Game Of The Year 2017 Editor's Spotlight Awards
Praise To The Unsung Champions
Now that our top 10 games of 2017 and our overall GameSpot game of the year have finally been revealed, it's time to highlight the other best games this year that weren't able to make it onto the list or our category awards. Our Editor Spotlight Awards serves as a means for our global team of editors and video producers to give recognition to the games that they were most passionate about this year. Click ahead to see what each of us had to say about our favorite games this year and why they were so spectacular.
It's worth noting that the Editor Spotlight Awards weren't held under the same rules and restrictions as the top 10 list, which means remasters, re-releases, and early access games were all all fair to highlight. For more details on the rules of this year's game of the year awards, check out our informative feature detailing how it all works.
If you want to see our choices for the best games this year, check out our Game of the Year 2017 Top 10 List. And for more on our picks of the best games of the year across various categories, as well as features focusing on the year's performance for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch, check out our Best of 2017 hub.
Call of Duty: WWII | Eddie Makuch, Associate Editor
Call of Duty: WWII was so much better than I expected. The story doesn't have the weight or impact of Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan, but comparing it against those was always going to be tough. The game has many shining, memorable moments, and most of them are thanks to the standout performance of Jonathan Tucker as Private Zussman. I cannot say enough how much I enjoyed his performance.
The campaign also did some new things. While guns-blazing has always been Call of Duty's modus operandi--and to be sure, this still makes up the bulk of Call of Duty: WWII's gameplay--there are quieter, stealth-focused moments in this year's game. The mission where you infiltrate a Nazi building while in disguise was tense, and you barely had to fire your weapon (until the end).
Multiplayer is central to Call of Duty, and this year's game stands taller in my eyes than anything from the franchise in recent years. After years of free-running and exosuits and super-abilities in games like Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III, Call of Duty: WWII takes that all away. I love this. I never imagined a Call of Duty game would change so fundamentally so quickly. Multiplayer feels like a return to what made Call of Duty the powerhouse franchise it is today, and I expect to be playing for many months to come.
Destiny 2 | Justin Haywald, Managing Editor
Destiny 2 is far from a perfect game, but as someone who missed out the excitement and camaraderie of the first Destiny, it's an alluring ride. Primarily because of the late-game grind, I could never get into Destiny 1, but the follow-up is an action-movie event that pulled me along from the beginning and even convinced me to get two characters to near-max levels. That may be due, at least in part, to having an office full of other players ready to raid or go on Strikes together at a moment's notice, but it's also because the game is much more streamlined and polished than Bungie's first attempt.
And that's without mentioning Destiny 2's technical prowess. I think it's a safe argument, regardless of how you feel about the loot mechanics or the story, that Destiny 2 has the absolute best first-person shooting mechanics, no matter what platform you're on.
Now that the game has made its way to PC, it's playable by an even wider audience than when it was confined to consoles. But it'll be interesting to see if this game can carry the same undying level of fandom that the first game engendered. Even if the hype doesn't last as long, Destiny 2 is still a must-play part of the 2017 gaming zeitgeist.
Doki Doki Literature Club! | Lucy James, Video Producer
My most memorable gaming experience of 2017 involved writing poems for some cute anime schoolgirls. A sentence I never thought I’d say, but here we are.
Doki Doki Literature Club! is a visual novel in which you're cast as the only male in an otherwise all-female Literature Club. Here you interact with the other members by writing poems you think they’d like, based on your conversations with them. I really don’t want to reveal more than that, as the best way to experience the game is to know very little about it, but don’t let its cutesy facade put you off.
Not only does it grapple with some heavy, often dark, subjects, it subverts its visual style in ways that you absolutely will not see coming, and after my initial playthrough, I was utterly besotted with it. Doki Doki Literature Club! is a visual novel that not only encourages multiple playthroughs but exploration of its vast ARG, and even requires some digging into the game’s source files. I’ve already lost countless hours to extensive Reddit threads and YouTube videos about it. I realized I haven’t been this interested in the mythos of a game since P.T.
