It’s the first of December, and here at UTM we are all too happy to contribute to the never-ending content landfill that is publication end of year lists. Kicking off #LISTMAS (it’s not a thing and please do not insist on trying to make it a thing) is UTM’s best games of the year list, sporting a menagerie of 2017’s most immersive and awe-inspiring titles – and boy, were there a good bunch of ’em.
Nier: Automata isn’t a technically flawless gaming experience, a map that opposes navigation ensures that, yet it’s 2017’s most impactful game with it’s tendency to reside in your thoughts long after completing its many endings.
Nier boast a huge range of positives, Platinum’s ability to create fluid and stylish combat that moulds itself to various playstyles is a wonderful antidote to the typically messy battles displayed by many JRPG’s. Yoko Taro reveals himself as one of gaming’s most distinctive minds when crafting a narrative, one that demands you constantly reconsider your own gameplay choices. It takes a skilled creator to make you feel gloomy at the prospect of taking down a barrage of faceless enemies, but a wealth of sub stories delves deep into the robot’s psyches, revealing their extremely human personalities. Keiichi Okabe’s score of melodramatic and climatic operatic vocals informs the game’s consistently hopeless atmosphere and emotional gut-punch moments, it’s unsurprising when Taro revealed his narrative was often chasing the tone created by the music.
With this collection of talented creatives, it’s unsurprising that Nier goes beyond any other game in 2017 of delivering on its promise. No other game has quite dissected the collective human emotional and societal psyche with such raw potency (without a single meat and bones human making an in-game appearance too), and for that reason it’s difficult to find another game this year that resonates in that same special way.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Link’s re-awakening at the beginning of Breath of the Wild is symbolic of many things. For The Legend Of Zelda – an iconic franchise that was flailing, unsure as to what it could do to reignite the fabled spark of old – it marks the inception of a journey that would go on to serve as the series’ apex. For Nintendo – its beloved creators whose grasp on those who were once faithful steadily waning after a misjudged console crisis – it was the scene that would signal the birth of a new golden era, a rejuvenated desire to create experiences that would stay with you for a lifetime.
In a year where many titles sought to immerse players in a freely traversable world rich with lore and history, only Breath of the Wild managed to offer both in unbridled glory. Hyrule has never been so desolate, so painstaking to look at – but it’s also never been so beautiful, so full of wonder. The sheer level of exploration and reliance on player initiative the game offers is simply unparalleled, with a seemingly infinite amount of solutions to any number of dilemmas – intentional by design or not – one might encounter. And whilst some might find the narrative of Breath of the Wild somewhat limpwristed, there’s something so heartwarmingly poetic about seeing something you treasure so dearly rescued from the desperate clutches of ruin.
For someone who’s never played a Persona game before, it’s a bit of a stab in the dark; a typical Japanese high school setting in which relationships with others are key doesn’t indicate the reality of Persona 5’s indomitable uniqueness. It was so popular amongst the UTM crew that we had to do a special Limited Edition UTM Podcast just so we could gush over the phenomenal art style and the #relatable characters.
It goes like this: you transfer from another school for getting in a bit of trouble for trying to do the right thing, because adults suck. You’re introduced to characters at a nice, steady pace while the incredible setting of modern-day Tokyo unfolds around you, revealing a dark secret. The game absolutely nails the all-important immersive aspect, so much so that you’ll find yourself feeling bad that you can’t hang out with one character because you already promised another you’d help them do some gardening, and you have a really important exam coming up that you need to study for (but you also need to rid society of its twisted scumbags preying on innocents).
Persona 5 seeps into your everyday life, because it IS everyday life, albeit one in which there is another reality accessed by an app on your phone. After 130 hours in one playthrough, I started to treat my own life as if it were Persona. In some delusional state of mind, I thought it prudent to max out my relationship with my gf, hang out with my idiot friends and gain some stat points in proficiency. It was so good I literally confused it with real life. How can that NOT be my Game of the Year?
Resident Evil 7
It’s been a long time since Resident Evil has been capable of scaring players. The sixth main entry in the series was an expensive, bloated mess. Still clinging to RE5’s dependence on co-op, the game barely resembled the methodical survival horror that defined the earliest games bearing the Resident Evil name. For a series that gained so much praise for previously reinventing itself, it became apparent that it was long overdue a transformation once again.
In an incredibly smart move, Resident Evil 7 manages to both reinvent the series while going back to its long-forgotten roots. Shifting to a first-person perspective, the game succeeds in placing the player directly into the horrific scenario the game presents. After the forced grandiosity of the sixth game, it’s refreshing to get a story on a much smaller scale, directly benefitting the first-person approach. It’s horror on a macro-level, forcing the player to adapt to being hunted and scavenging for supplies in a way the series hasn’t presented in a long, long time.
The first couple hours of the game, in particular, are absolutely remarkable. Jack Baker is easily one of the most terrifying videogame characters in recent memory, hunting and playing with his prey in sadistic fashion. Jack is the best enemy the series has ever seen, and he’s also one of its most restrained designs, too. Melding Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Evil Dead influence into some of the most inspired game design and environmental storytelling survival horror has seen in about a decade, Resident Evil 7 is a triumphant return to form that recklessly plays with instinctual fear.
P.S. Shout-out to Wolfenstein 2 and Christina Applegate.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn was one of the first of the “next gen graphics” flagship titles, boasting visuals never-before matched in console gaming and it’s true that it does have stunning graphics (all hail the one true god ray). But the thing that really impressed me about it was the little details that allowed the threads of the rich story and environment to be pulled together to form a comfortable hoodie of a game.
Guerrilla did a great job in crafting a world and backstory to the events of the game that was interesting enough that you wanted to know everything about it but not quite enough that you felt like it should be its own game. I travelled through HZD learning more and more about the protagonist (Aloy) and her heritage, whilst at the same time learning with her about why the world had changed so drastically and what that meant for us on our adventure through the land fucking up robots as we went.
So, for the beautiful areas and creatures, the fantastic story, the frantic yet fun combat, the well written and likable characters and most importantly the optional collectibles; Horizon Zero Dawn is my Game Of The Year.