It’s almost February so what does that mean? Time for my best games of 2017 list! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay…
Yeah, I know… This list is coming almost a month late but I have a good excuse, I promise! Turns out 2017 had a ton of fantastic games and I just didn’t feel good about making a list until I had finished them all. Except… I still haven’t finished them all. That’s why I am also writing a Top 10 Games of 2017 I Wish I’d Played because there were JUST TOO MANY GAMES!!!
That said, I played a lot of great games too so here’s my list of the 10 best games of 2017 that I did play.
10. Kindergarten – PC
This Steam game came out of nowhere last summer and while the gameplay will be forgotten, the writing and characters from your time in Kindergarten will certainly leave an impact. Kindergarten has you play as a new student coming into the Kindergarten from hell. Trust me, this place isn’t the Kindergarten you grew up in. You play the same day again and again and again but depending on your actions and the special items you take with you between days, things play out very differently. The game won’t take most players longer than a weekend to discover everything there is to find here but at $5, it makes for a pretty great and inexpensive weekend!
9. What Remains of Edith Finch – PC, PS4, Xbox One, Mac
As a narrative game similar to Gone Home or Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch won’t appeal to everyone. Plus, many will be turned away by the $20 asking price for a game that won’t take even 3 hours to complete. If you enjoy these types of games though, What Remains of Edith Finch won’t disappoint. You play as Edith walking through her childhood home, discovering the stories about her past family member’s unfortunate ends. These are played out via short vignettes which at times are interesting and at others are downright shocking. One particularly memorable scene involving daydreaming at a boring job will no doubt stay with players for many years to come. Oh but pro-tip! Don’t Google the game’s name! For some reason, Google is spoiling the ending of the game right at the top of their search results in big, bold letters. SO DON’T DO IT!
8. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy – iOS, PC, Mac
Speaking of games that won’t appeal to everyone, Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is undoubtedly the most divisive game on this list and if you get mad at games easily, I strongly urge you NOT to play this one. Made by the developer of QWOP, Getting Over It is all about dealing with ridiculous controls to surpass challenges that will wreck most human beings. You have to use the leverage of your sledgehammer to move your character up a mountain. The challenges are brutal and are usually designed so that if you fail, you will fall all the way back down to the beginning, often losing a significant amount of progress. As you progress, and inevitably fail, Bennett Foddy talks to you in a soothing voice about his ideas of game design and occasionally just plays you a song about failure. It’s a brutal game that will make you either laugh or rage uncontrollably. If you’re the former, this game will offer you a sense of satisfaction like nothing else this year. Finishing it may not be worth it for most but I recommend giving it a try. At the very least, I guarantee you won’t play anything else like it!
7. Cuphead – Xbox One, PC
If you are like me and treat E3 like a national holiday, you probably remember seeing this game for the first time. During the Xbox press conference in 2014, they showed an E3 sizzle reel containing about 5 seconds of Cuphead. It was enough to create a fervor the likes of which I’ve never seen in the gaming industry. 5 seconds of nothing had everyone hooked and just look at the screenshots to see why. Better yet, check out a video of Cuphead in action. This 2 player boss rush game, heavily inspired by the likes of Contra 3 or Gunstar Heroes, has some of the most beautiful artwork in gaming history. The 1930’s aesthetic hearkens back to the Fleischer Studios cartoons where animation was goofy and simultaneously frightening. It doesn’t hurt that the gameplay is great, too. Cuphead is not perfect and the platforming levels… well… let’s be real, they suck, but the artwork, music and sense of discovery at seeing what will come next keeps dragging you back for more. Single-player or co-op, Cuphead is one of those rare games that lived up to its enormous hype.
6. Sonic Mania – Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC
I grew up with Sonic. As a Sega Genesis kid, Sonic the Hedgehog was my hero. I owned every Sonic game (with the exception of Spinball) on the Genesis and the Sonic Adventure games were top on my list of Dreamcast games back in 2000. Then the fog was lifted. Ironically starting with Sonic Heroes, my childhood hero sunk deeper and deeper into a morass of bad game design, poor marketing and half-baked ideas the likes of which we haven’t seen before or since. It seemed like Sega had no idea what to do with its speedy blue mascot and he turned from an icon into a joke.
