I’m kind of in a standstill with pop/geek culture. I didn’t watch Game of Thrones, I don’t know who Post Malone is, and I’ve only played Bioshock Infinite this year (still catching up on all your hot takes, Internet). That’s why I’ve often struggled with “Top Ten” lists, especially with videogames. Devouring all the latest releases is an incredibly time-consuming endeavor, and it’s physically impossible to go through those from the year and only choose the best ones.
Instead I’m going to take the easy way out and go for the best games I’ve played this year. It’s my list, damnit.
10. Everything (2017)
Like its predecessor Mountain, Everything is more of a meditative experience, dramatically unlike most videogames that promise non-stop high-octane action sequences to keep players engaged. Instead, Everything allows you take on the form of anything you desire — from a tiniest hydrogen atom to the colossal sun — all while snippets by the late philosopher Alan Watts plays in the background, as he shared his thoughts on life and human consciousness. Accompanied by his soothing tone, you wander about the universe as an object while everything else meander their way through existence. It’s hugely introspective. Everything may not a game I spend a lot of time with, but it embraces reticence and serenity in a manner other games haven’t done so before.
9. Superhot (2016)
Superhot is the antithesis of first person shooters; it’s slow, deliberate and premediated. Bullets creep through their trajectories if you don’t move, and accelerate when you do anything else. Think of it as stretching Max Payne’s patented “bullet time” effect to its limits, but with more logic and acrobatics involved. But far from being a cakewalk, this idea has transformed the free-for-all shoot fest into a strategic puzzle where every move needs to be mulled over, turning every firefight into a choreographed dance. And when the flashback lets you to witness your own superhuman feats in real time, the sense of gratification is immeasurable.
8. For Honor (2017)
For Honor is a fighting game rather unlike many others. Taking its time with players, it slowly but surely goes through its fundamentals, which is especially helpful if you’re unfamiliar with the genre. Yet it still carries plenty of mechanical depth; blocking attacks is absolutely vital, but second guessing where attacks come from can be exasperating.
In many ways, For Honor is still an esoteric game that requires players to dedicate hard work to stand even a modicum of a chance against others. But its slower combat pace — as compared to other titles in the same genre — allows me to grind my teeth on the basics and uncover more competitive techniques. Stick with it, and you’ll find it to be one of the more enjoyable fighting games — an experience that fighting rookies will finally be privy to.
7. Receiver (2012)
Reloading isn’t a straightforward affair in Receiver; you need to holster the gun, take out the magazine, inject the bullets individually, jam the magazine back in, and then turn off the safety. And more. Try doing that as a floating drone whirrs after you, emptying its bullets as you plead with your gun to fire a goddamn bullet.
Many games have strived for realism, be it in terms of graphical fidelity or tossing in features to pad up the experience. Most fell short of the mark because there’s little to justify these additions, other than a hazy goal of replicating an experience that’s as close to real life as possible. Receiver’s ultra-realistic gun handling lends it a meditative quality. It turns up the intensity dial during firefights, while its quietest moments bristle with an undercurrent of unease. Be wary of corners you can’t see past, and always, always make sure your gun is fully loaded.
6. Overcooked (2016)
What is teamwork? In Overcooked, it’s barking orders at your mates as they dash across the kitchen, screaming obscenities at one another because we only have 10 seconds left to deliver the final dish, so why the heck aren’t you putting it together quickly enough!? Never has a game that has threatened to tear friendships apart felt that exhilarating. Overcooked is a party game done so right; it’s easy to pick up, but challenging enough such that your merry band will always have to cook up a game plan for tackling each level. However, even the best laid plans will eventually deteriorate into a catastrophic mess. Then you curse under your breath and try it all over again.
5. Where the Goats Are (2017)
Videogames is obsessed with graphical fidelity. We witness the bloodshed of wars, the agony of survivors in a close-up camera shot, the battered limbs of an abuse victim — all rendered in the delirious beauty of 4K gaming. But what’s most distressing often takes place off-screen.
