Well Calgary has been a cold blast but also a fun time. We bounced between cafes and a shops trying to avoid the freezing cold temperatures for as long as possible. It was my first time seeing proper snow in a city so I really enjoyed that, and went to my first Ice Hockey game which turned out to be a really good one to watch.
2017 has been a really good year for games, the Nintendo Switch was released along with arguably two of the best games in Nintendo’s history. Virtual Reality continued to gain traction in the wider market place with the help of an extended Oculus sale and a PSVR price-drop. VR games continued to come out at a steady steam, and there were some truly great ones among them that pushed the limits of what games can be. There were tonnes of games that came out which I didn’t get around to playing: Nier Automata, Wolfenstein II and several others are all still high on my list to try out.
I thought I’d use this chance to write a bit about my favorite games that I played for the first time in 2017 (four of them released in 2016).
1. Lone Echo / Echo Arena
The single player campaign (called Lone Echo) is a VR game that absolutely everyone needs to play, it really is unlike anything else I’ve played before. The level of polish and the small touches and interactions you have throughout the game show the amount of thought which Ready at Dawn have put into this game. At only 5-6 hours long it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and the novelty of performing the run-of-the-mill tasks in zero gravity doesn’t wear off. The feeling of being in space is so immersive, the combination of the player movement and the objects floating around made me entirely forget where I was at times. The story is actually really compelling, I found myself actually caring for Olivier Rhodes, I cannot wait to see where they go next with this.
While the single player undoubtedly put this game into my top 3-4 games this year, the multiplayer mode Echo Arena cemented its’ place right at the top of my list. It’s a combination of Rocket League, Ultimate Frisbee and the battle room from Enders Game. On paper that already sounds very fun, but the implementation and the community around the game take it to another level. The real technical seller here is the movement system which lets players pull themselves through the world or use thrusters which propel the player either where their hands are pointing or where they are looking. It’s pretty intuitive to pick up but has a high skill ceiling, and is one of the few VR games that I find myself returning to time and time again. One of my favorite experiences of the year was playing 4v4 matches with friends at PAX AUS.
2. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Where do I even start with this game, I put just over 90 hours into Breath of the Wild over the course of several months (most of that time was getting up before 6am so I could play before work). So much has been said about this game already, and it is hard to put into words exactly what works so well. It’s a game about the mechanics and how they work together, the weather, climbing, physics based world and many more separate systems are able to work together to provide a huge number of emergent storytelling opportunities.
The size of the world is unreal, but it’s not just size that makes a world feel alive and exciting, there is a lot to do and you are rewarded constantly for exploring. There are Korok seeds, Shrines and treasures to find, and even beyond those the variety in the biomes of the map makes adventuring a joy. There are not many games that can get me up at 5:30am again and again over the course of 2 months, but Breath of the Wild is one of them.
3. Robo Recall
Another amazingly fun game that has become one that I show people who come around to try VR, it’s definitely one of the most well polished VR experiences out there on the market. Everything in the game was built from the ground up for Virtual Reality, so the UI and gameplay is some of the easiest to get the hang of. While looking at it from the outside it seems to be another wave based shooter, but it’s definitely the best one out there.
Robo Recall really excels where a lot of VR games fall down, just about anything you think of trying out does something. Throwing your guns at enemies to reload, smacking bullets out of the air or grabbing enemies and using them as shields are all viable strategies that the developers built into the game. Some of my favorite gaming moments of the year came from Robo Recall, one in particular that still stands out is ripping the head off a robot before throwing it behind my back without looking to knock another one down who was running up behind me. There is tonnes of scope for creative robot murdering in this game.
4. Stardew Valley
Although Stardew Valley came out at the start of 2016, I didn’t pick it up until hearing about it during the end of the year GOTY discussions from Giantbomb. It has been one of my go to games throughout all of 2017 for when I just want to chill out and play something relaxing. Entirely developed by one person (Eric Barone), it’s simply amazing how much he managed to fit into this game. The background music is fantastic and I frequently listen to the soundtrack while I work, the songs which are played during fall are particular favorites of mine. The days lasting about 15 real-time minutes and front loading the interesting stuff at the start of each day makes for a perfect “just one more day” loop which I found myself in a lot.
The changing of the seasons is a fitting way to switch up the game before it gets too tedious and repetitive. The music changes, the entire map looks and feels different and you will have different crops to plant and harvest. Stardew Valley is such a charming game that I find myself coming back to again and again.
5. Super Mario: Odyssey
This was the first year that I’ve put a decent amount of time into Nintendo first party games. As a result of that, Breath of the Wild and Super Mario: Odyssey are the first installments of Zelda and Mario series that I’ve actually finished. I absolutely adored both of these games and had a blast playing through them. While it’s true that these two games will probably be looked back on as some of the high-points of their respective series, it’s still got me very excited to see what Nintendo brings to the table in 2018.
In true Mario style, game mechanics (this time through the ‘capture’ ability) are introduced, evolved upon and then left behind before they can get stale. Each level has its’ own set of challenges and skills to master, while also feeling entirely different.
It’s a very cheerful game, the music and designs of the world make it a true joy to play. Mechanically it may be one of the most cohesive experiences I’ve every played, every interaction you have with the game is done with one of just a few buttons. The game only requires the player to have pretty basic grasp on the controls and mechanics to play through the main story and ‘finish’ the game. But once you’ve done that and want to go back and collect more moons to access the secret content, it asks you to use these still simple controls in more advanced and creative ways.
6. Hollow Knight
I went into Hollow Knight not knowing a whole lot about it, I had heard good things about it but figured it would be a shortish platformer with come cool art. What I didn’t expect was to spend 23 hours over the next couple of weeks exploring the labyrinthine map and learning the ins and outs of the combat and platforming controls.
