Guest List: Chris Price's Top 10 Games of 2017

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Chris is a Renaissance Florida Man who lives in New York and works as a Technical Program Manager at Instagram. You can find him on Twitter at @chriswprice.

2017: what a year. As much as we may be inclined to strap a cinder block to the ankles of 2017 and send it off to the briny deep, we should not overlook the beacons of hope and resistance that continue to burn bright against the dark. Artists of all disciplines delivered bold statements of defiance this year, creating an incredible amount of quality content advocating loudly for love, tolerance, and resistance toward tyranny and bigotry. Also, it’s not like the powers that be have outlawed fun (yet), so let’s take a second to keep our sanity and talk about some video games.

There are some games out there that a lot of folks seemed to like a whole lot that I simply didn’t get to play this year. Prey, Resident Evil 7, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Wolfenstein II, and Pyre all sit in my backlog. There are also others I played and really liked that simply can’t fit onto a Top 10 list in a year as packed as 2017, including Batman: The Enemy Within, Night in the Woods, and even Ghost Recon: Wildlands (You can stack helicopters on top of each other on top of a cocaine factory and then blow them all up, people. C’mon!). Given that it was such a banner year—and given that I wasn’t told I can’t do this—I’m including a quick shoutout to a few noteworthy titles that did great things but didn’t make it onto my Top 10.

Honorable Mentions

  • Metroid: Samus Returns finally delivered the first good Metroid title since the Wii’s Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. It’s a testament to the how solid the franchise’s foundations are that an update of the Game Boy’s Metroid II could still feel fresh more than 25 years later. It also somehow made developer MercurySteam the only developer to have released games for both franchises responsible for the Metroidvania subgenre. Whodathunk?

  • Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle probably shouldn’t exist. I don’t think anyone was asking for a Rabbids game in 2017, but leave it to Ubisoft to realize that in this darkest timeline, what gamers really needed was an XCOM-style game that allowed them to rain unholy hellfire down on various types of Rabbid. This was my Zak & Wiki for the Switch–a game that had me grinning every time Rabbid Peach snapped a selfie or vaulted across the map, grunting out a “Peeeeach” before she crash landed on some dumb Rabbid’s skull.

  • I would be remiss to not mention Cuphead in my Game of the Year list somewhere. I did not rank the game only because I started playing it recently. Also, it’s tougher than a $2 steak. After managing to best a few bosses and somehow not snap my controller in half, I get what all the hype is about: the game is absolutely stunning to behold, the ’20s-style big-band soundtrack is full of earworms, and its cast of characters and villains is the most well-developed and intriguing ensemble I’ve seen an indie studio put out since Yacht Club Games’s Shovel Knight. If you enjoy an old-school challenge, this is one not to be missed.

  • Injustice 2 is a really, really good fighting game. The mechanics are sharp, the roster is robust, and the facial animation deployed in the game’s entertaining story mode is hands-down the best of its kind I’ve ever seen. If you’re a fan of DC characters or a fan of previous NetherRealm Studios games, grab this one on the cheap and enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like watching the Flash run backwards in time to smash Superman’s stupid face into a T-Rex.

  • Destiny 2 is another step in the right direction for the franchise, which stumbled horrifically out of the gate in its original incarnation but was vastly improved with The Taken King. It still has some of the best gunplay to grace an FPS and the art team at Bungie is establishing a universe as breathtaking and sharply realized as Mass Effect was during the last console generation. It’s also a blast to play with a couple of friends.

    Unfortunately, the same problems that plagued the first game and its expansions persist here: the story is a groaner, wherein the main villain slaps a chastity belt on the Traveller whilst re-enacting 50 Shades of Grey with The Speaker; the first expansion actually removed your ability to access some of the core game’s content; and, after 50 hours of playing, you’re ultimately going to be stuck running the same strikes and public events over and over to feed your loot addiction until Bungie starts putting out limited-time events in the coming spring. I don’t regret my time with Destiny 2, but for a game that owes a lot to Warcraft and Diablo, it could still learn a thing or two from Blizzard’s ability to maintain goodwill with its community.

