Top Ten, 2017

Horizon Zero Dawn

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Eric, I just don’t care about Horizon Zero Dawn.” This response became like a mantra to me, because I was a big dumb idiot who genuinely did not care about Horizon Zero Dawn (sorry, Eric). I thought I didn’t have space in my life for another post-apocalyptic open-world game, but everyone insisted I was wrong and that I was, yes, a big dumb idiot.

So I played it. This is how I managed to be surprised by a totally by-the-books, safe, game-y, AAA title. Zero Dawn is lush with detail, each piece of visual construction itself comprised of so many more smaller, subtler building blocks, on a scale I felt was unprecedented. This is a game best experienced at slow pace, taking time to linger on the artifice.

It also has real problems that need to be addressed. Zero Dawn wants its players to be excited by inhabiting ‘indigenousness’ and thereby fetishizes it. It is nice that HZD gave us a new mainstream female protagonist (Aloy rules), but it would be unjust to deny that this representation rides in on the backs of other marginalized peoples.

HZD had everything going against it, but now I truly miss the time I spent in that game – marveling at its minutia, happy to prod through the story. It snuck up on me! And there’s value in that.

EVERYTHING

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I want 2018 to be the year of games about just bummin’ around. I don’t need to be pushed or led anymore. Even in a corridor, I want to feel in control of my momentum.

Guess what? In EVERYTHING, you can just be a lil’ acorn, hangin’ out, talking to other acorns. They don’t have much to say, but they are nice. You can also be a building and wobble around a city, somehow leaving the world unharmed beneath your massive frame. It’s a very safe game, in every sense of the word. It seems to expect its own meaning to come together naturally, through scattershot quotes by famous thinkers set to the soft atmosphere of simulacrum – it half-works, but never quite has any form.

I suppose that’s the point, though, which is fine. EVERYTHING tries to break convention in its own gentle way, and I could enjoy it for that – even if ‘gentle’ sometimes slipped into ‘weak.’ It was sweet, and cute, and even though I didn’t get to be everything, I still got to be lots of things.

Injustice 2

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A few weeks ago, I accidentally came into possession of a copy of Injustice 2 and bah-humbugged about it because I don’t ‘get’ fighting games.

And then my roommate Jane started playing it, and then I started playing it with her, and the next thing we knew it was nighttime and we had played through the entire campaign in one sitting. Oh, shit, I think I like fighting games now.

It’s been interesting, too, to interact with lootboxes in my first meaningful capacity. I hate lootboxes – hate everything about ‘em. They’re predatory, and nakedly unsustainable as a business practice. It is upsetting that cultural influencers in our ecosystem laud them as pro-consumer, pro-business, pro-games-culture.

But they do feel good to open! *shaaaaaaaa!!* Wow! We got cool new pants for Harley! Interestingly, they’ve become an element of reclamation for Jane, who is (rightly) unsatisfied with the female roster’s state of dress. She flatly refused to engage with I2 on its terms, and has spent the last month+ on a hustle for better women’s outfits. It’s been impressive to watch – Jane has decided to take things the slow route. This means her journey has been charge-free, but slow-going – frustrating. If that’s not a scathing indictment of loot boxes, then I don’t know what is.

I could not, in a million years, have predicted that I’d get into a fighting game in 2017, that it would be the Mortal Kombat devs’ take on DC superheroes, and that I’d get to watch someone take that stupid-but-fun game and make it better for themselves. Video Games: They’re Cool as Shit.

Disco Bear

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Comedy, as a genre, is woefully underrepresented in our medium. Sure, we’re party to the same quippy, Whedonesque dialogue that peppers most modern action/adventure franchises, but that writing style is about using strategic levity to elevate a serious story – not serving as a wellspring of plot-driven comedy. And even our “”””funny”””” games don’t really do much justice to the notion of ‘laughing because a joke was good.’

I am starved for comedy in the games space; so imagine my excitement upon being shown Disco Bear.

That’s it. It’s all in the name. You’re a bear, and you dance the disco. That’s literally all it is, and it’s hysterical. It’s an artful parody – Dance Movies are ludicrous and should be poked fun at (no interpersonal problems have ever been solved through dance, ever), but their contents are earnest, compelling, and deserve to be embraced in the way they are in Disco Bear. Yes, this is silly, and there’s no reason you can’t love it. It has characters, a narrative arc, and terrific jokes connecting the two. This is a wholehearted comedy game – more focused and confident than even the lighthearted adventure games of old. Disco Bear is an unadulterated joy, and that’s incredibly valuable to me.

