modern world. The cut-out style graphics are bright and charming, and work in contrast to the actual content of the game, which is one of millennial existential crisis. The characters are fleshed out and feel like real people with feelings that are grounded in their backstory and problems that make sense. Few games do this well. Mae is one of the year’s more interesting protagonists – unapologetically misanthropic and full of attitude, but also full of heart.
My biggest surprise moment of the year goes to Doki Doki Literature Club, a free game which purports on the surface to be a stereotypical dating sim; something which throws it into a niche that will immediately put large portions of people off. The first clue that all isn’t as it seems is the game immediately warning you that the game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed. Now, for anyone familiar with the genre, the first thing that springs to mind is, ‘ah right, tentacle porn’, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to worry. About the porn, that is – the game is disturbing, but because it’s actually a horror story, and one that is both clever and effective, playing around with the tropes of the genre in ways that are genuinely shocking and left me thinking about this game long after I’d finished it. I would say that its impact would be most clearly felt by people that are familiar with the genre, and that if you hate visual novels, its unlikely to sway you. It is free however, and with a reasonably short running time it’s worth a punt simply for curiosity’s sake.
If you had told me at the start of the year that I would have played through and enjoyed all of the above games, and none of them would be my pick for game of the year, I would have thought you mad. Mad I say! But it’s true. My personal pick instead goes to a game that will undoubtedly feature on a lot of top game lists this year, and that game is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. When thinking about what I’d played through, it felt like this was a bit of an uninspired pick, but to hell with it – I’m not trying to be edgy here. PUBG is a janky-ass game, with frequent performance issues and some unpleasant cheating problems, but throughout the year, it is a game I have gone back to and lost count of the number of memorable moments I’ve had. I’ve only won that coveted chicken dinner three times, but it hardly matters. With friends by your side, every game is simultaneously hilarious, nerve wracking, tense and almost certainly filled with stupidity. It’s fun in a way it probably shouldn’t be – for the hours spent hoovering up weaponry only to be killed by the first person you met, I found no boredom but camaraderie. It’s an incredible game, in a genre that is typically populated by people who are usually so good at it that most people can never gain a foothold. In this game you can. Some people might decry the random nature which can impact your success, but I find it refreshing within this genre.
There were many other games released this year that I planned on playing through, and wished I’d managed to before the year’s end. Prey and Dishonored – Death of the Outsider both look great;, and I’ve played the start of Tacoma and am very much looking forward to finishing it. Cuphead and Wolfenstein: The New Colossus are on the list too. I also hope to get to sample all of those big exciting Nintendo Switch titles that look so awesome. Frankly, it’s never been a better time to get into gaming, and gaming has never before featured more variance – there’s quite literally something for everyone to enjoy. Let’s hope for more of the same next year, but with maybe with everything else being less rubbish too? Fingers crossed. Happy New Year!