2017 is finally over and I am proud to say I’ve survived it. One of the few bright spots has been the sheer number of brilliant titles this year — with standouts in every genre, there’s been something for everyone. The ten games below are the ones that stood out to me (for better or for worse) and people coming to this list might be surprised by the omissions. I must confess that I own neither the PS4 nor the Switch, so bear with me on this one…

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10> Firefighters: The Simulation PS4, XBO, PC

The world is a weird and scary place. Our art is reflecting that, and films like Bladerunner 2049 and even the new Star Wars have been dark and political mirrors to our current climate where it looks like America might go to war with North Korea over a twitter beef. Enter Firefighters:The Simulation — a fever dream sim that I can only imagine was built by people that have never worked, been near, or even looked at a fire station. The game sets you in an alternatee universe where every one of your co-workers is a clone, and they all go through meaningless motions. The Station, where the player is trapped in some kind of hellish time loop, is an empty edifice littered with the same box of cereal. Random fires will occur in the city, and the game will proceed to explain nothing, vaguely alluding to what vehicle the player must use. At the same, it’s a race against the clock to get to the location of the fire. Frequently, the challenge is getting your toylike fire engine across the low-poly town. There seems to be no punishment for bumping into cars and no incentive to use sirens. The only important thing will be to get to that exciting fire… Which will invariably just be a small pile of trash in the corner of building. The design decisions are baffling, the controls barely functional, and most of the time I feel I’m fighting the game itself. FTS is probably a really bad game, but it’s also a game that I’ve returned to multiple times this year, and loved every minute of it.

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9> Late Shift XBO, PC, PS4

The Full-Motion Video game genre died long ago, but 2016 and 2017 have been the years in which there has been a concerted effort to resurrect the series, and one that I think has been a great success. I wrote about Late Shift earlier this year and it’s a weird little game that has a lot of charm. It isn’t always even in terms of writing, but the actors do their best and the shooting is solid. I found myself caring about the hammy characters and being entertained by the storyline’s choice-driven divergences. The development team were smart in their choices and I never thought I’d say this but I hope we see more FMV games next year.

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8> Forma.8 Switch, XBO, PS4

I had the good fortune to try out Forma.8 at EGX Rezzed some years ago in Birmingham, and had a good talk with the developers. The player is a floating robot with a limited number of abilities used to get around a 2D labyrinth in Metroid style. The art is a stark clash of a black foreground (suggesting that the player is viewing the game from behind outcroppings) with whites and greys giving way to blues, reds and yellows in a flat presentation that lends it a minimalist look. The camera also delivers an awe-inducing sense of scale – the first time I exited the beginning cave after nothing but claustrophobic tunnels, the view pulled all the way back and made me feel tiny and insignificant –while at the same time giving me a sense of just how big the game was going to be. It was perfect.

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7> Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Switch, PS4, XBO, PC

Is it okay to punch Nazis? Is it okay to stab Nazis? Is it okay to blow a Nazi apart with explosive shotgun rounds? Is it okay to set Nazis on fire and then run them over? Yes, yes it is. There are already enough opinion pieces on what makes the new Wolfenstein a great piece of pulp entertainment, but it also manages to go deeper on topics of race, gender and politics. I will also say that listening to a pseudo-Black Panther leader lecture the hero on the fragility of nutsacks while she breastfeeds a baby is one of the greatest scenes I have witnessed in any art form this year. The fact that there are at least three other scenes that I’d like to talk about but can’t (spoilers!) is a testament to the writing. The shooting merely acts as vessel for the utterly crazy plot, so crank down the difficulty and enjoy the ride – and it is one hell of a ride.

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6> Shadow Warrior 2 PS4, XBO, PC

The first Shadow Warrior by Flying Wild Hog Studios was a surprise. Before Doom 2016 came on to the scene to evoke old-school shooting (along with so many new ideas) Shadow Warrior actually did it first with canny use of self-healing that required a combination of button inputs, and the level and monster design the encouraged constant forward flow of combat. Shadow Warrior 2 would have been great if they had simply kept that formula and done more with it. Instead, they went for something completely different – this time around, it’s like playing an instanced version of Borderlands, but with the combat set at high-speed absurdity. Also, by making the leveling system dovetail with the skills, low level players will never feel completely out-gunned in the campaign. The storyline is utter rubbish (par for the course now when it comes to Shadow Warrior) but I was left grinning after every encounter.

