Games. Culture.

Alex Van Aken’s Top Ten Games of 2017

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Alex Van AkenHey! I’m Alex Van Aken, Managing Editor of OK Beast. This year sure was great for interactive play, eh? Since there were so many releases, I figured I should share my top ten games of 2017. These are the games that I couldn’t get out of my head. 

10. LawBreakers

LawBreakers was one of the most mechanically interesting games to release in 2017, and I was saddened by the fact that hardly anyone played it. Despite existing as a critical success, LawBreakers just didn’t grab people. Perhaps its aesthetic was a bit tired, or maybe it was because the game launched in a heavily saturated market. Costing half the price of its competition, I was convinced Cliff Bleszinski’s return to the arena-based FPS genre would be one of commercial success. However, that didn’t happen; and as sad as that may be, LawBreakers doesn’t need my pity.

In fact, it’s the freshest a first person shooter has felt since, well, last year. For the uninitiated, LawBreakers sets its gaze on anti-gravitational combat, which weaves its way into almost every facet of the game; as each map features a large zero gravity field, usually in a prominent location.

The real fun lies in how the various characters and classes interact with the play space. Every character can shoot their weapon behind their back to create a makeshift jet pack to propel them through the environment. It feels even cooler when the backwards blindfire grants you an elimination. The assassin class utilizes a grappling hook that allows them to swing around the map, slicing through their opponents with Katanas on a whim. When swinging through one of the many anti-gravitational zones, LawBreakers suddenly transforms into a first person Spider-Man game.

In short, LawBreakers is one of the most underrated releases from 2017; and previous futuristic shooters feel like they’re missing a key part of the puzzle. If you’d like to see my bias fleshed out further, you can watch this video, which focuses on LawBreakers’ locomotion and the family of games that came before it.

9. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

If I’m being honest with you, and with myself, I didn’t enjoy playing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. It’s focused on a journey through the Nordic Land of the Dead, and is defined by a hellish realization of mental illness and spiritual hardship that was painful to watch and experience. Regardless, Hellblade is an incredible blending of genres, and its aural and visual presentations are essential to its interactive storytelling.

I hope you’ll give the game a shot, even if It doesn’t look like your cup of tea. Senua is my favorite character that’s emerged from this medium all year, and her story was personally impactful.

Golf story

8. Golf Story

Golf Story is what happens when you combine Earthbound with an activity-rich golf game, and the mixture is simply incredible. Anytime I’ve found myself on the couch over the past few months, the game has been in my hands, as its hilarious writing and challenging golf matches make it incredibly difficult to put down. Play Golf Story if you: own a Switch, love golf, or have a pulse.

7. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

I wish my experience with Wolfenstein II had gone differently. I certainly enjoyed just about every aspect of the game and loved exploring the title’s alternative version of the United States. Wolfenstein II hosts some of 2017’s strongest characters, and the way they interact with one another in the game’s main hub was hilarious.

Unfortunately, I had the most significant plot thread spoiled for me before I even started the first mission. While it certainly took a lot of the wind out of my sails, I can’t fault the game for what happened to me. Wolfenstein II’s cinematic presentation is unmatched, however I only wish the transition from the gameplay portions was smoother. For reference, many missions end with the player inputting a button prompt to trigger the scene transition; which seems counterintuitive to the game’s obvious desire to craft a dynamic and fluid story.

Regardless, I really enjoyed my time with Wolfenstein II, and can’t wait to go back and play the first game now. Yup, I still have yet to play Wolfenstein: The New Order!

6. What Remains of Edith Finch

What Remains of Edith Finch, one of the year’s many “walking simulators,” quickly climbed my list when I played it at the beginning of December. Set in a family estate, which is in the possession of its seventeen year old heir, named Edith, I quickly found myself connecting with its characters by way of its interesting vignettes; which served as an incredible narrative tool.

Throughout the story, players will follow Edith along as she explores the many rooms that make up her family’s house, as she tries to uncover the truth behind the mystery of an apparent family curse. While the main focus is certainly on the game’s visual storytelling, What Remains of Edith Finch is home to some of 2017’s best level design. While other “walking simulators” use it for context, Giant Sparrow allows its environment to play a more active role in its storytelling. In my opinion, it’s the absolute best of its kind, and raises the bar for
its competition.

5. Destiny 2

Just as its predecessor, Destiny 2 feels incredible. Every single shot, no matter the weapon, feels perfectly tuned; and each bullet consistently penetrates the armor of its intended target. The audio only enhances the combat experience, with several weapons emitting faint synth tones with every trigger pull. Every second spent in Bungie’s social shooter reminds that they operate well within their pedigree.

Since adequate power leveling requires multiple characters and the story of the first game felt so barebones, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the narrative of Destiny 2 was intriguing enough to pull me through the game several times over. There are certain moments, like walking next to the surface of the sun, that are remembered more fondly than others; but overall the missions in the game’s base campaign seem to have a sense of purpose. It prevents the leveling process from devolving into a mundane grind.

Lastly, beating The Leviathan Raid was one of my favorite video game moments of 2017. The immense challenge presented by the raid allowed my friends and me to spend a lot of time together. Even though most of our time was spent banging our heads against the wall (in hopes of stimulating the esports segment of our brains), Destiny 2’s most challenging moments were accompanied by laughter and friendly banter. I still feel guilty for the scream I emitted at 3:00am when we finally took Emperor Calus down. That session will go down as a night to remember.

