So uh, 2017 eh. I’m already on the record saying this was the best year for games ever. Still stand by that. No point messin’ around. Let’s recognize some games.
How about Nintendo just in general? For a company that, in my view, fucks up a lot, they had a hell of a year. Everybody loves the Switch (myself included), and it’s not a mirage like the Wii was. Remember November 2006? What the fuck were we all smoking? The Wii was a piece of shit. The Switch is good. For-real good. Test-of-time good. And the games! Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is weird and surprisingly good (yes, yes, it’s a Ubisoft game). You won’t see Super Mario Odyssey on my list, so I’ll just acknowledge here that a lot of people love it and think it’s excellent. I’ll likely find out some time in 2018 – I haven’t played it.
Would you believe I found time to play old games? Here’s the roundup of what holds up and what doesn’t. Dark Souls is still good! Least surprising thing I’ve heard all day. You know what else is still good in its lovable fucked-up way? Fallout: New Vegas! It’s still good. Rest easy, folks. State of Decay, on the other hand, is…just kidding! It’s still good. In fact, go play State of Decay right now. Forget reading my dumb list. State of Decay is better than anything I’ve ever contributed to the world!
“But Max, I heard it’s ‘rough around the edges.'”
Oh you did, did you? Lucky for you, “rough around the edges” translates to “excellent video game experience with a few minor technical flaws which critics got weirdly hung up on.”
State of Decay for president! But also, oatmeal for president? Old shoehorn for president? Harrison Ford’s acting career for president? A hot cup of coffee for president? Isaac Asimov’s descendants for president? Vacuum cleaner for president? The vacuum of outer space for president? Just some empty space? Please. Please…
I almost forgot, Grim Fandango! That’s a bad video game with mostly bad puzzles and fun characters and goofy-good writing. Grim Fandango: 19 years later, don’t bother! Watch it on YouTube?
Holy fuck, I just remembered Mass Effect: Andromeda came out. Hooooooowheeee! Take Dragon Age: Inquisition, an already bad game (mmmhmm), and make it less fun. You have Mass Effect: Andromeda! Ooof! But really, yeah what a disappointment. Tell 2016 Max that 2017 will be the best year for games ever, and the Mass Effect game that comes out not only has nothing to do with that, but is one of the least enjoyable things I experienced this year. That hurts. To get my true rant on Andromeda one has to be in my presence, ideally. So come on over if you want to hear my rant, about how the space assholes who wake up from an incredibly unfathomable 600-year cryogenic journey are assholes because instead of being filled with wonder and fear and curiosity after waking up from a GODDAMN 600-YEAR JOURNEY TO ANOTHER MOTHERFUCKING GALAXY, they just sit around acting like assholes. Fuck all the people on the ark you wake up on in Mass Effect: Andromeda. We have enough generic shooting games with shitty characters and stories. Put some fucking joy and wonder in your game. I know EA rushed your game out the door because they suck at management but, fuck, you still turned in a product devoid of humanity, in a game supposedly about the future of humanity. They should have called this game Bioshock Infinite 2.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a wholly different experience. It overstayed its welcome with me, and I think the accolades for dealing with mental health issues are a bit overblown. The game doesn’t do much at all to discuss or offer a view of what that means to them. Senua clearly deals with mental anguish and specifically “psychosis” according to the game’s credits, but nothing much is made of it. So I think it’s a tad overrated but, as an overall game experience, worth trying.
My 2016 overlooked game of the year is Dishonored 2. The Dishonored games are so good, everyone. So good. Thief: The Dark Project basically exists again, and it’s called Dishonored 2. If you want a BioShock/System Shock/Deus Ex/Thief fix, play Dishonored 2. And don’t be afraid of that combat. You can stealth it up, but use that blade too. Fortunately, we got more Dishonored in 2017 with Death of the Outsider, an excellent game that you might see up ahead.
Going into its third year of support, Rainbow Six: Siege is better than it’s ever been. Just watch out for all the damn team killers. Ubisoft, in general, is doing a fine job of supporting their three ongoing shooters, the others being Ghost Recon: Wildlands and The Division. I played a bit of The Division in 2017. It seems cool, and the world is incredibly immersive. That’s all I have to say.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is another Uncharted game. It has great moments (of course) and Chloe and Nadine as leads are a refreshing change from Nathan Drake. And the game is relatively short (I’ve heard people say the same as the first Uncharted) which is a plus. On the negative side, is anyone not burnt out on Uncharted? It’s up to you. For the price you could probably get it at, it’s a worthwhile experience. You know what you’re getting, so whether that’s good or not you can decide.
