BEST GAMES OF 2017 – JOEL’S TOP 10

joelAs far as years goes, and pushing aside the political state of the world, 2017 has been fairly good. My personal highlight is obviously the birth of my second son last month, but it’s also my first complete calendar year with the BXB team and in that time I’ve got to try some games that I most certainly would never normally play. Along the way experienced many different emotions, surprise, disappointment, anger just to name a few, but most of all I’ve had fun which is at the end of the day what games are about. As such, below are my top 10 games from 2017!

10) Mr Shifty (Nintendo Switch)

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To roughly quote Adam, ‘nothing beats a game that’s built around one simple mechanic’. Mr Shifty is a top down brawler with the unique twist that you have the ability to teleport short distances. As such what you get is a simple, accessible, challenging and fun gameplay experience that – as with a lot of titles this year – is really at home on the Switch. It succeeds on many levels, but particularly in not overstaying its welcome. Each level introduces one new concept, and seldom does it revisit old ideas except for the final levels that bring it all together. The fact that once I started I pretty much completed the game in a single sitting pretty much sums up just how good this game is.

9) Stardew Valley (Xbox One)

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My first taste of Stardew Valley came this year when the game launched on console, and god was I in for a treat, so much so that I went to the extremes of remotely streaming the game from my home console to a hotel in Hong Kong just to get my fix. It’s a lovingly crafted recreation of Harvest Moon put together entirely by a single committed developer, whose years of hard graft has resulted in a stunningly charming simulation. An existential crisis leads to you trying to restore an inherited farm, and by extension the local community, back to its former glory all in a 3 year time limit imposed by your grandfather. It’s addictive, so much so that one friend refuses to purchase the game on Switch for fear of crashing whilst trying to harvest parsnips whilst driving. It’s a wholly pleasant and quaint experience, a chance to retreat from the fast paced demands of other games and enjoy things at a slower pace, something that we all need every now and again.

8) Subterrain (Xbox One)

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Going back to the start of the year for this one, once I managed to grasp the games mechanics it instantly had me engrossed. A tense, survival simulation set on Mars that tasks you with exploring an overrun facility whilst trying to find and fix things so that you can, hopefully, escape. I’ll admit the combat isn’t really much to write home about, but the other aspects of the game were solid and there is enough that you need to keep your eye on that I never really ever felt comfortable in this game, instead only ever feeling like I was never doing anything other than just treading water. The learning curve is a little steep, as to survive you not only have to look after yourself but you also need to manage and maintain the environment as well. But push on through and you have an engrossing experience that will afford you no time to just kick back and relax.

7) What Remains of Edith Finch (PC)

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There have been a couple of occasions this year where I’ve been playing a game and then it’s suddenly thrown something at me that just perfectly conveys what distinguishes this medium from other forms of entertainment. Lewis Finches specific sub-story hit me hard, perfectly placing me in a situation that I am sure plenty of people out there are living through each day. That was just the tip of the proverbially iceberg really, as there were plenty of other parts in this game that had a decent tug on my heart strings as well. I can’t say much more really without giving things away really, but if you want to experience something a little different and have a couple of hours to spare then you should definitely check this out.

6) Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Nintendo Switch)

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It’s somewhat hard to believe that this game wasn’t actually developed by Nintendo, because as you play it it jolly well feels like it was. This is very much a more accessible X-Com, refined into an experience that casts aside large amounts of the frustration and instead pumps it full of charm. Despite it’s simpler by comparison nature, it still offers an overwhelming amount of strategy. Beating the game isn’t too hard, but achieving perfect scores demands you synergize your party members to the max to ensure that you cause maximum damage. All this tactical depth, smothered in all the charm of a Mario game made for my strategy highlight of the year, and kudos to Ubisoft for pulling it off so well.

5) Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4)

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My highlight on the PlayStation this year. Graphically it’s stunning, a world so richly detailed it’s impossible not to pause simply to take it in. Just when you thought it couldn’t get better, they throw together The Frozen Wilds expansion that seems to take things to another level. It’s not just a looker though, and despite its cookie cutter open world feel I found the combat intoxicating. Machines are like bosses, each a unique puzzle requiring you to chip away at amour or components to expose weak points. A compelling narrative, decent lead character and a post apocalyptic setting all come together for an experience I can’t recommend enough.

4) Prey (Xbox One)

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I picked this up for £10 and it’s so good I feel like I’ve mugged the developer by getting it so cheap. As a spiritual successor to System Shock, I can’t really comment as I never actually played them. To me, it’s more a Sci-Fi version of Bioshock but better in every way. Bioshock’s plasmids always felt so situational, but in Prey there is just so much more freedom. The mimics – enemies that can disguise themselves as anything – are such an awesome idea, and the fact that you can optionally obtain that power yourself just opens up so many options for how you want to approach the game. It’s also environmentally brilliant as well, the first time that you step outside of the space station cements how believable the world is in both in layout and its population. It wasn’t perhaps the Prey game that we expected, but what we got was certainly a fine piece of design and implementation.

3) PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (Xbox One)

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A tactical survival masterpiece that’s really got me hooked. It’s engendered all the emotions of a long term relationship, anger, love, humor, hate along with the occasional mild heart attack. It runs like junk I hear you say! Well, as Han Solo famously said, ‘She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts kid’. And no statement has ever been truer, under the skin this is hands down the best multiplayer experience of the year. Sure, even the Xbox One X’s 6 teraflops of rendering power can’t deliver a consistently smooth frame rate. But optimising this shouldn’t be beyond the realms of impossibility and being frank, everyone else in the game is suffering the same so deal with it. Find some friends, squad up and enjoy yourself. There’s nothing better out there at the moment.

2) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)

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A definite pivot for the series, Breath of the Wild has certainly redefined the meaning of the word ‘open world’. The moment you leave the plateau, the game’s initial tutorial area, it quickly dawns on you just how big this world is. It offers a sense of freedom that no other open world game does, with every inch accessible if you so desire. The tool set affords the player more creativity – all you need to do is check YouTube to see the various inventive solutions that players have devised to solve various shrines – and unlike the previous games abilities are with you for the entire game rather than packaged alongside a dungeon. However, all that freedom comes at a cost, time, a currency which I’ve sadly not been able to afford any serious amount of to this title. Instead, I find myself gently sipping at it, and my perchant to explore every inch of the environment ensures that I’ll still be trying to finish this game well into the later part of this year.

1) Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)

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Choosing between Odyssey and Breath of the Wild for top spot was always going to be difficult, as in reality both are pretty much perfect games each raising the bar higher in their respective genres, but for me Odyssey just pips it. It retains the nostalgia of the previous games in the series whilst managing to feel fresh and new. Overall what you get is a more focused, purer gaming experience, giving so much whilst demanding so little. It has been more more accommodating for my life style, offering a quicker challenge reward cycle during quick gaming sessions compared to the slower burn of Zelda, and as such it has been easier for me to experience and enjoy all it had to offer.