This year, I’ll be doing my first ‘Game of the Year’ entry for this site. For this, I’m going to list 4 categories (Game of the Year, Old Game of the Year, Best Surprise, and 2018 Most Anticipated Game). In each category I will go over the nominees that apply and in my winner section will spell out exactly why my winner is the winner. And with that, let’s begin!
Game of the Year
It’s a popular thing to say online, but I couldn’t agree more – 2017 has been an incredible year for games. The volume and sheer quality of releases has made it impossible to keep up, and even though I’ve played more new releases this year than I have in any of the last 5 years or so, I still have games that I want to play but have not gotten to (Super Mario Odyssey, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata, Yakuza 0 to name a few). Here are the titles that released in 2017 that I have completed this year:
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Horizon: Zero Dawn was something I had been looking forward to cautiously for some time. The concept of an open world with mostly primitive technology and giant mechanical ‘animals’ roaming the landscape grabbed me immediately – but Guerilla Games was known primarily for Killzone and frankly, that gave me a bit of pause. After release and universal acclaim, I jumped in and wow were my expectations exceeded. The stunningly beautiful world, the music, the story and how it was acted all were exceptional across the board. Aloy has one of the dumbest protagonist names in recent memory, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t love her by the time credits rolled. All is not perfect here – the difficulty is a bit punishing in the beginning, some systems aren’t explained properly, and while the story is great overall, it over relies on information dumps at key moments which makes it feel a bit half hearted in execution.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is the latest entry in the series, and the first without Nathan Drake. I was expecting greatness here and was not disappointed. I have finished every Uncharted title to date (including Golden Abyss) and I consider myself a fan of the series – so when this was announced as a standalone story starring Chloe and Nadine I was all in. It’s almost boring to write any kind of review for modern Naughty Dog games – they completely nail every aspect of these third person action adventure games. Story, characters, visuals, music, set pieces – everything is the best in the industry. Chloe and Nadine have a sometimes adversarial relationship that makes them feel like real people – I can’t think of higher praise for the writing, animation, and voice acting teams. In fact, this might be a better game than Uncharted 4 – which I like better because I can personally identify with the story more. If you like the Uncharted series, this can’t be missed – it may be the best one yet.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a crazy ride start to finish. It takes place in an alternate timeline 1960s where Hitler not only won the war, but conquered mainland USA. The game play is very similar to the first game – first person shooting levels that have multiple pathways, non regenerating health, and the ability to dual wield every weapon or combination of weapons. The gameplay is possibly the weakest part here – the shooting feels good, but when you get hit it isn’t conveyed very well and you just suddenly die. There are also two distinct difficulty spikes that made it virtually impossible for me to progress and it seems like I’m not alone. These shortcomings are all made up for by the story. The story here (which I won’t get into details) takes place over so many cutscenes that I lost count and is absolutely bonkers in the best way. There is a moment near the end that I feel doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story and is incredibly jarring – but otherwise the story is fantastic from start to finish.
Sonic Mania – if you told me that a new 2D Sonic game would be released in 2017 (by Sega no less) and it would be excellent, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are, and yes it happened. Sonic Mania takes great pleasure in referencing the older games (1, 2, 3, and Knuckles) and subverting your expectations. The levels are gorgeous and look like they could run on a Genesis even if they couldn’t in reality. The controls feel right, the music and stages are the originals with remixes thrown in for good measure and the designers find new ways to surprise you in virtually every zone. I’ve been waiting 20ish years for a good new Sonic game and I finally got it – it feels like coming home after a long trip.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – while not a perfect game by any means, I had a ton of fun with it start to finish. This series is pure escapism, and this is no different. I’m so happy we got another Uncharted release without Nathan Drake that manages to rival the previous entries.
Old Game of the Year
Each year, especially now that I’m a bit older, it seems that I play old games more often than new releases. Either I go back to stuff I bought previously and never played, or I dig deeper into libraries for systems that are new to me or have piqued my interest for one reason or another. I have too many to do individual write ups for each one, but here are the titles I completed this year that were not released in 2017:
|Wolfenstein: The Old Blood|
|Uncharted: Golden Abyss|
|Castlevania: Symphony of the Night|
|Ratchet and Clank (2016)|
|Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider|
Doom (2016) is one of the best first person shooters I’ve ever played – and I’ve played a lot of shooters. The fast paced action, beautiful graphics, incredibly good soundtrack, and pitch perfect tone all make this a memorable ride you won’t want to get off. The story is silly and self aware in the best ways, and the doom guy may be just a cardboard thin character with nothing but rage behind him – but it’s perfect. The soundtrack is just wonderful – relentless and pounding, it plays homage to the original and still manages to be its own thing. Rip and tear.
Castlevania Symphony of the Night is well regarded as a classic, and now that I’ve played it I couldn’t agree more. The core of the game is action platforming, with the entire world open from the beginning and new areas being gated off by the abilities needed to get to them. There is a lot of backtracking, but the fact that overall progression doesn’t feel linear and the sheer amount of secrets make this one very replayable. The visuals are incredibly fluid sprite based graphics that really reached their peak in this generation, and the music is delightful. Controls are tight and the exploration is great. Really, if you like these kinds of games you have here perhaps the best the genre has to offer.
Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a remake of Vanillaware’s Playstation 2 game Odin Sphere. Released late into the console’s lifecycle, it had a few issues with the design that made it more of a niche title. This version on PS4 (also on Vita) not only resolves some of the gameplay issues with the original release, but contains 1080p art assets which are frankly beautiful. On a basic level, this is an RPG with combat similar to a beat em up. There are combos and special abilities you can unlock that keep it fresh, but it is repetitive. The visuals are 2D hand drawn art that is just amazing, and the music is equally wonderful. A nice touch here is that the original is also included if you have desire to go back to that.
Until Dawn is an interactive adventure that is modeled after a teen horror movie. Starring Rami Malek and Hayden Panettiere the game follows the story of eight ‘teens’ (who all look like they are in their mid 20s, in grand horror movie fashion), who are stranded at an abandoned ski resort with a killer on the loose. The story is good for what it is, and the choices you make do impact the outcome (all characters can die, and all can survive – and everything in between). It plays like an interactive movie, and I had a blast playing through it with my wife. It’s not perfect, but the flaws here are very minor and is worth seeking out.
Castlevania Symphony of the Night. This title is foundational to the genre, and can’t be missed by fans. Without overselling it, this is one of the best titles released in the 90s that I’ve played in a very, very long time. Even if you don’t like the genre, you owe it to yourself to at least give this a shot.
This category is all about things that surprised me – a game I thought I wouldn’t like, or something that I had no idea was coming out and blew me away.
Sonic Mania should be bad. Sega has really dragged this series through the mud over the last 2 decades… there are some good Sonic games released in that time frame, but they are few and far between. Sonic 4 was a disaster, and I held out little hope for this 2D sonic release. I’ve talked about it above, but this is just a great treat for fans, with some reverence to the source material and some just bonkers surprises. This was made with love, and you can feel it.
2018 Most Anticipated Game
Red Dead Redemption 2. As I get older, I find that I like westerns more and more, and the original Red Dead Redemption was one of my favorite games last generation, and Rockstar is one of my favorite developers. Their last release that I played was GTA V which released in November of 2014. It’s been a long time, and the quality expectations from me are through the roof. If nothing else released next year, and Red Dead meets my expectations I would be happy.