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2017 Awards (Or Whatever)!

  Happy New Year, friends and followers! For those of you who haven’t really been paying attention, things have been pretty quiet on the blog front as of late. I don’t really have a good excuse for that, other than the world of 2017 having been a constant, terrifying garbage fire. Combined with things like work obligations, playtesting a board game, and moving, my drive to write these weekly little divergences into word salad has taken a bit of a hit. But it is now 2018, and since I have somewhat of a tradition of talking about the things I liked (and didn’t like) the previous year, I’m just gonna do that right now.

The “Writer’s Jealousy” Award

Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods

  Every once in a while, I will encounter a game that is so profoundly well-written that I not only become incredibly smitten with it, I am also ludicrously jealous of the talent that went into crafting the words behind it. This leaves me with little other to do than to etch some of that profoundly sexy writing onto my body in an admittedly weak effort to absorb some of the writer’s power. Our Darker Purpose was one such game. Night in the Woods is another.

Night in the Woods

  There is a lot to love about Night in the Woods, but of key interest is just how much the town of Possum Springs is as much a character as the anthropomorphic animals that populate it. A coal mining town in decline, the conversations that you are privy to do much to create a place with history that feels more alive and lived in than many three-dimensional cityscapes that populate the video game landscape.

Night in the Woods
It is also full of very important life information.

  Also, too, Bea is the best and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.*

Night in the Woods

*No, I won’t.

The music is also pretty goddamn amazing. It may not look like it, but this text is a link to the soundtrack. Get it.

The “Yup, It Sure Is Like Dark Souls, I Guess” Award

Look, I'm not really invested in what's going on, so can I just leave?


   Nioh is a game that shows you pretty much everything going for it early and does very little to evolve beyond that. Because of this, it really ends up overstaying its welcome by only ever really promising a new-ish boss encounter, most of which end up feeling like variants of the stuff you’ve killed before.

  If you are absolutely jonesing for a Soulsborne experience that is technically impressive, then you could do worse. But if you’re looking for innovation or experimentation, you’re better off with the host of indie variants like Salt and Sanctuary, Gloom, Dead Cells, or Shrouded in Sanity.

  Is Nioh bad? No. But it feels largely like a reskin of Bloodborne with overpowered magic (invest in the slow and stamina debuffs) and unbalanced weapons (the kurisagama kusarigama + high stance + quick attack = you’ve won 90% of the game). The one thing it had to differentiate itself, the story, is told in the least interesting way possible with the least interesting protagonist possible—an issue truly highlighted by the cast of side characters, including the Obsidian fucking Samurai who is introduced and killed all in about 3 minutes.

"Hello, I heard you needed the most boring white guy for your adventure game set in Japan."

The “Open World Actually Worth Exploring” Award

Horizon: Zero Dawn
Yeah, I wasn't so much jealous of the writing in this one.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

  A proud torch-bearer in the tradition of having a subtitle which makes sense about thirty hours into the experience and yet is no less doofy sounding for it, Horizon is a technical and storytelling marvel that somehow managed to get me to commit to an open-world game. An original plot that was mostly well-written, characters that were mostly interesting, environments that were beautiful, and a world that felt fleshed out all managed to grip me infinitely more than the more ‘realistic’ environs of your average Grand Theft Auto or Assassin’s Creed knockoff.

  Also, giant robot dinosaurs.

Horizon: Zero Dawn
Some of which glitch out and are recalled to their home planet.

The “Unexpected Horror Experience” Award

"Ignore it and it might go away" is usually bad advice, to be honest.


  An indie game released at the very beginning of 2017, Detention takes place during the White Terror era of Taiwanese history. Incorporating religious elements with this historic backdrop to create its horror narrative, Detention works to tell not just a personal story of love and betrayal, but also sets a disturbing tone that leaves the player in an awkward limbo of never quite knowing whether the thing they’re doing is leading them to safety or further into despair.

  It’s really good, is what I’m saying.

The “Smash Goddamn Nazis” Award

Wolfenstein II
Like so.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

  Ah, yes, 2017, when apparently people forgot that Nazis are bad. What better way to remind them that the U.S. helped annihilate Hitler’s armies than Wolfenstein II, Machine Games’ alternate history shooter with the singular moral of “fuck those Nazi assholes”? This is a game where you recruit members of scattered resistances to drive every last fascist shithead from U.S. soil in between lots of runnin’ and gunnin’.

  Even more impressively, the game’s story also doesn’t shy away from the fact that there was an established white supremacist element in the U.S., and that these people would have welcomed a Nazi invasion as liberators. While the DLC isn’t quite as well-written as the main game (thus far, anyway), there’s lots to dive into with the core campaign that justifies multiple playthroughs.

  Serious question: did anyone play The New Order and save Wyatt on the first go? And if so, why the hell did you do that when Fergus was clearly the more interesting person?

Wolfenstein II
My god! Scaramucci was telling the truth!

