Chuck’s Top 10 Games of 2017

Yes, this article is late. Very late.
And yes, this site hasn’t been updated in quite some time.
But that simply makes this all the more special, right?

As is always the case it seems, when I write up my “Favorite Games of the Year” article, I sit here now thinking back on just how rough the previous year turned out to be. Inevitably I type out a few paragraphs on how I am surprised I made it through the rough patches and hope that the next year will be better. Reading up on my past “Best Of’s” this same thing happened every single year. So enough with that crap! I’m not going to bore you with my struggles and instead I’m just going to get to the meat of the piece: the games.

2017 was, overall, a pretty great year for gaming. The Nintendo Switch released and seemingly took the world by storm, dominating both the conversation and the sales charts. Capcom began to bounce back with the exciting Resident Evil 7 and single handedly provided consumers a reason to own a PlayStation VR and Microsoft launched their “True 4K” machine, the Xbox One X. But while plenty of excellent titles were released throughout the year, my life, coupled with my skills of becoming bored rather easily and managing time terribly, all added up to me touching many games but not quite beating or even making it far in most of them.

So while I enjoyed and admired many games in 2017, there were only a select few that I poured my heart and soul into. You’ll discover those gems at the bottom of this list, while the top consists mostly of games I liked but wish I had gotten to spend more time with.

“Chuck’s Top 10 Games of 2017”
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10.) Everybody’s Golf

Publisher Sony and developer Clap Hanz longstanding franchise, originally known in the States as Hot Shots Golf, finally returned to consoles in 2017 after being banished to Sony’s floundering handhelds for nearly a decade. And while it doesn’t quite deliver on the potential initially promised in the games teaser trailers, it still delivered a fun and light day on the greens.

With a fantastic character creator and a steady stream of new cosmetics and upgrades being provided by your endless queue of competitors, Everybodys Golf is consistently dangling a sweet, sweet carrot just inches from your reach that will keep you coming back time and time again. But while the gameplay is fast, precise and polished to a nice shine, the overall lack of beefy content will make you question why the game was in development for so long.

Sure, the creativity on offer here from the boundless customization is great, but the severe lack of courses and modes marred an otherwise stellar package. Its bad enough that the number of courses is on the short side, but the speed in which you unlock them makes the grind far worse than it has any right to be. Players may not see the games third course until nearly fifteen hours of playtime has passed. For a game that is meant to be breezy fun, the grind is real and may just be too much of a slog for some.

That said, Everybody’s Golf is still ranked #10 for a reason and that is that the game is always there for me to come back to when I’m just not quite in the mood for a competitive shooter or a heavy role-playing game. The lighthearted tone and the enjoyable (but bare-bones) online features coupled with that always dangling carrot keeps the love alive, even if I wish the game would receive a nice large content update that would turn it into the game I wish it was.

9.) Splatoon 2

Ah, Splatoon 2. A game that brings me childish joy one minute and then rage inducing outbursts the next. Like most decisions that Nintendo makes, it is a product riddled with brilliance and face slapping stupidity all at once. Yet it is one that somehow still manages to be endearing even as you speak aloud, “Why? Why do things this way? Who thought this was a good idea?” But even as you bemoan the lack of in-game voice chat, the inability to easily invite a friend into a match or that still infuriating two stage limit, the games novelty and energetic appeal is still luckily intact from the original.

Sure, the game may feel like more of the same, but it wasn’t that long ago when Splatoon first splashed onto the scene and showed other developers that competitive online shooters didn’t have to be violent military sims or futuristic dystopian hellscapes. They could actually instead be fun little romps where weird squid kids fling paint at one another and do their best to “stay fresh” in all the latest fashions as they do so.

But while the single-player campaign and the online multiplayer do little to tread far from the original, the new Horde Mode stylings of Salmon Run is a great addition to the games feature set. Salmon Run is a cooperative mode where teams of four will do battle against undersea creatures that are now flopping onto land to take back their eggs. Featuring waves of enemies and random bosses, the mode doesn’t stray too far from other interpretations of Horde Modes, but of course it does have some of that Splatoon flair, such as ground trails you must watch out for and each player having a random distinct set of weapons. Oh and also the dumb decision to make the option only available at certain times on certain days…again, that Nintendo technique of one step forward but two steps back…

Splatoon 2 offers gamers a lot of lighthearted charm in a genre that is too often at the mercy of dour and bloody options. Nintendo found a diamond in the rough with the original Splatoon, a game that showed promise but lacked content and variety at launch, and chose to simply shine it brighter with this safe, but more feature complete, sequel.

Now remember, Don’t get cooked… Stay off the hook!