It’s pretty cool that Sonic Mania has been so well received. I’ve played it and I think it’s as good as the classic Sonic games. I also realize that’s something I don’t want anymore. But if you pine for the blue blur’s heyday, Sonic Mania has to be considered the first good Sonic thing since Sonic 3.
As for other games I’d like to get to, Cuphead sure looks good. Prey‘s demo left me a bit sour, but I may give it another try. Night in the Woods is up there with Super Mario Odyssey for unplayed 2017 stuff I do want to play. I’ve also booted up Nioh once for about 15 minutes and have no impressions. It was a crazy fucking year – I didn’t play the Dark Souls of 2017.
One last shout out to Scott Rogowsky and 2017 mobile trivia sensation, HQ. It was fun for a while, but the bugs and lag went on for too long.
Onto the main event, which is even longer than my list from last year, which itself was longer than the lists before that. I’m reining it back in, next year.
Special mention – Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
This would have almost certainly made my list if I’d put the time into it, so it’s getting the special mention. Shadow Tactics showed up on my radar in the summer and was another surprise in a surprise-heavy year. A Commandos-style game in 2017? Okay, sure. Twenty years after those games blew my 13-year-old socks off, there’s a game just like it, and from the couple hours I’ve played it seems much deeper than the Commandos games.
This one is going to be a real treat once I sink into it.
#9 – Pyre
You’ve heard about Pyre, right? The choose-your-own-adventure visual-novel-slash-weird-cosmic-basketball-with-powers game. From the developers of critics-really-were-hungry-for-a-game-with-gravelly-narration sensation, Bastion, and the decidedly less celebrated Transistor.
Pyre has this great, weird and rich lore and it just throws you into it. You’re an unnamed piece of refuse, soon to become the “Reader” of the Nightwings; that meaning you’re the decision maker and a sort of psychic coach on the sidelines when it comes time to do the sporting. The Nightwings being a trio of pals who discover and elevate you from refuse to aforementioned Reader. There’s Jodariel, the big intimidating demon lady; Hedwyn, the reserved leader-before-you-got-there fella; and Rukey, hilarious, mustachioed dog who is as sentient as anyone/thing else.
This merry band travels the land in their Blackwagon– which is a weird wagon with some history– stopping regularly to talk about what’s gone on and what will go on. Then they stop to play the sports, which are known as the “Rites.” You can win or lose them and the story adjusts slightly accordingly. However, I didn’t lose much (it’s pretty easy to win, though later you can increase the challenge in a similar way that Bastion allowed) so my experience was a lot of winning and merriment. Then you drive around some more, meet weird people, take them with you, argue about things, and do more of that.
As for the sports part of it, there are standings with set teams who are mostly pretty amusing. The team of dogs was fucking hilarious. The worms were pretty funny. The tree people were amusing assholes. There was the cool old dog guy who was like “yeah we might lose, that’s okay” and his human adopted son who was a lot more whiny and a lot more interested in not losing. There was the team of harpies…I don’t remember much about them.
After some time you begin to play the same teams in the same arenas you’ve played at before. This is where the game lost a bit of steam for me. I enjoyed the first road trip cycle a lot more than the repetition that followed. The repetition was necessary to tell the story, and each cycle gets shorter and shorter so that does help. But yeah, I liked driving around and meeting all the new people.
The most interesting catch about the game is that, if you do enough winning, you eventually get to choose people on your team to leave the land of banished folks you all roam. Oh I forgot to mention that. You’re in a place called the “Downside” (I think?) because you did some sins or something. Lore reasons. That’s the whole reason you’re doing the sports. To win and get out of the crappy place you’re in. I did a lot of winning, like I said before, so I was regularly sending people off to the, uh.. not Downside. Upside? I assumed they’d come back at some point because that just seemed like the video game thing to do. But nope, everyone I sent away was gone for good. So there are a lot of permutations to the story. That’s because a lot of conversations and decisions revolve around the way the other characters interact with one another, and their various beefs. It’s cool. Definitely a game you could replay and have a much different experience with.
I’ve written about all I can without really speaking too specifically, so I guess I’m done. Pyre is neat!
