As usual for late December, here’s my take on my favourite games I’ve been playing this year. As always, some games weren’t 2017 releases but ones I’ve only just got around to this year. It’s not been a vintage year for gaming (Mass Effect: Andromeda and Star Wars Battlefront 2 both fell short of the mark for different reasons) but there’s still been some really fun entries. So here’s my top 6 and, as a bonus, my favourite bit of DLC too!
6: Guardians of the Galaxy: A Telltale Series
Telltale games may not be your thing if your main focus is gameplay (or graphics for that matter), but for story and character values they always excel. Having breathed new life into the Borderlands series and told interesting tales in the Batman and Game of Thrones universes, they’ve now turned there hands to the Guardians of the Galaxy series. I’ll forewarn film fans that this isn’t tied to the Marvel Film adaptions – the characters are the same, but aren’t voiced by the same actors nor do they look all that similar. But that isn’t an annoyance, as it allows the game makers to push the characters further than they have been in the film series. As you’d except with the Guardians, the dialogue options are often hilarious, but its the strength of the storyline that will grip you. As well as delving into Quill, Rocket, Gamora and Drax’s backstories, the 5 episode series features run-ins with Thanos, the Nova Corp, The Collector’s agents and newcomer Hela the Accuser, a Kree warrior who serves as the main antagonist. Choices in Telltale games often feel emotionally tied to characters rather than having a major impact on the overall plot, but there’s a few here that have lasting impact on the way the last two episodes play out (including whether Nebula and Mantis join the Guardians). Overall the story and characterisation make this a good entry in the series, if admittedly not a perfect one, as the quick-time events are very mixed in quality (they aren’t particularly difficult, and while the melee combat is good enough the shooting mechanics are terrible). I still enjoyed it enough though for it to scrape into sixth place on my list.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
5: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4 Exclusive). Uncharted 4 may have wrapped up Nathan Drake’s story, but given how much of a success the series has been for Naughty Dog, it seemed inevitable that a spin-off would turn up. So does the series work without its leading man? Er – yeah, of course it does. Chloe Frazer was one of the reasons Uncharted 2 remains the highlight of the series, so having her headline the 1st spin-off was a superb choice, and the less predictable pairing of her and Nadine Ross (i.e. one of the villains from A Thief’s End) works wonderfully. The game isn’t perfect – the first few levels are by-the-numbers and a touch slow, but once you get to the open-world (yes really) area of chapter, the game really starts to come to life. The combat is pretty much the same as Uncharted 4, with the only major addition being the ability to use C4 late game. The treasure/collectable hunting is as good as ever and the game is visually stunning (there’s a reason a screenshot from it is my current screensaver). Unlike previous uncharted games, the action takes place in only one country, India, giving it a different feel to earlier games (there’s a big focus on Indian History, Religion and Mythology – replacing the supernatural elements featured in games 1-3 and the pirate storyline from 4). Asav is a workable but not particular memorable villain, though the boss fight with him is challenging. While I agree with other reviewers that the game can sometimes seem like ‘Uncharted’s Greatest Hits’, for the most part its its own beast, and Chloe and Nadine’s turbulent but ultimately engaging relationship coupled with the stunning setting means its well worth your time (and money).
Rating: 4 out of 5
4: Injustice 2 – DC’s track record of making good video games is still intact even if its film efforts are still falling short. Injustice 2’s improved graphics and combat and its enlarged character roster make it worth the upgrade from Gods Among Us. The story mode is fun, and the multiverse events mean there’s basically hundreds of hours worth of gameplay on offer here – and that’s without factoring in the multiplayer modes. Yes the games currency and loot systems aren’t perfect, but they are far from the confusing, cash-grabbing disaster of some games we could mention (cough *Battlefront II*). It can get a little repetitive after a while, but the wide range of characters with different special moves mean its easy to switch things up a bit. Overall a great 1v1 fighting game that certainly gives you your money’s worth.
