Just What I Needed: A Grand Start for Games in 2017

Wow, what is happening with 2017? I don’t remember a year as busy with big, great games before E3 even hit. Developers usually save their big hitters for the holiday season (or rush them out the door for the same season), and sometimes there’s the odd game or two that couldn’t quite make the holiday window and is pushed back to spring. But with games like Horizon Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, this year just seems… different. It’s like 2016 was so unbelievably shitty that some ethereal force that controls video game releases has blessed us with a year of bliss to make up for it. I can (and probably will) write some pretty extensive entries about each of the games I’ve played so far, but I am currently juggling lots of work and class stuff, so I just wanted to give some brief but semi-coherent thoughts about each. It’s been a great year – for games – so far.

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Resident Evil 7

Like many fans of the Resident Evil series, I’ve been  increasingly disappointed by the recent RE games, most notably the sixth installment. I didn’t dislike RE 5, like many people, though I will agree that I missed the creepy atmosphere that the best games in the series had once mastered. But RE 6 was bad, and Resident Evil: Revelations couldn’t wash the bitter taste from my mouth, as good as it was.

As many have said, RE7 is a wonderfully dark return to the earlier games’ quiet, grim, claustrophobic atmosphere. I kind of wonder if the choice to use just one or two locations (the mansion and lab of the first game, the police station and sewers of the second game) had something to do with being conservative with design elements and saving on memory. Either way, when developers know the player is going to spend a lot of time in one place, it forces them to design that place very carefully and results in an added sense of detail and realism, I think. It makes the space more memorable, if anything, especially if it’s designed creatively. That’s how I felt about the house in RE 7. Every room told its own story about the family that once used it. Every maggot and newspaper scrap and rusted knob made me feel like this house has been lived in, so even when I wasn’t being chased by a walking oil-slick, I was unnerved and made anxious by my surroundings. I loved it. The PlayStation VR headset did make me feel nauseous after about fifteen minutes, so I stopped using it because I didn’t want it to affect my experience with the game. I’ve since read confirmations that ‘getting your VR legs,’ like sea legs, is a real thing, so I plan on trying to condition myself to play VR games that involve lots of movement soon and maybe replaying the game again this summer.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn was a truly wonderful surprise, and I want to write about in great detail at some point. When I saw the trailer at Sony’s 2016 E3 presentation, I thought it looked kind of cool, but I was hesitant to be very excited about it. When the tag line for a game involves mashing two disparate genres or periods together, I generally cringe. I’ve seen too many movies and played too many games that meld styles or genres just for the novelty of doing so. So I don’t feel too bad about being cautious about a game that might be described as ‘cave people fighting robot dinosaurs.’

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But holy shit. However justified, my caution was ultimately unnecessary. Horizon is a beautiful game that is fun to play and satisfying to experience in terms of the narrative. Aloy is a wonderful character, the machines are superbly designed and animated, the world is lush and vibrant and feels natural, and the diversity of the supporting cast is inspiring. There were so many moments that made me feel powerful or capable, and I couldn’t help pausing frequently to take tons of screenshots – with the great built-in photo mode – of the sun cutting like blades through a dense tree line, or rain dappling a pond around me, or a hulking, screeching robo-tyrannosaur stomping through the grass next to where I’m hiding. I’ll include a few here, but I have a ton more that I might post at some point.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect: Andromeda has gotten tons of hate after its release, and much of it, in my opinion, is unfounded or overblown. I will say that it has its problems, especially in the first few hours or so. One complaint that I concede to is the fact that the game does little to inspire you in the first few hours. It kind of assumes that you’ll be excited about a journey to a new galaxy and the ability to explore a small part of it, but if you’re not, you’re out of luck. I wish they’d had an intro movie that showed the preparation that went on in the Milky Way before departure, the excitement and anxiety that was building, the haunting spirit of adventure into the unknown that would certainly have pervaded the shipyards and space stations. And then, after a celebratory launch… darkness and silence. Let it linger. Fade some stars in, but hold that darkness close so that the audience begins to feel the same loneliness and isolation of six hundred years sleeping in the absolute stillness of intergalactic space. Then blast us awake with an unrelenting siren. Create that sense of chaos and frantic confusion that you want us to feel after waking up and finding not hope and adventure, but fear and futility. Everything is falling apart. The ship is damaged. The crew is either still sleeping or bewildered. All of that hope and intrepidness is cracking under the weight of panic, and the lives of countless people across several species is at stake… and you have to fix it. That would have been a better way to start the game, I think, especially for players who aren’t automatically excited by being a starship captain in unknown space.

