Tag Archives: Xbox One

Best of 2017

It’s been a while since I played enough games to populate a top ten, so let’s follow last year and stick with the top three.

2017 was arguably the best year for games in a while, with a number of early contenders that would likely have made the list, had I played them. Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey have ensured me a good time whenever I buy a Switch, getting me more excited about Nintendo games than I’ve been since the N64. Surprise critical successes like Nioh and Nier Automata intrigued. Resident Evil VII proved the series’ versatility with another complete overhaul that went over well. Games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Assassin’s Creed Origins confounded my expectations by doing the over-designed open-world thing well. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is also likely to grab me just as firmly as its predecessor.

The above would almost be enough to populate an impressive top ten on their own, but alas, I didn’t play them. Oh well.

There are, though, a couple of honourable mentions for games that I did play but didn’t make the top three. First is the 3DS Dragon Quest VIII remake, which did a good job of transferring a rather immense PS2 game to the handheld with surprisingly few compromises, and saw me through a couple of long flights. Then there’s Monument Valley 2, an excellent sequel to one of my favourite phone-based Escher-like mind-benders. Both are firm recommendations for anyone with time to kill and a handheld gaming system on their person.

3) Sonic Mania

A remarkable revival for a series that I don’t think has been worth writing about since the Dreamcast, and arguably not truly great since Sonic 3. Sonic Mania reminds me of something like Shovel Knight, in that it echoes a familiar classic gaming staple without being completely beholden to it – it’s how you remember the Mega Drive games looking, even if it’s technically far beyond what that hardware was capable of. I had a wonderful time playing it, feeling transported back to those early 90s stolen moments on my brother’s Mega Drive.

It’s easy to make fun of Sonic’s true believers, but maybe, after seeing how completely Christian Whitehead blew away expectations, the fans were right all along.

And maybe, if Sega had done something like this on the Saturn, things would be different now…

2) Metroid: Samus Returns

I’m slightly baffled by the fact that, after such a long, notable absence for Metroid in the N64 era – there were eight years between Super Metroid and Metroid Prime – it’s now been even longer since the last proper one. How many best game ever contenders does Samus have to star in to guarantee herself a regular appearance outside Smash Bros?

An enhanced remake of the second game, coming a mere 13 years after the enhanced remake of the first game (the pattern continues!) will have to do. MercurySteam – a strange choice of developer for this one, it must be said – put out a beautiful game, with understated stereoscopic effects adding much-needed visual flair to the most neglected game in the series, left to languish for too long in monochrome. While I’ll admit that the melee counterattack system hurts the pacing, discouraging fast traversal and otherwise turning many enemies into annoying bullet sponges, that Metroid magic was there, reminding me why Super Metroid remains my favourite game ever made.

I’d dearly love an entirely new instalment in this style, but if that’s not on the cards, the obvious next step is a similar remake of Super Metroid, which would make me fucking ecstatic. See you in 2030, then!

1) Persona 5

It was a safe bet to make the list after the last two games clicked so solidly with me, and here it is. I loved this game. The slick presentation and the music deserve mention, of course. The juxtaposition of carefree leisure time with really quite dark undercurrents was brave and amused me, too. But my most heartfelt praise goes to Atlus for demoting the random dungeon-crawling to a side quest in favour of properly designed, non-random dungeons, fixing my single biggest criticism of Personas 3 and 4.

Part of me misses the small town Japan feeling of Persona 4, which itself evoked the small town Japan feeling of Shenmue, but at the same time, this game’s setting in the middle of Tokyo has earned it a special place in my heart. My time with it bookended last year’s trip to Japan, meaning I visited many of the places I’d been spending time at in the game, lending a special weight of nostalgia to the memories of Persona 5. As the J-pop beats of Ouendan defined my holiday in 2005, then, so this will do for one of the best times of my life.

Best of 2016

Better late than never!

I found last year about as good for games as it was reasonable political discourse and beloved celebrities. Hell, my annual top tens, shortened to top fives in recent years, now find themselves shortened to a three-game single-post list – and still there weren’t many notable leftovers. These were basically the only ones that gave me the butterflies that a true GOTY contender should bring.

I enjoyed Fire Emblem Fates but disliked its split across three games; the long-awaited The Last Guardian came close but fell short due to technical issues that were somehow worse than its 2005 predecessor, Shadow of the Colossus, making it my least favourite of the series; Pokémon Go was among my most-played games but I don’t think there’s enough actual game there for me to put it up there with these three; Battlefield 1 was reliably fun and surprisingly polished for a DICE game at launch, but couldn’t hold my interest for long. I liked Project X Zone 2 as well, but I can’t ignore the fact that its main hook for me was the presence of Ryo Hazuki.

With most of my gaming time spent on retro these days, I had worried that my declining interest might have been terminal. But my document listing potential GOTY nominees for 2017 is already longer than the below, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is coming, so maybe it was just a crap year.

3) Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

The most technically impressive reason to own a PS3 continues the pattern on the PS4. Uncharted 4 is stunningly beautiful, as I’m sure you’re aware – probably the closest we’ve come to a playable CG movie, so polished in its performances, cinematics and attention to detail that it makes everything else look amateurish. Frankly the visuals would have been enough to drag me through it, but it’s one of the strongest adventures in the series, and deserves credit for being the only mainline Uncharted game not to shit the bed with annoying supernatural enemies in the final act.

That said, I’ll be disappointed if we get Uncharted 5. ND’s done well to wring another top release out of this series and I’d like to see it turn those remarkable skills to something new.

2) The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine

Yes, one third of my already-truncated list is an expansion. I said it was a bad year.

Blood and Wine, though, is the first expansion in a long time – maybe since the GTA IV episodes – that’s an actual expansion. Not a handful of missions wrapped up in poor-value DLC. It’s new environments – on a similar scale to the already vast original and arguably the most beautiful locale yet – hosting a new scenario, new gameplay styles, new characters, an almost entirely new story.

It’s also probably the best part of the game. It was fun to take part in a smaller adventure, where you’re not fighting for the fate of the universe, that doesn’t use narrowing the focus as an excuse to skimp on the production values.

CD Projekt Red has fast become one of my favourite developers; one that – like Naughty Dog above – commands my full attention simply by announcing a new game. Only this is done without the financial and technical powers of a first-party publisher behind it. Is it simply lower costs of doing business in Eastern Europe, or an unexpectedly vast bounty coming from the admittedly brilliant Good Old Games? Who cares as long as Cyberpunk 2077 can come close to this?

1) Doom

I could probably have guessed at the beginning of 2016 that new releases from Naughty Dog and CD Projekt would be there or thereabouts when I was compiling my favourites of the year, but a new Doom? No way. I don’t think id’s games have been hugely relevant since Doom 3 got overshadowed by Half-Life 2, and the multiplayer and E3 demos didn’t instil confidence.

What I got, though, was a shockingly fun old-school shooter that revelled in its status as a game, and a Doom game at that. It has the visual design of the classroom doodles of a 14-year-old angsty teenager – but that’s a good thing. It’s about speed, responsiveness and blasting demons without only token gestures towards providing depth and a storyline for motivation – but that’s a good thing too. The soundtrack is awesome, no caveats required. The whole thing pressed the buttons I’ve been trying to touch with a recent retro fixation, reminding me why I grew up loving games above any other medium.

It’s brilliant, pure and simple. The excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order – based on an id property but not developed by the studio – reminded us to pay attention, but it was only the herald for the true return of id Software.

Returning to the Resident Evil remake

I know I’ve complained about the preponderance of recent remasters, which makes my current enthusiasm for this, the 2015 remaster of the 2002 remake of 1996’s Resident Evil, as well as the long-awaited Majora’s Mask 3D, seem odd. I’ll defend my position, though, since neither of those games has been seen on shelves in more than a decade and at least two console generations – they’re retro, in other words. I’ll be less enthusiastic about a 1080p remaster of Resident Evil 6, should that arrive, believe me.

Resident Evil HD: The mansion lobby

This is a game that I always respected and wanted to like, but timid little 2002-vintage me never made it much beyond the appearance of Crimson Heads. A couple of hours, in other words. A humiliating admission for such an ardent horror fan, but sadly not an isolated one in my gaming back catalogue, which is a who’s who of abandoned horror classics. But while the years might have blunted the absolute dread I felt when playing this to the point where it didn’t really give me The Fear at all, like when I played through the original Silent Hill, though, time has left the solid mechanics alone. It’s a phenomenally well-designed game.

But where Silent Hill, being (a) a PS1 game and (b) doing in real-time what Resident Evil resorted to pre-rendered backdrops to accomplish, looks really rough now, the Resident Evil remake (REmake hereafter) still looks incredible. It’s genuinely one of the most beautiful games ever made, even on a GameCube, and quick polish for a new generation of systems has only enhanced it. Some FMV and dark backgrounds that can look somewhat over-compressed aside, the game looks almost flawless. A handful of rooms are apparently now rendered in real-time, and it’s absolutely seamless – meaning we had a game on the GC that could stand up alongside games from two generations on. Amazing.

Resident Evil HD: Jill Valentine

I’m continually blown away by the details in the visual and story design of this game. The Spencer Mansion, ridiculous as its gems, metal objects and death masks may be, is an iconic location, brimming with memorable rooms and scares. Lisa Trevor and her family add a harrowing subplot that’s significantly more disturbing than any number of exploding heads. It has fun in playing with your expectations, so that you can imagine the designers smiling as famous moments like the dogs through the window are subverted, or when the aforementioned Crimson Heads turn cleared rooms into dangerous ammo sinks. The voice acting still has B-movie charm without being impossible to take seriously like the original, while those touching up the script and removing some of the more egregious howlers had the good sense to leave alone some of the best writing.