#8 – Resident Evil 7
Resident Evil 7 is the first game in that series that I’ve played more than 30 minutes of. So I’m not a Resident Evil “fan” or person who knows much of anything about its history. Here’s what I know: In the mid-’90s there was a game on the PlayStation that was hard to control and scary and weird. And people were like “oooh.” Then there was another one and they were like “aahh.” I don’t remember the third one, so people maybe didn’t care so much? Then there was a fourth one which as far as I know is considered the best one. Then there was a fifth one that some people like and some people don’t. Then there was a sixth one that the majority of people think is shit and very few think is not shit. Then there’s Resident Evil 7. My alternate title for Resident Evil 7 is Please Do This More AAA Games, This Is The Future, Right?
The series had become a joke by Resident Evil 6. So they got inspired by games that were probably directly-or-indirectly inspired by Resident Evil itself. Resident Evil 7 is nothing like the other games in the series, for the better (again, as far as I can tell). What it is like, though, is Amnesia. And Penumbra. And PT. This game is a full-length version of PT. Kinda. And I’m sure there are other modern horror games I don’t know about. The point is, they looked outward for inspiration, found it, brought that in, and Resident Evil was reborn.
This game is grimy, and gross, and fucking weird in the best way possible. It seems fucked up and broken in a way that AAA games shouldn’t be. But it’s better for it. I want to say almost nothing about this game because it’s a good one to just go in blind on. You know it’s going to have scares; it’s going to be creepy and weird and gross. It’s actually funny in some maybe-unintentional ways too.
I’ve never cared about Resident Evil and I think Resident Evil 7 is a great experience. Endorsement!
#7 – Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
If somebody wanted to call Wolf2 the most complete, satisfying single player shooter experience there’s been, I wouldn’t deny them. I mean, fuck are those end credits bad. “We’re not gonna take it!” Ack. Does anyone else feel that, once the internet became a thing that, white guy heavy metal based in anger really should have toned it down after realizing how everyone else’s problems were way worse. Like, come on white guys. We’re #1 in the Easy/Good Life rankings. I just don’t believe your sad angry guitars anymore. We know better. If your metal is like, weird mythology shit in the tradition of Zeppelin, go for it. That’s cool. But no more “I’m a sad white guy,” ‘kay? Cause we’ve got it good. Like, so good it’s unfair. Like, “oh no, actual nazis are back and they’re taking over? Oh wait, I can just blend in! I mean, I don’t want all those black and brown and Asian and Latino people to get put into gas chambers, but I mean, do I really have to do something about it? That’s hard. I’ll just blend in.”
Yeah, so actual fucking nazis were a mainstream thing in 2017. What the fuck, America? No I mean it. What the FUCK? I’ve seen a lot of Americans doing a lot of soul-searching over the past 14 months, and a lot of “huh, what happened?” But what I haven’t seen enough of, is you guys just taking a moment to realize how much you fucking suck right now. The rest of the world hates you. Especially me, who lives perilously close to your creepy-as-fuck border. Can you guys just take 10 minutes to talk about how much you suck and how much you fucked up? Even if you wanted Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or HRC, I’m still pissed at you. You didn’t take your election seriously enough. You didn’t inspire enough. What the fuck happened to the inspiring Obama energy? Just blew that load in ’08 and thought you’d take the rest of time off? Well that ain’t gonna fuckin’ work, is it?
Do better America. Your defense when the rest of the world shits on you can’t be to point to your accomplishments anymore. We acknowledge that you have brilliant accomplishments. We know you made the internet and you made Twitter and you made The Wire. Good for you. None of that means anything if the whole fucking world blows up because of you idiots. I’m sorry, but I’m fucking mad. Who in their right mind believes these Republican shitbags? Fucking Mitch McConnell. Fucking Paul Ryan. Fucking Donald Motherfucking Trump. Yeah, fuck you, Donny. You’re a stupid, lazy asshole and a motherfucker. You’re a fucking piece of shit. You used to just be a funny joke of a guy who people found amusing. Then you did the birth certificate shit, and that really hurt your credibility. And at this point? Your legacy is cemented. You’re one of the most pathetic people that has ever lived. Get fucked, you fucking fuck.