8.) The Evil Within 2

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Tango Gameworks first foray into survival horror, as I felt the ideas were interesting but the execution left much to be desired. Poor presentation coupled with inconsistent difficulty spikes and an illogical story pushed me away from the original Evil Within. It is quite the surprise then that its sequel has somehow found its way into my Top 10. At the top of this article I was stating that this list features several games I wish I had been able to play more of and The Evil Within 2 is the pinnacle of that regret. This game is incredibly intriguing and its style and creepy open-world atmosphere, where you are encouraged to explore and discover nightmare horrors at your own pace, was a breath of fresh air in todays limited horror space.

The Evil Within 2, with its extra polish and more straightforward story, reminded me of some of my favorite horror games of all time: Dead Space and Silent Hill 2. Balancing your curiosity with the desire to survive makes for intense choices as your mind runs rampant with what great treasures may be hiding just behind the next door. Or what terrifying creature may be there instead. The use of camera work is impressive as well, as the environment itself can be ever-changing as one room folds within itself or you are teleported to an upside-down market street

For fans of Resident Evil 4 or the previously mentioned sci-fi horror classic, Dead Space, you owe it to yourself to grab one of 2017’s most underrated and criminally overlooked games. I am very excited to dive back in and finish this story, now with a newly added first-person mode.

7.) Super Mario Odyssey

This one hurts. If I had given Odyssey more of my time, it would probably be lower on this list, as the game is beautiful and creative and Mario is a personal favorite of mine. But my OCD nature, of having to collect everything that I can before moving onto the next world, delayed the games later stages and also eventually stalled me enough to put it down and pick up another game, and then another, until Odyssey just fell by the wayside where it still lays waiting for me to come back to it.

Super Mario Odyssey certainly has its charms and creativity and simply bursts at the seams with joyous wonder, however, after putting it down, it has just been a game that I’ve found hard to go back to. The pull hasn’t been there. Maybe it was the controls, as I still find the sticks on the Switch’s Joycons to be lackluster. Or perhaps it was the aspect of having a Moon behind or under nearly everything in the game, making the tasks less rewarding but more frequent.

Or perhaps it just simply hasn’t been the right time for me and Mario to hang out and collect Moons together. But I hope that sometime in the near future it will be and I’ll find the rest of the journey to be a magical one that I will treasure for a very long time. After all, the game IS still Mario and it is still a very good romp and stomp.

6.) South Park: The Fractured but Whole

Much like its surprising 2014 predecessor, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Ubisoft’s South Park: The Fractured but Whole suffered numerous delays and behind the scenes struggles. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker continued fiddling with the script as late in the process as they could, attempting to get as much mileage out of the games subject matter and characters as they possibly could. Luckily for South Park fans, The Fractured but Whole manages to also stick the landing much like that troubled 2014 production.

The Fractured but Whole may not be the gleeful tribute to South Park’s legacy that The Stick of Truth was, but it manages to be a more cohesive and better designed game because of that. Hallmarks throughout the shows past are not as glaringly thrown into the main plot this time around, and as such the narrative feels more focused and well paced. Sure, the game is obviously going to have callouts and constant winks and nods to past jokes and themes but you wont find yourself aboard an alien spaceship and then down in the catacombs to run into crab people before being whisked away to confront the underpants gnomes. All for seemingly no real reason other than to simply have them all show up in the game. This time around the main plot thread revolves around the neighborhood kids all getting together to get their superhero dreams made. Cartman WILL get his Coon film and Netflix series into production even if it kills everyone around him!

But while I felt the overall story was leaner this time around, it is the gameplay of The Fractured but Whole that truly elevates this sequel over its predecessor. Where The Stick of Truth was far too simple for its own good, barely requiring its players to think, The Fractured but Whole’s turn based strategy combat is far more engaging and fun. The combat grid opens up the games strategy tremendously and the ability to swap in and out your teammates allows the player to experiment and change up the games flavor when things become stale. Placement on the combat field is key and launching opponents into one another or into your squads attacks is a consistently rewarding strategy. Boss fights too mix things up and keep things fresh as each requires a new strategy or introduces a new wrinkle into play.

This sophomore effort from the teams at Ubisoft San Francisco and South Park Digital Studios manages to exceed its predecessor in almost every way and while certain areas could still use refinement, such as the simple puzzles and world traversal, I cant imagine much more the developers can do with the South Park brand than what they have achieved already. This series manages to capture the spirit, look, and the heart of its source material incredibly well and fans of South Park should be ecstatic they managed to finally get two great games that feature Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny and the rest of the this quiet little mountain town’s residents.

5.) What Remains of Edith Finch

See the source imageDo you like your games to be nonstop action? Do strong independent characters who have their shit together and always find a way to win in the end excite you? Do you prefer stories that end on a high note and allow you to feel hopeful as you look towards the future? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then stay the hell away from What Remains of Edith Finch. As for the rest of you, please enjoy this melancholy tale of loss and inevitability.