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I was one of those nerds who was excited and invested just by the premise, so it didn’t take me too long to find myself hooked, but I had some other issues with the first handful of hours. I had graphical issues, like facial clipping on almost every alien character model – eyes poking through eyelids, lips clipping through lips. Textures on characters, especially their suits, and ship walls and floors were muddy and had jagged lines, to the point where they looked worse than last-gen Mass Effect games. Oddly enough, even without a patch, this issue seems to have mostly cleared up for me. I’m around 45 hours in and characters and environments look a lot better. I don’t see any facial clipping and textures look a lot more crisp and clear. I wonder if it had something to do with how the game was loading its artifacts during the first playthrough.

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I realize that at this point I sound like so many of the game’s detractors, but it’s partially because these issues seem mostly present in the first stretch of the game, and partially because I expected better of BioWare. In general, I very much like the game. I wish I’d had the ability to create a better looking Joey Ryder (why can’t I have an actual beard, like in Dragon Age: Inquisition?), but I’m definitely invested in my character and am forming strong attachments to my team. I haven’t fallen for someone as hard as I did for Morrigan of Dragon Age or Bastila of Knights of the Old Republic, but I’m having fun being flirty with Peebee. She’s smart and cute and spunky, so I imagine she’ll end up being my main squeeze. I’ll have more to say when I’ve played more, but I’m enjoying it a lot and foresee at least a few dozen more hours of planetary hopping about.

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For as much hate as Mass Effect: Andromeda has gotten, I’m surprised at how little hate 1-2 Switch has gotten. Well, I don’t know if it deserves hate, exactly, but it deserves some criticism for its lack of depth and hefty price tag, I think. When it was first announced I was convinced it would be packed in with the system. When it wasn’t, I thought Nintendo would use the variable pricing of many Switch games and charge like $30-35 for it. When I saw that it was a full $50, I thought it might be a far more developed and fleshed-out game than I had originally envisioned. Nope. Just a collection of mini-games. Some of the mini-games are fun, sure, and it’s a great game to have to highlight the local multiplayer aspect of the system, but some of the mini-games don’t seem to work as well as they should, and some are just boring. You might have made the same claims about Wii Sports, but packing a game in with the system forgives many sins. I’m glad I have the game, and I look forward to playing with people who have never played it before, but I don’t expect to get much mileage out of it, and that makes $50 far too high of a price tag.

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I also have three 2017 games that I’m itching to play: Persona 5NieR: Automata, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’ve heard many great things about all three, most especially Breath of the Wild, which seems to be destined for a hundred Game of the Year awards. I have an exciting summer ahead of me, it seems.

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I’ve also just gotten around to playing a couple of 2016 games recently, so I’ll throw in some thoughts about those as well.

Street Fighter V

I have a spotty history with the Street Fighter series. Street Fighter II was one of my favorite SNES games, and I loved Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the original PlayStation, but many of the games in between just didn’t grab me. They often felt either too familiar or too new. I know, I know. Pick a side, right? When Street Fighter IV was announced, I thought the art style looked a little too goofy, but I figured I’d give the series another chance. After playing it, well, I still thought the art style was a little too goofy (I really hate when characters have gigantic feet, for one), but the fighting was pretty great. Street Fighter V keeps the art style, sadly, and the fighting is… mostly the same. I’m not a fighting game aficionado, though, so maybe I’m missing some nuanced mechanics or something. The new villain, Necalli, is terrible and I cringe every time he opens his mouth. I very much disliked how limited the roster was, especially because they make obtaining other characters a case of buying them as DLC or earning ranks in the online mode. Neither of those sat well with me. I was glad to have Chun-Li and Cammy, but I wished Akuma and Crimson Viper were in the core line-up. The story mode was weak until they added the free DLC version, which was actually pretty decent. I don’t know how often I’ll go back to the game, though. My crush on Chun-Li was once again reignited, though, and it inspired me to consider future short blog posts about various video game crushes I’ve had/have. But we’ll see.

