The year in review: The 10 most daring new video games
|National Post 20 Dec 2017 at 09:18|
The year in gaming has been mired in tumult. Big, billion-dollar triple-A blockbusters arrived to caterwauls of loathing: witness the colossal blunder that was Mass Effect: Andromeda. The season’s most anticipated releases were received with a yawn: Need for Speed, The Evil Within, and Gran Turismo could barely muster lukewarm notices, while the reliable bevy of Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Middle-Earth managed only the mildest perfunctory praise. Even Star Wars Battlefront II, so carefully improved over its predecessor, seemed dead on arrival. All anyone could talk about were its much-maligned in-game surcharges.
Last month marked year four of the eighth console generation — that’s about half the average console lifecycle, gone in the flash of an eye. We’re at the point where stagnation and discontent are to be expected. So it’s no coincidence that the highlights of the year in gaming were the rare glimmers of something unique: of originality and experimentation, of daring and an attempt at something new. It’s amid tumult, after all, that art tends to make its boldest strides. These are some steps in that direction. These are the best video games of 2017.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, Nintendo Switch)
Five interminable years in the making, Nintendo’s long-awaited Breath of the Wild is exactly what the company needed the flagship title of its brand-new Switch to be: staggeringly huge, spellbindingly beautiful, and — most important of all — totally, unapologetically true to its roots. Is there any way to doubt the calibre of Zelda at this point? The series is well-past venerated. It’s legendary.
Sonic Mania (PagodaWest Games, All Consoles)
Some studios have difficult years. Sega has had a difficult quarter-century: from pretty much the moment the Genesis faded into obsolescence, one feels, the Japanese megabrand has languished unsuccessful. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Sega’s most celebrated game since the mid-90s is a lavish tribute to its halcyon days, a celebration of the legacy of Sonic the Hedgehog in gloriously nostalgic 16-bits.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew (Windows, Playstation 4)
Virtual reality has a tendency to sometimes seem like little more than a platform for elaborate tech demonstrations. But beamed into Star Trek: Bridge Crew, sitting in the captain’s chair of a Federation starship, commanding the helmsman to prepare to take you to warp, gazing out from the viewscreen onto a galaxy of space to explore — at such times the technology recedes and the experience prevails as path to awe.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom, Playstation 4/Xbox One)
It’s been a long time since Capcom produced an installment of Resident Evil worth taking seriously — and more than a decade since their last brush with universal acclaim. So it’s a relief to discover that the developer is still capable of brilliance. Biohazard abandons the spectacle and brawn of its immediate predecessors, returning instead to the low-key, small-scale survival horror that made it famous in the first place.
Thumper (Drool, All Consoles)
When Sony presented a selection of discounted horror games for Halloween this October, it included Drool’s Thumper next to jump-scare thrillers like Layers of Fear and Friday the 13th. The gesture was illuminating: this rousing, fast-paced rhythm game may look like just another Amplitude or Guitar Hero, but five seconds in its grim hellscape is enough to fill anyone music lover with bone-deep dread.
Undertale (Toby Fox, Playstation 4)
Though it astonished PC gamers as far back as the fall of 2015, it wasn’t until this year that Toby Fox’s radical Undertale at last arrived on consoles, and the game still feels so novel two years later that it retains the power of the new. Playful, subversive, and endlessly amusing, Undertale is both a top-down 2D RPG and an interactive essay on the same, delighting as its deconstructs the very genre to its core.
Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerilla Games, Playstation 4)
A postapocalyptic third-person action-adventure game in which a teenager battles robots shaped like dinosaurs with a bow and arrow and a spear: hardly the year’s most confidence-inspiring concept, particularly from the developers of Killzone. And yet Guerilla Games pulled it off. Horizon Zero Dawn is among the most dazzling blockbusters in recent memory, and, in a year rife with the usual numbered iterations and sequels, a truly original triple-A reprieve.
Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo, Nintendo Switch)
More than 30 years after the original Super Mario Bros resuscitated the video game industry single-handed from the brink of extinction — and more than 20 after Mario himself narrowly survived the leap to three dimensions with the now classic Super Mario 64 — the stubby, sanguine, sempiternal Italian plumber returns with another (perhaps unlikely) slam dunk. Nintendo still clearly cares about its mascot. More remarkably, so do we.
Superhot VR (Superhot Team, Playstation VR)
When Poland’s enterprising grassroots development upstart Superhot Team pledged to remake its enormously successful time-bending first person shooter for virtual reality, nobody realized quite how thorough the transformation would be. Superhot VR is an entirely original VR experience, built from the ground up as electrifying, full-body action adventure, so immersive and sensational that you can’t get through the tutorial without breaking a serious sweat.
Cuphead (StudioMDHR, Windows/Xbox One)
Chad and Jared Moldenhauer’s rubber-hose cartoon wonder Cuphead is a masterpiece of creative industriousness. That’s certainly what it looks like, with its painstaking hand-drawn animations and sumptuous watercolour backdrops: it looks like the product of an unbelievable amount of work. But more than merely ravishing, it’s complex, elegant, and wildly sophisticated, a run-and-gun marvel that stands out as one of the best games of this or any other year.
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