Rating: 4 out of 5
3: F1 2017 – The latest F1 sim improves on its impressive predecessor in basically every way. It adds two new practice programmes (Race strategy and fuel saving) ensuring that completing all three practice sessions is actually worthwhile, and completely rejigs the R&D tree, so you can no longer get 80% of the upgrades just from one successful season, which makes numerous seasons with the same team actually worthwhile. The difficulty slider is far less rigid that last year – you can now select any level between 1 and 100, which makes small changes possible and gets rid of the large jumps between difficulty levels that lessened my enjoyment of the 2016 edition. The best addition is the championships mode, which allows you to drive classic F1 cars from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s in a variety of short championships (hot lap championships, reverse grids events, sprint races, endurance races etc.) which is also an easy way to settle into the game and find what difficulty level is best for you. Overall, the game is a refined, polished version of its predecessor, which barring a few minor quibbles (overtaking can be a bit too easy on lower difficulty or with driver aids on, the safety car periods do drag on a bit) has delivered a great sim for any F1 fan. Worth the upgrade from any previous version.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
2: Skyrim Special Edition – While the Special Edition doesn’t add much beyond vastly improved graphics, it fixes a lot of annoyances the original had (loading times have been cut to about 10% of what they were, while game-ending crashes are now far-rarer if still an occasional factor). Ultimately its worth a £20 upgrade if you liked the original but got frustrated with those issues, never brought the DLC for the original (the Special Edition includes all 3 expansion packs, including the sublime Dawnguard) or want to try out some mods without buying the PC edition. As I did a full review on this already, I won’t say much more, save that Skyrim is still as fun as ever, and with no new Elder Scrolls game in sight yet, this might be a fun way of getting back into the series.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
1: Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4 Exclusive) – There was only going to be one game that could get the top spot this year. It may not be absolutely perfect (the difficulty of individual missions can jump about a bit, the new game plus mode isn’t really necessary), but it’s bloody close and more inventive that anything else on the market (seriously, if uncharted and the last of us weren’t already enough reason for PC/Nintendo/Xbox gamers to get a PS4 on the side, this is). In what was a bad year for Sci-Fi on television (excluding Black Mirror) Horizon Zero Dawn delivered one of the most compelling science fiction storylines I’ve seen in YEARS. But then again, to quote Honest Trailers ‘it takes a shit-ton of plotting to make tribal girl vs. Robot dinosaurs make sense’. Yep its that game. Set on a post-apocalyptic earth where human tribes have lost almost all knowledge of technology and are forced to survive in an oddly tranquil but dangerous environment which is roamed by robotic dinosaurs and constructs. But as the game’s labyrinthine story unfolds, both the nature of the apocalypse (no its not a fallout-esque nuclear war) and the reasons for the dinosaurs creation (nope not aliens or anything stupid like that) become clear and are, in a way, strikingly and terrifyingly plausible in the same way some Black Mirror plotlines about rogue technology can be. The storyline is also anchored by main character Aloy, a tribal girl searching for the simple answers (who she really is and who were her parents) who is both an immensely likeable lead and probably the best new videogame character from 2017. The game’s missions range from taking down bandit camps, hunting down a mysterious sun cult, killing rogue robots and exploring ancient ruins to uncover clues (holograms, recordings, notes etc.) about the apocalypse. The robots range from the small scale Watcher and Grazer to the mighty Behemoth and Bellowbacks. While early levels feature foes you can take down with basic bows and spears, later levels see you having to employ everything from bomb slings and tripwires to shock arrows and mines to take down the humungous beasts. Part RPG (open world setting, optional side missions, various dialogue choices and upgrade options) part linear survival/stealth, it looks wonderful, is really fun to play and is extremely engaging. Add the Frozen Wilds DLC if you want an extra challenge.
Rating: 5 out of 5
And my favourite DLC is…
- Far Harbor (Fallout 4). Far Harbor is a rarity – a DLC that’s actually better and more engaging than the main game. Fallout DLC’s are often hit-and-miss, but Far Harbor absolutely nails what you want from a DLC: a new, exciting location to explore, new, challenging enemies and a good central storyline to get into. The location for this DLC is an island north of the main commonwealth that is covered in radioactive fog, making exploration of the monster infested island dangerous. It also adds three new major factions: a Synth refuge, the Children of Atom, and the Islanders themselves, who have been pushed back to one measly settlement by the fog and the monsters. The main storyline is engaging and it isn’t clear cut what the optimum moral choice is: the Islanders aren’t always sympathetic, the Synth leader has a pretty immoral past and not all of the Children of Atom are the antagonistic zealots their leaders are. The game gives you a lot of scope for resolving the conflict between the three factions (you can destroy the Children of Atom, allow the fog to overrun the island and kill the Islanders, make peace between the three factions or even call in the Brotherhood or Institute from the main game to wipe out the Synths). The side quests are also good, whether it be slaying the islands wide variety of mutated sea-creatures, helping out the various settlements or playing detective in a vault filled with Robobrains (one of the weirdest and most fun questlines). Far Harbor also avoids several of the pratfalls which weakened the main game: the crafting system plays a minimal role and is far less annoying than usual, while there are three major settlements to align with and do quests for, which is actually more than the main game gave us (let’s be honest, any settlement outside of Goodneighbor and Diamond City sucked in the main game). Overall, this might just be the best DLC a fallout game has given us, even if its attached to one of the weaker entries in the fallout series.
Rating: 5 out of 5!
Hopefully 2018 will be a stronger year for games. With the new Spider-Man, Vampyr, Days Gone and the Last of Us Part 2, it looks pretty promising…