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Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Fortune

My first instinct is to begin my discussion of this game with a sort of embarrassed apology, but two things: 1) I’m not writing this for anyone other than myself, and 2) I know that this instinct comes from how the culture that shaped me treats sexuality, which is to hide it and be ashamed of it. I fight against that urge every chance I get, for many reasons, but that’s for a different entry, perhaps. I understand that this game hypersexualizes its female characters, and there are some problematic issues with gender throughout it, but I enjoy it and I’m not ashamed of that.

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This is the game that I wanted to play when I bought the first Xtreme game, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, for the original Xbox. That entry and its sequel were, to me, too difficult, mostly because they imposed a time limit on how much you could get done before you’d have to start all over again. There was no way you could build up a collection of items and bathing suits because you could only make enough money to buy a handful of things before you had to start a new vacation and go back to not having anything. Xtreme 3 fixes that, allowing you to carry over all of your money and items to a new vacation, which makes getting rare or expensive swimsuits much easier. The mini-games feel balanced in this game, too, which is another definite improvement, specifically when it comes to the volleyball. It’s the core of the game and I never felt like it was very much fun or rewarding until this entry. The graphics seem a little lackluster for this generation, but they’re pretty good overall. And, speaking of video game crushes, I have a new one, thanks to this game. Momiji is the best. I’m actually considering getting the newer Ninja Gaiden games just to be able to play her in a cool combat role. I am in love. Don’t judge me, non-existent reader! But I digress.

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As I said, I may end up writing about these in more detail over the summer, but I am going to try and write a little about every game that I play from now on. I want to capture initial impressions and thoughts for later use. And I’ll have a lot to capture soon, it seems. Not a bad predicament to be in, I’d say.

My Gaming Radar: 2017

First, I should say that this is not necessarily just a list of unreleased games that I’m excited about playing in 2017. The stack of games I’ve bought but haven’t played yet is bigger than my bank account, so my immediate gaming future will be spent catching up on some of those, and I begin my list with those that I actually plan on playing in the next few months. I couldn’t hope to get through the entire stack, even if I had several months off (sorry, copy of Secret of Evermore that I’ve had for almost twenty years!), so I’m just going with recent-ish purchases.

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Aside from that, yeah, these are some games that I am very excited about and are scheduled to be released in 2017. It’s a long-ish list already, so I’m excluding games that I’m only passively interested in (sorry, Ni no Kuni II, I still have to finish your predecessor), games that I’ve already played in some form (like Final Fantasy XII or Dragon Quest VIII), games that I’ve started and am still playing (The Division, Rock Band 4, GTA V, etc.) and games that are only rumored to be coming out (like, well, half of the games for Nintendo’s Switch). I’ll conclude with games that I want to see announced this year, because if anyone reads this and gets that far they deserve to be rewarded with even more text to half-read and zero-enjoy. You’re welcome!

Final Fantasy XV

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This game was in development for so long that I hadn’t even thought about it in years. Real, literal years. But when I got an email about pre-ordering it, an old familiar excitement rushed through me. Final Fantasy games have changed a lot over the years, but I haven’t hated any of them, even if some are less memorable than others. And some, like XII, are high up on my favorite-games-of-all-time list, so I am very excited to play this one. I’d been waiting for winter break to start it because playing narratively immersive games is hard for me during the busy semester, so I should get to it before I’m out of time and up to my neck in all kinds of work again. I know very little about it, because I tend to avoid reading previews and reviews on games that I am very excited about, to avoid getting too hyped or running into spoilers, but it looks gorgeous from the few screenshots and videos I’ve seen. I just hope the combat is fun, like it was in XII.

