2017 was filled with a hell of a lot of games — maybe too many. I didn’t finish every game I started. Some games I played for maybe an hour or so and put down for one reason or another. Hell, there were plenty of games I purchased and forgot about. (I still really want to play through Bread Team’s Phantom Trigger, Fulbright’s Tacoma, Tribute Game’s Flinthook, and so many more, ugh…) With that said, there were quite a few games I played last year — some I enjoyed, others I hated. Here are 10 of those games — in no particular order, of course.
Yeah, The Good
Not everything here is perfect, but I still can’t stop thinking about them. Even after completing some, I continue to play them (which, I guess, is the point). So, let’s talk about some things I liked
I’ve practiced martial arts since I was 11 years old, formally training in tae kwon do. I love martial art flicks, hand-to-hand combat, and complex fight choreography. Sloclap’s Absolver was designed for people like me. Here you can learn new attacks, customize your combat deck, and create your own fighting style. Switching between the four stances (or quadrants) is fluid and transitioning from one attack to the next is both beautiful and vicious. There’s something enticing about looking on as two fighters duke it out, using attacks you haven’t learned yet, pushing you to become a better fighter. Absolver is a contemplative experience that doubles as a martial art fan’s dream and a gamer’s fantasy.
Night in the Woods
Infinite Fall’s Night in the Woods is a nice encapsulation of young adult angst. Mae, a college dropout, returns to her hometown of Possum Springs to find that the town isn’t the same as it was when she first left. While that’s to be expected, Night in the Woods does an excellent job at depicting acceptance, while also telling a compelling ghost story. (It’s not really a ghost story, but it kind of is. It’ll make sense when you play it, trust me. So, go play it.) And let’s not forget the sort of indie-folk soundtrack that accompanies the autumnal color palette.
I don’t know what it is about Nioh. Like, I really I don’t know. I really don’t know what it is about Nioh that’s so… consuming, enthralling, mesmerizing. It might be the fluid, precise controls. It might be the engaging, well-written narrative. It might be the Feudal Japan aesthetic. Or it might be just be the cool ass loot. It’s probably the Dark Souls charm. For me, though, it’s the studio’s mix of previous games with the Dark Souls design. Team Ninja (Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden) smartly implemented Dark Souls’ mechanics, expanded the loot and move set options, and threw it all in a Feudal Japan playground. And while that’s awesome and all, my favorite thing about Nioh is something a more subtle: focus. Nioh is an incredibly focused game: deliberate with its design, committed to its aesthetic. Team Ninja were careful in making sure everything in Nioh is concentrated and cohesive, from the yokai designs (that grow more grandiose and impressive) to the detail in the environments. Nioh is a beautiful game, and it’s especially beautiful because it’s so focused. (But really, I’m a sucker for anything Japanese.)
Nintendo can be brilliant — sometimes. (I don’t know if the Wii U was an attempt at brilliance or an example of ignorance.) In the case of both Splatoon and, more aptly, Splatoon 2, Nintendo is brilliant. Nintendo’s kid friendly third-person shooter is some of the most frustrating, idiotic fun I’ve had with a shooter. The brilliance of Splatoon 2 is its accessibility (if you don’t consider the motion controls). The game is so easy to pick-up-and-play that I’ve recommended it to both hardcore shooter fans and casual gamers alike — it really has a little something for everyone. While most players I encounter treat the game like a Call of Duty, more worried about the k/d instead of the objective, Splatoon 2’s 3-minute match time cut those engagements short, allowing for you to jump into another match as quickly as the first one ends. That sense of forward motion is seamless, and Nintendo should be applauded for crafting such a magnificent game. (Why it’s called Splatoon 2 instead of Spla2oon I’ll never know.)
I still have yet to finish this one, but SMAC Games’ Tokyo 42 is infectious. The pastel cyber-pop-punk aesthetic; the ethereal, almost ominous-like soundtrack; the massive, striking world — Tokyo 42 is a captivating game. Although the narrative is trite, the dialogue between characters is excellent, and the setup for missions is convincing and engaging. The thing I love the most about Tokyo 42, though, is it almost bubblegum like Blade Runner feel. There’s even an ode to Ridley Scott’s classic in the form of a coat aptly named “Deckard,” after the film’s protagonist. Yeah, to be honest, I adore this little game — blemishes and all. (And, like I said about Nioh, I’m a sucker for anything Japanese.)
Yeah, The Bad
I don’t like shitting on anything, but for criticism to truly exist, we have to be candid about what we liked and didn’t like equally. So, let’s talk about some things I didn’t like.
