It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Was that song talking about Christmas? The holiday season? Spending time with family? I think the song was speaking about all those things, but I believe that Game of the Year season should also be considered when that phrase is said. Game of the Year season is when video game media outlets celebrate the best and favorite titles to be released throughout the year. 2017 featured fantastic games. While Xbox exclusives were scarce (Sony and Nintendo seriously crushed it this year), we got gems like Cuphead and Forza Motorsport 7 on the console. Below are my five personal favorite games to grace the Xbox platform throughout the calendar year.
5: Friday The 13th
“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ah-Ah-Ah.” This is usually the sound that comes to mind when thinking of the Friday The 13th franchise. That chilling noise is synonymous with the machete-wielding killer, Jason Voorhees. Developer, Gun Media, were working on Slasher Vol. 1: Summer Camp prior to getting the rights to the iconic killer. When the announcement was made that they would be bringing Jason to consoles and PC, my heart skipped a beat. As a huge fan of the films (yes, Jason X is a guilty pleasure… so is the remake), the thought of playing a cat and mouse game with the character I feared growing up was a wonderful thought.
After a rocky launch, Friday The 13th: The Game shaped up to be an entertaining game to play. While it’s suggested to play with a party of friends, I’ve met plenty of players in random games that have gone on to become my Friday The 13th crew. Playing as camp counselors feels like the ultimate survival horror experience. You must gather supplies (car batteries, keys, gas), call in help (police and Tommy Jarvis), and survive. Although the game is cooperative in nature, there are times when the experience becomes a story about standing up for yourself. Hey, as the saying goes; if there are three teammates, and two seats in the car. Well, it’s everybody for themselves. Stepping into the shoes Jason wonderfully captures the essence of the series. From stalking prey to setting traps, and then finally figuring out how Jason travels so quickly, playing as the lone killer is one of the best experience this year.
Cuphead is a game that had a lot to prove. I played a demo build during E3 2016 and felt underwhelmed. The boss battles were fantastic, but the newly announced “Run & Gun” segments ruined my experience. I cautiously went into the final product hoping that Studio MDHR would knock it out of the park. Fortunately, Cuphead turned out to be a fantastic experience that I enjoyed from beginning to end. The bosses were tough-as-nails, but always manageable, the animation style was eye-popping, the music left my feet tapping to the beat, and the gameplay was top-notch.
Cuphead is a rewarding experience. While difficult, each death felt like the player’s error. Nothing was ever unfair, and the payoff for playing the game on normal felt satisfying. Cuphead is a terrific debut from a new development team, and I can’t wait to see what Studio MDHR has in store for their next game.
3: South Park: The Fractured But Whole
South Park: The Fractured But Whole surpassed my expectations in every possible way. As a huge fan of South Park: The Stick of Truth, I couldn’t wait to see what Matt Stone and Trey Parker would do with a superhero backdrop. Little did I know that these brilliant guys would leave me shocked, surprised, offended, and in pain from the number of times that I laughed so hard that it hurt.
Nothing is off limits. South Park: The Fractured But Whole feels dirtier and more boundary-pushing this time around, but every laugh felt earned. After all, if the series doesn’t offend everyone, something is obviously wrong. I love that the show (and game) doesn’t care who it offends. That’s actually part of the charm. South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a fifteen-hour episode of the show that follows the New Kid as he joins Coon and Friends as they try and come up with their own franchise that includes a cinematic universe, merchandise, and Netflix shows.
Gameplay is smoother and more refined. There are many more classes than the original game as well. The story is full of twists, unexpected moments, and in South Park tradition, completely random pop culture references. Fans of the original game will find a lot to love. All I know is that I can’t wait to see what Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and Ubisoft have in store for the next game.
2: Injustice 2
I’m a huge fighting game and comic book fan. I’ve spent years imagining my favorite heroes and villains duking it out in big scale battles. NetherRealm Studios and WB Games released Injustice 2 in May, to critical acclaim. Ed Boon’s take on these popular DC characters is a near masterpiece. To think, we got a fighting game with a top-notch narrative. The fighting genre is usually multiplayer focused, so it’s great to see that the studio took a risk (that paid off) with the narrative.
In addition to the campaign, there’s another single player mode called Multiverse Mode, which adds to the longevity of the title. There are different timelines that appear every day, which task players with fighting characters under certain conditions. Successfully doing so will net you currency, and new pieces of armor.
The real meat and potatoes in Injustice 2 is the multiplayer. With over 30 characters to choose from (including DLC), various modes like player matches, ranked matches, King of the Hill, and the option to play with or without your custom armor abilities online, the multiplayer is very extensive. The gameplay is fast, fierce, and responsive. Online battles become very tense, and NetherRealm Studios made a game that feels as if you are playing within the confines of a comic book. Injustice 2 is the sequel that takes everything great about the original and makes it better.
1: Life Is Strange: Before The Storm
In 2015, Life Is Strange was my Game of the Year. Dontnod Entertainment’s brilliant episodic adventure affected me emotionally. It made me happy, sad, angry, depressed, shocked, appalled, and even filled with joy. In my mind, Life Is Strange is one of the experiences that is perfect from beginning to end. If you ask my friends, they’ll tell you that I adore everything about Life Is Strange. When the prequel was announced on Microsoft’s stage during E3 2017, my heart skipped a beat. There were always rumors of a sequel, but I never imagined a prequel coming from that universe.
Deck Nine Games undertook the task of crafting Chloe Price’s earlier journey with Rachel Amber. In the original game, we never see Rachel, but she’s very much a focal point of the entire experience. The fact that Before The Storm followed these two characters made me excited as a huge fan of the series. The only thing that made me nervous was the fact that Chloe doesn’t possess any powers. It would be significantly different from Max’s journey because players wouldn’t have access to time manipulation. Fortunately, Deck Nine Games masterfully created an unforgettable season of Life Is Strange.
Everything about this game feels like Chloe’s world. The musical choices in Max’s adventure consisted of indie rock, while Chloe’s music was a lot heavier, perfectly fitting her attitude. Compensating for the lack of powers, a unique gameplay mechanic is “backtalk.” When you trigger this mechanic, you have to choose correct phrases to beat characters in an argumentative confrontation. Backtalk challenges become tenser, and since you don’t get to redo something if you fail, the stakes feel bigger.
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is on par with the original game. I mentioned that Life Is Strange made me feel happiness, sadness, anger, and left me shocked. All of these feelings returned during this game. Without ever even seeing Rachel (in the 2015 game), I felt like I had known her for a long time. Chloe Price is one of my favorite characters in video games, and it was fantastic to see how much Deck Nine Game further developed the protagonist. When I put the controller down after finishing the final episode of the season, I sat at the edge of my bed, and just let out a “wow.” It looks like my friends will be hearing me talk about Chloe and the residents of Arcadia Bay for the next year or so. Thanks, Deck Nine Games, for reigniting my love for the Life Is Strange universe.
Well, these are my top five games of 2017. What are yours? Do you like any of the games on my list? Leave a comment below.