Life is Strange

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This game seems pretty easy to consume in small chunks, so I will likely save this for the middle of the semester, when I can guiltily sneak in only 20-30 minutes of gaming every few days (if I’m lucky). I’ve heard lots of good things about it, and I have very much enjoyed other recent games that have more of a focus on narrative than mechanics. It also came up in a presentation I attended, about using video games in literature courses, so I am curious to play it with that in mind and see how I might fit it into my own future courses.

The Last Guardian

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Okay, full disclosure: I own both Team Ico’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus but I have yet to beat either of them. Or, well, play either of them for more than five or ten minutes. But I will! Some day. Some distant, distant day. I am determined to break that habit with The Last Guardian, which I never thought I’d see released at all. I enjoy big, mainstream games as much as the next person, but sometimes I need these smaller, quirky games to remind me of the vast spectrum of what video games have come to be. Also, that bird-dog better not fucking die, man. I’m telling you right now, Team Ico, despite the game already being complete!

Paper Mario: Color Splash

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Now we’re getting into the games that I will probably have to save for summer break, but I am still very excited about games like Paper Mario: Color Splash. The Paper Mario series has followed the Nintendo tradition of refining and perfecting a solid formula rather than reworking and trying to revolutionize new entries. The upside to this is that you end up with some of the best games on any platform, but sometimes it can feel tiring after a while (lookin’ at you, Animal Crossing). It’s somewhere between the two for me, with regards to Paper Mario, so I’m both expecting a high quality, thoughtful experience with Color Splash and hoping for something different enough to make it feel like a very new and different game. But the cute style and odd humor will win me over, either way. Paper Peach is still on my list of tattoos that I might get eventually.

Dead Rising 3

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The first Dead Rising game was, I thought, flawed but fun, and the second improved a bit on my main area of complaint (the whole ticking time-bomb structure). Even if I don’t get into the story or characters in this third entry, I’ve always loved exploring the detailed environments and the many ways with which to dispatch the undead. The previous entries did an impressive job with the last gen hardware, considering how good the games looked and how many objects were on screen at once, so I am excited to see how the Xbox One’s horsepower lends itself to creating an even more chaotic and inspiring world.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

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I don’t have much to say about this one. I’ve enjoyed most of the Call of Duty games and I get around to playing them when I can get them for pretty cheap (I don’t play online so I never feel very rushed). I expect that this will be a solid, fun, short experience.

Halo 4

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Man, I loved Halo 3. I played it online, a lot, and I had tons of fun with the video editor. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to buying the fourth game, and I don’t expect I’ll get online with it this time around (having the right set of friends being into a game at the same time helps, I think), but I anticipate some epic, cinematic science-fiction battles.

Battlefield 1

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I have a lot of FPSs to catch up on, it seems. Battlefield 1 looks gorgeous and I’m curious to see how they handle the World War I setting. Like many people, I picture that war as being very slow and bleak, but the videos of Battlefield 1 make it look very fast and flashy. For as much cynicism that this  disparity had generated early in the game’s development, it sure has gotten a lot of good press post-release. So I might try and get to this before summer, if I can.

Titanfall

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I never bought into the hype for this game, but it looked good enough to buy at a hefty Black Friday discount, so I’ll play it before I forget about it and it’s doomed to the probably-won’t-play-for-years pile.

Street Fighter V

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Fighting games are super easy to play casually, so I’ll probably play this game (and the next entry)  sporadically throughout the semester. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Street Fighter IV, so I expect this one to be at least as good.

Mortal Kombat X

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I don’t remember the last time I played a Mortal Kombat game regularly, but with fairly strong buzz and a roster of DLC characters that include some of my favorite cinematic villains, I couldn’t pass this one up. Even if I don’t get into it half as much as I did with the first few MK games all those years ago, it will be nice to revisit the characters (and have a current MK game laying around for social gaming gatherings).

