Many games have been praised by the Crew of the Conference Call, us writers of the front page, and even you members of the community. A lot of the same games get recognized over and over, and occasionally someone with a particularly large megaphone gets to highlight a game that might have otherwise slipped past community awareness.
No matter how many voices are calling, though, this is a large enough industry and a massive enough Internet that there's always going to be something left out. Some games may actually be better, but lacking the marketing drive or savvy of other titles. Others might not be "the best," but still they have their fans. As such, we here at Gamers With Jobs wanted to let the community have one more chance to call attention to some of these underappreciated gems.
These are the community's overlooked games of 2017.
Thumper, or as one of my non-gamer friends named it "DMT – The Videogame" is a trip. It's a superb rhythm-action game that stands squarely on the shoulders of Harmonix's pre-Rock Band output. It's blisteringly fast, technically challenging, but completely fair. The integration between the soundtrack, the visuals and the gameplay couldn't be more closely coupled – when you're deep in it with a hefty pair of headphones on, hitting a fail state feels like a physical impact. Genius.
XCOM with Vikings and an historical setting, combined with crunchy RPG mechanics and complex political maneuvering. Anyone who has fun with turn-based combat and fiddly skill systems is going to fall deeply in love with Expeditions: Viking. The game's greatest asset, though, is its narrative. The characters are vibrant and alive, and the story feeds off of your choices in subtle and fascinating ways. If Divinity: Original Sin 2 hadn't also come out this year, I'd say this is the closest a cRPG has ever come to a pen and paper RPG.
If 2017 was a feast of games, then Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (XC 2) was the waiter coming up to your table, offering you a dinner mint, saying, “It’s only wafer thin.” Do not believe him. After 25 hours I feel like I have only scratched the surface. While other, larger games of 2017 have been set aside, I feel I will keep coming back to XC 2 because it is on the Switch. It may be a sprawling single-player MMO-style JRPG, with massive worlds to explore, tons of systems, and anime tropes galore, but I can also play it anywhere, which makes it one of the most accessible big-budget RPGs ever. XC 2 also tells a ripping story, where each chapter ends with a raging climax. Finally, it is probably the most positive game I’ve played all year, as our protagonist Rex just wants to help his friends and make the world a better place.
Ok, I guess I’ll have that mint after all.
To be honest, the only reason Xenoblade Chronicles 2 didn't make it into my top 10 for the year is because I started playing it so late. I didn't start until after Christmas, but if I had started earlier, you can bet Xenoblade Chronicles 2 would have been in the top 5 on my list. There's something
boobs magical about it ... it feels like a return to a classic JRPG form, with just enough quality-of-life enhancements – like real-time combat that surprisingly works well – to still feel fresh and scratch an itch I wasn't even conscious I was feeling. Yes, as the earlier joke hints, there are some issues – particularly in the male-gaze-fan-service-design of the main female character. Those issues aren't deal-breakers for me and don't occur with enough frequency to detract from my overall enjoyment of the game. This is definitely a game to pick up if you like longform JRPGs and own a Switch, and I expect it to make a lot more top-10 lists in 2018.
Uncharted: Lost Legacy got me interested in a new Uncharted game. I’ve played all the titles in the series but never really loved them. I wanted more tomb raiding, less bad shooting, and less of Nate, who always came across as the entitled rich kid that always got his way without anybody really calling him on how badly he treats everyone around him. Uncharted 4 fixed some of that with lock-on aiming and better encounters, but there was still Nate in the middle of everything, being awful as usual. Then along came Lost Legacy. There was a way better balance of tomb raiding and combat, and some solid open-worlding that didn’t overstay its welcome. The real revelation was Chloe and Nadine. Here we had two strong women who were honest with themselves about what they were doing and why, and whose relationship we got to watch develop in a very real way. I liked them enough that even the appearance of a character from the earlier games didn’t bring things down. It didn’t hurt that they mostly seemed to tolerate him. Now I’m actively hoping that they do another game in the series with those two in the lead roles, and let the Drakes sail off into the sunset.