Doki Doki Literature Club! is free on Steam, and if it can run on my terrible old laptop, it can run on yours. Just prepare to have that main theme stuck in your head forever… And ever.
ECHO | Rob Handlery, Video Producer
On its face value, ECHO's a sci-fi stealth game, controlling very similarly to a Hitman game (which isn’t surprising, as its creators, Ultra Ultra, are ex-Hitman devs). Yet in an elevator pitch, you’re better off using the game’s tagline: Your ultimate enemy is yourself. It sounds cliche, but it fits perfectly; ECHO’s enemies learn every action you make and turn them against you. Actions like sneaking around crouched, shooting your weapon, vaulting over railings--literally every move you make-- are regurgitated by the enemy and spat back at you.
That’s the best part about this ever-changing AI system. The playstyles you’re familiar with are used against you forcing you out of your comfort zone in a very natural way. These enemy clones, called Echoes, are horrifyingly persistent in destroying you. Finding yourself up against three or more means instant death if they’re close enough. These scenarios cause you to panic, firing your weapon in a last ditch effort to survive. Whenever you do survive a grim scenario, you reflect on what actions you just made, because that’s exactly what you’re up against in a few minutes. There’s a surprising sense of strategy here, and coupled with unique level design, ECHO consistently makes you think differently.
AI aside, ECHO scratches that sci-fi itch. There’s a looming mystery in the narrative that pushes forward, studying conversations along the way. Every dark drone and crystal shimmering sound effect plays a part in keeping you alert. The setting's pristine victorian architecture, despite being a majority of ECHO’s landscape, surprises you with palette changes that keep you mesmerized, while simultaneously awestruck from the scale of ceilings and glimmering marble floors. For any die-hard sci-fi fans looking for a more intimate challenge, ECHO is a must.
Echo Arena | Jimmy Thang, Technology Editor
Echo Arena might be one of the best games you've never heard of. Developed by Ready at Dawn, it's a 5v5 VR multiplayer game that plays like a cross between Rocket League and Ender's Game. You play as a robot that can fly through a large zero-gravity arena, which is designed to have two symmetrical sides with goal posts on either end. The point of each match is to pick up and throw a floating disc through your respective goal post more than your opposing team. You've got thrusters on your arms that allow you to move in zero-G, but you can also push off the environment. In addition, you have a booster, which you can use sparingly to fly faster. The game also features combat mechanics that allow you to physically punch and block attacks. You can punch and stun enemies to steal the disc, or you could just act as a bruiser the entire match. What makes Echo Arena so impressive is that it induces a tremendous feeling of presence that makes you feel like you're flying through space playing the sport of the future.
While Echo Arena is easy to learn, it's extremely difficult to master. There's a ton of depth and strategy here. For instance, players can hold onto allies to boost off of for extra speed at the start of each duel. This ends up feeling like a cooperative jousting match, and the effective use of this mechanic can easily turn the tide of a game. As I alluded to, Echo Arena feels a lot like Rocket League designed for VR, but I personally enjoy it more and think it deserves recognition. Perhaps best of all is that the game is completely free for Oculus Rift owners.
Fortnite | Aaron Sampson, Senior Producer
When you’ve been gaming for a long time, you start to see through the gloss of the thing and into the mechanics that make you feel good. Fortnite showed up with a hot mess of menus but an infectiously positive attitude that stuck with me. Under the surface were Starhawk’s build and battle systems, Borderlands’ morose humor, tower defense, and loot for days. It gave me something else to do other than just shoot, reload, repeat. It turned the environments into creative puzzles to manipulate, prepare, and think my way through on the fly.
Epic launched Fortnite in July, saw the success of the Battle Royale model and had a competing standalone version built by September. Fortnite quickly became a free-to-play version of PUBG that streamers flocked to. During that time Epic also put out Survive The Storm DLC. Fortnite is far from finished adding content and is expected to go fully free-to-play in 2018.
There’s another layer to titles like Fortnite for a gamer dad like me, short on time, constantly at risk of a toddler forcing their way onto my lap to see what I'm doing. Despite being a game with plenty of guns, explosives, zombies, and apocalyptic themes, nothing looks particularly violent. My son happily yelled “airstrike” or “come at me bro” while we built structures to stop the undead. I spent way more time with Fortnite this year than I should have, and if the end of the world is going to be this fun, I’m bringing my kids.
