So 2017 was a landmark year in the world of video games. Most of the spotlight has been taken up by the dubious anti consumer practices of publishers like EA and Activision, constantly ruining what would otherwise be good games due to their mounting avarice. Luckily for me as time goes on I have become much more discerning with my game purchase than I was 10 years ago where I might actually fall for some of the bullshit from modern publisher. For example a game I was initially excited for was Middle Earth Shadow of War. I loved Shadow of Mordor and would have eagerly bought this new one had the specter of micro-transactions not been shoehorned into it. It quickly went from a must buy to a hard pass in the course of one gameplay demo. So for me while I watch the hobby that I love be corrupted by greed, personally I have not felt any ill effects because I have managed to avoid the bullshit. So now that it's the end of the year, it's time to do my citizens duty and rank things in a convenient list! So here are my personal top 7 of 2017
7. Sonic Mania
We live in a nostalgia obsessed culture. One need only look at breakout hits like the IT remake and Stranger Things, or the steady stream of reboots of 80's and 90's movies and TV shows to see our love for the past is in full effect. This can be really cool but sometime annoying when I am constantly seeing the same old thing preying on my memories from childhood. Sonic Mania shows how it's indeed possible to scratch that nostalgic itch the right way. Yes this game has the look and feel of classic Sonic games but it manages to do it in a way that adds something new to it and not just be a shameless rehash. The game brims with the enthusiasm of 90's sonic by showcasing levels any fan will be overly familiar with but at the same time giving us a new gimmicks in each stage to keep those old ideas fresh.
Being a Sonic fan can feel like being in a toxic relationship at times. Every games is like a roll of the dice. Will we get something great like Sonic Generations, or another Sonic 06 or Sonic Boom? Despite the bad elements constantly rearing up, we stay because we remember how good Sonic used to be and we know it can change. In truth we should have packed up years ago and never looked back. But that familiar blue blur always calls us back to at least look and see what the old hedgehop might be offering us. Thankfully in 2017 Sonic is serving us something truly wonderful this year in what is arguably one of the best entries in the series history and definitely in the last 5 years.
While the game is indeed an excellent work of art, the story behind it's creation is just as compelling. Being made by hardcore Sonic fan modders who were given the opportunity to live any fan's wet dream and create something awesome for the series they love. In the process of creating this epic return to Sonic glory the guys at Pagoda West and Christian Whitehead have also unintentionally showed the world that the actual Sonic Team responsible for the other Sonic game that will not be featured on this list , don't know what they are doing anymore. I only hope Sega see's the love and success of Sonic Mania and allows these guys to keep making amazing sonic games
6. Mario Odyssey
What can be said about Mario Odyssey that has not already been said. It's as excellent a platformer as you can get. In a year that saw the return of the classic platformer with such games as Sonic Forces and Mania, Yooka Laylee, Crash Bandicoot, and number of indie platform games and for some reason, Bubsy, Mario manages to stand head and shoulder above them all and also manages to cap off a Landmark year for the Nintendo Switch.
Nintendo is a difficult beast to tackle. At times they are so backwards and out of touch it's baffling, (The Switch does not have Netflix or Youtube, or allow for any reliable voice chat function). But when Nintendo is firing on all cylinders and doing what they do best it's awe inspiriting.
Mario Odyssey manages to strike that perfect balance of old familiarity, and new innovation. Being able to take control of any enemy via Cappy, Mario's sentient hat companion, each with unique controls and abilities is a stroke of genius. Every world in this game is a unique masterpiece that oozes creativity, for a game series that's over 30 years old. There are entire franchises that are only on their second or third outing that have already become tired and stale and yet Nintendo is pumping out innovation in 2017 left and right and Mario Odyssey is the pinnacle of that.
Last point, this is a full fledged video game, no micro-transactions in a game with many avenues to implement them, no bullshit to gouge players and at the same time is packed with so much content. I am not one to focus on content and length when it comes to video game greatness as that's not always as important as some might think but it's hard to ignore that factor with a game like Mario Odyssey. The good thing is that if you just want to run through the main story you will have a blast with tons of stuff to do and if you want to be psychotic and collect all 999 moons you can do that too, no matter the choice you are sure to have a a good time doing it.
