James Wood takes some time away from his daily viewing of The Last Jedi to round out his first year at Groundpunch with a short, sweet list of the games that made 2017 that little bit brighter.
I’ve always firmly been of the belief that adding things to a Top X List in the form of honorable mentions is just straight up cheating but in a year so packed with incredible gaming experiences as 2017 it feels like an exception must be made.
Firstly a nod to the impeccable work Ubisoft have done with the soft rebooting of it’s long-running Assassin’s Creed franchise with Origins, a game which gave me a dozen or so beautifully rendered hours of walky/talky/stabby fun. Even if it never did quite topple over into the same kind of wonder the games below gave me there is something to be said about the raw quality that can be found in Origins. Also, the game’s soundtrack is crazy good, seriously check it if you get a chance.
Despite the fact that I am a giant baby when it comes to horror experiences it seems like two of my top five games of 2017 are in fact spooktacular outings and this honorable mention deserves some credit for literally making me stand up from my computer and shout ‘no’ repeatedly at it. Doki Doki Literature Club is one of the strangest, unsettling and dull experiences I’ve ever had playing a game; the first hour or so is shockingly boring to play and the primary reason it got kicked off my list in the first place but once it gets going, holy shit does it get going. I felt sick playing this, it was as if the game was looking directly at me and wouldn’t let me look away. There are also some brilliant meta-narrative/gameplay hijinks toward the climax and to those who have played it all I can say is, Monika.
Finally, a huge shout out to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for being a total joy to play and review.
Developed by: Kitty Horrorshow
Anatomy fucked me up.
Developed by indie dev Kitty Horrorshow, whose previous works have all been equally engaging post-modern horror experiences, this short tour of a quiet suburban home fundamentally dismantles the notion of feeling safe at home. Told through an extremely minimalist lens (those with dissenting opinions of walking simulators beware), Anatomy tasks you with collecting several cassette tapes around the house and returning to the kitchen to listen to them. On each tape is a woman narrating her theoretical idea that the house, perhaps more than any other man-made object, most represents the interior workings of the human body and with that assertation, we begin to explore the uncomfortable questions that arise from it; does the house see us? does it hunger? does it grow lonely?
Over multiple playthroughs the tapes begin to degrade, the audio warping and the content of each speech becoming less clinical and more opposing. Without spoiling anything there are essentially two climaxes to the game, the first is a traditional but downright horrifying moment and the second a more somber tone changer, both of which left me near unable to sleep that night after I finished it. I lay in bed turning over in my head the surreal terror I had just played and found myself, against all logic, praying that my house would choose not to bite down.
Super Mario Odyssey
Developed by: Nintendo
I can’t believe this game isn’t higher on my list.
If you had asked me while I was in the middle of playing Super Mario Odyssey how I’d rank it among a year of great titles I’d have told you in a heartbeat that it was surely the second best, maybe even the best. As time marched onward though and my fevered mind was able to digest the game away from the hype of it all I was left with a bitter aftertaste to the wonder I had felt playing it at launch. Don’t get me wrong, Odyssey is unambiguously a good game and rightfully holds a place on this list as one of the best games of 2017 but, for me at least, it lacks any real staying power. Its polished mechanics are fantastic, the soundtrack is phenomenal and I had an absolute blast playing the thing but when I set it down I leave most of that joy there with it, I don’t really want to go back and play more. Which in contrast to Nintendo’s other major franchise outing last year is a strangely sad mark against it.
Still, personal gripes aside Odyssey is a lovely package of wonder and fun and easily worth your time, even if you probably won’t think about it again after credits roll.
What Remains of Edith Finch
Developed by: Giant Sparrow
As a die-hard fan of Gone Home and Firewatch, I have some pretty high standards for first-person, emotionally driven narrative games and with their debut title developed Giant Sparrow flew well above my expectations. What Remains of Edith Finch is a stunning slow burn, leading you through the now empty Finch family home as you play out surrealistic representations of the history of each family member and how they eventually met their often untimely demise. These small journeys are each another piece of kindling on the fire that is this games brutal tale of loss and love, culminating in some gut-wrenching late-game revelations and an end credits sequence I won’t soon forget.
While the gameplay of each of Edith Finch‘s small stories isn’t always inventive the act of playing it always feels engaging, held up in large part by a delicate script delivered masterfully by a small cast. The titular Edith’s journey through her family legacy is painfully human and thanks to the large variety of family members it’s difficult to not find at least one of the Finch clan to directly identify with. Honestly had we not seen a stellar soft rebooting of two of my favourite franchises last year this game would have been my number one.
Resident Evil 7
Developed by: Capcom
After the dumpster fire that was Resident Evil 6 it was difficult to imagine a future in which the long-running horror franchise would be able to claw it’s way back to life. Then, as if flung from outer space, Capcom dropped the trailer for Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, a first-person remodeling of old school RE sensibilities set in a world which looked somewhere between ours and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
And I fucking loved it.
The game is an unsettling, gloriously violent return to form for the franchise, complete with a healthy dose of survival horror mechanics, a brand spanking new engine and self-aware, schlocky humor. In his quest to find his missing wife, Mia, Ethan must do battle with the unholy Baker family, a lively collection of redneck monstrosities under the influence of an escaped Bio-Weapon. Much of the game is spent running and hiding from the Bakers as they hunt you, constantly spewing either black tendrils or hilarious quips, until part way through the second act we flash backward and are treated to a ballsy action/horror experience playing through Mia’s missing year. This balancing act between the slow, methodical scares of the first RE games and the action orientated romp of the later ones is masterful and makes RE7 an absolute must play.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Developed by: Nintendo