Gravity Rush 2 | Peter Brown, Reviews Editor
The original Gravity Rush was the surprise hit the Vita needed early on, and the remastered version for PlayStation 4 proved that the high-flying anime adventure could work just as well on a big screen. If the first game was a proof of concept--it was more than that, but bear with me--the sequel is the real deal. Gravity Rush 2 delivers the same gravity manipulation and free-form flying, but in a world far more detailed than before. Whether floating cities or alien underworlds, Gravity Rush 2's captivating visuals set the stage for wonder and excitement, and given enough time and experience, you can explore every inch of its dreamy locales by bending the laws of nature at will.
It is, in a sense, a playground for the infinitely likable heroine, Kat. Her enthusiasm is infectious, but she also possesses great strength. In a very anime way, she learns how to power up and become a greater version of her already great self to face her world's growing threats, which leads to plenty of excitement and impressive set pieces, punctuated with thrilling mid-air combat and soaring acrobatics. More importantly, Gravity Rush 2 fleshes out Kat's backstory in surprising ways. Her dark-haired foil, Raven, plays a major role throughout the game, but her link to Kat stands out as one of the game's most memorable magic tricks.
For all its creativity, and the effortless execution of these ideas, it's a shame that Gravity Rush 2 isn't more fondly looked-upon. It's one of the year's great successes that deserves far more recognition than it's received.
Hollow Knight | Mike Mahardy, Video Producer And Host
In a time when the Metroidvania subgenre sees new releases on a continual basis, Hollow Knight stands at the head of the pack. But to call it only a Metroidvania would be reductive--Hollow Knight is a haunting tale through a twisted, sometimes disturbing world full of otherworldly creatures and macabre sights. It's also beautiful, snaking back in on itself as you explore its every nook and cranny, helping its lonely inhabitants make sense of their lives.
And on a gameplay level, it satisfies many of the same itches as the recent Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, refusing to point you in the right direction, opting instead to unfurl the world at your feet and let you explore on a whim. In such a morbid, gorgeous world, the backtracking only adds to the mystery of it all, creating one of the more moving experiences of the year.
Metroidvania games often add new twists to the formula that inspired them. Hollow Knight steals that formula entirely and makes it into something wholly its own.
Injustice 2 | Joey Yee, Video Producer
In a year filled with some massive fighting game releases, Injustice 2 is the one that has left a lasting impression on me. The fighting mechanics are solid, but what really struck me are the details etched into every corner of the game. The presentation is cinematic and slick. The hits feel satisfying. The stage interactions are brutal and hilarious. The pre-battle dialogue is fun and actually keeps me from skipping the fight intros. And, somehow, the story mode is coherent and interesting enough to keep me engaged the whole way through.
Many fighting games turn their attention towards 1v1 online battles, but Injustice 2 spreads your interest over a plethora of different modes. Its focus on the Multiverse, the single player mode where you can earn cosmetic gear for your characters, is a refreshing change for a fighting game, and allows your personal tastes to shine when bringing your newly decorated character online. You could spend dozens of hours playing against the CPU, gearing up your favorite hero, and get just as much enjoyment out of it as you would playing human opponents. That alone is a triumph.
Injustice 2 might be one of the most diverse and accessible fighting games in a very long time, and it once and for all proves that "being good" isn't a requirement to enjoy fighting games.
Madden NFL 18 | Nick Margherita, Video Producer
Over the last decade, Madden NFL’s annual releases have included subtle yet incrementally substantial differences. But players still wonder with each game, "Is it even worth upgrading from last year's title?" Now, for the first time since I can remember, I want to stand up and shout, “Madden is back!”
As expected, Madden 18 looks great. The introduction of EA’s Frostbite engine is a welcome change that adds to its nearly photorealistic presentation. The ways in which the sunlight bounces off NFL players' helmets and the shadows it casts around the stadium embody what it feels like to attend a Sunday afternoon game in the Meadowlands. But despite Frostbite’s added graphical fidelity, Madden 18 is still littered with the hilariously bizarre glitches we’ve all come to laugh at and share on social media.
