GOTY 2017: The Top 10 Games of the Year - #3
Welcome to the Ninth Annual Silicon Sasquatch Top 10 Games of the Year list! After months of discussion and yet another marathon five-hour meeting, we've finally narrowed down the 10 games that we feel best represent the best and most important that 2017 had to offer.
#3 - Pyre
Supergiant Games | July 25th, 2017 | PlayStation 4, Windows, Mac, Linux
Pyre defies expectations.
Coming into 2017, I never expected Pyre would be the single-player story game to resound with me the most. A pitch like “Supergiant made wizard NBA Jam” is a surefire way to get my attention, but that wasn’t the reason why I stuck with the single-player campaign, devoured the second half of the game, and started telling everyone else on the Silicon Sasquatch staff that they needed to play this game right now.
I fell in love with Pyre because it combines a richly realized world, well-rounded characters, and a story about the downtrodden’s struggle for liberation that rang especially true in 2017—and also because it’s a game about dunking a magical orb into the flames of victory.
Yes, the game is an incredibly tight arcade-style blend of basketball, soccer and hockey plus magical robes and fire. Playing as the Reader, you pass the orb between each of your three chosen members, run and jump around the playfield, and even take long shots into the fire—but come on, you’re here for dunks. And whether your triumvirate includes the dash-heavy Crone, the whip of the Wyrm, the flutter of the Imp, or the flight of the Harpy (or any other character), each takes to the Rites very differently—but each effectively. And as the player advances in the single-player campaign, a very smart system reminiscent of the “skulls” in Halo unlocks and provides the opportunity to earn further rewards by increasing the difficulty in interesting ways.
But Pyre is more than a solid fantasy-sports game. What truly sets it apart are the characters you pick up for your team, who are relatable, unique, and very human. It’s the items you pick up along the way, making your team’s wagon feel fuller and busier as you advance in the game. It’s the little conversations you have with your team, who start as strangers and wind up truly feeling like your teammates—should you choose to go down that route. And it’s also the other triumvirates you take on, your rivals and enemies, who you begin to recognize from their theme songs and grow into rivals—again, should you choose to face them repeatedly.
Pyre’s Downside is a well-built world, and Supergiant made it really stand out thanks to its deft presentation of backstory and trust in its audience. I think more than one RPG will steal Pyre’s trick of highlighting key terms in the text box and allowing you to hover over them for a detailed explanation—this would have been useful many times in BioWare RPGs, for instance. It’s a clever way to integrate background information without forcing the player to study or reference an encyclopedia. And hovering over the tiny Drive-Imp Ti’zo’s gibberish dialogue is practically a requirement (and provides some of the best writing in the game). And it’s the performances, from the writing, to the voices (particularly the enigmatic figure known only as The Voice), to the amazing music. I’ve slacked on purchasing the album, but I think that will be my last Christmas present to myself.
If you want to zoom through the visual novel segments, you’re welcome to, but you’d be missing out on myriad reasons to push that little bit harder in the Rites. What at first seems like a simple mission—get home, become free again—quickly gains further importance throughout the story, and greater poignancy as well. That this game came out in 2017 does not feel like a coincidence; that Pyre throws its characters into the struggle, yet still provides optimism in the face of it all, is a courageous choice that proved uplifting. Few games have impacted me the way Pyre did, and I’m not ashamed to admit I got hit in the gut when the final song plays over the credits.
The reason to give Pyre a shot is this complete package: well-written and thoughtful visual novel, paired with a magical spin on NBA Jam. I have rarely felt so moved by a game. — Doug Bonham