I don’t really have a lot to say here. Destiny 2 is more Destiny. And that’s never what you want your game to be: more of the same. Okay, yeah, there’s a more fleshed-out narrative. Okay, yeah, there are new subclasses and weapons. Okay, yeah, the raids and strikes are more complex. However, the gunplay is the same. The leveling system is the same. The universe — for better or for worse — is the same. (To be exact, all the worlds feel and function the same.) And Activision and Bungie’s exploitation of its fan base is abhorrent and a dangerous precedent for the industry. My biggest gripe with Destiny 2 is it’s so damn boring. Destiny 2 is absolutely, completely, incredibly, wholeheartedly boring. Having playing through a few hours of the game before my progress was randomly deleted, I replayed about 15 minutes before stopping. “You know what,” I said. “This is boring. There are other games I could be playing right now.” And I did just that: I closed Destiny 2 and started playing something else.
Elex here for one reason: It’s Risen masquerading as a trite, medieval/sci-fi fantasy open-world RPG, and that’s it. The narrative is uninspired. The controls are cumbersome and unintuitive. The voice acting is lazy and uninteresting. The sound design is overly simplistic. Hell, even the graphics are subpar — and I’m not one to judge a game solely on its graphics. Everything about Piranha Bytes’ Elex has been done a thousand times better, but the biggest problem I had was how absolutely bored I was playing it. Nothing about Elex made want to continue playing. Much like a film or novel, if your game can’t captivate the player in the first few hours, then no one is going to want to play through the rest of it. And trust me, I barely made it through half the game before realizing I wasted my time on something that never pivots.
Here’s the thing about Nex Machina: It’s a technically efficient game. It plays fairly well. It just didn’t click for me. Is it the worst game I’ve played of last year? Absolutely not. However, Nex Machina lands on this list because of its sameness: It’s essentially a top-down Resogun. And with Housemarque releasing Matterfall and Nex Machina just two months apart, Nex Machina ends up feeling redundant. While great for high score chasers and speedrunners, Nex Machina is little more than an exercise in frustration with its many cheap boss encounters and drenched, flat, indiscernible color palette. Nex Machina could’ve been an interesting game, but with top-down, twin-stick shooters popping up everywhere, Housemarque’s game just feels like a xeroxed copy of the studio’s ludography — and that’s not something I accept. Read my review here.
I enjoyed Supergiant Games’ Bastion and Transistor. (I especially adored Transistor. Please play it if you haven’t.) However, the California-based studio’s third effort, Pyre just… doesn’t work for me. The narrative is a rendition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, but simplified so much it becomes uninteresting. The optional paths feel like padding. The AI is both exceptionally cunning and obnoxiously dumb at the most random of times. The classes are imbalanced, with clear divisions in practicality and skills. Worst of all, though, the game is a chore to get through because of the frequent interruptions for expositions and exploration. Sure, the controls are accurate and tight and the core gameplay loop (the Rites) can be electrifying and fun, but trudging through approximately 15 hours of start-stop gameplay was not enjoyable. And the twist? Like, come on, it was both obvious in its setup and unsatisfying in its delivery. Read my review here.
Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days
I can’t say I’m a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. I do, however, understand the critical acclaim and cult following the film has garnered. Of course, with a film so culturally impactful, it was inevitable that it would get game-ified. There was a one developed by Volatile Games in 2006 based on the heist thriller, but I missed it. Unfortunately, I didn’t miss Big Star Games’ Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days — and I wish I did. This game is awful: horrendous to control, obnoxiously repetitive, and predictable and unpredictable in the worst ways. This twin-stick shooter does have an interesting mechanic: rewinding time allows you to setup spectacular kills by creating a deliberate path before switching characters. However, rewinding time can still get you killed because the AI really only reacts to the player character, not your wandering partners. So, you do a run, rewind time to ensure all the enemies are killed so your characters can move to the next level, an enemy decides to ignore your partner and kills you, sometimes ending the level, forcing you to restart. And that’s just one potential example of failure. Trust me, it’s best you don’t play this one. Read my review here.
Gran Turismo Sport, Life of a Black Tiger, Styx: Shards of Darkness, Yooka-Laylee
Phew. Alright, we made it through yet another list. And another year. But It’s barely 2018 and I’m drowning. Between the release of Celeste, Crossing Souls, Dandara, Dynasty Warriors 9, Iconoclasts, and more I already can’t make it. And then there’s that one Sony Santa Monica game coming out in April about a father and his son or something like that… Oh, yeah, God of War. That’s not even every release for the first half of the year. Looking at the list of releases, it seems 2018 is going to be a promising year. And even though I’m already drowning, I can’t wait to wade through the tides.
Get at me on Twitter and let me know the games you played last year.
Oh, and let me know some games you’re excited about this year.