Whenever the topic of video games was brought up in conversation this year, it seemed the immediate response most commonly heard was the growth of esports. And while so much can be said about the meteoric rise of esports in 2017, the same holds true for the revolutionary shift in the video game industry as a whole. Another year where indie games continued to flourish and challenge the tried and true formulas of Triple-A titles. The year that VR gaming went from toddler-like steps of uncertainty to a full fledged sprint. And a year that saw the return of just about every beloved franchise to its glory days, and some no one really cared about... looking at you Bandicoot.
Just the fact that this will be my first Top 10 list without a fighting game says everything about the world of video games circa 2017. As a card carrying member of the FGC since 1991, while I thoroughly enjoyed the latest entries from Namco, Capcom, Arc System Works, and NetherRealm Studios, the impact of genres outside my favored category brought about memories of the year 1998, a transformational time for the gamer community as a whole. So with that, let's get started.
#10 - SUPERHOT VR (PS4, PC)
Try and explain the concept of a 'time-altering first-person shooter inside a computer simulation' and you'll get a blank look on the faces of your audience. Explain it again as the game where you're Keanu Reeves as Neo and John Wick simultaneously, and you get a better idea of what SUPERHOT VR has achieved. Taking the already popular game originally released in 2016, the transition to VR only made something great even greater. While fan fiction and theories on the meta of this game grows, the fact that you're duel wielding anything from sawed-off shotguns to ninja stars expertly decimating a room full of enemies is all that matters. My only complaint is you shouldn't play this game alone. I've banged into enough furniture and walls in my living room to know it's safer to play with friends. Virtual Reality has never felt so immersive and this holiday season may be the perfect time to invest in VR gaming.
#9 - RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD (PS4, XBOX ONE, PC)
The RESIDENT EVIL franchise has spawned 28 titles over the course of 21 years. Let that soak in for a moment. It hasn't been worth a damn for 12 years when you last took on the role of Leon Kennedy in RE4. Finally, Capcom remembered what made this series so cherished by fans of all kinds, the survival/horror genre it once encapsulated. And what's scarier than undead dogs jumping through windows? Rural America at night. All kidding aside, RE7 is a virtual walk-through of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and executes it damn near perfectly. Considering the track record of this franchise, if you haven't played this, do it now because you won't see another RE title this good for another decade or so.
#8 - HORIZON ZERO DAWN (PS4)
Robot dinosaurs to hunt in the wild with a solid storyline makes this the must-buy sandbox video game of 2017 if you don't have a Nintendo Switch or Wii U. Seriously.
#7 - NIER AUTOMATA (PS4, PC)
Another year, another video game production of pure genius from Platinum Games to be absolutely overlooked. This story is getting old. BAYONETTA, ANARCHY REIGNS, TRANSFORMERS: DEVASTATION, METAL GEAR SOLID: REVENGEANCE, THE WONDERFUL 101, and now NIER: AUTOMATA all fail to reach commercial success while super-fans like me foam at the mouth at the exquisite gameplay of a video game that changes game mechanics like Tommy Wiseau changes topics in a coffee shop. Existential themes, M. Night Shyamalan plot twists, and more endings than Return of the King aside, no video game company has perfectly captured control-feel like Platinum Games. Switching from side-scrolling or top-down SHMUP to 3D character action, the par-for-the-course tight controls from Platinum Games tie in seamlessly alongside beautiful graphics and an amazing soundtrack. Rant over.
#6 SONIC MANIA (PS4, XBOX ONE, NINTENDO SWITCH, PC)
The next time you want to post Oscar Wilde's motivational quote, "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken' on social media, just slap a screenshot of SONIC MANIA instead. After countless failed attempts at 3D, Sega hired a programming team that wasn't Sonic Team and lo and behold an absolute success! It's hard to forgive Sega for trying to make the Sonic franchise something it's not, a Super Mario clone, but give them credit for trying. Here we are applauding the ROM hackers and super-fan coders that made SONIC MANIA and the Sonic Team releases SONIC FORCES not long after. Guess what, still not good. Fun fact, Sega, we don't need to explore, we just want to fly from left to right barely in control as we hit supersonic speeds without losing a golden ring.
#5 CUPHEAD (XBOX ONE, PC)
There's video game hard, then there's DEAD SOULS hard. Today we have CUPHEAD hard and fellow sadomasochistic (predominantly of the old-school type) gamers couldn't be any happier. Beautiful hand-drawn Max Fleischer inspired animation, 1930's jazz soundtrack, and a 2D platformer with a parry system make this indie title worthy of all the anticipation during it's 7 year development. Anyone who says the game difficulty is a detractor should be immediately ignored. There hasn't been a video game this hard, that made completion more rewarding than what the Moldenhauer brothers have created, and damn it if you can't figure out how much sexual innuendo we've used here to explain the joy this game brings, have a cigarette ready when you beat CUPHEAD.