And now, on to the main event!

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10. Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Deck Nine | August 31, 2017 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

I did not expect this game to exist, let alone be on my GOTY list. But then again, I never expected the original Life is Strange to win me over, either. That game, despite its flawed final arc, was one of my favorites of 2015. Its idiosyncratic characters, realistic depiction of the decline of small-town America (in this case, Arcadia Bay, Oregon), and pairing of eye-roll-inducing writing with an incredible indie soundtrack (“Let’s thrash this place!” yelps Chloe, turning up to Sparklehorse’s Piano Fire) dug its roots into my heart and has remained there since. So imagine my surprise and delight when a “sequel” was announced earlier this year.

Before the Storm is actually a prequel, and is in many ways a distillation of what made Life is Strange so endearing. New developer Deck Nine, taking over for Dontnod, has centered the story on Chloe Price—the ill-fated best friend you endeavor to save in the first game—and her life leading up to the events of the original game…but not in the way you might expect.

Through the first two-thirds of the series (the finale drops two days from when I write this), Before the Storm refuses to serve as a prelude to the original, a la Star Wars: Rogue One. (A bonus episode, involving heroine Max from the original series, will likely serve that point.) Instead, it doubles down on what I loved about the first game: letting you sit down and watch the camera pan around the world, listening in on Chloe’s thoughts; allowing you to revel in completely throwaway moments, like playing out a game of D&D; and bridging its scenes and episodes with beautiful cutscenes layered over a soundtrack helmed by the indie band Daughter. It is a game about first loves and broken homes and the perils of escapism, sure. But more than anything, it’s just about being a teenager.

I do not know if Before the Storm will stick its landing or stay with me as long as the original Life is Strange did, but I know that I can’t wait to find out.

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9. Persona 5

Atlus | April 4, 2017 | PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3

The world was waiting for Persona 5 for a long, long time. It seemed like every Japanese RPG developer was waiting to see what Atlus would do next, too unsure of what gamers wanted in an HD RPG to trouble the waters first. Now, looking back at 2017 and a year crowded with quality titles, it almost feels like Atlus missed its moment.

A lot of that opinion is based in how I feel Persona 5 comes together as a whole. Its core conceit–you assemble a team of thieves to “steal” the hearts of corrupt people and force them from their evil ways–is interesting and delivered cleverly as flashbacks during your character’s interrogation by the police, who’ve finally caught you in the act. The core mechanics of the game are mostly lifted wholesale from Persona 4, with your character juggling relationship building (with some very, very unbalanced people) against schoolwork or part-time gigs and, of course, the obligatory ransacking of the psyches of the town’s worst people. Y’know, high school stuff. It’s an easy game to sink into and play for hours, with a quick-fire combat system and style to spare. So why isn’t it higher on my list?

The problem, I think, is that my confidants ultimately didn’t endear themselves to me as much as Persona 4’s did. Additionally, the concept of building the dungeons around the vices of each “boss” character meant that some villains and environments weren’t as enjoyable to overcome and explore. I know it can be unfair to judge a game outside its own merits, and I still enjoyed my time with Persona 5 and will be returning to steal more hearts in the year to come. Still, I can’t help but wish it would be with Chie, Yosuke, and Rise instead.

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8. Horizon Zero Dawn

Guerrilla Games | February 28, 2017 | PlayStation 4

I am grateful that this game exists. For starters, it’s absolutely breathtaking to play on a PS4 Pro, and it’s the first time developer Guerrilla Games has really had to flex its technical ability on something not named Killzone, which—hey, I played Killzone: Shadow Fall and let’s just say I think they really needed the break. Second, it’s a wonderful amalgamation of open world game design, Tomb Raider-style stealth and archery (Year of the Bow!), and thoughtful commentary on the relationship between mankind and nature. Lastly, on a personal level, having worked in tech for the last seven years and having lived in several states which have been severely impacted by climate change, I’m all too aware of how much we are and aren’t doing to address the present day issues at the core of Horizon’s story. It felt like a game with the right message delivered at the right time.