In the post Dark Souls world we live in, it's hard to not see the fact that since that game came and changed the video game landscape there have been many pretenders to the throne, or Souls-Like games as the sub genre is popularly called. Most of these games manage to be decent but too often fly too close to the Dark Souls/Bloodborne sun and end up for me at least falling into the imitation Coke a Cola category. They are serviceable but in the end just remind you how much better the original product is. Nioh manages to avoid this issues by having enough unique factors to give it it's own identity. The distinct setting of feudal japan, and the breakneck speed of Ninja Gaiden married to the Souls combat formula, Diablo style loot systems and a few more nuances to set it apart.
This is not to say that it does not feature any Souls like aspects, you still lose all your exp when you die and have one shot to get it back. The difficulty is just as punishing, perhaps even more so thanks to the speed and frenzy of the combat. And you can still see the spots where other players have died littered across the levels in the form of sword grave marks. But everything is just tweaked enough to make Nioh feel unique and fresh in the increasingly crowded pond of the souls like genre.
Nioh does not do anything to reinvent the wheel, or extremely innovative and that's okay. It's just a solid experience the whole way through. In the area of story it leaves a lot to be desired, but like many games from Team Ninja, that's not at all the focus here. Instead the core moment to moment gameplay is what reigns supreme. So while we all wait to see what From Software will do next, in the meantime give Nioh a whirl and prepare to die. A lot.
4. Horizon Zero Dawn
2017 was the year that Sony truly asserted itself. Meaning it declared to the world that the best and most unique exclusive titles belonged to them. It seems like every month there was a new Sony exclusive that demanded the gaming community's attention. Horizon was one such game. When you boil it down Horizon is an open world action RPG.... Which has become an extremely over saturated and boring type of game these days. But while this game borrows many of the expected tropes it manages to do them in a unique way that feels fresher than what is essentially the same kind of stuff one might find in an Assassin's Creed game. Yes you will climb giant towers to reveal more areas of the enormous map as you do in lot's of open world games, but in Horizon's it's a moving long neck dinosaur robot/radio tower that actually requires a bit of planning to traverse.
In a world plagued with sequels and uninspired clones Horizon dares to be unique. Set in a post apocalyptic world that feels alive and lived in, that is plagued with robots that mysteriously behave like animals and tribal culture akin to something from the bronze age of mankind. On paper it sounds weird but in practice it all works so well. Exploring the world is a constant joy as the game is perhaps the most beautiful and graphically impressive thing on the PS4 right now,(I can only think of one other game that rivals the graphical fidelity on the console). The game manages to avoid the tedium and boredom that can be associated with giant sprawling open worlds that too often feel dead by contextualizing everything you do. It's all in service to unraveling the mystery of what destroyed modern civilization and lead to society being reduced to a hunter gatherer state once more.
Horizon also takes a note from The Witcher 3 for it's many side quest that litter the gorgeous open world. More than just simple collect this or kill that quest that so many games utilize to pad their run time, Horizon goes out of it's way to make sure the vast majority of activities you do are actually rewarding and feel interesting in some way. It's a novel concept that thankfully is catching on more these days. I found myself constantly in awe by how well made this new and unique world truly was when playing and always thirsty to know more about each location, or ruined sky scrapper, or each settlement and city across the open world.
The thing that Horizon manages to do so well however is the combat. The game has so many ways to approach each combat scenario and encourages you to utilize the many tools main protagonist Aloy has at her disposal. This is most evident when taking on one of the game's massive robotic Dinos like the Thunderjaw. A hulking robotic monstrosity covered in armor and guns that can make short work of poorly equipped players. The first time I managed to take out this behemoth was one of the single most enjoyable gaming experiences I have had this year. Picking apart it's armor with my tearblast arrows, dodging it's massive artillery gunfire and deadly tail, bringing it down with my rope caster, setting it ablaze with fire arrows, picking up one of it's fallen guns and using it to finish it off, all in one combat encounter that could have played out in a variety of ways with different tools. The entire arduous process felt so immersive and visceral and a few other buzzwords I can't think of at the moment.
If you have a PS4 this is a game that needs to be on your radar. If you love open world games, or have become fatigued on them and want something that adds a new dynamic to the stale genre this game is a must own. If you enjoy good, intriguing story telling, excellent world building and great combat, then it's a no brainer that Horizon Zero Dawn is for you.
So that's it for part 1 stay tuned for the super important second half of the top 3 games of 2017 that everyone needs to play.