Take for instance Tikvah from Where the Goats Are, an elderly lady who walks at a leisurely pace. Before the sun sets, she only has enough time to draw water from the well, milk her goat, care for her chicken and make a few wheels of cheese — affairs we can probably accomplish within an afternoon. Yet while she’s busying herself with these tasks, the rest of the world keeps moving at a breakneck pace. Dense forests are mowed down to make space for factories. Smog envelops the air. Unemployment peaks in the city. People riot in desperation. You won’t see these scenes play out — but the pangs of despair will engulf you all the same.
4. ARMS (2017)
With their complicated button commands and labyrinthine strategizing, fighting games haven’t been known to be inclusive, and even more unthinkable as party games. But with the release of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo wanted a fighting game that effectively demonstrates the console’s capabilities, while keeping it palatable for newcomers and veterans alike. ARMS was the answer: a title featuring a kaleidoscopic range of pugilists equipped with telephone coil arms. Not only is it easy to pick up, but its delightful use of the motion controllers makes playing a riot. But mastery of the game — learning how to put together dashes and jumps, and grasping the nuance of each fighter — is what will ensure its longevity. With its third-person camera view, ARMS’ refreshing dynamism offers a different flavor for competitive players; in stark contrast from the traditional side-view perspective of fighting games, it puts less emphasis on accuracy of attacks and more on timing.
3. Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Once again, Princess Peach has been captured by Bowser, and it’s up to Mario to rescue her from his evil clutches — or so the story goes. But that’s merely an excuse for Mario to travel the world and take on various odd jobs with his new best friend, Cappy. Instead of just jumping on his obstacles, Mario now has one more arsenal up his sleeve: tossing his cap towards his enemies and possessing whatever creature it lands on. This simple addition opened up a gamut of ways to play and experience every kingdom, be it at the frosty deserts of Tostarena or the surreal New Donk City. And exploring every world is unadulterated joy, with rewards generously doled out for venturing into uncharted territories and completing mini challenges. It reminded me of Nintendo’s propensity for making really brilliant games. Most of all, it astounded me how much Mario has evolved from my childhood — and how glad I am that the plumber’s adventures will never lose their childlike charm throughout my adulthood.
2. The Beginner’s Guide (2015)
Davey Wreden made a game in 2013 called The Stanley Parable, which became a phenomenal, monstrous success. And by monstrous, I mean the game’s success tore him apart so much that he couldn’t imagine making another title that will live up to his audience’s expectations. So he withdrew from folks, becoming a recluse until he came up with The Beginner’s Guide.
Wreden’s mental state during that period was laid bare in this game, the bulk of which he apparently did not make; he introduced to players the games his friend Coda created and quickly abandoned, while sharing his thoughts and critiques. The result is an excruciatingly painful and intimate look into his psyche, and a pointed commentary on interpretation versus intent. And so much more. It’s grief. It’s a travesty. It’s sadness. It’s, like a few friends told me, a rambling mess. But draw your own conclusions; however you feel about it, I promise you this is an experience you can’t bring yourself to look away from.
1. Witcher 3 (2015)
If there’s one word I would associate with Witcher 3, it’s passion. Utmost passion. Every single pixel is injected with so much consideration that this open world RPG is practically teeming with life. Even its secondary quests, which are typically just a means for open-world developers to justify padding more insipid hours, are jammed with so much details and subtilties that they feature some of the best writing in games.
But Witcher 3 is more than just the sum of its profound parts; Geralt’s journey to find his daughter underscores why it’s truly a monumental feat. Some RPGs bend over backwards to remind you about the gravity of your decisions, yet in Witcher 3, conversations and events are carried out in such a spontaneous and reflexive manner that they never seem patronising. There’s nothing perfunctory about the game, no “Ciri noticed and remembered what you said.”, but it acknowledges that you know this, too. By the time the credits roll, and you look back at every moment you’ve spent with Geralt, you’ll feel a sense of bittersweet triumph. Or heartrending sadness, if you’re me.