Aside from Madden 18’s small tweaks and roster updates, the introduction of a proper story mode is the most significant addition. Longshot is not just a Telltale-style experience, it's an unexpectedly deep narrative about the trials and tribulations of an NFL Draft hopeful. The movie-like quality of its storytelling is interspersed with incredible motion capture cutscenes and classic football gameplay. Longshot’s RPG-like adventure succeeds in making the most minor choices feel important.
Like the Longshot’s "against all odds" narrative, Madden 18 as a whole breaks the monotony of the series’ recent past. With the introduction of MUT squads, the updated Franchise Mode, competitive play improvements, and more, Madden 18 made the right halftime adjustments to be a winner in 2017.
Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite | Tamoor Hussain, UK Editor
Between Injustice 2, Tekken 7, Arms, and the newest season of Street Fighter V, 2017 was a good year for fighting games. But Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite stands out as my personal favourite. It'd be unfair of me not to mention that, yes, it has issues with its fairly unexciting cast and decidedly unenthusiastic presentation, but the core fighting systems are deep and satisfying, and in this genre, that's what really matters.
In the lead up to its launch, I wasn't convinced by Capcom's decision to go with a 2v2 format instead of the 3v3 I'd become used to over the years, but the way it has implemented and executed the Infinity Stones won me over quickly. They add a layer of complexity to what is already a very open-ended set of mechanics. Moreover, to truly make the most of them, it required me to think about how they can be used to complement the weaknesses and strengths of each character. Like all good fighting games, it became more rewarding as I continued to sink more time into it, and with more characters being released I'm looking forward to spending more time with it over the coming year.
I also thought the story was fun if a bit simple. While it doesn't stack up to Injustice 2's narrative, it keeps things light and breezy, opting to keep the focus on ensuring the characters feel true to themselves, rather than set up an intricate plot. It's good for an enjoyable evening of watching iconic Marvel and Capcom characters trade blows in the name of saving the planet.
Nex Machina: Death Machine | Mat Paget, Video Producer
Nex Machina: Death Machine is one of the most intense, fun games I've played in 2017. It's a twin-stick shooter with roots deeply seeded in the arcade classic Robotron: 2084. Developer Housemarque is known for taking classic arcade games and modernizing them, but none of them have ever achieved the same excellence as Nex Machina--I'm sure working with Robotron creator Eugene Garvis helped.
Nex Machina has a plot, but I'd forgive you if you didn't notice. However, that's actually what first caught my attention: the world has been taken over by robots and you're the lone hero, trying to save the planet. So of course, you ride into the scene on a cyber motorcycle before it explodes and you start shooting everything in sight. The shooting itself is simple yet exhilarating, especially when you start dashing around enemies, popping off powershots, and saving humans as you slip through a horde of robots.
Once every enemy is taken care of, neon lights surround you before exploding and sending you off to the next stage. It's a feeling of success and relief after narrowly escaping an enemy's touch, knowing it's a one-way ticket back to the beginning of the stage. Similarly, the explosion and rumble of death make my stomach drop every single time--Nex Machina knows how to make losing feel bad.
I've never been more sure of a game being at the top of its respective genre. For me, Nex Machina is the best twin-stick shooter out there, even topping the likes of Geometry Wars and Smash TV, a personal favorite. 2017 was a great year for games; I don't have enough time to play them all. But no matter what, I'll always make time to squeeze in a round or two of Nex Machina.
Night in the Woods | Kallie Plagge, Associate Editor
Of all the games I played this year, the one that best captured the overall mood of 2017 was one about cartoon animals. With a simple yet expressive art style and a ton of humor, Night in the Woods weaves together themes of disillusionment, mental illness, quarter-life crisis, and general small-town doldrums to powerfully evoke the anxieties of the modern era (and, by extension, late capitalism). It resonated deeply with me, and it’s a testament to the game’s narrative style that it manages to do so without being overwhelmingly depressing.