This has been a fantastic year for music in games, from the lively and bombastic Mario Odyssey soundtrack, to the understated melodies of Breath of the Wild. Now that I’m looking through this list as I write, 7 of these 10 games feature music which I hear prominently in my head when I think back on my time playing them. Hollow Knight is definitely one of them, the haunting songs that play throughout the game succeed in setting the tone of each area. Along with the art design, this helps each section of the map feel unique.
In typical Metroidvania fashion, unlocking a new ability sends your mind racing at the possibilities. It tests your memory as you try to remember which areas you can now access with this newfound power, I often found myself foregoing exploring further into a newly discovered area to instead backtrack and see what side passages I had missed before. The controls are tight and most of my deaths definitely felt like my failures rather than the games, the movement options start off limited but by the end of the game it felt like I could do whatever I wanted.
While Hollow Knight doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking or innovative in the genre, it instead pulls all the best ideas and mechanics from other Metroidvanias and executes them almost flawlessly.
7. Life is Strange
I don’t think I’ve played a game that has emotionally affected me this much in a long time. After the end of several chapters I was moved to the point of tears. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, the dialogue is stilted at times (although the voice acting is always top notch from the main characters), and I did hit an audio stuttering bug throughout my playthrough. But Life is Strange really made care about these characters and their stories.
It touches on some really important themes over the 5 episodes, the characters themselves deal with bullying, depression and insecurity in different ways, while the story at a higher level touches on the themes of futility, family/friends and what makes life worth living or not. I think that it should be required viewing/playing for anyone growing up, as it provides a touch-stone for anyone who is struggling or has struggled with any of these issues.
8. The Witness
Never has a game alternated between making me felt so stupid and so smart this many times. Yes it may just be line puzzles, but the ways in which Jonathan Blow can adapt this simple puzzle type in so many different ways is fascinating. The Witness uses the environment in fascinating ways and ensures that the player has to always be on the look out for clues and new puzzles.
Exploring the island and coming across a new type of puzzle that you have never seen before is exhilarating. Each area had a steady ramp up of difficulty from simple ‘teach the concept ‘ones all the way up to ‘bang my head on the wall’ hard. Finishing this game (well even finally solving the ‘puzzles within a puzzle’ room near the end) gave me a sense of accomplishment that I rarely ever feel while playing games.
Obviously the art is the main selling point for Cuphead, and it is incredibly well done. The style of the game goes beyond just the drawings though, it’s a cohesive style which encompasses everything from the title screen to the character designs, animation, music and sound effects.
It’s hard, brutally hard in a way which borders on unfair at times, but the thrill of finally dispatching a boss who you’ve been battling for hours is great. Although the run and gun levels are not up to the quality of the boss fights, I still found them a welcome break from repeating the same boss if I was stuck on something.
Hitman is the first game in a long time where I actually looked forward to rerunning missions/levels. The process of slowly learning each area is extremely satisfying, and most of the challenges are tailored in a way which gets you exploring and trying out new things. While it’s fun to just wander around the level and stumble into things at first, picking out a couple of challenges and trying to figure out how to achieve them is rewarding. I came to this game after all the levels had been released, so the episodic nature didn’t really have any effect on my enjoyment.
There is so much content here to enjoy, beyond the main levels there are several special stages, challenges, escalation missions, elusive targets and community made contracts. The goofy tone of the game is perfect, while it almost pretends to take itself seriously there are some great moments to be had just listening to the writing or attempting some of the wackier challenges.
I found myself diving deep into cooking games this year, and this one is probably the best of them. It’s pretty hacked together in some places and I’m pretty sure they’ve stopped supporting it, the key feature of this is the multiplayer mode where the VR player is the chef and the other plays on the screen as the waiter. Even so, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing through the later levels of this in single player. It’s hectic but fun when you get into the rhythm of cooking.
If it wasn’t for the terrible UI design and occasional problems with crashes and unresponsive controls, this game may have found it’s way onto my top ten purely because of the fun factor. Getting into the groove of a catchy song and boxing away to the beat is quite the workout and I keep finding myself booting up this game to play a song or two. It’s one of the best VR party games I own, my friends and I have spent several night swapping the headset between songs and boxing to the beat for hours at a time.
Slated for a release in early 2018, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this game on my list next year. I very rarely even give early access games a proper look, instead preferring to wait for a full release. But the glowing reviews that Dead Cells was getting along with the amount of problems some ‘finished’ games have nowadays prompted me to change my tune on that. I picked up this game and was surprised to find an extremely fun and pretty well polished action platformer that was a mix between Rogue Legacy and Dark Souls. I put it down after around 20 hours because I didn’t want to wear myself out before the developers have added everything they want to. I’m really looking forward to picking Dead Cells up again in 2018.
Looking Forward to 2018
2017 was one of the best years for video games in recent memory, and 2018 is shaping up to be another absolute cracker. There are sequels to some of my favorite like Red Dead Redemption 2, Last of Us Part II and Spelunky 2. New games from developers whose work I’ve loved in the past like Insomniac’s Spiderman, Dontnod’s Vampyr and A Way Out by Hazelight Studios. Plus brand new IP’s from other established game developers like Sea of Thieves and Days Gone.
Seeing as I was already making the trip over to Melbourne for a holiday, it was suggested that I stay a bit longer and work from the office my company has over there. I figured it was a good opportunity to meet some of our Australian counterparts as well as see a bit more of the city without having to take more time off work.
After PAX had finished up and our feet were sore and we all felt pretty exhausted, but we wanted to make the most of the free day we all had together before everyone else left and I stayed around. Plus that free day also happened to be my birthday, so I couldn’t exactly just sit around and do nothing.