Thursday, December 28, 2017

Game-cember: The 7 Best Games of 2017 That You Should Be Playing

It's the last Game-cember, so let's wrap it up with some of the best games of 2017 that you should be playing. Now I won't rank these in a specific order. The variety in content this year was a step forward for gaming. But trying to sort these into an order is a bit more challenging then what my brain is willing to handle for today. Plus when you see the list, I think you'll understand that South Park: The Fractured But Whole is in a league of it's own and can't be compared to other games.

Here are The 7 Best Games of 2017 That You Should Be Playing:

Horizon: Zero Dawn. If you have not played this game already, why not? It's a fantastic example of the power of the PlayStation. It is amazing in it's aesthetics, and filled with years of camera fodder. The design of the landscape is awe-inspiring. Horizon is the story of a young woman who is an outcast from the rest of humanity that exists on this post-apocalyptic planet. But through a set of circumstances she's able to prove her worth, become part of a tribe, and must unlock the secrets to the world to find out more about herself. It's a lost girl in a big world type of story, but that doesn't detract from the game. There is a strength and determination to Aloy that is practical. She does have flights of fancy, but she is considerate of those around her - something we rarely see in games/movies/TV shows of this plot-type. The biggest draw for this game is exploration. The world is vast and wants you to poke around. You need to have that mindset going in or you're going to miss what makes the game fascinating to play. But it's one well worth your time to sit through.

- NiER: Automata. I don't think anyone expected this game to do as well as it did. A spiritual successor to NiER, it's everything wonderful and  confusing as a Yoko Taro product should be. You play as an android with a mission to stop other robots, making friends along the way, and finding out the source behind other rogue androids. That's the gist of it. But the story dives into much deeper, stranger lands. The game is part action, RPG, and open-world-ish. The graphics are pretty good for a PS4 title, but they are meant to replicate more of the style of the first game - greens, browns, and blacks will dot the visuals. This is a game where the focus is the story. It will throw you into a million different directions. It's not as severe as the first game, but it's got some twists. The combat is solid. A good mix of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta allowing you to chain crazy combos with a very fluid camera. You can up the difficulty by toggling off auto-target and it's a joy to watch people flail about in this mode. The boss fights are not difficult - some of the battle leave something to be desired. But you don't play this game to fight. You play for the story. It's worth every second of your time.

- South Park: The Fractured But Whole. This is easily one of the best sequels we have seen in years. It captures the spirit of the 'South Park' TV show, builds off of the last game (The Stick of Truth) while not alienating new gamers. It was an unexpected sequel after Matt and Trey said no more games and then bam. Here's But Whole. And like it's predecessor, it did take several years to develop with multiple delays. Unlike The Last Guardian, this was worth the wait. The game takes the boys into superhero territory. They have left behind their 'Lord of the Rings' escapades and now don their superhero personas from the show. With it came a much improved combat system that combines RPG turn-based elements with more interactive fights; letting you block, dodge, move around, and utilize more tactics. The story is classic 'South Park' with the trimmings. You are the new kid once again, and with your glorious fart powers must save the town from an evil influence. Even the character creator spices up the game in some unique ways. If you are a 'South Park' fan, this is a must have. If you like fart jokes and some interesting social commentary coming from 8 year-olds, you'll like this too.

- Resident Evil 7. After the fan push-back on 5 and 6 (really dudes, 5 was a fun game), 7 had a lot to prove in order for Capcom to continue dumping money into the franchise. RE7 took the series back to it's roots and focused on a straight forward story, game play, and location. It's easily one of the creepiest games you'll play in 2017. Having tried out the VR demo of this at PAX West last year, I was on board with whatever this game was going to throw at me. The VR version is still just as scary today as it was in January. What makes RE7 a good horror game is that the focus is on the quiet moments. The times when you are certain nothing bad will happen and you have a moment to collect yourself. And then Papa Baker runs through a wall to maim you. It's a game that takes the tropes it has developed and subverts them to destroy your expectations. Yes you can tell when some of the jump scares are coming. But then other times when you know you should be in the safe zone, you learn quickly that you will never be safe. There is no stopping. There is no hiding. You always have to keep moving. That terrifying notion helps enhance the game play. Another important aspect: you can run and shoot at the same time. Finally a realistic aspect that we needed for so long! This is everything one could love about Resident Evil with a modern take.

- Cuphead. This will be on the list for a number of gamers. Cuphead is the best indie games of the year. A game all about beating bosses. That's it! There's no muss. No finesse. Just you. Your skills. A controller. And a whole lot of bosses. What makes Cuphead stand out is both the design and the game play. Calling back to the 1930-40's style of animation, the world of the game is incredibly...animated. Lots of motion, striking lines, muted colors composed with over-saturated colorized characters, and anthropomorphic creatures. It's an amazing game to look at with every step. The game play itself is solid. It's clear that they had to focus on making the controls schematics make sense as the game is only about fighting bosses. One miss-step and it wouldn't matter how nice the game looked. The way Cuphead jumps, ducks, and shoots fits so well on the controller that you don't feel hampered by it. The game is a true focus on skill and skill alone.

- Heat Signature. Another indie game but you probably haven't heard of this one. It's on the PC and it's like a Coen Brothers movie in space. Weird. Wacky. Wonderful. Heat Signature is a top-down stealth with the goal of infiltrating ships to complete objectives. It starts out simple and builds up the difficulty as you complete missions. But what makes the game charming, and painful to play through, is that the game doesn't give a damn about how you complete your objectives. Many of the scenarios are set up to be a Rube Goldberg machine. One action can start off a series of events before you know what has happened. Sometimes they go off without a hitch. Other times they fall apart. That's the nature of the machine. As the puzzles become more complex, you may be given more of less tools. And then you'll get thrown into an airlock and have to figure out how to finish your mission, which probably includes you dying of asphyxiation in the process. But that's okay because you finished the mission! That's what matters the most. It's a game that will question your puzzling skills and your mortality.

Super Mario: Odyssey. I know most people don't have a Nintendo Switch yet because of stock and Nintendo being Nintendo about supply/demand. But if you have this system, this game is required playing. Mario is one of those timeless titles that you know what you are going to get at the end of the day. And that's what I thought was going to happen with this Mario game. But that's not what happened. Instead what we received was one of the most innovative and transformative Mario adventures we have ever experienced. Odyssey takes all of the wonder of the past titles and elevates what a Mario game can be. Like most Mario games, you are on a quest to save the Princess from Bowser, because that will never, ever not be a thing. Along the way you run into Cappy, a hat that has lost something or someone. He wants to join you to find what he's missing. He has a neat power where he can inhabit hats and control the create or object that he sits on. Goombas, dinosaurs, you name it. In doing so you discover a whole new way to play Mario that feels natural, or as natural as a possessing hat can be. The designs of the world are amazing. A great mix of old, new, and something inbetween. The Joycon controllers actions don't feel stifled or gimmicky. The motions of the hat with the controllers make sense. I didn't think you could play a 40-60 hour game with the Joycons but you can with this one! The only downside is that the camera needs some work. It's not all that intuitive and can be a hassle to re-adjust when you're in a boss fight. But all around, this is a must-have Switch game.

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