Night in the Woods

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Night in the Woods fucked me up, full stop. It’s been a real rough year, gang – it is so, so, so hard to not feel like we’re constantly, endlessly drowning under the weight of the wholly evil people making decisions in the world. Jesus Christ, I don’t even want to want to think about it now. But even though Night in the Woods directly confronts a lot of those problems, I felt it drawing me deeper. It so directly aligned with my unrelenting anxieties that I was not repulsed; this is one of those works that relies on our fears in a way beyond making us jump in our chairs. This game gets what it’s like to be a miserable young person. If you are a miserable young person, you should check it out – this is a game for you.

Nier: Automata

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Hey everybody Nier: Automata’s on my GOTY list did you enjoy Nier: Automata (still don’t know if it’s Auto-mata or Aw-tah-mah-tah) I bet you sure did cos it was real good and that’s why a hundred million people have already read the hundred million pieces written about it to the point where I literally couldn’t say anything to change your opinion or understanding of Nier: Automata I just put it on this list to make sure you knew I liked it!

Heat Signature

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I constantly think about how tightly Heat Signature is constructed. It’s so clear and direct with its rulesets that I can confidently exploit them to overcome overwhelming odds. No game-breaking here, though – brushing up against the system’s limits is exactly what Tom Francis wants you to do. Heat Signature is almost like a trick question; sure, there’s an easy answer that technically works, but – when asked – you’re expected to unconventionally use what you’ve been given to produce a more satisfying response. If you don’t, that’s fine. But if you do?

Oh! It’s like music.

Getting Over It With Bennet Foddy

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The only game on the list I haven’t played. Guess what? I get it. I’ve seen the livestreams, the walkthroughs, the speedruns – I get it. I’m a firm believer in the notion that some games are clear and concise enough with their messages that gameplay is a boon – not a prerequisite for understanding. That’s what Foddy is – a game about patience in the face of silly, imprecise spaces, all meditating on the nature of B-games and their place in the broader games culture.

B-games are, I must admit, also an intrinsically fascinating genre; of all the titles on this list, Foddy is the least interested in you playing – or even finishing – it. I love that. I love it when games are an affront – when they genuinely don’t care if you’re able to finish, or if you even try. The sheer confidence is so enticing; Foddy has a conviction that makes me much more interested in what it wants to communicate. Sometimes, an argument isn’t worth saying if it’s not said your way, and Bennet Foddy literally put his name in the title of his game. This is his point, distilled, and spoken on his terms.

Well said, Bennet.

Feast

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I played Feast once, with strangers, in public, and instead of occupying a space in my memory relegated solely for moments of panic, Feast rests its tasty laurels at number two on my GOTY list.

What a bizarre experience! Feast is a game about creating characters based on different descriptors (regret/secret/etc.) and eating food, which is a nervous task when you’re paired with a bunch of strangers (hi, I’m Tom Loughney, and I have crippling! social! anxiety!). But we all sat down, did our best, and had a surprising amount of fun as a result. Months later, I can still remember who I was – Rhonda, leadership personality, successful real estate agent, divorcée, and accidentally destroyed a famous painting once and covered it up.

It’s an intimate experience – you are, after all, roleplaying as aliens eating these people’s memories – and it lets the players have a fun, almost invasive look into the lives of your subjects. The whole entire affair is so abstract and memorable – a delight!

The Sexy Brutale

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I know I’ve sung this song before, but it’s one of my favorites – The Sexy Brutale is the must-play game of the year. It is as tricksy as so many of its tiny little moments; like the adornments of its masqueraders, Sexy’s pulpy premise is a colorful mask placed upon real depth of character. It’s so vibrant and stimulating and – yeah – sexy, and these qualities all form the building blocks of its extraordinary narrative architecture.

I really can’t stress enough how much I like this game. It’s about saving people, and pushing through your mistakes in a constructive way. In games, ‘healing’ usually consists of killing your dad, or your SO’s killer, or – in some cases – your actual, literal SO.

The Sexy Brutale approaches personal growth and internal struggle on better terms; it displays some of the best of what our medium has to offer. Play it.

 

 

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