If there was ever a year to enjoy video games as escapism, it was 2017. Wait--didn't I say that about 2016? I suppose it doesn't matter. When life sucks, play video games! There were a lot of great games this year and even though I played a lot, I feel like I missed out on some potential gems. That said, the five presented below are some of the most memorable adventures I had this year. It was a difficult task, but I'm happy with my choices--and I hope you are too!
Favorite Game Released Before 2017, Played in 2017: Assassin's Creed: Ezio Collection
A byproduct to playing through Assassin’s Creed Origins was an insatiable obsession with revisiting one of Ubisoft's flagship franchise. Participating in the birth of the Assassin Brotherhood inspired me to play through the franchise from the beginning. It seemed a fitting way to celebrate its tenth anniversary. After slogging through Assassin’s Creed (and being reminded why I quit playing it the first time), the Ezio Collection was a pleasant reminder of how well Ubisoft addressed and adjusted to criticism to build a fantastic trilogy made with quality of life improvements, beloved characters, and a compelling setting.
2017 Honorable Mentions
Super Mario Odyssey, Yakuza 0, Sonic Mania
Top 5 Games of 2017
5. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Fun personal fact, Breath of the Wild is the only Legend of Zelda game I ever managed to finish. Having missed out on Link’s previous adventures, I had little context to judge Breath of the Wild against. That said, it was amazing hiking across Hyrule as an amnesiatic Link solving puzzles and braving the elements in his quest to defeat Ganon. I really liked the little things, too. A pleasant day/night cycle, the music that plays when you’re cooking something, scaling tall mountains and structures, and the satisfaction of finally being able to destroy those laser shooting guardians. More like this, please!
4. Assassin's Creed: Origins
What does a year’s break for a ten year old franchise looks like? A lot like a really good open world game. If there’s one series that needed to shake some of the cobwebs out, it’s Ubisoft’s long running war between the Templars and the Assassin Brotherhood. Origins feels like it cribs a lot of material from CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3--I can’t think of a better game to emulate--and by that I mean it delivers a huge open world set in the Nile-enriched lands of Egypt. Even with its vast desert wastes, there is no shortage of things to do and people to kill. The story is great, especially with how it delves into the lives and machinations of the game’s antagonists and how they will eventually form into the Templars and even later, Abstergo. Origins is a nice change of pace for the Assassin’s Creed franchise, one that really needed a fresh shot in the arm. .
3. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Wolfenstein II was a soothing balm for the ideological pains that marked 2017. It felt really good to control B. J. Blazkowicz and kill Nazis that have taken over an America that bowed to their rule. It’s a concept that would be funny if the current events weren’t so distressingly similar. As such, putting the boot to Nazi scum feels oh, so good. But Wolfenstein II is more than a Nazi killing simulator. It’s a game with a manic personality. In one moment, it’s a dour, bleak, and depressing as B. J. struggles with the weight of his enemies pressing down on his broken body. And then, without warning, things get real funny (and strange and crazy and unbelievable) real quick. Frau Engel is so easily hated and I’m grateful that her story arc has an immensely satisfying ending. Wolfenstein II has so many great things going for it. It’d be crazy not to play it.
2. Star Trek Bridge Crew
I’ll never forget one of the best play sessions I had with Star Trek Bridge Crew. I, along with three players siting at different stations on the U. S. S. Aegis, had just finished a mission in which we had to rescue colonists moments before a star in the system went supernova. Completing the mission involved working together to scan and transport life forms and eliminating Klingon targets of opportunity. After the Aegis and its load of survivors warped out of the system to safety, one of the players, who had been doing a great job on Tactical, chimed in with voice enriched by a comforting Southern drawl, “I’ve been a Star Trek fan all my life and this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.”
When I wrote my review of Star Trek Bridge Crew, I thought of it as pure wish fulfillment. Just like the VR mission from 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront, virtual reality proved itself capable of doing some really cool and innovative stuff. It perfectly accommodates multiple players without any fuss. And if you're lucky enough to get a group that role plays Star Trek (which is really hard not to), the enjoyment is exponentially increased. Star Trek Bridge Crew is the realization of a fan's ultimate fantasy and representative of VR's potential for cool, online multiplayer experiences.
There is absolutely no way this game wasn’t going to be my number one pick. I am still in awe with how gorgeous Cuphead looks. I still stare in disbelief with how well Studio MDHR captured the animated style of old cartoons. I mean, it’s too good, like they ripped open a tear in space time and brought back Max Fleischer to make the game. Beyond its amazing animation, the game is incredibly fun despite the extreme difficulty. The bosses insanely clever and thrilling to fight, even if does take me two hours of straight playing to conquer, because they bring clever and ingenious quirks that are reflective of their weird personalities.
When talking up Cuphead, it is vital that Kristofer Maddigan’s work with the soundtrack is not ignored. Maddigan, a percussionist by trade, pulls from a myriad of different styles and musical influences from the era to build a soundscape that is pitch perfect in every possible way. Taking the time to digest the rich compositions makes it even harder to believe that this is only Maddigan’s second project. I love video game music a whole lot and make it a point to buy those that I like on iTunes to support the talent. With Cuphead, I had no problem tossing $100 on a beautifully crafted four disc, vinyl special edition.
A gaming tour de force if there ever was one, I am so proud to make Cuphead my 2017 Game of the Year.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.