As much as I love RE2 and 4, REmake is my favourite in the series. It’s pure survival horror, which, brilliant as it is, Resident Evil 4 isn’t. It’s also tight, creepy and self-contained, which the bigger and crazier RE2 isn’t. It’s also a lesson for newer games in how to do a lot without a huge abundance of content, supporting two stories, multiple endings and a series of enjoyable unlocks in a game that can comfortably be finished in five hours.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

I’ve written before about how much I miss the B-tier of gaming, that time when there was something between a $100 million “AAA” release – the shifting definition of that term is another post in itself – and a quirky indie game from two blokes in a garage. Every so often you get something that channels the spirit of that time, showing that polish, cool ideas and a budget aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this, which had sat on my pile of shame for a couple of months, is put together in that vein.

I mean it as a sincere compliment when I say that The New Order feels straight out of 2003. It belongs to that glut of post-Half-Life 2 narrative-driven shooters that were ten-a-penny on the original Xbox and actually represented, in retrospect, a reliably good subgenre for one that was rinsed so thoroughly. As well as Valve’s classic, the DNA of games like The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (there’s a Starbreeze connection), Breakdown, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, Doom 3 and so on is on show here. Even if I limit the discussion to games about leading a resistance against a technologically advanced and oppressive regime, I could equally be talking about The New Order, Half-Life 2 or the much-missed Freedom Fighters.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

This retro feel is carried through to the pleasantly old-school design: secrets, collectables, non-regenerating health, an arsenal of weapons to carry around without regard for encumbrance systems, and giant enemies with exploitable weak points abound. Even the prominence given to dual-wielding feels pleasantly of that era, after Halo 2 made it a banner feature but before dour, grounded militarism became the genre’s creed.

The New Order isn’t thrown together without thought, though, which is perhaps surprising for a series with such straightforward roots. Almost as surprising as the lack of multiplayer in a game whose deathmatches once hooked me so strongly. The design of posters, signage, architecture and even the pop music heard in the background has been built to present a believable vision of the 60s in a world where the Nazis won the war and propaganda infuses all aspects of culture. I read several excellent articles about the music around the game’s release, among them VentureBeat’s, and was blown away at how much effort went into an area that is so easily overlooked.

Visiting Nazi London in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Wolfenstein is undoubtedly a game that would have made my abridged best of 2014 list had I plunked down the cash before the Boxing Day sales. I’m tempted to drop a cliché about how it’s not big or clever, but really, it kind of is. The old-fashioned parts are lovingly, knowingly so, and the thought put into its vision of a Nazi-dominated 1960 is up there with the big releases. There’s nothing in The New Order that’s been thrown together arbitrarily.

I’m happy, therefore, to declare that gaming’s B-tier still lives! For one game, at least.

Best of 2014 #3: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of MordorHere’s another late addition, which I admitted to missing out on barely a month ago but have since fallen for in a big way. I wish I could say it wasn’t the Assassin’s Creed ripoff that I called it back when it was unveiled because, gameplay-wise, that’s essentially what it is. But it’s polished nonetheless – that’s something you can’t say about this year’s Assassin’s Creed – and has enough tricks to stand out.

The Nemesis system was the cleverest for me, in that it’s a somewhat procedurally generated system that doesn’t stand out as being so – you might not realise that Goroth Plague-Bringer, against whom you had a long-running feud, was a creation of the game itself. The way it would cause some uruks to run away and others to return from the dead, hell-bent on revenge, allowed the game to create something approaching the personal, unique stories that typify the best open-world sandbox games.

Monolith seems to have a way of coming out of nowhere with impressive games – think the Condemned, F.E.A.R. and No One Lives Forever series – without picking up the following of some of the better-known studios. After this, and following my frequent complaints that so few studios are making games that aren’t safe, ridiculously budgeted annual sequels, I’ll keep an eye on what it does next.

Best of 2014 #5: Threes

ThreesA real surprise, this one, which literally only displaced my original choice for the fifth spot, Monument Valley, in the last few hours, having been a post-Christmas purchase in light of its presence on a couple of other lists.

Even now that puzzle games are my iPhone distractions of choice, most of what I play is a variation on a classic theme – falling blocks, matching blocks, unscrambling letters, or picross. I’m not sold on the format for most long-form experiences but find it undeniably the platform of choice for time-wasting puzzlers. It’s usually to blame when my homeward commute has to be passed without podcasts after I’ve blown through the battery.

Threes is the closest thing in the puzzle realm to being completely new that I’ve touched upon in a while. It’s a bit of a maths game, a bit of a sliding tile puzzle. I know being difficult to explain succinctly isn’t often an indication that a £2 puzzle game is a winning formula, but trust me here. Watch the demo animation on the official site and it should become clear. Games are finished quickly, making it a great time-waster, and the advanced strategies are there for those with a sufficient head for numbers.

My high score is 3,078 at the time of writing, with a mere 750,000 required to get you into the top ten and a credulity-stretching 1.8 million sitting on top. Not bad for a game that starts off tasking you with calculating 1+2.