Fuck all of those aforementioned jackasses. They’re all stupid, selfish and lazy trash fires. Let all the people who ever smoked a joint out of prison and let those scumbags take their place. We’ll all be better for it. You need a new conservative political party, America, because conservative versus liberal should be a battle of ideas and ideals. Not a battle of what reality is.
When you stationed tens of thousands of soldiers in countries all around the world, everyone else lived with it, and even felt comforted by it, because you, for so long, were keeping your promise of keeping peace. Don’t get me wrong, you made a lot of fucking war along the way. Almost all of it unnecessary. World War II? Great job. You guys were amazing. Saved the world for sure. We love you for that. All the wars after that? Not so necessary. Selfish, you might say.
But what do I know? I’m a naive peacenik who doesn’t know about the Business of War. I’m the problem, right? Round up the hippies and undesirables.
Long, deep breath.
Wolfenstein 2 felt so good. For once a game where you shoot guns to fight oppression and not the opposite. And it was unabashedly liberal as fuck. That felt real. Because when it comes down to it; when the time comes to lay down the cards, it’s not going to be a bunch of white faces facing off against oppression. It’s going to be all the other faces who don’t have a choice. Why do we white people get upset or offended by that? Let’s accept reality. I’m not saying we’re all bad. But I am saying we do a lot of oppressing. Oh, we don’t call it that. Those people in prison? No, we’re not oppressing them. We’re righting their wrongs. Today it’s prison; tomorrow, when the too-near dystopia greets the mainstream, well suddenly the prisons are too full. Off to the gas chambers!
I hope if our world comes to blows that I stand on the side of right and good, with the oppressed. One thing Wolfenstein 2 illustrates well is just how easy it is for the white people to keep on living in a world of shit where every other colour of skin is deemed unfit to live. This is also captured well in The Man In The High Castle, which is terrifying. One of the main resistance characters introduced in Wolf2, Grace, also helpfully enlightens once-again-well-written main character BJ Blazkowicz that, for black people, life was shit long before the nazis rolled into town. Huh, how about that! It’s like there already was this infrastructure of oppression and soft racism in place, and then the nazis nuked New York City, they came in, saw all these convenient systems in place (note, the now-elevated but still sub-German Ku Klux Klan), and said “well we’ll just carry on then!”
“Systems of oppression? Already in place? Oh ho no no no, Max, you’ve got it wrong! Look at Civil and Gay rights! It’s actually the blacks and browns and queers who have the power now! We’re living in their lefty utopia!”
Oh yeah? Hm. Could’ve fooled me.
“Max, after that screed about all your lefty thoughts, you’re putting a game about cute digging robots over a game of, in your words, such supposed importance? That seems hypocritical. That seems like you have a very white and relatively carefree existence…”
Yep. And it’s not fair. None of it is remotely fair at all. Why do I have it so good? If I die, tell my kids that I’m sorry I forced them into this world of bullshit and torment. And tell them that I’m sorry they’ll need to be better than I was. Kids, you’re not born yet, but this is your dad talking to you. Be kind. Be compassionate. You’ll be criticized and questioned for it. Do it anyway. You have to live with yourself, and no one else. People will also mock your cliched words. Say them anyway. At the end of the day, you’ll have it better than most. That bears a kind of responsibility that even through my 33 years I fail to fulfill. I fail every day. I lie to myself that a life of comfort isn’t my fault, and what else should I do? All in the hopes that one day I’ll do something good and worthwhile.
I know, words are easy. But they’re what I have. And sometimes they’re needed to inspire me.
A few months ago while listening to his podcast, I heard Penn Jillette say the kindest thing. He said, regarding immigrants and fleeing refugees, “anywhere I deserve to live, you deserve to live.”
Anywhere I deserve to live, you deserve to live.
Put that on my gravestone. (It works as a bit of a joke that way too. Cause, ya know, I’m dead.)
#6 – SteamWorld Dig 2
SteamWorld Dig 2 is pretty great. It’s like SteamWorld Dig 1, but better. It’s a real treat to have on the Nintendo Switch.
Looks like my work here is done.
#5 – Horizon: Zero Dawn
Horizon: Zero Dawn could have won so many game of the year awards if it came out in the joyless wasteland of a year that was 2014. But it came out in the joygasm factory of a year that was 2017 (just talking about games people – just games). Poor Horizon. I like Horizon a lot. A whole fucking lot. I especially like Aloy. Aloy wins my Giant Bomb-esque best new character award. (Incidentally, they all thought she was boring – Pfft.) We’re finally getting a sustained pipeline of, if not solid female lead characters, at least just female lead characters. You have to start somewhere. Yeah I know there was Samus but let’s be real – that was a stunt that had no substance. Shots fired at Metroid.