Night in the Woods follows 20-year-old Mae Borowski--who happens to be a cat--after she drops out of college and returns to her small, American Midwest-ish hometown of Possum Springs. She takes things one day at a time, and she’s infamous in Possum Springs for a mysterious horrible thing she did in the past. Each day, you can explore the town and talk to the same few locals, a structure that manages to feel aimless without being purposeless. Cute mini-games and dialogue filled with ironic internet humor break up the despondency and keep the heavier aspects grounded.
It’s a disservice to consider Night in the Woods just a "millennial" game--though it definitely has the millennial generation’s sense of humor--the issues it presents address a larger system of problems that affect a much wider group. It’s an especially important game in 2017, when many people feel a frustration that’s hard to place or put into words.
Nioh | Miguel Concepcion, Editor
Nioh is not only a superb achievement by developer Team Ninja but also a meaningful sign that the "Soulsborne" genre has reached a noteworthy level of maturity. In a market of Dark Souls copycats that includes The Surge and Salt and Sanctuary, Nioh represents the first must-play game in this category not developed by From Software.
One of the many ways Nioh stands out is in its setting: the tumultuous "warring states" Sengoku era of Japan. This is extremely familiar territory for publisher Koei Tecmo, which has milked this time period in seemingly countless games. Yet nothing it has released in the past offers the distinct action-packed challenge and combat depth of Nioh. It's as if Team Ninja made a spiritual successor to Capcom's dormant Onimusha series.
Fans of Soulsborne games love the demands of moment-to-moment spatial awareness and variable juggling and Nioh resoundingly offers this experience in every mission, from boss arenas to villages that take over an hour to clear. Combat is rich in both depth and nuance, where it's gratifying to react based off enemies' poses and movements. And the tools to respond to aggression are abundant, from buffing/debuffing spells to ranged weapons to explosive gear. Even at its core melee combat gameplay, there's a wealth of useful options, from split-second weapon swaps to switching stances that affect speed and damage. When you mix this with the medieval Japanese setting, a sumptuous Diablo-inspired loot system, and a host of arduous DLC missions, you have a package that is abundant in events that rival even some of Dark Souls' most memorable moments.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 | Oscar Dayus, Staff Writer
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is the most satisfying football game ever. It may not be the best, but it is the most satisfying. It has flaws: visually, it is no match for the level of polish EA coats FIFA in; the lack of real-world licenses is a huge issue; and MyClub can't compete with FUT. But when you get on the pitch, no other soccer game comes close. Every shot, pass, and tackle just feels so good.
The game also allows far more tactical flexibility than FIFA: you can choose to pass the ball into the net with Barcelona-esque tiki-taka, press with high intensity like Liverpool, or go the old-fashioned route and lump it forward to the big man up top. But crucially, each of these tactics feels equally viable, and are equally fun to play with.
Finally, PES 2018 adds in a brilliant new way to play called Random Selection Mode that has you steal all the best players off your mates. And what could be more satisfying than that?
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds | Jake Dekker, Video Producer
Even after 225 hours of playtime, every game of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds I load into is a surprise. Where will the circle end up? Did anyone land near me? What weapons will I find? Are there any vehicles close by? Managing all of the many variables necessary to come up with a game plan forces you to stay on your toes at all times. Even though there is only one map currently, there's so much going on--and so much at stake--that every single match is an exciting experience in itself.
And that’s what makes PUBG so great. I am constantly forced to adapt to my surroundings, experiment with different tactics, and make the best of the resources I find, all at a moment's notice. And the euphoric feeling I get when I come out on top after a heart-pounding firefight is unmatched.
When things do go my way and I make it to the last 10 alive, PUBG becomes one of the most exhilarating multiplayer games I’ve ever played. I’m trying to think five steps ahead, constantly checking my flanks, and I have my finger on the trigger. Rarely do I snag the coveted Chicken Dinner, but when I do I feel like a king.