What the team at Giant Sparrow have created here is difficult to describe and one I don’t wish to spoil. Sure, its foundation is similar to what Fullbright accomplished with Gone Home, but its the story and execution that will separate Edith Finch from the rest of the story focused adventure games that it stands beside. At times the game is a fanciful adventure that makes you believe that anything is truly possible, but then you open the next door and you are kicked in the gut with the sobering reality that the world is a vicious place. One where dreams go to die. What Remains of Edith Finch is an intentional hodgepodge of conflicting ideas and beliefs and one where rules are meant to be both broken and followed. Much like the family at the center of the story, Edith Finch is a wild and varied experience and while one section may leave you frustrated, the next will let you in on a journey that you wont soon forget.

Not all of the stories found within Edith Finch work, but the ones that do work exceedingly well. And unlike most games these days, developer Giant Sparrow manages to close out their tale with the most compelling and heartbreaking of stories that you will surely be thinking about days later.

4.) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

This is what sequels should strive to be. This is Nintendo not only breaking out of their comfort zone but smashing through the barriers that have held back open-world game design for years. This is a vision and an end product that shows the kinds of magic and wonder that the gaming medium can provide. This is imagination and fearlessness colliding to create what can arguably be one of the greatest games of all time.
This is Nintendo back on top.

While many games these days feature vast open landscapes in which players can run, jump and climb, few make the most of that space in the way Breath of the Wild does. Few capture the wonder of being a stranger in a strange land like Nintendo’s latest. Few games have made me smile and truly wonder what could possibly lay just beyond the next hill. What will I find when I climb atop that tower or make my way inside that next cave? The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the one game where I never wished to leave a stone unturned.

The latest iteration of Hyrule is absolutely massive and its design intricate. There are secrets to discover and mysteries to solve everywhere you go, and while the rewards may not always be special, the memories of obtaining them will be. The new tools available to Link open up a sandbox of discovery and problem solving rarely seen in gaming, and it is through this never-ending experimentation where the game truly shines. But do not worry if you are not the most imaginative of players, as there will still be plenty on offer here that will leave you with your own smiles and moments of pure bliss. This is the return to form that Zelda fans everywhere were hoping for and this is now the game to beat for every other studio out there.

3.) Life is Strange: Before the Storm

In 2015 the original Life is Strange made it into my Top 10 Games of the Year list at #3 and in that article I stated “Life is Strange is one of those games that I will remember forever.” So, yeah…the prequel, Before the Storm, had a lot to live up to and prove. Amazingly it vouches for its existence incredibly well and is in many ways superior to the original. And hey, it made it to #3 as well!

This time around developer Dontnod were too busy working on their upcoming title, Vampyr, to work on this entry and so studio Deck Nine took the reigns to develop this prequel. Focusing on the rebellious young Chloe Price, Before the Storm lets us in on the events leading up to the originals story, filling in blanks both big and small. Before the Storm doesn’t have the sense of urgency or the overall mystery that the original game had, as there is no end of the world scenario at play here or missing student to find. But what Before the Storm does bring us is the ability to hone in on what makes Chloe tick and the kinds of pain and confusion that kids can endure.

The original Life is Strange showcased these themes as well, with online bullying and estranged friendships, but where Before the Storm excels is in its deliberate pacing. Players are allowed to ruminate a lot more here and become intimately familiar with Chloe’s pain and rage. At her loss and her fear. At her feelings of betrayal and helplessness. These are all emotions we as a people are already familiar with and seeing them shown off so well, if sometimes a bit clunky, is still a surprising thing to witness in gaming.

Chloe has every reason to be a rebellious and dumb youth and watching as she tries to cope with who she is, or with whom she may belong, is a riveting experience, made truly tragic as we know where her story will inevitably lead her in the original. And much like that original game this one has problems. The writing and delivery can be stilted at times and the puzzle solving simplistic, but it is the characters and their situations that will stick with you long after the credits roll. While I wish we could have been provided more time with Rachel Amber and watched as this relationship truly blossomed, I am simply glad to have been provided more time with these characters in this truly memorable and heartfelt tragic tale.

Much like the original, I will remember Before the Storm for the rest of my days and you owe it to yourself to play these two incredible games if you haven’t already.

2.) Cuphead

Related imageAlthough it was only briefly glimpsed at Microsoft’s Xbox E3 conference back in 2014, Cuphead instantly had heads turning as its aesthetic was unlike anything else seen in gaming. Gamers everywhere were instantly asking about this obscure indie title that managed to not only stand out amongst larger “AAA” games on Microsoft’s stage, but also managed to stand above them in the gaming landscape. Studio MDHR was now on peoples radar and founders Chad and Jared Moldenhauer also instantly found themselves under pressure as anticipation began to mount for their studios first game.

