Friday, December 29, 2017

Alex's Gaming Year in Review: What I Played in 2017

December 29, 2017

Alex’s Year in Gaming - 2017

It's that time of the year again. The time when we reflect on the games we've played for the past 365 days and then assign a subjective order of value to each. This year, I'm dividing my thought catalog into the following sections:

  • Releases in 2017
  • Not 2017
  • Unfinished Business
    • I've put in enough time into these to know they belong on this list, but I've plenty to play still. Because I'm adding them now, they won't show up on my 2018 list.

Make sense? No? Perfect. I'm sure that friend & listener Yody would approve when I say, "I'm an adult, and I can structure my dumb list however I like."

Releases in 2017

8) Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (Steam)

Until the release of Getting Over It, I never had any intention of doing any gaming with Steam. I'm not anti-PC gaming at all; I'm just a console guy. And then came Getting Over It. One of the strangest love-to-hate and hate-to-love games I'd ever heard of, so I took a leap of faith. A few short downloads and $8.00 USD later, I dove into my first "PC" (Mac) gaming experience. To date, Getting Over It is the only game to which I respond with laughter instead of rage when I screw up and lose progress. That's how I knew it was something special.

7) GWENT [Public Beta] (Xbox One)

I don't even remember the last time I played this game, and yet, it felt wrong not to include it because of how much I played it mid-2017. There was a time where if I wasn't playing Rocket League, I was playing Gwent. Fanatically.

Then, they implemented a huge overhaul on the game a month or two into the public beta, and everything changed. My favorite thing about the original Gwent was how simple it was. It wasn't the "whoever has more cards is going to win" version that you can find in-game with Witcher 3, but it wasn't too complicated, either, and I personally thought that was the beauty of the game. It was so easy to sit and burn through an hour of satisfying and relatively strategic card game fare. After the first BIG update, all of that changed. The beautiful simplicity was no longer there, the game was fundamentally changed, and I quickly fell off after that.

RIP, Gwent. I hardly knew ye.

6) Little Nightmares (Xbox One)

It's lazy and possibly unfair to compare this game to INSIDE.

That said, this game is INSIDE, basically. But that doesn't mean it's a ripoff, per se. It definitely has a more interesting aesthetic, and I would argue that it focuses a little more on horror as opposed to a disturbing dystopian feel, though both games are disturbing to be sure. Regardless, I can't say much without spoiling the experience. It's a 90% competent side-scrolling platformer that will have you on the edge of your seat from time to time. 

5) Fortnite [Battle Royale] (Xbox One)

I played Fortnite almost right when it came out, and refused to complete the endless tutorial, so I have nothing to say about the "actual" game. However, Fortnite added its own Battle Royale mode a la PUBG, and it became an instant hit on consoles. Interestingly, it didn't grab me in beginning - nor did it in the following months. But then PUBG was released on consoles on December 12. I was somewhat excited to play "the real thing," but it was such a disaster on consoles at launch (and isn't much better now) that I decided to revisit Fortnite. Suddenly, a lightbulb went off. I can't put it down, and I love playing match after match in Duos and Squads. I admit, I still don't get anything out of Solo play, so part of it is the social experience and sharing of Victory Royale among friends.

4) Cuphead (Xbox One)

Where the hell did this game come from?

I mean, I know it was announced and we had it on our radar and all, but what a fascinating game to basically come out of left field and onto our TV screens.

Obviously, the coolest thing about Cuphead is the art style. And that living, 1930s-style animation somehow goes so well with the run 'n' gun gameplay that it's just impossible to put down. Once you get started on a boss, unless you've got a job interview or a hot date, there's no way you'll be leaving until you see, "KNOCKOUT!" plastered across the screen. The cherry on top of this fresh gaming experience is its price tag of $20. I implore you to roll the dice and take the Cuphead challenge if you haven't already.

3) Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

Nick & Josh are not going to be happy about this one.

Mass Effect: Andromeda sucked in a lot of ways. Nothing happened in the story, "lame" could not describe the new cosmic threat, and the word "Pathfinder" is going to be tainted forever because of this game. Still...I put 40+ hours into it. Once I got fully into it, it didn't feel like a chore, though it was at the beginning. It still had the Mass Effect-y feel to it gameplay-wise, and overall, it's as simple as me saying this: I enjoyed the game, and I don't regret playing it. Of course, it doesn't hold a candle to the original trilogy. Honestly, the whole thing just makes me think about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which you can hear us talk about in Episode 155 - Divisive. My expectations were managed, I was aware of the nasty developer/publisher/"push this to meet the release date" situation, and I played accordingly. I just hope they do it better next time if there ever is a next time.