4. Super Mario Odyssey

In a year that’s been mired by a few personal struggles, Super Mario Odyssey has brought so much joy into my life. Having been a dormant fan of the series since the Nintendo 64, the game’s release was a welcome arrival. Cappy, who serves as the game’s feature mechanic, was integrated so well into Mario’s base movement set; and I was constantly discovering new ways to traverse the many different kingdoms I visited.

For the first time in a very long time, I found myself adopting the tendencies of a completionist, looking inside every nook and cranny in pursuit of the next Power Moon. Honestly, I think it’s a huge testament to the game’s environmental design, because the only reason I even chased after collectibles was because the levels were so fun to move within.

With New Donk City possessing one of my favorite gameplay sequences of 2017, the Festival, Super Mario Odyssey has secured itself as one of my favorite games of the year.

3. Divinity: Original Sin 2

I should start by saying that I haven’t finished Divinity: Original Sin 2. In all actuality, I’m not even close. Usually an eighty hour role-playing game would be off-putting, as my schedule normally doesn’t allow for long play sessions. However, Divinity’s writing is clever and its world is memorable, so I haven’t really had an issue keeping up with the narrative.

I believe the game actually outpaces most other 2017 releases due to the fact that I’ve been able to fully experience its dense story with friends by my side. By having a party comprised of other human-controlled characters, every decision possesses a weightiness to it that’s not present in many other games. Similarly to older tabletop RPG’s, sometimes the party makes a choice I don’t agree with, and often the subsequent consequences aren’t necessarily fair.

However, it’s been the game’s wealth of interactive systems that have really pushed the experience over the edge for me. Similarly to this year’s Zelda title, Divinity does its best to always say “yes” to its players. The result is a near perfect melding of serious decision making and hilarious antics. Go ahead and name another game that’ll let me disguise myself as a bush, steal a bunch of meat from some lady’s hut, subsequently kill her innocent child, and then deflect all of the aggro onto another party member while I move on to loot a group of teleporting crocodiles. I’LL WAIT.

In all seriousness, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is one of my favorite multiplayer experiences of the past decade; and it’s a major step forward for both singular and cooperative storytelling. I can’t wait to dive in even deeper over the course of the next few years.

2. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

What can I say about PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds that hasn’t been said a hundred times already? It’s a competitive experience unlike many of us have ever participated in, and it’s been heralded as such. Even with all of its technical flaws and frustrations – which I understand is a major hindrance for some – PUBG’s gameplay formula resulted in literally hundreds of hours of absolute fun.

Borrowing from one of my previous video essays, “Battlegrounds is a game of luck and happenstance, one by which players surrender control upon entering. It’s a lottery, which doesn’t deal in absolutes, and it’s the gambling of one’s most precious asset: time. What do you fear the most? What haunts you? For many of us, it’s the unknown – which is exactly where PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds plants itself. From the onset, the coincidental nature of PUBG breeds fear into new players; and while seasoned competitors eventually adopt a more aggressive play-style, the inherent trepidation associated with the game never truly dissipates.”

As a longtime competitive multiplayer fan, the game’s one versus ninety-nine Battle Royale structure was incredibly addicting. It was my “one more match” game this year, as it so perfectly fulfilled my desire to compete and win. Also, I’m pretty sure my peers are sick of me, as I’ve followed-up every podcast appointment with an invitation to play Battlegrounds.

I could get into why PUBG’s minute design decisions elevate it above its Battle Royale competition, but that’s a conversation for another time (perhaps next week’s Game of the Year podcasts). For now, I’ll just say that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was responsible for the most fun that I’ve had with a video game this year; and it connected me with friends in a way that I really needed in order to get through some of this year’s tougher circumstances. Top Ten Games of 2017

1. Zelda: Breath of the Wild

There’s always been a part of me that wanted to be a Zelda fan. Despite owning a Nintendo 64 at my Mom’s house as a kid, I was never able to sink a significant amount of time into Ocarina of Time like my friends did. If I’m being honest, we just didn’t have the money to purchase video games; instead, Mom would do her best to gather a few bucks throughout the week to afford us a game rental for the weekend. Sometimes it was Super Smash Bros., but most of the time it was Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve watched Link awaken to Navi’s voice in Kokiri Forest. For the longest time, my experience with the Zelda series was one of frustration; and perhaps that’s why I’ve latched onto Breath of the Wild in such an unrelenting manner.

In a word, this year’s installment of the Zelda series has been freeing; as Breath of the Wild grants its users total agency over their journey through Hyrule. From the onset, players can leave the Great Plateau to directly confront Ganon, hunt down the titanic war machines known as Divine Beasts, or find a wild horse, tame it, and ride along the Eastern Shore like I did. The game successfully predicted and satisfied my explorative desires nigh constantly; and as a player, I felt the freedom to do anything.

It’s kind of ironic, though, as Zelda: Breath of the Wild is actually an experience defined by restraint – a word I think I’ve personally failed to mention in all of my previous discussions of the game. The game’s play space is characterized by limitations, which the player is informed of within the first hour of the game; and it’s the consistency of Breath of the Wild’s systems and mechanics that actually breeds creativity, in my opinion. As a player, I understand how weather behaves in the world. I’m aware of the temporary nature of weapons and stamina bar. Furthermore, I know the in and outs of my avatar’s toolset and am able to interact with the environment in creative and meaningful ways.

My time spent roaming Hyrule wasn’t segmented by linear content or narrative, rather it was hindered only by personal skill or wit. By coupling Breath of the Wild’s free-flowing exploration with challenging combat, gorgeous art direction, and a spacious soundtrack, Nintendo has yielded one of the most memorable video game experiences of my life. I now count myself as a Zelda fan, and it feels damn satisfying to say so.

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