But Aloy is solid. She’s solid as fuck. I love her so much, I think I’m just going to talk about her. Robot dinosaurs blah blah blah you know all that. You don’t care. When does Horizon take place? Is it the year 3005? The year 10 million? Mysteries! Open world, map icons, collectibles, et cetera. Blah blah blah.
If I’m being honest, I don’t really think that Aloy’s character makes sense, given her surroundings in the world she inhabits. Especially considering that she was raised more or less in isolation by one man, the outcast Rost. Making Aloy an outcast too. Rost is a meat and potatoes, do-my-bible-readings-and-go-to-bed kinda guy. He’s pretty dry. So what I’m saying is I don’t know how Aloy grows up to be a cool, skeptical, curious and sassy warrior woman. It doesn’t really make sense. But a lot of shit doesn’t make sense in video games. The ending of Uncharted 4 wasn’t Nathan Drake sitting down with his daughter to be like “honey, I’ve probably killed like, between 3,000 and 6,000 human beings.” No, it ended with fun on the beach. So fuck it. If we can have mass murder happy-go-lucky boy, we can fucking have Aloy.
I see some of my values represented in Aloy and it makes me realize how precious few video game protagonists are people that I give a shit about, think are remotely interesting, or are decent people. Aloy checks all those boxes.
The world around her has rebuilt into a very natural and spiritual society, but also a God-fearing and question-averse one. And Aloy doesn’t give a fuck about that, which makes me jump up and down. She’s not going around putting anyone’s beliefs down either – she’s just certain that there has to be more (and she’s right). All these fuckin’ old ladies like oooooh ghosts and ghouls and spirits of mountains, oooooohhhhhh and they won’t search for answers. They just cower in fear. And then Aloy comes in and starts asking some goddamn questions.
Speaking of questions, the game quickly begins to answer questions, and kind of sustains that at a surprising pace. It adds a layer of satisfaction to Aloy’s character development. I went into Horizon blind and, although it’s a year later, if you can do the same I would recommend it.
I can’t believe I enjoyed four other games more than this in 2017, but I did. But no characters, with the exception of the cast of Wolfenstein II, matched Aloy in terms of getting some goddamn intellectual curiosity into the world of video games.
I’m hoping that Horizon 2: One Midday pushes her further into unabashed skepticism.
#4 – Nier: Automata
I went into 2017 with some certainties about games. I knew there was a Zelda game I was interested in (for the first time ever), I knew the Killzone people were making a very different game I was going to try, and I knew there was a good chance I’d be reacquainting myself with other familiar franchises. What I had no idea about was that I’d buy a game called Nier: Automata, a sequel to a maligned PS3 game that not many people cared about.
Nier: Automata goes beyond the usual “are robots/androids people?” question (in the same year that Blade Runner 2049 attempted much the same), instead acknowledging that they are, and asking deeper questions such as what is even consciousness, which forms of consciousness are considered valuable, if the physical vessel is replaced, is the “soul” the same? And many more questions that I lack the skill to articulate.
It’s also a game that I happily played on the easy difficulty. That allowed me to have AI control combat for the entire game. Believe it or not, the game was a lot more fun when I was mostly a passive observer to combat (I still controlled some movements). It also let me get through long combat sequences to get to the next bits of story and characterization. Unless you really enjoy the hectic combat of the game– which regularly transitions in a really clever way from over the shoulder RPG-style fighting to top-down 2D “bullet hell” style– I’d recommend letting the game do it for you. It’s also visually pleasing, as the characters 2B and 9S were constantly doing cool moves that I probably wouldn’t have pulled off.
I’ll say that the demo is not only worthless, it’s the most boring part of the game (the first hour or so) and will more likely dissuade anyone from playing the game. If you’re curious about this game, the demo won’t help, and lacks a lot of context.
The physical spaces that the game presents are pretty lifeless and drab on the surface, but within those spaces I experienced so many “aha” and “huh” and “what the f-” moments. It’s a bit of weirdness overload at first, but digging deeper into the world was both fascinating and rewarding.
