This is an unnumbered, “soft” ranking of my favourite games of 2017. Since 2017 was a fantastic year for games, I also included a 2nd list (in no particular order) of games that didn’t quite make the cut, but probably would have made it into my favourites in most other years.
Let’s start with my favourite game of 2017, which has pretty much been set in stone since March:
Breath of the Wild
BotW came as a big surprise to me. The Zelda games, specifically Ocarina of Time, may have been my favourite games as a kid, but I lost interest in the series in my teens and hadn’t played a single new entry since The Wind Waker. So I wasn’t particularly interested in BotW until the first reviews rolled in, which described a game that sounded like it was made with me in mind. I played more than 100 hours in a single month, something I probably hadn’t done since my teenager days.
Hours played certainly isn’t an indicator of quality, as many games built on addicting loops illustrate, but it wasn’t the compulsion of levelling up or collecting loot that kept me hooked. There’s simply a kind of magic to BotW that’s unlike anything I’ve experienced since, say, OoT or Baldur’s Gate 2. From the very opening, in which Link emerges from his cave to a vista of Hyrule expanding below him, BotW conjures one intensely memorable moment after the other. One of my favourite moments was a remarkably simple thing. I was climbing the Duelling Peaks early in the game when I saw something enormous move in the margins of the screen. It was an ethereal dragon (Farosh, as I found out hours later) flying over Lake Hylia far off in the distance, and I just stood there, mesmerised. To me, these fleeting moments perfectly encapsulate why BotW succeeds as an open world game where so many before it failed.
Find more of my thoughts about BotW here, plus some pretty screenshots:
I encountered quite a few people on Twitter who expressed the jaded opinion that Prey is derivative. Another sci-fi game set in a space station. Just another Bioshock clone. I think nothing could be further from the truth (and it really is besides the point that I think that there can never be too many space stations). Forget Bioshock. Prey picks up where System Shock 2 left off, and, seeing as no game ever really tried to expand on SS2’s enormous potentials, this is a special thing indeed, as far as I’m concerned. Prey strikes a great balance between conservatively improving on what already worked in SS2 and still finding plenty of room for clever experiments and ambitious, even subversive tweaks to the formula. The fact that 2017 delivered a more than worthy successor to one of the most ambitious and shamefully neglected first-person games ever made already elevates 2017 over most other years.
I liked and admired Supergiant’s previous games (especially Transistor), but neither of them managed to really excite me. And at first, the same seemed to be true for Pyre. Beautiful art and soundtrack, loveable characters and an innovative fighting system; it would be enough for most games. But after perhaps 8 hours or so, at which point I suspected the game was about to end, it did the exact opposite and opened up, gradually revealing its true ambition and scope. It was a wonderful realisation that caught me completely off guard. Slowly, everything comes together and Pyre becomes far more than the sum of its (beautiful) parts. By the time it ended, I had become hopelessly entangled in this world with its strange rules and its tragic and loveable inhabitants.
Mythology and ‘lore’ tend to be an encyclopaedic pursuit in video games, something universal that exists largely outside and independently of individual minds. In Hellblade, mythology becomes personal and subjective while losing nothing of its overwhelming, awesome scope. Senua’s psychological torments become mythologised; in other words, she uses the Norse myths as told to her by Druth to make sense of her personal struggles. Hellblade has been rightly praised for its nuanced portrayal of mental illness and psychosis, but I feel its unique angle on mythology and history is just as worthy of discussion. For a game basically about surviving battle challenges and solving environmental puzzles, those are some surprisingly ambitious and difficult themes to tackle, and Hellblade does it with aplomb.