Prey | Jean-Luc Seipke, Video Producer
As someone who grew up on old PC immersive-sims like System Shock 2 and Deus Ex, I’ve always felt that while many modern games try to capture the spirit of those games, few have been able to capture the minute levels of creativity and freedom in how you interact with a carefully designed world. In this way, Prey feels like a throwback--it brings a vast level of detail to its systems for your imagination to run wild with, but with a beautifully modern presentation.
The haunting space station of Talos I is a playground that demands to be poked and prodded at. Early on you are given the GLOO Cannon, a tool that allows you to shoot hardened foam on any surface. You can trap foes, or close off pipes spewing hazards. You can also create platforms on any wall; suddenly you realize you have the freedom to get to seemingly out-of-reach places, bypassing enemies and entire areas. A similarly fun weapon is the Huntress Boltcaster, a nerf gun. While at first it appears to be a joke weapon, its possibilities are numerous. It's a great, ammo-free way to test for Mimics, the deadly aliens that disguise themselves as regular objects. You can shoot locks or activate computer touch screens normally out of reach.
The game is full of moments like these that I created. I remember taking every object in the room and piling it into a corner so I could use the recycler grenade to create resources. I used my mimic power to turn into an apple, roll underneath a table so I could get behind a turret and hack it. These are the elements that make Prey special to me. I enjoyed its world, characters, and story, which ended up being epitome of what the genre has to offer, and it's that freedom to experiment in its world that kept me playing.
Pyre | Tony Wilson, Video Producer
I could talk about Pyre's beautiful art style or its evocative soundtrack, but I want to focus on two key areas where this indie darling excels: the story and the sport.
From your first steps into the Downside, the tale of Pyre is dour. The cast of characters have their own reasons for being there, and reasons for why they'd like to return to the land of the living. When (or if) you are able to send one of them home, it's an emotional moment. That's not just because of the joy or thankfulness that washes over your teammate's face, as their sentence in this purgatory finally ends; it's also the knot in your stomach that forms as you potentially give up your star player.
As for the sport itself, the combination of 3-on-3 basketball and action-RPG skills is something that could practically stand as its own game. Everyone on your roster has analogues on your opponents' teams. They are essentially different classes: speedsters that can charge right into the goal, heavies that can camp on your own pyre, and others that have bizarre yet tactically useful abilities like seeding the ground or instantly retreating. Winning games, leveling up, and unlocking perks for each team member further accentuates the hidden depth of this made-up sport.
These elements come together to chronicle an emotional journey that's also an incredibly fun game to play. Helping others to escape the Downside while slowly revealing your own fate is an experience you should have, and the game's local competitive mode means anyone can jump in for a simple pick-up game too.
Sonic Mania | Matt Espineli, Associate Editor
Created by members of the Sonic fan-hack community, Sonic Mania exudes passion and reverence in its recreation of nostalgic visuals, sounds, and levels. But the game isn't content with senselessly regurgitating the past; rather, it expands upon the familiar with new ideas of its own and delivers plenty of inventive concepts that diversify and build upon the series' fast-paced level design. Sonic Mania is smart and interpretive in its approach, leveraging the strengths of its design and visuals to craft not only the best Sonic game ever made, but an amazing platforming experience overall.
Even with the game's numerous successes, what I love the most about Sonic Mania is how it feels like a true rebirth for the franchise. While Sonic Colors or Sonic Generations achieved some success, Sonic Mania offers something more. It has fundamentally changed the standards on which future entries are judged, providing an experience that anyone can adore. It's uncertain what the future holds for Sonic Mania and its creators, but what's clear is that the game supplies ample framework for a bright, new future for Sega's beloved blue blur. The Sonic series as we know could be changing, and it's that prospect that makes me love Sonic Mania even more for what it has accomplished.
Super Rude Bear Resurrection | Chris Pereira, News Editor
It's easy to handwave away games when they too closely resemble existing titles. As a tough-as-nails platformer, Super Rude Bear Resurrection might look like a knockoff of Super Meat Boy. Although that game's influence is obvious, Super Rude Bear very much stands on its own.