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5> Has-Been Heroes Switch, PS4, PC, XBO

Frozenbyte must love playing with threes. Their series Trine is all about the interplay between a trio of heroes, and now Has-Been Heroes has another trio of heroes. However, instead of platform-puzzling, the game offers an interesting hybrid of tower defense and roguelike. The mechanics are fairly simple (although poorly explained) but when it starts running and monsters are coming at your heroes, the constant management of which hero is where, and what spells to use made me feel like I was spinning plates. Has-Been Heroes can be repetitive and a little tough, and even with the recent patch that balances things a little better, I’d recommend treating it as the sort of thing that’s played in short bursts rather than long sessions. As such, Has-Been Heroes has been one of my favorite ways to relax and sits perfectly on the Switch for short commutes.

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4> Tacoma XBO, PC, iOS

Fullbright’s follow-up to Gone Home was evidence of the developers maturing their craft around similar themes. Whereas their first game was based around one house, Tacoma is set on a space station. The player is in the boots of someone investigating the abandoned structure and trying to figure out what happened. The storytelling is smartly framed around an augmented reality where the player can walk around and rewind (or fast-forward) recordings of the previous inhabitants, following it as the story splits. This adds an element of mystery-solving that’s slim,yet still engaging. Going into each of the crew member’s rooms and finding letters and other items show a lot about their personality — this was done in Gone Home too, but being able to see physical representations added an extra layer. Many have said that Tacoma didn’t have the same impact as Gone Home did, but for me it feels like Fullbright have proved that they can only get better and better.

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3> Dreamfall Chapters PS4, XBO, PC

I reviewed the full collection of episodes serving as the closing entry to the Dreamfall series back in June and found it a thoughtful examination of science fiction/fantasy settings with commentary on the current political climate of modern Western politics. Ragnar Tornquist, the writer for all of Dreamfall, makes the characters and world shine. Smartly, the development team has refocused the game on point-and-click puzzles, as put more emphasis on dialogue options. Worth playing for both fans and newcomers alike, this is the best of the narrative-driven games available this year.

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2> Jettomero: Hero of the Universe XBO, PC

This has been a games that I’ve gone back to multiple times this year. The story of a giant robot and its quest to save humanity is set against a gorgeously-colored galactic background of asteroids, warp holes and space beings. When I wanted to show someone what games can be, I made them pick up a controller and play Jettomero. It’s instantly accessible and visually appealing, but with a depressing story that explores nihilism and emptiness. Jettomero looks like it should be an ever-cheerful diversion with a bit of space exploration thrown in for good measure. Instead, the themes closer to loneliness and lack of purpose. It’s not a perfect game, but it is a thoughtful, well-executed one that deserved a better reception.

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1> Speedrunners XBO, PC, PS4

Speedrunners is a side-scrolling racer that plays like a platforming version of Micro Machines. To win, the player must stay away from the rear of the screen, and the last player remaining wins the round. The platforming and running is easy to grasp but there’s enough variance in the level design and nuance to the weapon pick-ups and grappling hook to make it endlessly replayable, both against other players locally or online. There’s also a ton of content to unlock, and when I entered ranked play, I started to see methods of traversal that blew my mind. The depth and breadth of play, as well as its uniqueness, makes Speedrunners peerless on consoles.

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AJ Small

AJ Small

AJ Small is a games industry veteran with over 12 years of experience. He started his gaming on the BBC Microcomputer and switched to being a devout SEGA fan from then on. He currently walks the earth in search of the tastiest/seediest drinking holes as part of his attempt to tell every single person on the planet that Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine are the greatest games ever made.

He can be found on twitter, where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.
AJ Small

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