I’ll also comment on something I heard a lot around this game, that being you have to play it 5 times to get the complete or “true” ending, which is a misleading statement to say the least. When it seems like you’ve come to the conclusion of the story and “beat” the game, it will restart with you controlling a different character. At this point, it’s true that much of the experience will overlap with what you’ve done before. But you have a different perspective, and from a low level, any completed side quests will still be completed, and any open ones will still be open. Really, you’re just given another chance to investigate some of those again, while pushing the story to an even further point.
Finally, the third to fifth “playthroughs” aren’t that at all; they’re entirely new content, but some people have insisted on calling them playthroughs simply because the game rolls credits after the first two “playthroughs.”All in all, it can more accurately be described as a stylistic choice, and there is a slight bit of replying the same sections of game (though again, from a different character perspective, which does change some things) for a brief part of the game. You absolutely do not play through the entire game five times. I don’t know why anyone described it like that. They failed you, just like the people who said Dark Souls was too hard failed you.
Otherwise, this is sort of one of those take the plunge and see if you like it kind of games. So yeah. Plunge away.
#3 – Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
I keep hearing the same refrain on the Dishonored series: criminally underplayed. Why? Why is this series still criminally underplayed? Arkane has become one of my favourite active developers because of this series. I’ve pounded my fist on this before, but if you’ve liked any of the Thief games, Bioshock, or Deus Ex, this franchise is the closest experience to any of those. Specifically, Death of the Outsider is the brilliant culmination of the two games (and The Knife of Dunwall) before it.
As a big fan of this style of game, it’s bittersweet to take in the whispers that this is the end of Dishonored. Though if this is it for the series, it goes out on a high note. I would rank Death of the Outsider at the very top of the so called “immersive sim” genre, along with Thief: The Dark Project and Thief II: The Metal Age.
I think the most interesting difference, to begin with, is the character you view the world through: Billie Lurk. She’s a down-on-her-luck former assassin who takes on a seemingly impossible assassination mission. More importantly, she sees the world quite differently from the previous protagonists of the series, Corvo Attano (“Royal Protector” aka body guard of the Empress) and Emily Kaldwin, the Empress herself. Billie is a disabled (she lost her right arm) black woman; she may also be a queer woman; I got this sense from a few notes in the game, but am not certain about it, so don’t take my word. The point is, she’s hardly the Empress of the damn world (or at least the isles that maps found in the game inform you about), nor the most privileged body guard in existence.
Billie does receive some void powers (Dishonored’s version of magic) at the outset, but they’re limited and much more focused than the powers of the previous games. The one passive power she has is being able to hear the thoughts of rats. This seems to me to be a reference to her low status and place in the world. It’s fitting. I would say any time Billie listens to rats talk is the best rat moment in games in 2017, but that goes to BJ from Wolfenstein II when he lets a rat on Eva’s Hammer run away rather than kill it (as someone had asked him to), wisely remarking something like ain’t your fault you were born a rat. Mmm hmm. We’re getting somewhere.
Anyway, back to Billie. Billie sees the bullshit of the world and has every right to be pissed about it. It feels more genuine than the shock and horror that Corvo and Emily experience; the various plights of Dunwall and Karnaca they witness, which they of course have some power to affect. That’s a small flaw of earlier Dishonored games, but it seems like Arkane at least decided to address this in their (supposed) swan song.
It’s been interesting to see the powers of the series evolve; particularly Blink. Billie has three active powers along with the aforementioned rat-hearing passive ability. The first, Billie’s version of Blink, is my favourite variation on that ability in the series. Instead of instantly quick-teleporting, you place a marker and trigger when you want to teleport to it. This might seem weaker at first, but when you consider the possibilities of this power, its usefulness becomes apparent. All you need is a clear line of sight to the marker, and not to be too far from it. I’ll give an example. Sizing up the outside of a bank I was trying to break into, there was a courtyard with a handful of guards, most of them with a view on each other. I was perched high above, on a lamppost. I set the Displace (the name of the power) marker on the lamppost and waited for a guard to walk by underneath. When he did, I pounced down, doing one of those sweetly impossible air assassinations, quickly picked up his body, and then teleported back to the top of the lamppost, his body still in my arms. I then tossed it on a nearby balcony out of view, and carried on. You can see the deep utility of this power after playing around with it for a bit.