This is true for a number of reasons, but the death mechanic referred to in the title is what's most notable. While the entire game can be finished without dying (a notion that still blows my mind, given the level of difficulty toward the end), your deaths serve a real purpose. Every dead body persists and changes the level. Deadly spikes in the way? Corpses can cover them up and make them safe to walk across. Dangerous arrows being fired at you? Let a corpse block them from hitting you. Much of my enjoyment involves simply seeing how a death (or 20) changes the dynamic of a particular section.
Super Rude Bear also does something few games manage, which is to consistently introduce new challenges and obstacles from beginning to end. It never wears out its welcome; new mechanics are introduced at a steady clip, ensuring things never get stale. That's a real accomplishment, and one that--combined with the consistently novel death system--makes this a game worth checking out no matter your platforming skill level.
Tacoma | Edmond Tran, AU Editor / Senior Video Producer
Ask me what my favorite new game mechanic was this year.
Okay never mind, I’ll tell you: It’s the digital surveillance playback in Tacoma.
Exploring the abandoned space station of Tacoma and unraveling the mysteries behind its crew’s fate involves tapping into pre-recorded scenes, featuring holographic representations of its now-absent crew members augmented over the game’s physical space. That means if characters decide to move elsewhere, you need to follow them in order to continue hearing their conversations and witnessing their actions.
You’re able to rewind, fast forward, and replay these events on a whim, and this act in itself is super satisfying. But the whole system really comes together when you’re observing events involving the whole crew. Characters will very often split off to different locations to do different things, and pursuing a single chain of events to find out one side of the story, then rewinding it and seeing it all from a different perspective always kept me completely intrigued.
All of this is coupled with strong character writing and level design. The nuances of human interaction between crew members and understated signifiers in the environment speak volumes about who Tacoma's characters are as people and make them incredibly easy to form bonds with.
But the holographic playback mechanic is such a great, logical progression of the audiolog-dependent mode of storytelling. It's shocking it hasn’t been done before, but also no wonder that the team behind Gone Home (and Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den, the best Bioshock) are the ones to execute it. Even though everything in Tacoma is optional, the system is effective in encouraging active exploration and it makes you feel completely engaged with the events and characters around you. I sincerely hope that Tacoma won't be the last time I get to use this mechanic and that future games take it as an inspiration of what can be done with environmental narrative.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy | Jess McDonell, Host/Producer
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End was my game of the year in 2016. To me, it was the perfect high-octane blockbuster adventure. Perhaps the one glaring error in that game was the absense of my super crush Claudia Black who plays the sarcastic treasure hunter Chloe Frazer. Hearing that Uncharted: The Lost Legacy would be a fully-fledged standalone story starring two badass women--Chloe and Nadine--felt too good to be true, and Naughty Dog pulled it off masterfully.
My most vivid memory of playing The Lost Legacy, even beyond the stunning set pieces and beautiful game world, is of the interplay between the two heroines. Hearing the protagonists’ tease each other about past lovers, reveal long-hidden stories from their past, and gradually grow more fond of one another evoked appreciation for my own close female friendships. Chloe and Nadine really come into their own as a partnership and as individuals thanks to great writing. The Lost Legacy also succeeds in its balance of puzzle-solving and action. There’s not a lot of new ground to cover from Uncharted 4 as far as combat goes, but puzzle-solving takes more of a front seat this time around with trials that feel significantly more more clever and challenging.
The Lost Legacy closes even stronger than it opens with one of the most epic set pieces in the series. The combination of beloved old companions, a new threatening antagonist, and breathtaking locations to explore proves that Nathan Drake is not the glue holding the Uncharted formula together.
West of Loathing | Michael Higham, Associate Editor
On its face, West of Loathing is a simple RPG in a black-and-white world (literally) where stick figures roam alongside goblins and possessed cows. You hit the trail and leave home to take part in a westward expansion caricature for no other reason than to do it. When you strip away fancy graphics and cinematic flare, every other aspect of a game has to rise. And through its clever writing and grand musical score, West of Loathing delivers a uniquely comedic RPG filled with personality.