It’s important to rehash this in order to truly appreciate what it meant when they announced that Christian “The Taxman” Whitehead, super-fan modder turned Sonic-Savior, would be heading up his own original game. This was the guy who managed to port Sonic CD to mobile devices from scratch and make it feel perfect. This was the guy who resurrected the legendary lost level, Hidden Palace Zone, into Sonic 2 on iPhones. This guy knows Sonic like almost nobody in existence, certainly not Sega. Turns out, we were right to be excited. Sonic Mania is the first Sonic game worth getting excited about since the Genesis days. Not only did he make a game worthy of the Genesis predecessors, he made a game that surpasses them in almost every way.
5. Resident Evil VII: Biohazard – PC, Xbox One, PS4
While its legacy of bad games didn’t stretch back nearly as far as Sonic, Resident Evil was another franchise that floundered in mediocrity for quite some time with 2017 being the year they finally figured it out. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard took ample inspiration from the aborted Silent Hills (shown to audiences as P.T) in order to finally right the ship. By throwing the rulebook completely out the window, Capcom managed to make a game that feels completely fresh but at the same time, distinctly Resident Evil. Add in that this is one of the first AAA games fully playable in VR and you have a great game that deserved a lot better than it got.
4. Life is Strange: Before the Storm – PC, PS4, Xbox One
Life is Strange: Before the Storm had everything working against it from the start. I don’t envy anyone faced with the prospect of following up Life is Strange, a bizarre and unexpected hit. Even in ideal circumstances, this would have been a long shot and these were far from ideal circumstances. Instead of a sequel, they decided to make a prequel about Chloe and Rachel, two characters whose fates have already been decided by the first game. Prequels always have long odds of success and this premise seemed tough to nail. On top of that, the game wasn’t being made by the original devs, instead being handed to Deck Nine.
What’s that? You’ve never heard of Deck Nine? Come on, now! They’re the folks behind the classic PS2 adventure, Neopets: The Darkest Faerie! Remember how they expertly ported the Ratchet and Clank games to PS3? No?
Needless to say, Deck Nine was far from a guaranteed success. Finally, the cherry on top of this disastrously unsteady sundae was that the original voice actress for Chloe wasn’t even coming back, choosing to stand by her fellow actors in striking. This game should have failed spectacularly. Except it didn’t. Is Life is Strange: Before the Storm as good as its predecessor? No. Does it have its issues? Yes. The ending in particular is pretty rough. That said, the relationship between Chloe and Rachel is one of the best things to come out of gaming this year. The choices you make feel natural and having their fates predetermined actually worked in the game’s favor. I found myself less interested in making sure everything turned out alright and more interested in becoming Chloe. If you enjoyed the first game, Before the Storm is a much better follow-up than it had any right to be.
3. A Hat in Time – PC, Xbox One, PS4, Mac
I was fully on board with the revival of the 3D platformer when the year started off. I couldn’t wait to see the genre finally make its spectacular comeback. A Hat in Time? No, no, no… Yooka-Laylee was gonna storm in, guns blazing and change gaming forever!
Except things didn’t quite work out that way. Turns out, A Hat in Time, a game that I honestly doubted would ever see the light of day, was picked up by Humble Bundle, of all people, and finally released to spectacular acclaim. Not only did A Hat in Time pick up the slack left all over the floor by Yooka-Laylee, it managed to revolutionize the genre in new and exciting ways that have never been seen before.
The first world may strike you as being your standard 3D platformer, very reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine or Banjo-Kazooie but after that, things start feeling new and exciting. Worlds take on whole other identities, borrowing aspects from other genres and mixing them into the 3D platformer masterfully. One level has you solving a murder while another has you marching in the world’s most uncoordinated parade. Goals are varied and exciting, constantly pushing you forward to get one more time piece. At the start of 2017, I thought A Hat in Time would never come out at all. By the end, it wound up being one of the best games of the year.