Another power lets you steal someone’s face and impersonate them for about 10-15 seconds. Yes, you can finally disguise yourself as a guard! I didn’t use this power too much because I generally found safer ways to play, but it does offer a lot of versatility to especially creative players. As long as your void power doesn’t run out, you can also “chain” the ability, meaning you can continue to steal faces, though you don’t have much time. There are a few moments in the game where a side mission (“contracts,” which are a nice addition) has you use this power in very fun and interesting ways.
The last power is a bit understated; it’s this game’s version of the power that has been in every game and allowed you to see through walls/floors to search for runes and bone charms. Not a lot of fun, but it has its uses. And that’s it, that’s all the powers. There are no upgrades to them or paths to go down. You start with them in the same state they’ll be for the entire game. This was probably done because the game is relatively short compared to Dishonored 2, but I found it effective at getting me to actually dabble in all the powers. That’s also because, in a smart decision, the mana potions (I forget what they’re called – the blue vials) have been done away with in favour of a recharging system. This system makes it so much easier to experiment with your abilities, which I think is half of the fun in a game like Death of the Outsider. You can mess around a lot more when you’re not worried about wasting a limited resource. It’s another reason I think this is the best Dishonored game.
I don’t want to talk any more about this game because it should just be experienced. If you’ve ever enjoyed, or been curious about, immersive sims, please play Death of the Outsider.
#2 – PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
The competitive multiplayer renaissance continues. PUBG seems like it should have been a game that existed 20 years ago. I guess the key is that a 100-player multiplayer game like this wouldn’t have worked then. Thankfully it works now. And it’s goooooooood. Can it get better than this? I don’t know.
At this point everyone is familiar with the battle royale genre, right? Fortnite is on top of the world, while it and PUBG both have mobile versions to take over the world even further. I guess I’ll give slight thanks to The Hunger Games for popularizing this idea in the west. Thanks to H1Z1 for being the building blocks of PUBG. And especially thanks to the Japanese film that started it all, Battle Royale, of course. Watched that last year and was glad I did.
PUBG is the emergent multiplayer dreamscape I’ve always wanted. Every match played has 100 converging stories, all culminating with a memorable victory for one person (or two or three or four) and the death of everyone else. Am I selling the idealized version of the game? Yes. But it’s so hard to win a match of PUBG (for normal folk, at least). But every game ends with a winner. Somebody is going to win that game, and the other 99 people lose and go onto the next. I’ve played hundreds of matches by now, and I’ve won four times. Four chicken dinners out of hundreds of attempts. And three of those were squad games. I have one solo win. It’s very hard to win. But it’s so damn rewarding to get that chicken. It’s like defeating a hundred Capra Demons.
In my very first game of PUBG, I knew what to do. A bit. I’d been watching streamers play since April when I got the Xbox version in December. With some incredible luck, I placed #2 in that very first game, managing to kill three people along the way. I thought huh, maybe I’m really great at this? Nope. It was just dumb luck. It was very hard to get back to #2, and it took weeks to win my first game. Even now, after well over a hundred solo matches I have no more than 15 top ten finishes.
Here is my recommendation if you’re starting out. For your first few games, jump as far from the plane as you can, to get away from crowds. Learn some of the basics and mechanics, and of course try to get a win. Once you’ve got the basics down, start landing where a lot of other players are. This will help you get in some shooting practice, which is necessary to become competent. You’re likely going to have to shoot at something eventually if you want to win, so practice is good. And it’s very easy to go through a 15, 20 or 30 minute match without firing a shot. That can get frustrating, so make sure to change things up and get spicy sometimes. Finally, just try to make your own fun along the way. Playing with squads and duos is fun, but I enjoy the freedom of a solo match. I make it a habit to hunt down anyone I see, and especially getting into car chases. These are the things that lead to memorable moments, which is ultimately what I’m playing for.
If you’ve been dissuaded because the game was in early access for so long on PC (and continues to be on Xbox) and you’re waiting for 1.0, let me tell you that PUBG is a complete experience. It doesn’t have the polish of something like Destiny, but it has so much more life than a game like that ever could. PUBG is a complete experience, and it’s rising the ranks of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had.
Before you realize it, you’ll know more than you ever thought you would about getting spicy, fuckboy shacks and wizard towers.
And remember: get your butt pan. (Translation, frying pans are very good and you definitely want one. Translation on that Translation: frying pans can be used as a melee weapon, but more importantly they will actually deflect bullets when it’s strapped to your back. Therefore, grab yourself a cast iron pan, and forget about those crowbars and machetes.))
