Favorite 15 Video Games of 2017 From foul-mouthed clowns & cow-punchers to hereditary psychosis & Sisyphean metaphors

Welcome to Screen Week! Join us as we explore the films, TV shows, and video games that kept us staring at screens. More from this series


Let’s face it — art is escapism. We might feel like we’re doing serious work when we catch up on arthouse films or when we listen to music that preaches values we believe in. But at the end of the day, sitting on the couch is just something we all need sometimes. The old guard has a vested interest in inflating the significance of the media we consume in our spare time, in making us feel as if it’s our collective duty to remain caught up with the season’s latest rehashes on contemporary issues. But is escapism in itself really so shallow? Is it so low to seek visceral immersion in this terrifying and numbing reality we’ve found ourselves in? And more importantly, if we’re going to burn away our hours staring at a screen, why just absorb when we can participate?

Amid another year wherein it seemed as if the amount of music to listen to and TV to watch reached a breaking point, video games pushed forward yet again as one of the defining platforms of our time. After all, we’re talking about a medium that distinguishes itself from other artistic formats in the agency it gives to its recipient, placing the experience of a video game as much in the hands of the player as in the hands of the developer. And never before has there been so much freedom in how we create that experience: Between AAA titles that pushed the boundaries of the open-world concept to unimaginably beautiful new heights (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) to indies that sent us tunneling down absurdist rabbit holes (West of Loathing), the games we played in 2017 reflected the expanding chaos of our world, trading in linear pathways for freeform silliness (Super Mario Odyssey) and easy relaxation for carpal tunnel-inducing mindfuckery (Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy). Even if we couldn’t control what was happening beyond our front door, we were the masters of our domain, as far as our living rooms were concerned.

Of course, in the end, it’s all fun and games, and sitting at home isn’t going to fix all of our problems. But rarely have we felt as nourished as we have after picking up one of these 15 gems, each one as inspired and invigorating as any film or album or book from last year. It’s with that in mind that we present our Favorite Video Games of 2017, with a little reminder that if you’re going to escape reality, do it right.


15

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Developer: Nintendo

[iOS, Android]


In 2017, it often felt like our most basic sense of community and fellowship to one another continued to deteriorate. It was a small but powerful relief when Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp hit the app store. Beyond the purely nostalgic appeal of hopping into a camper and getting away from it all, of hearing the sound of leaves crunching underfoot as we ran errands for all our cute animal friends, Pocket Camp distinguished itself with a simple goal for players: give to others, unconditionally, purely for the sake of giving. The fact that the game drew such ridicule for this suggestion of unreturned generosity is telling of our world in and of itself; but even in the face of its haters, Animal Crossing felt like a big bear hug from an old friend, the sort of neighborly, low-stakes game that championed a kind of calm that seems to be disappearing from our lives. Best of all, it was essentially free, with pay options only cropping up if we felt the need to speed up our steady furniture accumulation — as if the game itself was asking us, hey, why are we always in such a rush?


14

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Developer: Ninja Theory

[PlayStation 4, Windows]


Hellblade boasted a range of state-of-the-art technical features, from expressive motion capture to miasmic binaural sound design, but its most effective trick was decidedly old school: a disorienting, medium close third-person point of view. Unlike first-person walking simulators, which often dissolve the nuances of character in service of narrative simplicity and reduce the experiences of being, of embodiment, to mere avatardom, Hellblade never let you forget whose story you literally stand in the shadow of. Considering that one of Hellblade’s core mechanics involved the manipulation of perspective, there was a harmony of theme and structure, a rare achievement, even in consideration of the whole history of the medium. That these devices were utilized in service of a melancholic, Herzogian fever dream of love, loss, trauma, and hereditary psychosis was more astonishing still. As VR tides continued to rise throughout 2017, Hellblade made a convincing argument for the ascendancy of those smaller stories yet untold, over the paradigm-shifting promises of vulpine industrialists. Best of all, Hellblade’s commercial success proved that there’s a market for games as immersive, empathy-building experiences, which is perhaps the most impressive of its tricks and achievements.


13

Puyo Puyo Tetris

Developer: Sonic Team

[Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch]


I copped Puyo Puyo Tetris on a whim, hoping to eke a few hours of portable puzzle-solving between classes. Turns out, I’d underestimated just how much longevity this title packed within its cartridge: it’s the Switch game I’ve most frequently returned to this year. Whether I’m playing it on a TV at a friend’s get-together, getting decimated while attempting to play competitively online, or just plugging my way through a ridiculously written story mode, I never seem to get bored with its simple and succinct gameplay, which pits two classic stacking puzzles against each other, side by side. Puyo Puyo Tetris was a straightforward title that breathed new life into veteran concepts. The learning curve’s quick, but there are hours and hours worth of strategic depth built into the game’s blocks and blobs.


12

Prey

Developer: Arkane Studios

[PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One]


Who would have thought that a first-person, sci-fi horror throwback under the premise of an alternate reality (wherein JFK was never shot and the space race flourished) could be so captivating? Touted as a “space horror version of Groundhog Day” at E3 2016, Prey certainly delivered in story, but it became a true standout through its slick, immersive atmosphere, inspired by films like Moon, Starship Troopers, and The Matrix. It was such a joy to play an original property that recalled playing Doom for the first time, but the game complemented its retro aesthetic with interrogations into morality and artificial intelligence. While Prey is that rare, underrated gem likely to be buried among similar genre titles, it was nonetheless an alternate reality worthy of being lost in.


11

Golf Story

Developer: Sidebar Games

[Nintendo Switch]


Golf Story was one of the biggest surprises on a system that was itself one of 2017’s biggest surprises. The game sported a typical hero story, but twisted such that your golfer was old and unlucky instead of young and plucky. And instead of townspeople cheering you on, the crowd consisted of a crew of sarcastic golfers rooting for your failure, in the most pleasant way possible. The story was amusing, but it never got overly involved, present just enough to introduce new courses and rivals with flair while letting the excellent gameplay speak for itself. Traditionally, sports games don’t have stories, but the bizarre combination offered by Golf Story led to an intriguing mix of genres that was absolutely worth the low $20 entry fee.

Welcome to Screen Week! Join us as we explore the films, TV shows, and video games that kept us staring at screens. More from this series


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