Game of the Year 2017 – Jacob McCourt

You can find Jacob McCourt on Twitter @JacobMcCourt or streaming games on Twitch

Without a doubt, 2017 has been the hardest year of my adult life.

Over the course of the last eighteen months, video games have been one of the few constants in my life. I’ve moved at least five times, lived in four different cities and had the opportunity to do some really interesting work for others and myself.

One example of the good in 2017? After trying for the better part of fifteen years to produce a consistent series about video games, I’m finally part of a group doing exactly that. The Left Behind Game Club is a twice monthly podcast where we play older games and talk about them. This year, we’ve played games like Spec Ops: The Line, Papers, Please and Gone Home. The only problem with the podcast is that I spend less time playing new releases.

With that preamble, I would like to start this off with a full disclosure of the games that I have not yet had time to play. I give you, my Top 6 games I will be playing immediately in 2018.

1. Finding Paradise
2. Night in the Woods
3. Golf Story
4. SteamWorld Dig 2
5. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
6. Super Mario Odyssey

Games that may also have made my list had time been on my side: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, Pyre, Last Day of June, What Remains of Edith Finch, Tacoma, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Uncharted: Lost Legacy. 2017 was an excellent year for video games, y’all.

Let’s begin with an award for best “old” game I played in 2016.

2016’s Best Old Game: To The Moon

To The Moon is incredibly unique. I just feel terribly that I was about six years late to the party.

The game, originally released in 2011, combines the charm of a Japanese RPG like Earthbound and the story of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and builds a succinct game about memory alteration and dream fulfillment. To The Moon puts you in the shoes of two doctors trying to fulfill the dream a dying man, to make it to the moon. You traverse back through the life of Johnny Wyles and discover the events that created the man. Although the game’s dialogue isn’t perfect and the game is very linear, this one is a must play.

(Source: To The Moon Steam Page)

And now, on to the real list!

#8 Hidden Agenda

Before you storm the comment section to declare that I don’t know a thing about video games, let me start by saying: Hidden Agenda isn’t a great game.

Hidden Agenda

(Source: PlayStation)

With that caveat out of the way, we can now focus on why the game is on my Game of the Year list. Hidden Agenda is a first attempt at adding structure to group play for adventure games. Throughout the game’s two to three hour story, you control Detective Becky Marney and District Attorney Felicity Graves interchangeably as they attempt to capture serial killer dubbed “The Trapper”.

The game’s big shiny new innovation is PlayLink, Sony’s take on the smartphone game controller popularized by Jackbox Games. The app itself has its issues; in my experience, it was a bit of a pain to set up and if you leave the app for any reason, your phone will lose connection to the game, pausing the action for all players and you have to be in the same room to play. Stay with me.

The game was fifteen bucks over the holidays and I was able to convince two friends and my girlfriend to join me in a playthrough of the game during my yearly Extra Life stream. In story mode, players cooperatively play the game, but in the competitive mode, which we played, players compete to gather points to “win the game”. Points are collected through the Hidden Agenda system; a system where one player will get a secret objective unbeknownst to other players. Players also collect “takeover cards” allowing them to make the decision on behalf of the group. The combination of hidden agendas, takeover cards and a group of good friends can lead to a really good time.

It’s not all perfect: some of the hidden agendas get crammed into incredibly unimportant or  short sequences to boost the total number of “rounds” and the story is a little bit convoluted/boilerplate (it feels like it’s pulled from an episode of Law and Order).

To summarize, the game is the first mover in the category and therefore, is a little rough. But this is the first attempt that I can think of to move adventure games into a truly multiplayer arena. It’s a trailblazer and as a huge fan of modern, Telltale-style adventure games, I’m really excited for the second mover in this new category of adventure games.

#7 Hearthstone: Kobolds & Catacombs

expansion-kobolds-and-catacombs

After an extended break from Hearthstone, I was coerced back into the game and because of Kobloids & Catacombs, I think I may have re-developed my Hearthstone affliction.

Spell Stones and Legendary Weapons aside, the big draw for me was the Dungeon Run mode which is probably the most fun I have had with Hearthstone since the game was initially released.

You’re given a small core deck of cards when you start off the run and with each subsequent win, you’re given treasures (special game-bending abilities that skew your deck in a certain direction) and small card packs fitting a specific theme. Win 8 battles against the AI in a row and you complete the dungeon run.

It’s a lot of fun and a great reason for players that may have fallen off.

#6 Universal Paperclips

universal paperclips

 

Twas December 27th, and all through the house,

A creature was stirring with a laptop and mouse;

The game that was selected was chosen with care;

Universal Paperclips said Twitter and soon I was there.

My browser was set to pick up this thread,

While visions of paperclips danced in my head;

But the game soon opened to much more than that,

And soon my brain danced and wished for a nap

I’ll stop with the Visit from St. Nicholas shtick and just say that this game is really special. It’s an incremental game (or clicker) much like Adventure Capitalist or Cookie Clicker and I don’t want to spoil what makes the game so special.