#1 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Open world Dark Souls.
That’s it, I think. Breath of the Wild is the Dark Souls of Dark Souls games. Or, wait. Breath of the Wild is the…um…Breath of the Wild of Dark Souls games. Or is it the Dark Souls of Breath of the Wild games?
How does this game exist? That’s my question. Where did it come from? How does Nintendo do it sometimes? Ya know? I am the ultimate endorsement for this game because I don’t give a shit about The Legend of Zelda. I played an hour of Twilight Princess and quit forever because I thought it was boring. Never played another game in the series. And that’s the thing that happens every time, right? People hype up the new Zelda game and then months or years later it’s considered a bad game. Look at Skyward Sword on Metacritic. It has a score of 93, which is very hard to get, and it’s considered one of the worst main line Zelda series games. It’s just considered in general a bad game. Oh I know it has its fans, and Zelda fans will just tell you like “oh once you’re deep enough in it’s good” but who believes them? Not me. Look up any discourse around Twilight Princess. So many people hate that game and think it’s a piece of shit. It’s considered generally the second worst Zelda behind Skyward Sword. Metacritic 96. Wtf? There’s a disconnect, is my point, between the hype and the reality.
No Zelda hype from me. Link. Zelda. Bird guy. Fish guy. Other guy. Whatever. I don’t care about them. (Well, only a bit from Breath of the Wild.) So you can take my endorsement wholeheartedly: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a very, very, very, very, very, very good video game. It might be the best video game ever made. It probably is. It beats everything on any of my lists ever except Dark Souls.
I want this game to be the template for a million other games. The shrines are fun as hell to find, and some are fun to solve once you’re inside, and the exploration feels so good. Moving through the spaces of the world feels so good. Gliding through the air is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done in a video game, and I’ve done lots of shit in lots of video games. But it’s all of the systems of logic and physics and rules and enemy AI that makes the whole experience so brilliant. After over a year I still haven’t “completed” the game. I’ve found 105 shrines, over 200 korok seeds and still there are new properties of the game’s systems that I’m learning about.
I talked about emergent moments in PUBG. If PUBG is a multiplayer emergent simulator, then Breath of the Wild is the emergent scenario simulator of single player games. Wood, metal, water, fire, lightning. All of these things intermix with each other and create baffling and mind-blowing situations, and it happens all the time. And you can climb on everything. Everything. (Okay not everything, but the exceptions are very few, and they are consistent. Like you can’t climb on the walls inside shrines. Fair enough.)
The way all of these systems work together to create a fun and living world blows my mind every time I play. The bar of video games in general has been massively raised by Breath of the Wild. Everyone has to do so much better now. Remember how sick of Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry towers people were by 2017? Zelda had towers and they’re amazing. They took this tired ass mechanic and did it better than anyone ever had. And I made my Dark Souls references up top, but I didn’t add any substance. Breath of the Wild seems legitimately inspired by Dark Souls more than any other game that I’ve picked up on. I will say, I’ve started playing Far Cry 2 for the first time recently, and I can see some of its DNA in Breath of the Wild as well.
They got that menu lore! That’s some Dark Souls shit, yo! They got that nice saucy and occasionally frantic combat, and lemme tell ya, that looks more Dark Souls than some old sleepy ass Zelda combat footage I’ve seen. (This would be a perfect place for longtime Zelda fans to critique me.) They got that whole, here is a world, here are a few things to know, now go discover it aspect. That’s some Dark Souls shit!
I just…I can’t contain my enthusiasm. This latest version of Hyrule is an unbelievable playground. It’s the game that makes me think, yeah, that back of the box hyperbole is legit this time around.
It’s also a rare game that I want a quick sequel to. Meaning, what excites me as much as getting back into this latest version of Hyrule is the prospect of getting a Majora’s Mask-type twist of a sequel to Breath of the Wild. That’s the only thing I could possibly devour more feverishly than Breath of the Wild: Its weird, darker, Obsidianesque KOTOR 2/New Vegas style sequel.
But I should calm myself. I think having the best game there ever was, smack in the middle of a new golden age for video games, where there’s so much goodness, plus all the things that came before at our fingertips, is just fine.
Save your 2017 calendars, everyone. Our grandchildren will want to see proof that it actually happened.
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