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past

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Oh, man. Ever since Dragon Quest VIII enthralled and enchanted me over ten years ago, I have been waiting anxiously for another Dragon Quest experience like it. With no proper sequels released on home consoles, I made do with the Nintendo DS remakes, which were great, don’t get me wrong, but they didn’t have the same vastness and sense of exploration that VIII did. I don’t expect Fragments of the Forgotten Past will satisfy that sense, but I love the series so much that I will eat it up anyway. It will at least keep me satisfied until…

Dragon Quest XI

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Okay, so, very little has been released about this entry in the series, leading me to doubt it will be out in 2017, but that’s what it’s listed as so I’ll hold out hope. And my hopes are high, given that this will be the first single player game in the main series to be released in the US since, well, VIII. And the few screenshots that I’ve seen look absolutely stunning. I hope they maintain the old-school RPG gameplay, which is a staple of the series, and don’t try anything too revolutionary. Still, just seeing a new Dragon Quest world rendered with the power of the PlayStation 4 is going to make waiting hard. But I will, and I’ll probably self-impose a blackout on reading any press about it, starting — now.

Resident Evil 7

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Resident Evil 7 comes out just two weeks after the semester starts, which means… well, it means I’m going to have to play fast to make it through it before I get too busy. Waiting is not much of an option. Not only am I a big Resident Evil fan, but this game looks like it goes back to the series’ horror roots in the best way. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to play it in VR or not yet. The screen tearing and jaggies in the “Kitchen” demo worry me a bit, as does the fact that some VR games make me nauseous after a while. I’ll probably start out in VR and see how it feels. The graphics and lighting in the regular demo are spectacular, though, and I can’t wait to see where the biological agents come into play, as so far they’re playing the whole ‘inbred, rural serial killer’ thing up, but that is almost certainly a front. Like the mansion in the first game, I’m sure there is some underground or off-site facility where mutant/zombie stuff happens. As disappointed as I was that Silent Hills was cancelled, I like that Capcom seems to be embracing the same kind of tone and style for this new Resident Evil.

Outlast 2

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Another embarrassing admission: I still haven’t beaten the first Outlast game. I died a few times in a row when I got to the basement, and I just wasn’t equipped to deal with that level of repeated tension and anxiety, so I put it aside. I’ll have to get back to it, because as a horror fan I loved the premise and atmosphere, and the sequel looks so great. The cornfield setting is especially exciting for me, because I live and go to school in a city surrounded by corn. I’m even trying to think of a way to bring it into the classroom, too, since my students will be well acquainted with corn field and their creepiness, so we can analyze setting and its effect on different audiences.

Horizon Zero Dawn

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I don’t know much about the plot for Horizon Zero Dawn, other than it’s a sort of post–post-apocalyptic reclamation scenario (right? I might be remembering incorrectly). But the video they showed at E3, and the screenshots that I’ve seen have been stunning. I’m all about large, colorful, luscious landscapes, and this game looks to have that in spades. I’m all for new female lead characters, too, so I’m hoping she is cool and memorable.

Ace Combat 7

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I’m cautiously optimistic about Ace Combat 7Ace Combat 4 is one of my favorite games of all time, but since then the series has disappointed me to various degrees, with the last game I tried playing (Assault Horizon) being the worst of them. Having said that, 7  probably wouldn’t even be on my radar if it weren’t for the fact that it’s going to be fully compatible with the PlayStation VR. Will I get sick and want to have a real barf bag handy in my virtual cockpit? Maybe. But it just might be worth it. I just want the controls to return to the days of the fourth and fifth games in the series. Please. Pretty please.

Red Dead Redemption 2

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Rockstar is so secretive about their games that I can’t even predict whether this will really be released this year or pushed back to spring 2018, but it seems slightly more likely that the former will actually happen. I loved Red Dead Redemption far more than I’d expected to, and Rockstar went so far above and beyond with Grand Theft Auto V that my hopes are apologetically high for the sequel. I’m hoping it’s set up like GTA V in that there is a fully fleshed-out single player campaign and then a vast and full-featured open-world multi-player mode as well. I’m ready to ride or die either way.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew

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Okay, so the screenshots released for this game aren’t exactly inspiring. In fact, they look pretty generic and, well, crappy. BUT! Star Trek! In virtual reality! I won’t be too worried about the graphics being sub-par (I might even welcome it, in VR) if they get the gameplay and simulation parts right. My favorite Star Trek game is the SNES version of Star Trek: Starfleet Academy – Starship Bridge Simulator. I loved being in the role of a cadet making their way through the academy and, eventually, getting my own ship and rank. This game sounds like it could potentially be a spiritual successor to that game, so I am hyped for it. I’m not sure it will start in the academy, but I hope so. Either way, I’m definitely excited to give this a shot. It might be a dud, but at the very least it will be a neat novelty game for the VR.

