I felt like I spent a lot of 2017 not doing much. While the Kingdom Hearts Primer rolled in and onward from the previous year, the sheer monotony of the editing process started to take its toll on me. At the same time, I also finally filmed one of my dream projects, LAST NIGHT, that I wrote back when I first started film school. Then I proceeded to barely work on the editing for it, even though I had to take off of school for a while do to financial reasons.
Whether for those reasons or not, not too many games seriously gripped me this past year, but even so, I deeply appreciate the level of storytelling, intimate or grandiose, through writing or gameplay, that video games are coming to consistently achieve.
Here’s a few of those.
While I ended up not finishing it, Horizon: Zero Dawn is a real technical marvel, and has characters that are much better and fun to talk to than I expecting from the freakin’ Killzone devs. Speaking of characters, Pyre used almost a perfect system of making you level up people before you could Liberate them (read: let them go), so you were almost guaranteed to have to give up characters that you were just starting to fall in love with. On the other hand, Night In The Woods told a story about people who could never leave, stuck in a dead end mining town, but my personal favorite moment as a fellow college dropout like Mae was talking to her parents because they were so much like my own. They each welcomed her home with open arms, but amidst all the caring help were the questions of what happened. And like Mae, I didn’t want to talk about it. Like Mae, I just wanted to sit on the couch at night with my dad and forgot about the world for a little bit.
NieR: Automata was a Steam gift that I didn’t think much of at first, but once I hit that magical third branch, there was no stopping me. I can’t say I cared as much for the machines as much as most people, but I was endless fascinated to see what aspects of human culture they took and how they interpreted it. PREY was another game gifted to me, though I have to say upfront that it was probably one of my least favorite games that I played this year (sorry Brandon). The opening hour of the game easily has one of my favorite moments of the year, but the more I played the game, the stronger I felt that these “immersive sim” games might not be for me. I found PREY to swap between being pretty boring to explore (I barely read my own email, so I sure as hell don’t want to have to read someone else’s), and surprisingly difficult in the late game. That aside, the rooms full of stickers that say “not a mimic” on nearly every object was a good touch.
As summer wore on, I had no school to go to, so I spent a lot of nights up in the early hours of the morning. One of those games that I enjoyed so much that I refused to close it even when I was getting server disconnection pop ups (because my internet went out) was Ghost Recon Wildlands. This game was my 2017 game of the year, hands down. Not because was a huge step forward in storytelling (it’s terrible) or in gameplay (it’s fine), but because the world of Bolivia was so beautifully rendered that I couldn’t stop myself from dirt biking down muddy hills, boating down miles of rivers, or walking through the massive salt lake. Is it scientifically accurate to have said salt lake within view of a snowy mountaintop? Probably not, but I’m glad the devs at Ubisoft went for it anyway. I had a phenomenal time.
While not the obviously god-tier world of Ghost Recon, my hours with Assassin’s Creed Origins has been almost just as good. Unlike a few other franchises that came back this past year, AC feels like it took this time to doing something completely new, for better or worse. Like Vinny Caravella said on the Giant Bomb GOTY deliberations, I enjoy the game, but there’s a feeling that this isn’t the same Assassin’s Creed franchise anymore. Moments of gathering information on your target, blending into crowds, and waiting for the perfect moment to assassinate him without anyone noticing has been replaced by a much more complex fighting system and RPG leveling. So, I still love this game a lot, but it also feels like the official death of the Assassin’s Creed games as I knew them.
Another game that change up its formula massively was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Taking out traditional dungeons and item gathering was a bold move by Nintendo, but it worked for the most part. The aforementioned big dungeons themselves took the biggest hit, now relegated to some simple puzzles and easy bosses, but the addition of the shrines in their place was a great new idea. Outside of that, there’s still a lot of stuff going in Hyrule, and oh, is it amazing. I’ve always been an advocate for big empty worlds that don’t feel entirely designed for the player, and there’s a good sense of that here. The fields stretch on endlessly, the mountains put other games to shame, and the rain is cool (fight me).
With my Switch in hand, I did pick up a few other games to play, like Super Mario Odyssey, which quickly fell into the “I guess I’m crazy cause I thought the game was good, but not like genre defining.” I played Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for some 20 hours so far, and have barely made a dent in the thing. Incredibly spotty voice direction and oddly complex combat aside, it’s a really neat world, and I’m enjoying the characters thus far. Maybe I’ll actually get to finish it this year. Last but not least on my Switch catalog was Battle Chef Brigade, with its wonderful art and voice acting, but just not enough world building. At the risk of sounding like a joke, I feel like I might have enjoyed this game more as a visual novel than anything else, because towards the end I got bored of the gameplay, and yet was still savoring every moment I got to talk to Thrash and Kirin. Also, I would totally date the hell out of Shiv.
