The first half of 2017 held a lot of surprises for gamers–two major fighting game franchises were able to live up to the hype. Japanese publishers in need of big American crossover hits scored with non-traditional offerings that challenged preconceptions. Meanwhile, some “sure-fire releases”, like the new installment in the Mass Effect franchise, were not well received. With fall upon us we’re set to see a slew of major releases–including Destiny 2 (which is being supported by local company Vicarious Visions), Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Call of Duty and Star Wars Battlefront II. But its likely many of the games on this list will remain contenders for “Game of the Year” when December rolls around.
The classic 3D brawler returned to a form not seen since its second installment released in 1995. The combat is sophisticated, characters quirky and engaging and the game designed to encourage multiple playthroughs and a commitment to competitive play. This may not be a game you need to own, but it is an outstanding representation of the fighting-game genre.
This odd action/RPG tells the story of synthetic beings coming to terms with the fact that they have been abandoned in the world by their human creators to contend with an alien invasion that for some reason relies on robots. Yes, robots and synths are different here. There is hacking, slashing, stilted dialogue and synth romance. You might be surprised to learn that the game’s main directive appears to be to sort through existentialism. Major existentialist philosophers are referenced and there’s even a sidequest dedicated to Jean-Paul Sartre.
Warner Bros. has managed to find success in big-budget video games based on their movie franchises just as those movie franchises have begun to falter. Shadow of Mordor was critically acclaimed for its innovative nemesis system as the Hobbit as being met with disregard by film critics and moviegoers. The Arkham game series built a world separate from DC’s Batman movie series and Injustice has successfully created a dark alternative to DC’s entire universe just as Batman Vs. Superman failed while trying to do the same thing. Injustice 2 takes up where the studio behind Mortal Kombat left off–basically giving gamers action-figure style control over DC characters. Injustice 2 adds a wealth of customization options and reasons to keep playing past competitive matches. The customization options are an important step forward for the genre itself.
You parachute onto an island with the clothes on your back along with 100 other people. The only way off is to be the only survivor. A typical match might play out with you landing next to a player. Nervously watching as they dart for shelter to search for survival tools and weapons–you make a similar dash hoping you might find something to help you. It’s that uncertainty that gets you–the tension is pervasive. You can cower and collect more resources or storm ahead ready to take out anyone who gets in your way. Eventually though, the game forces conflict by narrowing the play area. It is merciless and unforgiving.
This long-running crime series from Sega cops a prequel and takes us all the way back to the 1980’s for its latest and most-polished installment. The game is steeped in real Japanese culture–you can pick up all the best ramen brands from the local convenience store, get a shot of legit Japanese whiskey at the bar and take part in karaoke battles. However, to get from one place to another you have to do battle with hordes of roaming thugs because you are after all a Yakuza–a member of the Japanese mafia–or at least you are some of the time. Yes, the Yakuza series makes its bones on convoluted melodrama and exaggerated violence. At its base the game is a brawler dating back to the days of Streets of Rage, Double Dragon and Final Fight. But it also offers Tokyo–its arcades, bars, bowling alleys, pool halls etc as your playground.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
PS4/ Xbox One/ PC
This throwback to the ‘90s text-heavy RPG adventures captures everything that was good about those games by presenting highly complex moral and ethical challenges. This is a game where one decision can change the face of the fantasy world you interact with. It takes patience but it is enthralling.
An RPG about teenagers who travel into an odd psychosphere to battle demons and bad impulses before it’s too late. Don’t forget you have to remain popular, do chores, work part-time jobs when you aren’t jumping into people’s id. Did I mention this game is heavily influenced by the work of Carl Jung?
PS4/Xbox One/ PC
French developer Arkane studios sure has a knack for designing fantasy worlds with aesthetics that border on surrealist. Dishonored 2, a steampunk action RPG about politics and corruption, was one of the best games of 2016 and Prey, a sci-fi thriller that draws heavily from the Bioshock and Fallout series is one of the best of 2017. The game captures an intriguing aesthetic of an alternative reality where President John F. Kennedy not only successfully launched the space race but lived to push it further into a union with the Soviet Union. The game calls into question just how far humanity can push itself before it becomes something entirely different. The game mechanics are intuitive but it operates on multiple levels. Multiple plays and different choices yield wildly different results.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Follows a convoluted sci-fi storyline where machines designed to save the world from global warming begin to devour all life on earth–when man develops again into a stone-age-esque existence one woman (with a mysterious) past begins to find a way to combat these machines that now for some reason look at lot like dinosaurs and various wildlife. Honestly, the story had me tuning out from the start but the game itself is an amazing technical achievement and absolutely addicting. And, finally, a major game is launched with a strong lead who is female.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Wii U/ Switch
As someone who doesn’t buy into Nintendo’s nostalgia machine it is almost hard to admit that the latest installment of Legend of Zelda is likely to be the best game released this year. Infinitely accessible yet nuanced, simple graphics that capture amazing beauty–a game that can be picked up and enjoyed for minutes or hours. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild shows that Nintendo has more left than just retreads.