2) Metroid: Samus Returns (Nintendo 3DS)

Last year, an unofficial Metroid game was essentially tied for my Game of the Year 2016 pick. Never would I have dreamed in a zillion years that the following year I'd have an official entry into the Metroid franchise in the exact same spot.

As excited as I was for Samus to Return, a tiny part of me was almost anxious because of the art design and gameplay tweaks - but I left it to the developers to do right by the Metroid name. And they did. The added melee component along with a full-3D environment turned out to be cool as hell. It's similar enough to the source (Metroid II: Return of Samus) that it's still a wonderful trip down memory lane, but other than the way the game actually progresses, it might as well be a brand new experience. As I would describe it, there's even a bit of a "post game" to play around with to encourage exploration. But to go into further detail would spoil one of the coolest parts of the game.

1) Resident Evil 7 (Xbox One)

If you've been a 2v1 fan since at least February/March, you definitely knew this was coming.

I have a Resident Evil problem, and that's no secret. The collective amount of hours I've put into the franchise across its many installments is truly staggering. And while they hold a special place in my heart, even a diehard fanboy like me wanted to cut my hands off after playing Resident Evil 6's campaign (Mercs, on the other hand, you've heard me swoon over). When Capcom announced 7 and what it would offer in terms of gameplay, I was skeptical, but I thought, "Well, literally nothing can be worse than 6, so I'm ready to give this a chance."

Resident Evil 7 is what the series needed: A fresh approach with brand new gameplay, puzzles, and scares. Not an over-the-top, guns blazing, mega steaming pile of action-shit like RE6. The story is thin, but at the same time, that's never been what drew me into the series to begin with. I played the hell out of the single player and did everything there was to do, including its infamous Madhouse difficulty. Then, the first wave of DLCs came out (Banned Footage Volumes, for which I actually wrote an in-depth review that you can see below), and they not only delivered, but they sort of blew me away. Some of them provided additional insight into the story/characters, some of them are simply mini/side games you can pick up at any time, but one of my favorite things about the first wave of DLCs, and indeed, RE7 in its totality, is the white-knuckle Ethan Must Die game mode. Learning, mastering, and conquering this mode is to this day one of the most satisfying video game feats I've accomplished. Then, this December, Capcom gave us the rest of RE7's DLC - Not a Hero and End of Zoe. Neither was terrible, but neither was great. And really only the former was "pretty good." It wasn't the revisiting I was holding my breath for, but I was happy to have any reason to play the game again.

Bottom line: RE7 breathed new life into Resident Evil, and I no longer believe the series is doomed. There may still be some greatness yet to be explored in the series that we have to thank for the emergence of survival horror as a gaming genre.

Not 2017

7) The Turing Test (Xbox One)

Bulkhead Interactive did it again for me. In 2015, it was Pneuma: Breath of Life. While The Turing Test first came out in 2016, I just got around to playing this as a Games with Gold freebie this year. Similar to both Pneuma and Portal, you're basically trudging through puzzles at the whims of an overseer while being fed some philosophical and intellectual food for thought at the same time. While Portal is more light-hearted in nature, The Turing Test tells its story from more of an ethics consideration angle. Just what is it that constitutes artificial intelligence, consciousness, life, or a combination of these things? It's not a huge time investment, and it brings up some questions that, while humans have been talking about them for decades, we're going to have to come up with some answers to finally - probably sooner rather than later. 

6) Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS)

There are three Castlevanias on the DS, and this one falls neatly in the middle for me. It goes a little something like this:

Dawn of Sorrow > Portrait of Ruin > Order of Ecclesia

Ecclesia isn't a bad game, but it definitely comes up short when compared to this and DoS. PoR takes the ability to swap characters and makes it essential to your success in some parts of the game, but not in an annoying way. It simply encourages you to try different tactics, weapons, and spells so you get a flavor of everything the game has to offer. Plus, the general idea of going in and out of individual portrait "worlds" is just sweet as hell. To top it all off, this one has a particularly memorable battle with the prince of darkness at the end of the game.

5) Hitman (Xbox One)

Like Fortnite Battle Royale, this is another late entry to my list this year.

Hitman is a triumph in terms of video gaming entertainment value. It's the perfect blend of realism and...non-realism, to be frank. I think developers are constantly trying to find the right balance between what's realistic and what's fun, and I've never seen a game nail it like Hitman. In fact, as I went through the game, I captured many of my favorite moments and plan to make a "supercut" of sorts - more to come on that.