Mass Effect Andromeda

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Is this the game I’m looking forward to most this year? Maybe. Probably. Maybe. The Mass Effect series is among my favorites, and this game looks pretty spectacular so far. The only thing keeping me from being more certain about its status is the cast of characters. The other Mass Effect sequels had the benefit of returning, beloved characters. I’m sure BioWare will conjure up yet another complex and lovable/hateable (in a good way) crew, but I don’t know anything about them at this point, so… I’m purposefully being wary. I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. Anyway, I hope away missions to planets makes a return, like the Mako missions in the first game. It would be even better if it were expanded on and you could land on any terrestrial planet. With games like No Man’s Sky and Elite: Dangerous it seems like an obvious direction to take, but once again I’m not going to get too hopeful. Regardless, I love BioWare and I love Mass Effect, so my life and free time are theirs once this comes out.

Nintendo Switch

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Aside from what Nintendo showed at E3, I haven’t heard much about the gaming line-up for the Switch, so I don’t have much to go off of. There’s supposed to be a new Mario game ready for or near launch, duh. And there will eventually be a new Mario Kart, Mario Party, Metroid, etc. I’ve never been big into mobile gaming, so that part of the design is passively interesting at best for me. I am also a little disappointed (but not surprised) that the core system is not likely to be much more powerful than last-gen consoles. But, at the end of the day, it’s a new Nintendo console that will have new Nintendo games… gimme dat.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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Okay, one last shameful confession before we wind things down: I bought The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess with my Wii at launch. I was super excited for the series’ return to darker and more realistic visuals. I played it for an hour or so and then didn’t touch it again for four or five years. At that point I felt dumb and guilty for never having given it a chance, especially given how much people seemed to like it. So I picked it up, played for seven or eight hours… and stopped. Again. I can’t let that happen again, so I am determined to play the shit out of Breath of the Wild, which looks colorful and fun and pretty wonderful so far.

NES Classic Edition

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I have been trying to get one of these since it launched. It seems Nintendo is up to its old tricks, limiting stock and using the resulting madness to fuel sales for months. It works, of course, but I wanted one before it was the ‘it’ thing to grab. I have many of the games loaded on it, but for those that I don’t, and just to have a slightly up-res version of the NES with classic controllers, I want one. Badly.

Other Wishes

Very briefly, here are some non-obvious games I’d love to see announced or released this year. First up is Bully 2. It’s not that I loved the original more than any game ever, but I did very much enjoy the world and characters, and the fact that a sequel seems like a given and seems to constantly be rumored to be coming, I want it more and more every year. Maybe this year.

Second is Mother 3. After Nintendo’s surprise release of EarthBound Beginnings for the Virtual Console, my hopes for a US release of Mother 3 went from ‘never gonna happen’ to ‘any day now’ instantly. I was so sure they would have announced it last year, on the tenth anniversary of the Japanese version’s release. I lost some hope when it wasn’t, but it still seems like it has to happen at some point… I really hope it’s this year.

What else would be cool? A new Knights of the Old Republic game, thought it seems highly unlikely. A Star Wars VR game. A remake of Final Fantasy VIII, which seems highly likely (but not for another few years, probably). A new, real, huge Animal Crossing. A new Civilization Revolution would be nice, but is doubtful. And, of course, a Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross sequel or remake, as unlikely as it is.

Even without these dream games, 2017 is already shaping up to be a pretty decent year for video games. I look forward to E3 in the spring and how that might change things. Until then, I have an endless stack of games to get to.