The game takes on an absurdist tone that bounces between old-timey vernacular and modern day tongue. This anachronism doesn’t throw you off; instead it elevates the ridiculousness of the game's situations. Your character speaks in a very matter-of-fact way in the face of cowboys, talking goblins, and cultist clowns. In true RPG fashion, you have dialogue options when engaging with some of the townsfolk, and you have multiple options to approach conflicts, depending on stat checks. Despite its aesthetic, West of Loathing has an impressively deep character building system. Muscle, Moxie, and Mysticality work as base stats, but the range of combat modifiers, skillsets, and item effects give you much more to chew on than a straightforward turn-based combat system.
West of Loathing wouldn't stick as much if it wasn't for the rich, original soundtrack. Composer Ryan Ike uses marching drums, the twang of a lead guitar, and the backing of a string/horn section to create an epic western orchestration that instills a sense of grandeur in a world of surreal humour and stick figures. It even has a sweet ragtime tune and banjo-backed disco track to boot; this game's got a whole lot of moxie.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 | Kevin Knezevic, Associate News Editor
There was no shortage of breathtaking game worlds to explore in 2017, but few captured my attention like Alrest in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Monolith Soft's first Switch game stands out as a major highlight in a remarkable debut year for the system, thanks in large part to how wonderfully fantastical its setting is. The entire game takes place atop (and occasionally within) Titans, colossal beings roaming about an endless Cloud Sea, whose backs and limbs stretch far into the distance and form the earth upon which all creatures live.
In this incomparably vast world, you take on the role of a salvager named Rex, a young boy who ekes out a meager living by selling any trinkets he recovers from the bottom of the Cloud Sea. Rex eventually encounters a girl named Pyra, the living embodiment of an ancient weapon called the Aegis, and together the two set off on a journey that takes them across Alrest, from lush forests to bioluminescent caverns and beyond.
Like the previous two installments in the series, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a sprawling, ambitious adventure that beckons you to explore, and each area you visit is brought to life by its stunning art direction. The game is also underpinned by a satisfying battle system, which is easy to grasp but deep enough to keep battles--particularly against the many challenging named monsters roaming about the world--rewarding throughout the game's lengthy runtime.
However, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 certainly isn't without its faults. New gameplay mechanics are introduced rapidly and explained poorly, particularly in the early portions of the adventure, leaving you to discover the nuances of its more obtuse systems on your own. But while the game may not be as immaculately realized as Nintendo's other major Switch titles, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is certainly just as memorable and captivating, making it one of my favorites of the year.
Yakuza 0 | Alessandro Fillari, Editor
Mixing the gritty,violent style of Japanese gangster films with the melodramatic charm of soap operas, the Yakuza series takes its narrative seriously and features a surprisingly dense storyline spanning across its ten-year franchise. While this can be a tough thing to overcome for newcomers, the prequel, Yakuza 0, offers an endearing return to the criminal underworld of Kamurocho that is a good starting point for new players, and it's one of the most exuberant experiences of this year.
In Yakuza 0, we see the beginnings of Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima as twenty-something gangsters in late-1980s Japan--a time where the money was flowing and the thrills didn't come cheap. Coming from someone who admittedly has a limited view of the sprawling story of past games, jumping straight into Yakuza 0 worked in my favor. Not only did this allow me to get a handle on the upgraded and incredibly satisfying combat mechanics, I also got to see these familiar characters and locations in a new light--which all felt fresh with its 80s vibe.
I would usually find it jarring when games present scenes with oddball citizens around town, followed by stoic and stern moments of political intrigue in short succession--but it ends up being Yakuza 0's greatest strength. The unpredictability of the criminal lifestyle and a light-hearted atmosphere end up complementing each other in surprising ways. One moment you're caught up in a deadly-serious murder-mystery plot, and in the next you could be helping out the Michael Jackson stand-in Miracle Johnson with a music video shoot, protecting him against zombie actors as he moonwalks down the main strip of the red-light district. And it's all OK, because all of this is what makes Yakuza so special.
Even though its a prequel, and it revels in the excess of its setting and time, this game does a wonderful job showing off the growth the series has had over its lifespan. If you're ever in need of a gateway into the series, without being hit by the sprawling plot of its predecessors, then Yakuza 0 is just the game that will show you a good time.