Every year I feel an obligation to start this with a disclaimer clarifying just how arbitrary Game of the Year lists are and how little they should be taken seriously. This time will be no different, as I feel we’ve strayed even further from the original intent of these things, looking more for confirmation bias than a simple celebration of the best a given year had to offer.
2017 was, by all accounts, a shitshow, contrasted by just how many incredible games managed to come out regardless. It’s been compared to other landmark years like 1997 and 2007. I’m sensing a pattern here. Assuming the world hasn’t ended by 2027, it should be another great year for video games. If the world has ended, than we shall tell tales of this glorious year of gaming to the various mutates that have enslaved us for our gasoline.
On with the list.
(Note: I still don’t have a Switch, which will explain some obvious omissions here.)
10) Resident Evil 7 – Biohazard
Though this may come as a bit of a surprise for any that read my review, I’d say that my time away from Resident Evil 7 has been extremely kind to it, seeing it more for the big-picture evolution of the series than the complete reinvention that it initially promised. Indeed, the worst parts of RE7 are from the remaining Resident Evil DNA that seemed to exist via mere obligation, but it’s difficult to ignore how a simple change of setting and scale were able to inject new life into the tired franchise. It went beyond the surface level to fill the player with a sense of wordless dread that would permeate its finest moments, hoping setting the standard for what’s still to come.
It is often the case that December releases get shafted in times like these; coming out at a point when people are either winding down or, at the very least, trying to catch up with their backlog. Gorogoa came out of seemingly nowhere to beat those odds and deliver something memorable regardless, actively pulling me away from other games so that I could continue engaging with its unconventional ruleset, resulting in a mix between puzzle game and point and click adventure that manages to exhibit an internal logic that is oddly cohesive and always a treat to admire.
Perhaps no game frustrated me more this year than ECHO. Rare is the game that uses your own playing habits against you and to see them delivered back in a manner so blatant can be jarring. It introduces a situation where you are more threatened by your own decision making than any external force. It’s maddening because it’s unapologetically fair. ECHO filled the void of Hitman for me this year – a game that I’m offensively terrible at that I couldn’t seem to tear myself away from, convinced that my plan to teach my evil clones to eat grapes would eventually pay off.
7) Doki Doki Literature Club
I tend to have very little time for dating sims, especially these days when most of them seem designed to function as no more than meme-filled streamer bait. I have even less time for meta-fiction, which should be a testament to how effective Doki Doki Literature Club managed to be in spite of those biases. It walks a very dangerous line, one that I’m still not convinced it won’t cross as we head into the new year. It’s a game that relies upon having as little information as possible going in. It’s like Undertale in that way, constantly seeming to be on the precipice of being distorted by an overzealous fanbase. It deserves to be experienced before that happens.
6) What Remains of Edith Finch
It feels weird to say that a game about constant overbearing death is hopeful, but whenever I think of Edith Finch and my time with it, that’s the word I keep coming back to. As the title character relives the painful history of her family tree, there’s an underlying calmness to it all. Dare I say, there’s an acceptance. It’s about loss, but also about identity and how they form our memory of people long after they’re gone. It’s a story about stories, told in ways that are as unique as their subject matter. It is the only game of its kind that I cared to play through twice, even knowing that the experience would be exactly the same.
Yes, Cuphead is hard; downright punishing, even. The problem, of course, with such games are that the difficulty tends to dominate all conversations about them, to the sacrifice of everything else. This is a shame because there is much much more to love about Cuphead and what it offers. The first glimpse the public ever got of the game was a few seconds of a sizzle reel and it left such an impression that we waited years later to see and hear anything more. Beyond the broken controllers, it’s an achievement of design and a victory for indie game development. Nothing else looks like it and few games manage to feel as good, important in a game where failure is so critical to the experience.
4) Yakuza 0
The Yakuza series may as well have existed in some sort of pocket universe for the last decade, always lingering under the radar but never giving much reason for anyone outside of its base to care. Yakuza 0 not only created a convenient entry point for the franchise, but managed to be the best of all of them, serving up a level of writing and character development that few can rival. It’s equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious; the realization of what Shenmue promised nearly two decades ago. It’s a world in which you can do anything you want, but also care deeply about the people doing it.
3) The Norwood Suite
Any other year, The Norwood Suite had a heavy chance of being my number one. As the sequel to one of my favorite indie games of all time, Off-Peak, it didn’t have to do much to sell me. All it needed to do was continue to peel back layers of an eccentric world that always seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. Succeeding in that, it also manages to be deeply human, treating the thoughts and fears of strangers with a reverence that betrays its otherworldly nature. Not since Myst have I valued a fictional universe so much that I often found myself enjoying the act of doing nothing, simply taking in what was around me, knowing I’d eventually be commanded to leave.
2) Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
I wrote at length about Hellblade and the effect it had on me. It’s a game that shouldn’t have worked even half as well as it did, tackling subject matter that many failed to and even more never even acknowledged. Hellblade is oppressive and bleek, but also removes the option of fear, forcing you to linger on every painful moment because it doesn’t want you to turn the other way. It’s admirable even in failure, working with a sense of understanding that nothing will ever perfectly encapsulate the feeling of being utterly broken, of trying to function with a sense of normalcy whilst constantly getting in your own way. But it tries, and when it resonates, it’s powerful, often overwhelmingly so. It’s a game that I still think about a lot. I don’t see that changing any time soon.
1) Nier: Automata
Nier: Automata is not perfect, which is something its detractors will often jump at the chance to remind you of. Indeed, its legacy is steeped in unrefined absurdity, from its prequel all the way back to the original Drakengard. Perhaps that’s why both Nier games impacted me in such a specific way. I tend to be attracted to unapologetic imperfection. It’s a game willing to double down so much on its strengths that the glaring flaws often seem unimportant, even endearing in a way, retaining that underdog spirit that makes me want to constantly champion its successes. It was everything I wanted in a Nier sequel, made even better by the fact that I never thought such a sequel would ever exist.