But more than anything, I just had a lot of fun running around the world, foraging for scraps, upgrading my gear, and plotting out traps and takedowns on the more and more challenging enemies. Horizon very well could have been the best open-world game to come out in 2017–if not for another game we’ll get to later–and I appreciate that Sony continues to let its studios take risks this big and let the community judge if they were successful.

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7. Nier: Automata

Platinum Games | February 23, 2017 | Windows, PlayStation 4

This game, people. This game goes places. Within the introduction, no less! In the first hour, you will play a top-down, twin-stick shooter; engage in Zone of the Enders-esque mech combat; fight enemies on foot using a surprisingly deep combat system; and…die. Heck, maybe you’ll even kill yourself from the start menu because you saw the option and didn’t think the game would let you. [Arrested Development voiceover: “It does.”]

Once the game gets properly underway, Nier: Automata only continues to raise the stakes. Your two playable characters, 2B and 9S, roam about a ruined world, taking on side-quests from locals as they pursue a larger battle against an unexpected new enemy. Over the following 40 hours, you’ll experience most of the game’s 26 (!!!) endings, replay the game from different perspectives, and utter a few legit WTFs as things unfold. Yet, in the end, what will surprise you most is how earnest this game is.

Let’s go back to the quests briefly. The side-quests, sadly, are almost entirely mindless fetch missions, but I would still encourage anyone picking the game up to complete as many as possible. Why? Because those mundane slogs are where the relationship between 2B and 9S really takes root. You’ll hear them commenting in wonder at the banalities of 21st century life (why are there shopping malls?) or in disbelief at the notion of a machine feeling love or acknowledging its own mortality as it runs from you in fear. There might even be some light robot cannibalism at one point because, like I said, this game goes places.

There are several other games I played this year where the in-between moments carried such weight that the emotional experience actually transcended the enjoyment of the actual “game” I was playing (see also: Night in the Woods, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice). The difference is, Nier succeeded in affecting me with its story in ways those others did not. It is hands-down the most audacious game I played this year, requiring its audience to endure what might typically be called bad game design for the sake of staying true to its narrative. Do not let that dissuade you from experiencing this one for yourself. The journey will be worth it.

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6. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

Spike Chunsoft | September 26, 2017 | Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita

“Vita” means life, or so Sony liked to tell us back when it actually cared about ginning up support for its oft-maligned handheld. Ironic, then, that one of the few (only?) tentpole releases to grace the Vita in 2017 is a game about a bunch of high schoolers being forced to murder each other in increasingly elaborate ways. Even better: Spike Chunsoft is in on the joke.

Danganronpa V3 follows the formula of the previous two main entries in the series, pitting 16 students against one another in a fight-to-survive a killing game. While the “who’s next” thrills keep the game moving, the heart of the series has always been the class trial mechanic. This time ‘round, the series adds a telling twist for where it will eventually end up: you can (and must) lie during the trials. While this ability isn’t explored as much as it could be, the game makes up for that with one of the more unexpected narrative left turns I’ve seen in a while. (Keep in mind I just ranked a game where you can kill yourself on a whim and robots eat each other.)

Seriously, Danganronpa V3 throws it all on the table, breaking the fourth wall repeatedly throughout the game to make wry social commentary or criticize you, the player, as an accessory in the rising death toll. By the final act, the fourth wall is utterly annihilated and the developers begin holding a trial on you as you press on in hopes of seeing a “good” end to all of the killing you maybe actually don’t want to stop. It’s an incredibly confident decision from the designers and almost certainly the source of the game’s divided reception amongst series fans.

I don’t know if there will be another Danganronpa after the insanity of this one, but if there isn’t, it is only because the developers have already told us everything they needed to say.

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5. What Remains of Edith Finch

Giant Sparrow | April 25, 2017 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

I’ve included a lot of games on this list that have emotionally powerful narratives, but What Remains of Edith Finch is the only game that wrecked me.