I’m not a huge fan of talking about games that bummed me out, but if there was I had to call out as the “best bummer”, it would be Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Rather, the latter half of the story, and the entirely of the gameplay. I spent a good while not spoiling myself on anything of the game through all the comments of “the moment” that happened, and for the first few hours, I was truly excited. Wolfenstein’s first half reminds me a lot of Metal Gear Solid 4 in retrospect. A soldier who’s far past his prime, with a body that’s giving out from underneath him, but he continues to fight on, because it’s all they know how to do. And, no spoilers, but the middle moment that everyone loves so much as the turning point of the game is what absolutely broke it for me. It was a bizarre experience to see the the developers and I have obviously very different ideas of how this story would go, and I felt that the halfway point was the natural conclusion of BJ’s story. As BJ says, “The old and the weak are doomed.” Maybe I’ve just been watching too many French and Korean thrillers though.
Another game that was heralded as a masterpiece and somehow (almost) didn’t work for me was What Remains of Edith Finch. Normally I can take some plot contrivances, but the idea that so many family members passed away in such quick succession kept me at arms length; or at least, until I got to Lewis’ story. I both count myself lucky that I don’t have a job as utterly boring as Lewis and some of my friends have had, working in a cannery like him, but also really resonated with his unconscious need to to imagine a world far more interesting than this. I used to work at a local pizza place, and I spent far too many shifts delivering well into the night, dreaming up a world where I was a successful youtuber or a vocalist for a popular band. As morbid as it is, I think I understand Lewis’ ending, because at a time, I felt like my so called reality was a dead end too.
Luckily for me, I had friends to hang out with back then to keep me going, and I did a lot of that this year too. I’ll spare everyone from the League of Legends talk, except to say I played a lot of it in 2017.
What I also played a lot of early on with friends was PLAYERUNKNOWN’S Battlegrounds. A few of us in my Discord picked it up early on and, for a few months there, played it nearly every day. It was like nothing else we had ever played, and the mix of realistic guns and movements with really special vehicle physics and questionable strategies made each made unique. A few months in and some chicken dinners later though, the magic began to wear off. A meta had started to form, specific strats became noted, and a lot of the chaos of the game had been streamlined to a few “best practices”. With the recent release of 1.0, I still enjoy the game, but not as much as when it felt like the real insanity that would come with being dropped on an island with so many people.
Probably the most sheer fun I had with my friend group this year however was playing the Friday The 13th game. When the entire group is made up of your friends, it’s an absolute blast joking at each other as counselors and trying to reason with whomever is playing Jason. You can even start to forgive the myriad of technical issues; at least, if you don’t play online with random people. Don’t play this game without friends. It actually takes the game from solid fun to absolute mess in seconds.
While I didn’t play these games myself, I was in the same room watching someone else play Doki Doki Literature Club, and it was far more fun than if I chose to play it myself. City Shrouded In Shadows is the same deal, partly because it’s in Japanese and I’m still hilariously terrible at it, and partly because watching my kaiju fan friends lose their minds at the monsters in that game is very enjoyable.
Towards the end of the year, I also picked up a few games that I could play in a single sitting, which I’ve come to appreciate more as I get older. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice only took me a few hours to get through, and the experience of doing so without ever taking a break only amplified the horror and imagery. I started getting really exhausted by the end, and I felt that it made me connect to Senua’s long journey, even if a little.
I also checked out Fullbright’s new game TACOMA, though I don’t have much to say beyond “it’s a new Fullbright game, and it’s not nearly as good as Gone Home.” That’s partly because Gone Home hit so much closer to home for me, and partly because, as Campster points out in his Errant Signal episode on the game, Fullbrights endings are a bit too happy and neat.
Finally, there are some other games that at least bear mentioning a bit.
Early on in the year, Resident Evil 7 scared me so much that I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it (but I’ll try, cause it’s real good). Nioh further cemented to me that I believe I’m done with Soulsborne games, at least for a while. For Honor proved me that my friends have in fact, no honor. I only played the Snipperclips demo, but getting to do so by bringing my Switch to my college and popping off the joycons to play with my friend showed me that the setup is much more than a marketing gimmick. Back at home, I checked out far too little of Tooth and Tail, the first game that does a console RTS truly right. I hope to fix that this year. I also dodged a bullet with Lawbreakers, which I played over a few days, and then returned it when I noticed that not too many people were playing. When I needed a break from everything, I found myself popping in Everybody’s Golf a few times. It’s super goofy fun, and I enjoy me some good virtual golf. On the other side of the stress scale was Destiny 2, or more specifically the raid. Weeks were spent trying to figure it out, and while I had a lot of fun with it, I don’t think it captured the same magic for me that Destiny 1 did.
Even though it technically came out last year, it was so late that I’d consider Final Fantasy XV a 2017 game, especially with all its DLC and multiplayer coming out this year. The game didn’t entirely go for what I wanted, but the moments it did have were still really stand out to me, and I’d be happy to see more from the boyband crew if possible.
As I write this in early 2018, I look out to the calendar with more desire work on content, be it more short films, blogs, videos, or whatever else, and more drive to actually do so than last year. Whether any of it pans out, I don’t know, but even if I personally don’t make much stuff, I hope that at least we’ll have another year of solid video games for me to procrastinate with.