The end of the year is finally here. As we all cram in a few more Game of the Year contenders, buy up all the games on sale, and mop up our TA gamer goals before January arrives, it's time to crown some superlatives in the gaming year that was. In a few days we'll invite our community to once again vote on the site's true Game of the Year award among other year-end accolades. With these we wanted to have some fun and create an opportunity to look back at some of the year's most memorable Xbox moments. Like always, we invite you to add more of your own ideas to the list. Look for more end of year content throughout the month!
Consider spoilers present for games mentioned within this story.
Some people may have forgotten, but Resident Evil 7 was a 2017 release. By most accounts it was the first major game of the new year. Early hits often get forgotten come GOTY time, but we can at least call attention to Resident Evil 7 here and now for what it did really well. One of Ethan's earliest foes in Resi 7, Jack Baker, is the patriarch of the twisted family and spends the first few hours of the game stalking you. Even as you take him down with brutal shots to his head, he doesn't stay down for long.
After you run him over a few times in a tense garage scene, he's still somehow not dead. Then you take a chainsaw to him, which seems to really put an end to him. Somehow even that's not his ultimate demise, which comes late in the game. But those first few hours, when the game's language was still being learned and its labyrinthine house was still unfamiliar, my god, what a tense nemesis he was, and what a wild fight that became.
Video games don't often tell strong love stories. Outside of this one, the next best love story on Xbox in 2017 might be Ubisoft's continued burning desire for drones and similar gameplay mechanics. Watching the Batman and Catwoman saga continue from season one of Telltale's superhero story has been the current season's strongest suit. It helps that two of the industry's best and most prolific voice actors, Troy Baker and Laura Bailey, deliver such exciting performances.
Their "will they/won't they" drama, in and out of costumes and with motives constantly being questioned captures the feeling of the comics, cartoons, movies, and games that have so often depicted similar storylines. It's a rite of passage to tell a Bat and Cat love story, and Telltale is making their version of it very fun through a season and a half.
Ubisoft finally took a much needed year off to let their flagship series cook for a while. In that time it seems they delivered on a number of wishes from their fans. Origins offers a massive world with side missions springing up all over the place. Those side missions are multifaceted and often unfold in unpredictable ways and supplement a long and winding main story that takes series veterans to the birthplace of the Assassins. By most people's accounts, Origins is the game they were waiting for, even among those who enjoyed Syndicate. The series was getting tired and many feel their 2017 effort has revitalized the franchise.
Should Ubisoft get back to annualizing the series, or should they consider the added time a crucial element to this new approach? Whatever they decide, Assassin's Creed Origins feels like a fresh start for many longtime fans. If you'd like to join us in our TA Playlist event this month, we're playing Origins as a community through December.
Games can get pretty wacky, but few moments in any point of gaming history can go head to head against a specific scene from The New Colossus. As American hero BJ Blazkowicz is captured by the nazis and facing mortal peril, players are probably left wondering how he'll wiggle out at the last moment and save the day. So it's safe to call it a massive jawdropper when instead Frau Engel hacks at his neck repeatedly until his head falls off as players watch it all in first person. To kill your protagonist a game and a half into a planned trilogy seemed like a bold move from MachineGames — the boldest, perhaps.
This moment is made even more ridiculous when we soon find out that BJ's severed head, disposed of and falling out of sight down a tunnel below his public execution, is intercepted by the resistance, brought back to the lab, and salvaged. It's then put on a new body which is actually in much better condition than BJ's fragile frame. Somehow, Frau Engel, sworn enemy of BJ's, had done him a roundabout favor by chopping his head off. It was absurd, hilarious, dramatic, and unique. All of that is to say, it was modern day Wolfenstein.
I reviewed Battlefront II for TA so I'm quite familiar with it. It's safe to say I actually have a lot of positive things to say about it, many more than lots of people I know. Still, I think even those of us who enjoy the game must feel disappointed because it would be a legitimate Game of the Year contender if it weren't for the pay-to-win tactics EA employed at launch.
They're deactivated for now but will be returning someday. If they still offer substantial bonuses to people who may choose to pay their way to success, the game will be hard pressed to earn back the good graces of anyone who wrote it off. Battlefront II is a fantastic sequel that delivers on several fronts that feel like genuine Star Wars experiences. It's just so disappointing to see it not come together and really seize its moment, instead selling itself out for the lure of an even prettier bottom line.