The game starts like a standard narrative first person games, but with an oddball premise: You, as Edith Finch, return to explore your family home, a bizarre and fantastical construction where rooms are sealed up in memoriam whenever the occupant perishes (which, you’ll learn, is quite often) and new wings and annexes are added as the family grows. You move from room to room, poring over the relics of your ancestors to uncover what led to their untimely deaths. Once you find each person’s diary or memento, a flashback is triggered, and the true heart of the game is revealed: re-living the final moments of each deceased Finch, from their own perspective.

It sounds stark in writing, but the game leverages the natural embellishment of storytelling as a craft to transform these reveries into amazing flights of fantasy. You will play a small child who believes she is an owl, a tantrum-stricken pre-teen who gains control of the wind, and an adult struggling with addiction whose imagination is so active it bleeds into reality. The sheer volume of creativity stuffed into the game’s few hours is a feat worth experiencing on those merits alone. That each brief sorrowful tale can also carry so much weight only makes it more essential.

Throughout the journey, Giant Sparrow treats its flawed, unfortunate subjects with great tenderness. By the time I reached the ending, Edith Finch did not feel like a macabre treatise on loss and suffering; it is a paean to the wonder of life.

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4. Super Mario Odyssey

Nintendo | October 27, 2017 | Nintendo Switch

If there is a formula for generating a dopamine rush in people simply exposing them to sheer joy, Nintendo discovered it and layered it into every inch of code in Super Mario Odyssey. This is a game about making the player feel great as often as possible. And I absolutely adore it.

Take, for example, the collectible moon shards, this game’s version of Shines or Stars. They. Are. Everywhere. You can buy one at the shop on each level for a measly 100 coins if you want to (hint: you do) but it’s more likely you will see one floating just a short distance away and your brain will start getting to work. How do I get up there? Do I need to possess a different creature to nab it? Oh look, some purple coins! Better grab those first. Mario needs a fresh new hat, baby. Gotta stay stylin’.

Maybe that last part is just me. Doesn’t matter. Point is, this is a game designed around letting players explore every square inch of each level and ensuring there is always a reward for doing so. Death has not been a serious punishment in a Mario game since perhaps Sunshine, and it remains only a light slap on the wrist here. But it can also be revelatory. Fall off the level in Deep Woods, for example, and you aren’t greeted with a “game over” but rather an entirely new area.

Playing through the game to complete the story is totally a fine way to play, and the game constantly invents new ways to leverage the capture mechanic. But that dopamine rush is a helluva thing, and if you’re like me you’ll be spending an hour or two trying to unearth each world’s secrets before you’re willing to move on. And just when you think you probably got ‘em all, you pop open the menu and see a dozen more still hiding out there. Grab a fresh hat off the rack, Mario. Fun’s not over yet.

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3. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

PUBG Corporation | December 12, 2017 | Windows, Xbox One

Oh, PUBG. You are so broken, so janky. Yet your world can be strikingly beautiful when seen at dusk or through thick, hushing fog. Your servers are filled with the absolute gutter of humanity, spout off the most offensive things they can fathom in their reptile minds while running around naked on the decrepit airfield that constitutes your game lobby. They are puerile. Except for that omnipresent hero who always reminds us that China’s Number One–him, I like.

It’s fitting they’ve all gathered here, to get dropped out of a plane onto Murder Island, where they must scrounge for weapons, ammo and healing items and outlast one another to claim the holy grail that is the Chicken Dinner. Some will get shot up through a door while hiding in a bathtub. Others will be shot from seemingly nowhere by someone who lucked into finding a badass sniper rifle already. Still more will die in vicious home invasions, caught off guard looting or having failed to successfully flank their intended prey. As for me, I’m there to mete out justice. Their horrific deaths under the wheels of my buggy or the heavy iron of my frying pan the only balance I hope to instill in a world gone mad with bloodlust.