If you’re curious – play the game right now. You’ll know within fifteen minutes if you’ll want to see it through to the end.

#5 Snipperclips: Cut It Out, Together!

The middle of my list is occupied by clips.

My younger brother and I don’t get a lot of time to play games together anymore, so when we play together, I always try to choose a great co-operative game. Last year, we played Overcooked while he was visiting over the summer, which was easily the most fun I had with a video game during all of 2016. This Christmas, we played Snipperclips on my brand new Nintendo Switch.

It’s a simple concept – players cut each other into different shapes to be able to solve puzzles; but much like Overcooked, the simple virtual concept soon leads to complex real-world issues. It’s a great little gem, a great time for 2 or 4 people.

#4 Battle Chef Brigade

As mentioned in my previous pick, I was lucky enough to get a Nintendo Switch for the holidays with some pretty big games to go alongside the system. On Christmas morning, I was gifted the system alongside Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2 and an eShop gift card. Battle Chef Brigade was the game that I had my first extended Switch session with, and looking back – that was a very wise decision.

The game is a mix of a few very different elements. It combines some of favourite things: the feel of the original japanese run of Iron Chef, a match-3 puzzle game (like You Must Build a Boat, Pokemon Puzzle League and Puzzle Quest) and a side-scrolling action game (like Shovel Knight) and mixes them together masterfully. Get your cooking mission, hunt your prey, plan out your meal and cook. Despite some rough edges (namely the graphics and the story), the core of the game is too great to deny.

Austin Walker from Waypoint summarized another reason why the game is great: it captures the feeling of watching a cooking show because you don’t really know who’s taking home the gold until the bitter end. “What surprised me most about Battle Chef Brigade—and where I think it makes a meaningful addendum to the world of puzzle games—is that the way it uses sub-objectives and ambiguous scoring to create a real feeling of surprise and success.”

#3 Sonic Mania

sonic mania

Sonic Mania is the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 sequel that I always wanted.

The game, developed by PagodaWest Games, Headcannon and Christian “Taxman” Whitehead, gave me what I wanted: a true blue Sonic 4. A game with a similar look/sound but most importantly, the same feel as those original Sega Genesis games. The remastered levels are great and the new takes of Sonic zones are excellent.

My mom used to really enjoy watching/playing those original Genesis games, so I couldn’t help but show her the game in action at the first available opportunity. We both were smiling ear-to-ear remembering the simpler days of playing Sonic the Hedgehog 3 during my childhood.

#2 Horizon Zero Dawn

I was incredibly excited for Horizon Zero Dawn, having counted among my most anticipated games at E3 in both 2015 and 2016. Having only watched the game’s trailers, I had pegged the game as a Tomb Raider style. Great action, a solid and simple story with some very light RPG elements. I picked the game up over the summer and left it unplayed until December, when I thought I could play through it in a week. Boy, was I wrong.

The game has an incredibly ambitious scope and takes the weapons, tinkering and save system from the revived Tomb Raider series while mixing in a sci-fi story that parallels the original Mass Effect and adds in a Skyrim-esque questing system for good measure.

The sprawling world is beautiful and the game moves and feels perfect. Not only that, but some of the encounters with some of the games larger creatures draw some comparisons to Shadow of the Colossus. Scan them to figure out their elemental weaknesses and weak points and equip yourself to take them down. Finally, the game’s story is genuinely surprising. I don’t fully understand why more people aren’t talking about the game’s story; it’s one of the best sci-fi stories ever told in a video game. Despite having played the game for 30 hours during the month of December – I’m still very excited to play more of Horizon Zero Dawn.

 

#1 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

What a surprise.

It started very slowly earlier this year; mentions of “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” continued to pop up in my social feeds. I watched some video of the game, thought it was a novel concept and did something that I rarely do: buy a game in early access almost immediately after release. I played for a few hours by myself and was instantly hooked.

Drop onto an island with up to 99 other players and loot, shoot and scoot until you’re the last man alive. When the game first came out, I was living in a city where I knew no one, so having PUBG was my lifeline to my friends back home. Despite having beautiful summer weather, I spent a lot of my summer spare time with my squad of friends chasing the elusive chicken dinner.

There are very few gaming achievements in my life and none in recent memory that have caused me to scream into my PC’s monitor much like winning a chicken dinner in PUBG with friends. I remember two of my four chicken dinners (3 squad/1 duo) in vivid detail and haven’t felt that about a multiplayer shooter since having LAN parties with the original Halo in my parents’ basement or playing Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow on Xbox Live.

After spending 250+ hours this year with the game, I can confidently say that I will not soon forget my time with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

That’s my list!

If you have thoughts about my list, you can reach out on Twitter. If you’re interested on my take on games, come listen to the Left Behind Game Club – a twice monthly game club podcast available on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, TuneIN, aCast, YouTube and on our website.

 

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