Best Use of Microtransactions: Path of Exile
This year's biggest talking point in the world of gaming was surely microtransactions, loot boxes, and other post-purchase pricing schemes being employed by studios of all sorts. Did anyone get them right? Kevin argues in favor of this year's popular free to play dungeon crawler.
In a world where just about every full price, AAA title is backed by crippling microtransactions, one free to play title rose above the rest to offer microtransactions that were both fair to those who didn't purchase them and rewarding to those who did. Path of Exile is built on one core tenent: no pay to win. Ever. And the developers have stuck to that mantra for years on PC. Not only is all content available in-game, but there is no gating whatsoever that you might be tempted to pay to skip. Whether you spend $1,000 or nothing, how quickly and how well you progress is based entirely on how much time you can dedicate to the game and your skills. That's the way it should be and Path of Exile will no doubt foster a core community for years to come thanks to its approach toward a very divisive subject.
Need for Speed games have had an unpredictable trajectory over the years. Some games are fantastic. Others aren't so close. Others still are terrible. You never really know what the series is going to bring fans in any given release year. Payback looked to be a pretty cool game. Its Fast and Furious inspirations were apparent, but it looked like it was going to work well. Thenthe story began, and even in a medium where the rate of bad stories can be quite high, Payback's earned special recognition for being so laughably bad that it felt almost unbelievable at times. Here's the first hour or two as I described it to my TA Playlist co-hosts:
Three friends try to rob a bigwig of his car. It results in a cop chase. The person you're stealing from bails you out after the person you're stealing for double crosses you. The story mode for this game is so bad that one might actually feel compelled to see it for themselves but only if your curiosity cannot be contained or if you believe in "so bad, it's good." We're considering doing a bonus episode of the TA Playlist podcast in the future just to unravel the enigma of how this script was ever greenlit.
Then you spend six months working as a valet for the person you stole from as he builds a plan against the person you stole for who double crossed you. But then you decide to stop waiting and beats the double crosser at her own game of rigging races when you fail to take the fall. She confronts you about this in front of a bunch of bystanders who can definitely hear her and otherwise wouldn't have known she was cheating. And the guy whose plan you blew up on a whim after six months is pretty much fine with you acting so impulsively out of nowhere.
In the meantime your friends were either chauffeuring YouTube stars as if that's a job or driving getaway for guys that look like cold blooded killers but she's still a good guy somehow(?), and even though they hadn't spoken to you in the half-year, they drop what they're doing almost immediately when you call to include them in your revenge against someone whom you've already had your revenge.
Best Villain: Marta from Outlast 2
Few games are as dread-inducing as the Outlast series, and among the series' many memorable villains, Marta stands perhaps at the perch — or maybe the steeple is more appropriate. Constantly quoting scripture from her cult's holy book and carrying an intimidating pickaxe, Marta makes several appearances in Outlast 2. Each time feels like you've fallen from a really bad dream into a fully fledged nightmare world.
Her voice, her manner of appearing in places quickly and quietly, and the developers' penchant for putting you in mazelike areas to give her the home field advantage all feel so unwelcoming just the way a great horror should feel. If you played Outlast 2 there's no way you could forget her. If you didn't play it, her involvement may be enough to steer you clear of it for life.
Best Hero: Indie Game Developers
While AAA development was being hit hard by critics and players for their shady business practices, indie studios continued to do what they've been doing for years: delivering special games with fresh ideas and interesting narratives. Games like the introspective sci-fi horror of SOMA, the tragic and magical What Remains of Edith Finch, the charming and colorful Candleman, and the tense-hilarious hybrid that is Friday the 13th: The Game, remind us indies had another great year. Once again they've shown an inflated budget is not mandatory for a fantastic experience in this medium.
There are certain qualities most everyone desires that only a blockbuster game can provide. Similarly, however, some sorts of games or stories would never make it to the video game format if it weren't for the daring storytellers and designers of independent game development. Thanks to indie studios and one person operations the world over for giving us some of our favorite games of 2017. We'll surely be seeing some such games crop up again in our Game of the Year voting when it begins later this month.
With so many other potential superlatives to be awarded, let's hear yours! What did we miss? With what do you disagree? Tell us what left its mark on your gaming year of 2017.