I was one of those gamers that were incredibly excited for Cuphead from the moment it was first shown. As someone that is extremely fond of the artistic talents of the 1930’s and 40’s, Cuphead was simply stunning to me. The cartoons of that time period are unlike anything today, telling story with movement and using techniques and highlighting details that simply go unused and ignored in todays animation. That era is known as the Golden Age of Animation for a reason and Cupheads artists and animators tap into that time and style brilliantly.

But visuals can only carry a game so far. Cuphead may look remarkable but if it didn’t play well then it would all be for naught. It would be (yet another) Xbox exclusive that simply didn’t live up to the hype. Thankfully, this just isn’t the case with this one. Cuphead plays perfectly. The controls are responsive and the battles memorable. When you die, and you will die a lot, you know the reason why and its almost always your mistake. You mistimed a jump or simply misjudged the enemies next attack and you paid the price for it. From its striking visuals to its tight controls and terrific soundtrack, Cuphead is the action platformer I had been waiting years for.

In 2017 Studio MDHR managed to not only finish their first game, which itself is a great accomplishment, but they also managed to make one of the Xbox One’s best titles! Cuphead deserves to be in all Xbox fans libraries and stands tall as one of the best action platformers of all time. Cuphead and his brother Mugman can now stand side by side with Mario and Luigi and that’s one damn fine achievement.

1.) For Honor

Yeah…unless you follow me on Twitter there was no possible way you could have seen this one coming.

In a year that featured AAA games such as Zelda, Mario, Assassins Creed, Persona 5 and Horizon: Zero Dawn, Ubisoft’s For Honor managed to behead the competition and stand tall as my favorite game of 2017.

When it comes to the larger studios, such as Electronic Arts, Activision and Ubisoft, original ideas are hard to come by. Risks even more so. If its not a shooter then it is a sequel to an already proven formula of success. With For Honor Ubisoft not only took a chance on a new form of competitive online multiplayer, but they took a chance that gamers are growing bored with the guns and grenades and instead want to swap them out for swords and catapults. For Honor is a game that should never have been made, but not because its a bad game, but because it goes against everything that AAA studios do.

It also takes these risks and manages to make it all work. And it does so incredibly well. Ignore the gamer outrage over microtransactions (they are overblown) and the screams that the game is broken (again, simply not true) and instead try the game for yourself and take part in one of the more unique games available on consoles today. For Honor is a game that has the feature set, the visuals and the gameplay that, if released in previous generations, would have garnered it critical acclaim and recognition. As it stands, overlooking For Honor is one of the most egregious errors gamers made last year.

With a sizable single player campaign (that can be played in co-op) that teaches you the ins and outs of the games unique combat system, characters that are entirely unique in their playstyles and move sets, and a robust competitive multiplayer suite; For Honor offers up a sizable package that has kept me coming back to the front lines to this day.

The visuals are great and the three factions: Knight, Viking & Samurai, offer up unique aesthetics and strategies that keep things fresh. The combatants within those factions are varied and range in difficulty from simple to technical and there is sure to be a few that you love and several you absolutely hate.

For Honor, although featuring sprawling maps and enemy AI to take out, is a surprisingly deep competitive fighter that has more in common with Street Fighter than Dynasty Warriors. This is a game that encourages the player to find the character they gel best with and learn their techniques and combos until they have mastered them. And with 18 characters to choose from – each with numerous armor and weapon sets to unlock and executions to use – you can easily play for hundreds of hours and still find new ways to mix things up and keep things fresh.

Ubisoft took a big gamble with For Honor and while it didn’t pay off to quite the level that I believe it deserves, the company has doubled down on continued support for the game. For Honor featured numerous updates throughout 2017 which included new characters, new maps and new modes, all for free, and each update kept me happily coming back and seeing new players. I am also quite thrilled that 2018 has already brought with it Dedicated Servers to make things far more stable and healthy and in the near future the game will also be receiving a brand new Arena Mode and Tutorial system, to better help new players learn the games intricacies.

To put it simply, I loved playing For Honor in 2017 and I am excited to continue to play it throughout 2018, as it continues to grow and evolve. Thank you Ubisoft on taking a chance on a technical melee fighter in todays vitriolic and risk-averse gaming landscape. Now please excuse me, for I have to get back to dealing with this horrific Viking menace that keeps winning the Faction War.

Image result for For Honor Screenshot

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Chuck is the editor-in-chief and lead writer for CounterAttack Games and a co-host on the podcast CA! Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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