PUBG may never be a great game. Its flaws are many, and they only make the sim-like core mechanics all the more frustrating when it seems like lag or bad hit-boxes are the reason the other is standing and you’re bleeding out under a rock. But it’s also the most fun I’ve had with a game designed around emergent moments, the sheer chaos of 100 psychopaths acting independently in increasingly tighter corridors an incredible recipe for thrills, laughs, and profane outbursts. I don’t know when I’ll grow tired of the buggy life, but I know I’ll cherish my memories of the game, good and bad.

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2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Nintendo | March 3, 2017 | Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii U

Breath of the Wild is a game that I stopped playing because I didn’t want to experience a world in which I had completed it. I’m hoarding it away, like a bottle of rare whiskey, only to be broken out and savored in small doses and on truly special occasions. This is not the right way to play or think about Breath of the Wild, a game which could not be more tantalizing to drink down in large, greedy gulps, but it serves as testament to just how special and how perfect a game Nintendo has crafted.

Longer and better reviews and retrospectives than mine will be written on just how important this game is and how impressive each of its parts are when inspected on their own. People have already written about how the developers manipulated sight lines to ensure you could always see a play opportunity or objective within reach. People have talked about how the NPCs and small character moments can shock you with their charm and depth. And I’m pretty sure there are probably some Pinterest lists on the “23 best outfits win fall fashion in Hyrule” or “14 killer recipes for Hot-Footed Frog you absolutely have to try.” I’m not sure what I could add to the conversation, really.

I guess I’ll just leave it with this: Breath of the Wild throws out the Zelda formula that Nintendo has been iterating on since Ocarina of Time and presented the player with a white canvas. And if you scrape away here and there, you will find there is actually a fully detailed world under that surface, waiting for you whenever you’re ready to stop raiding Moblin camps or hunting for Koroks or clearing shrines. It’s Zelda, but it can also be everything but Zelda if you so choose. And that’s exactly what the series needed.

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1. Star Fox 2

Argonaut Software | September 29, 2017 | SNES Classic Edition

I can sense your confusion. Why is this shmuck ranking a 22-year-old game whose gameplay and technical innovations are, well, not very innovative in the modern era? Why rank it #1?

Answer: Because I spent hours playing the original Star Fox as a kid from the ages of 7 to 9, trying to beat all of the different routes and somehow always coming up short on my way to Venom or needing to relinquish the TV to my parents or take the damn cart out to blow on it because that’s just how things were in the ‘90s.

Answer: Because once upon a time I ran the largest Star Fox fansite on the internet (RIP, Arwing Landing) and I made it my job to collect every piece of information, every photo, and every ROM of this game I could find in order to share with the world what it was and why it never saw the light of day.

Answer: Because this is a damn ray of sunshine in a year of thundering skies.

I’ll level with you: Star Fox 2 needed to die back in 1996. The Nintendo 64 was coming out and the best ideas of this sequel—the transforming Arwing, an expanded cast, the focus on all-range dogfights—simply worked better on much more powerful hardware. Also, from the ashes of Star Fox 2 rose Star Fox 64, which was pretty much a perfect game back in 1997.

Playing this game now, 22 years after I should have, I’m struck by just how ambitious Star Fox 2 was for its time. The non-linear narrative, off-rails 3D flight, and pilot permadeath are dramatic changes from the original game that only Star Fox Command (developed as a sort of homage to Star Fox 2 by ex-Argonaut head Dylan Cuthbert’s Q Games) and more recently Star Fox Zero have really toyed with. Not all of the changes made for a demonstrably better Star Fox game, but they serve to highlight a developer pushing itself and the SNES hardware to its absolute limits.

Star Fox 2 is not really the best game of 2017—Breath of the Wild is. It probably wouldn’t have been the best game of 1996. But the fact that Nintendo finally—FINALLY—released it this year is, for me, an incredibly important moment in gaming. This was a finished game, vaporware, that somehow never seemed to be fit for release in any format on a Nintendo system. When I finally picked up an SNES Classic a few weeks ago, it wasn’t for the nostalgia of the 16-bit era or the kitsch of owning a baby SNES. It was just so that I could finally, legally, be able to play and own a copy of Star Fox 2. The nine-year-old in me couldn’t be happier.