#4 SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY (NINTENDO SWITCH)
Where SONIC MANIA captured the essence of its 16-bit titles, the Nintendo SWITCH chapter of Super Mario takes on the characteristics of its 64-bit iteration. We play hide and seek with moons instead of stars while battling creepy rabbits and other wacky wildlife over a variety of landscapes that are an absolute joy to explore. Great as this is, SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY is by no means perfect. If you thought catching Pokemon was a chore, wait till you seek out all 836 moons. Also, New Donk City just looked wrong (unless they wanted to show Sonic Team that Nintendo could do SONIC ADVENTURE better, then I'm cool with it). At the end of the day, thanks to crisp controls and amazing creativity from the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, it's hard to criticize what few minor flaws present itself throughout the game and you have one of two reasons to purchase Nintendo's latest console.
#3 DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN II (PC)
Role playing games are a fascinating genre. As FINAL FANTASY and PERSONA popularized the JRPG, Western-Style RPG's like FALLOUT and ELDER SCROLLS have dominated the console markets. Both variations of the genre have their fair share of criticisms as of late, notably in linearity, lack of innovations, and a focus on action. Lucky for fans of the genre, the indie scene has come to the rescue. In 2015 Larian Studios launched a Kickstarter that achieved all of its stretch goals with over $2M collected. It doesn't take long to realize every single dollar was painstakingly utilized in what may be the best role-playing video game of all time. A spiritual successor of original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons design with a modernized turn-based battle elements found in most classic PC RPGs with a focus on terrain and you're barely scratching the surface. Graphics and sound are breathtaking but combined with the voice acting of a big budget animated film, you're immersed in a world where your every decision is of vital importance and emotion is felt throughout. I can go on forever about this game but I'll leave it at this, the beauty of this game aesthetically is matched with its complexity internally. No other role playing game offered so much choice for resolving a problem, completing a quest, or defeating an enemy. This game is about freedom and thinking outside the box, something long missing in the RPG genre. Remember the scene in BIG where a young Tom Hanks played by David Moscow has to figure out how to melt the Ice Wizard? That's the feeling you'll enjoy over and over again in DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN II.
#2 PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS (PC)
In 1998 Valve's HALF-LIFE and Blizzard's STARCRAFT created a migration of gamers from console to PC for an all new gaming experience that created the very foundation of esports. In 2017, Brendan 'PlayerUnknown' Greene has created a similar phenomenon with PUBG. What began as a mod for ARMA 2 on PC has evolved into a new video game genre inspired by the Japanese film, BATTLE ROYALE. Pitting you against 99 enemies, the first person shooter becomes a test of survival of the fittest that will have your palms sweating and a level of anxiety never before experienced in a video game. With over 2 million units sold in its first year, the only reason PUBG isn't the Game of the Year is because it's unfinished. Still in its early access phase, players have seen a shift from third-person to first-person views and most recently improvements in sound and mobility options with vaulting. The most viewed video game on TWITCH, PUBG continues to expand its fanbase every day and with an Xbox One release just in time for the holiday season we'll look back on 2017 as one of the most important years in video game history.
#1 LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD (NINTENDO SWITCH)
When the team at Nintendo decided to give Link an iPhone they knew they had themselves a masterpiece. Combining mysterious technologies with swords and sorcery without missing a beat, there is nothing to find at fault in the latest entry to THE LEGEND OF ZELDA franchise. Imagine being thrust into the magical world of Hyrule and you can still check your phone to see where you are and what you might have to do. Not too far off from how you'd handle a new adventure in real life, right? And that's what makes this game special. It hearkens back to the video game days of old (romanticized by old guys like me) where the player wasn't held by the hand. There are dungeons to explore and new lore to uncover and those goals are accomplished through your own curiosity and simple exploration. You are only limited by your imagination and your inability to stop staring at the majestic landscapes. Seriously, you will marvel at things like fish swimming in a stream, a blade of grass swaying in the wind, and a falcon flying in front of the moon on the backdrop of a clear star-lit sky (seriously, that happened). To call Hyrule immersive is an understatement. The world is huge yet never feels boring with collectibles, side quests, secrets, and beautiful locales. It wasn't a difficult task to select BREATH OF THE WILD as GOTY.
And that's it. To spend time on an Honorable Mentions would be to write up another Top 10 list. There were just that many amazing video game releases in 2017. So if you think I snubbed a title, leave a comment or send an email, and let's start a conversation. I always believed the most important year in video games was 1998 with titles mentioned earlier along with METAL GEAR SOLID, POKEMON, FINAL FANTASY TACTICS, GRAN TURISMO, BALDUR'S GATE, MARVEL VS CAPCOM, and OCARINA OF TIME. UNREAL inspired me to build my first PC, an Intel 486 processor with a 3dfx Voodoo2 videocard. Later that year, HALF-LIFE was released eventually becoming Counter-Strike: Global Operations. This year I had a new PC built by the team at ORIGIN PC to fully immerse myself in the PC gaming world again. What will we see 20 years from now that we'll attribute to the titles we've seen this year? We'll have to have that conversation in the future.