The “Stabbing the Physical
Manifestation of Trauma” Award


Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

  I can not really say much about the representation of mental illness presented in Hellblade outside of pointing out that there was, apparently, an earnest effort to portray the lead character’s illness as accurately and sensitively as possible. Here is a piece that goes into detail in that regard, if you are so interested.

  I found Hellblade to be an immensely rewarding, beautiful experience that took the ‘journey into the underworld to save a soul’ thing and make it infinitely more effective than others have done. In many ways, this game out-Silent Hill 2s on the latter’s own turf, creating horrific, personal landscapes that play on the protagonist’s fears. The fights are intense and automatically balance difficulty to make sure that the story itself is the central feature. And most importantly, those fights actually seem to belong to the game rather than stapled on as just another thing to tick off a checklist.

  Although the story is one oft-told before, Senua is such an effectively written protagonist and the Norse hellscape so unfamiliar that it works to keep the player unbalanced as they push forward into the shadows. Even those well-accostumed to horror games should give this a go to remember that effective fear requires more than staccato spikes of music—it requires us to care.

The “Well, That Was Interesting” Award

Doki Doki Literature Club

  To talk too much about this visual novel/dating sim is to give away much of the reason you should play it. And you should! Just try to avoid a lot of the hyperbolic descriptions of the game and its story least you end up a touch disappointed, like I did.

  What you should know:

  + It’s weird

  + It’s clever

  + It can mess with your head

  + It is very much worth the 3 hours it takes to complete

  It’s also free, so why not?

The “It Wasn’t For Me, But Sure, Why Not?” Award


Nier: Automata

  No, it’s not just that no one can pronounce ‘automata’ correctly.

  It’s also not because my roommate and I took to calling the game The Ass Androids.

  I really do love Yoko Taro’s work: Drakengard’s absolutely horrific take on ‘dark fantasy’ is the stuff of nightmares and the original Nier’s slow reveal of the abyss (and the optimism required to face it) are really great. But even at his best, the amount of outside reading required to appreciate the finer elements of Taro’s oeuvre ends up making the ultimate product weaker.

  I don’t really know when this particular game lost me. Perhaps it was when I was grinding out the final achievements by holding down a single button and running through the same area eleventy thousand times. Maybe it was during a climax that recycled previous encounters and didn’t feel particularly climactic. Or maybe it was earlier, when I had completed a bunch of quests for perfectly nice robots only to have my companion immediately start whining about how terrible the robots were.


  There were other issues, to be sure. The core gameplay loop wasn’t enjoyable, and, outside of Pascal, none of the characters were interesting, engaging, or particularly well-written. There’s 2B, the stoic stab-woman, and 9S, the horny know-it-all who hates him some robots. Eventually there’s 2A, who is another stab-woman, but she is angry. Or maybe annoyed. It’s hard to tell.

  And all of this is capped by a credit sequence that is emotionally effective on its own merits, but largely unearned in the context of a discordant narrative that has trouble grappling with the freedom it lends its players.

  I am super excited that Automata meant so much to so many people, because I want there to be more Nier (and, yes, even Drakengard, despite being largely dull). I want this weird, tooth-baby apocalypse to continue stumbling onward. I want there to be more big-budget games that take chances and do weird shit like forcing you to fight through a credit sequence and making connections with other people—not characters, but people. I want people to have that, even if I don’t get it.

  The music is absolutely perfect, if you’re into that.

Also, too, there's boar spinning, which you are definitely into.

The “Amazing Western You Didn’t
Know You Needed” Award

West of Loathing
Screw you, I'm hilarious. Also, it was either that or Bojack.

West of Loathing

  I had not heard about Kingdom of Loathing before this year, and since it involves playing with other people, I will probably never participate in it. However, the single-player game West of Loathing, taking place in KoL’s universe, is pretty goddamn amazing.

  Hardly a moment goes by where there isn’t dialogue or description to make you chuckle. The story is silly and embraces its own absurdity. The RPG mechanics are simple to get a hang of, yet potentially punishing for those not paying attention. The music for a western-themed adventure is spot-on, making you feel like you’re in the boots of a real-live, Stetson-clad cowpoke. And while some of the quests are funnier on paper than in practice (for instance, a ghost town that just loves its bureaucracy), the entire experience is a weird, quirky, loveable joy.

  Merry Crimbo!

The “Every Time This Isn’t on a Game of the Year List, I Am Absurdly Happy” Award

Resident Evil 7
I was very tempted to not link at all, so instead I'll just do this.

Resident Evil 7

  I blame the utter trashfire that was 2017 for making people think this game was better than the derivative dreck it was. When it wasn’t ineptly copying elements from other, better games, it was plagiarizing from the series’ own considerable catalog. Nevertheless, the fact that it was a Resident Evil game that wasn’t the abysmal RE6 somehow managed to trick people into thinking a C-minus shooting experience was the second coming of the survival-horror messiah.

  Also, for fuck’s sake, stop putting Chris Redfield in these things.

EDIT 3/5/2018: I, like a schmuck, misspelled the weapon in Nioh. Chris Redfield and most of Resident Evil is still pretty terrible.

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.


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