I've loved both Warhammer and Total War for decades now, and Warhammer: Total War 2 is a delicious chocolate-and-caramel smashup of both franchises. First, I loved the chance to play my beloved Skaven, and how can you blame me? What other war game lets you send a giant hamster wheel of doom careening towards the enemy lines? The sequel also brought a much needed "ritual" mechanic that kept the late game interesting (you can have the biggest army and most territory and still lose if you don't complete your quests). Finally, I appreciate how Creative Assembly released the free "Mortal Empires" campaign that allows you to fight across the entire map with all the factions from Warhammer 1.
This year, I played both Life is Strange and its prequel, Before the Storm. Together they made me think a lot about options and choices in games. We put a premium on having a lot of choices in choice-heavy story-based adventure games, and my standard move with them is, well, a lot of people’s standard move – play through, and if I like it and there are a bunch of trophies left behind, go back and make different choices, just to see what happens. (What if Batman tells Clementine they need to steal food?)
It's a natural thing to do that unintentionally but inevitably reduces the characters to little puppets made to dance for us (there’s a reason people say “My Shepard”). The options become sort of an academic exercise. So it was that I found myself back in Before the Storm, looking to help Chloe find all the taggable spots she might tag, when the first big choice came along and ... there were no options. I mean, there were; they sat on my screen staring at me, telling me which button was which. Yet, again, there was no option. I could only stare back and say “No. Chloe wouldn’t do that.” So she didn’t. And on we went. Sure, she’d say something different here or there and fail or succeed in places she hadn’t before, but when the boot hit the ass, Chloe was still Chloe, and it would have been wrong to make her dance for me. I moved on to the original game, and found the same thing – Max wouldn’t have let events unspool different than they did. Sure, some of what she did and said might have been informed by someone who knew the whole story, but when the plate hit the stop bath, Max was Max, too.
Max and Chloe were so well characterized, and had camped so firmly in my heart, that other options, other events, other choices don’t exist for me, because the characters wouldn't have taken them. They had core values, beliefs, fears, and flaws I refused to violate. Chloe and Max made me not care about the academic exercise of other paths, and I can’t help but think that’s profound, and genius.
West of Loathing is the funniest media experience I've had all year, across the board. The writing is shockingly good. I love the stark black & white stick-figure presentation. In a landscape dominated by AAA bad-ass dudes running around doing AAA bad-ass stunts with AAA bad-ass explosions everywhere, West of Loathing's clean visual simplicity is a surprising breath of fresh air. Shout out to the Foley work in the game. For a title that looks so visually simplistic, the environmental sound effects are as authentic & memorable as they are plentiful.
The Walking Stupid skill book gets my vote for Best Moment of the Year.
Every couple years Nintendo tries to reinvent the wheel. They take an established, well-understood genre, throw out all the pieces, and try to rebuild the thing from scratch. The result is almost always the same: a quirky, fascinating game that gamers don't get and consumers don't buy, then everyone goes back to complaining that Nintendo never tries anything new. This year, that game was ARMS, a reimagining of 3D fighting games by way of springs, noodles, ribbons, and Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. Eschewing the combos, special moves, and button-pressing contortions of traditional fighting games, ARMS finds its way to the same thrilling back-and-forth – the same fundamental concepts of spatial control and anticipation – in a way that's considerably more accessible. But atypical control schemes, unconventional gameplay, and a perceived lack of content kept it from taking hold with gamers, and consumers didn't take to it either. When Nintendo ended content updates for the game less than a year after launch, it was a sad admission that this experiment – like others before it – had fizzled. Maybe next year they'll try something new.
Yakuza 0 shouldn’t work. It should be an unholy melange of Streets of Rage brawler, karaoke minigames, utter goofiness, and pathos. But all its disparate elements hang together, because the dual protagonists of Kazuma Kiryu and Majima Goro are the goodest boys you’ve ever seen outside of a dog rates tweet. They can always convincingly, earnestly, exasperatedly, agonizingly insert themselves into the action, whether it’s beating up zombies for an ersatz Michael Jackson music video, helping a floundering dominatrix be their most confident, abusive self, or butting heads against the brutality and injustice the Yakuza inflicts on its own and innocent bystanders. Despite its goofiness, Yakuza 0 is a game about doing the right thing, even when it’s hard and will cost you everything. Add to that loving, atmospheric open-world recreations of late 80's economic boom Osaka’s Dõtonbori and Tokyo's Kabukichõ entertainment districts, and you’ve got one of the best games of the year.
-Alien Love Gardener