2. Night in the Woods – PC, Mac, Linux, PS4
Every once in a while, a game comes along that just speaks to you. You feel intimately connected with the characters, their plight and you just long to exist in their world forever. This was Night in the Woods for me, a game about finding your place in a constantly changing world. You play as Mae, a college drop-out who comes back to her hometown, a dying coal mining town, to find things have changed since high school. Her friends are there but they aren’t the same people they were before.
The narrative alone would have been enough to earn it this place on my list but the game design also works perfectly to convey the feeling they were going for. Each day has Mae waking up and exploring the town. You can talk to all of the inhabitants and follow several side-plots throughout the game. Some of these wind up going to some pretty intense places but the cute, hand-drawn aesthetic and the consistently understated dialogue keep things from getting too dark. Goofy mini-games including a guitar hero spoof and the funniest knife fight since Monkey Island offer fun distractions from the main plot but never feel frivolous as their outcomes can change how the dialogue goes.
Under every funny facade is a remarkably deep person who is dealing with their own personal issues. Your best friend, Gregg may act like the carefree best friend you always wished you had (Gregg rulz OK?) but his struggles to grow up feel just as personal and heartfelt as any. From a narrative perspective, Night in the Woods is the best game of 2017. It may have even been top on this list if it hadn’t been for…
1. Divinity: Original Sin 2
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is, hands-down, the best CRPG ever made. Full stop. No exceptions. I have always been one to extol the virtues of Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment to anyone who’d listen and those games are still phenomenal examples of what gaming can be but Divinity managed to solve all of the problems of those games and what’s more, they solved problems I didn’t even realize existed.
I could list off point after point about what this game does right but ultimately, it all comes down to one thing: they brought role-playing back to RPGs. Character creation has enormous depth and each choice brings actual meaningful change to the game you will play. On top of surface choices like Race or Class, you can choose various traits related to your character’s backstory and abilities that flesh out the character you will become. Pre-made characters bring extra quests along with them but don’t restrict the player by still allowing significant customization. Pre-made characters that aren’t selected can join your party later on in the game.
Those are some big choices but little choices matter too. A careless comment can cut off entire quest lines while a casual comment somewhere else can thrust you into a quest line you never knew existed. In less able hands, these choices would have felt contrived but here, it feels natural in a way I have never seen a game accomplish. One particularly memorable moment came when my friend was getting a quest from an NPC. I joined them when suddenly the NPC cut off the conversation and started attacking me. I was confused but later discovered that this particular character had a deep hatred of Lizardmen, the race I had chosen. Other choices would have allowed us to appease her but we wound up killing the sudden aggressor, thus ending her quest for us. It all felt organic and real to the world of the game.
This alone would have made it my game of the year but they went even further. Divinity Original Sin 2 doesn’t just improve on RPG multiplayer, it perfects it. Imagine playing Baldur’s Gate with friends. One line will come to mind a lot: “You must gather your party before venturing forth.” Divinity removes the need for those restrictions. You are never limited by what your friends are doing and can go wherever you’d like to go, whenever you’d like to go. Remember having conversations in Baldur’s Gate? How you were locked into what your friends were doing or locked out, as the case more often was? Not here. If your friends are having a conversation, you can click the NPC to listen in and then leave midway through, if you choose. Even battles can be started and ended independently from teammates. Since battles are turn-based, one person can start a battle and realize they are in over their heads. They can ask for help and their friends can come to join the battle, mid-fight, but they will likely be in a bad tactical position. Everything feels seamless and honestly perfect in a way I never thought would be possible.
Little touches too like allowing players to play with Keyboard/Mouse or a Controller or mix and match on the same computer/console in local co-op is just amazing. If you’ve read my work for long, you know that I never say this but I’m quite comfortable saying Divinity Original Sin 2 is one of the best games of all time and certainly the best game of 2017.
So that’s my list of best games of 2017! Maybe you noticed some games were missing? Turns out, I didn’t play everything that came out this year so maybe go and check out my list of Top 10 Games of 2017 I Wish I’d Played! Also, feel free to comment on what games you thought were the best of 2017. Here’s to a great 2018!