In any case, in my humble opinion, there's one way to play this game: On the couch with a friend right next to you with no Googling allowed. Hitman is as much a puzzle game as it is a stealth-action game. The eureka moments combined with some of the game's AI quirks lead to lots of laughs and pure enjoyment. Once you beat a mission, pass it on to your pal to tackle the next one. Plus, you can replay missions with different gear, starting locations, disguises, etc. It adds to the replay value in a way I haven't seen in most games. And then there's the Elusive Targets. I could go on and on, but you just should play it instead.

4) Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (PS4)

There are a lot of good things about Uncharted 4. It tells an engaging story - one that the adventurer in all of us wishes to be a part of, minus the element that's tantamount to mass murder. The gameplay and controls are competent and do what they need to do. The characters are interesting and do a good job of making you hate them or love them. But the best part?

I'm sorry, but it's the graphics. Uncharted 4 is still the best looking game I've ever seen in my life. And while I'm sure there are some games I haven't gotten to yet that give it a run for the money, the interactivity among things in the environment is so impressive that I really just can't believe it. Foliage, shadows, mud's all perfectly done. All of it. Perfectly.

One day, I may make time to play the first three. I almost wonder, though, if that's a bad idea at this point, considering how high the bar's been set by Uncharted 4.

3) Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (Nintendo DS)

I almost feel guilty even saying this...but if there's a Castlevania out there that I'd put up against Symphony of the Night, it's Dawn of Sorrow. This is about as good as it gets.

It's basically a sequel to Aria of Sorrow with regard to both story and gameplay. But it has its own unique elements that set it apart from and above Aria. Best of all, once you beat the game, you unlock another mode in classic Castlevania fashion, and honestly, it may add the most replay value of any of these post-game modes I've seen. I'm definitely going to come back to it at some point to spend more time with Julius Mode.

2) Axiom Verge (Xbox One)

Speaking of Castlevania...

Axiom Verge perfects the Metroidvania genre in a way such that I'd be okay with them adding a part of it to its genre namesake. It's hard to believe that after all these years, another "pathfinder" as they are now called could come along to redefine what to expect out of a quality Metroidvania (still my favorite way to refer to these games). If you've never played a Metroidvania/pathfinder game, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Axiom Verge as a starting point. The hand-drawn art design is beautiful, the music effectively bottles up nostalgia for future consumption, and the gameplay is gripping.

Axiom Verge reminded why this really may be my favorite gaming genre.

1) Bloodborne (PS4)

If you remove my silly categories and criteria, and we talk strictly about what game I played this year that I enjoyed the most, it's Bloodborne. Hands down.

You know all about two thirds of 2v1's undying love for the Souls series. Well, my love for the Souls games notwithstanding, I can say that Bloodborne is every bit as good, and in some ways, it's even better. The gameplay is perfectly polished, and nothing beats the Victorian horror setting and aesthetic. It's just sublime. Beasts, blood, and blades abound in this spiritual successor to and natural evolution of the Souls family of games. It's also an easier starting point for those looking to dip their toes into this now famous/infamous genre of gaming. I would say that Bloodborne is (marginally) easier overall. Still, the game is an incredible challenge to surmount no matter how you approach it, and the payoff that comes with its completion is every bit is satisfying. It's worth nothing that I played it all the way through twice back to back, which is something I can't say about any of the Souls games.

Unfinished Business

2) Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Xbox One)

I don't want to talk a lot about Wolfenstein 2 because honestly, it was a slog for me to get through at first, and this game is all about specific "moments." The gunplay is so so. The emotional hangups of protagonist BJ in the beginning are unbearable. The story is sort of whatever. At least up until shortly after what you see in the picture above. Suddenly, I was very happy to be playing this game. I got through this game-changing event shortly before leaving my Atlanta abode for the holidays, so it'll be my first order of gaming business when I return to finish it. I hear the ending only gets better.

1) Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)

I know Zelda is basically the undisputed champ of 2017, and I wouldn't argue with that for a second. It's also a borderline embargoed topic on the podcast because we've spent so much time discussing and praising what an outstanding game it is. Weirdly, I'm still waiting for the full-blown addiction phase, but the second half 2017 was unusually busy for me, and I thought it prudent to get through a wider variety of games than to sink 60-80 hours straight into Zelda, so I think that played a part in my not finishing it. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with how beautiful it looks, the soothing sounds and interior of every shrine I visit, or the unfettered ability to explore whatever mountain, river, or structure you see on the horizon.

It's really been an exciting year for 2v1, and Nick, Josh, and I all have you as our listeners and supporters to thank for that. We promise to keep doing what we do, incorporating your feedback as we go, and to continue working on making the podcast, our video & social content, and swag accessibility better every day.

Cheers and good health to you all in 2018!


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