2017 In Review

 

If you spend as much time on the internet as I do, it’s been pretty much impossible to avoid hearing some variation on the phrase “I can’t wait for this year to be over”. I can understand the sentiment, but my understanding in this case comes entirely from my ability to put myself in other people’s shoes. Surely you should want to fix the problems you have now rather than putting them off until they get worse; a topic that we’ll regrettably be coming back to later.

But we would be doing ourselves a great disservice to remember only the bad things that happened in a given year, so let’s take a closer, more objective look at the good and the bad parts of 2017, shall we?

Best Games of 2017

It sounds a little trite to say that 2017 had some great games. Of course it did. Great games come out every year, but for what it’s worth 2017 did have some great games and some fantastic examples of what games can be when developers put some real effort in.

When compiling a list of the year’s best games, people tend to forget about a lot of the games that came out early in the year in favor of what’s new and flashy. So it helps that in 2017, most of my favorite games came out in the first half of the year anyway. Not that there haven’t been great games coming out throughout 2017, but For Honor, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Resident Evil 7, Prey and Nioh all came out in the first five months of the year, with only a few truly great games like Hellblade and Wolfenstein 2 batting cleanup in the second half. Incidentally, is it a cheat to say that one of my favorite games of 2017 was Star Fox 2? I mean, I know it was “made” in 1996 and got smuggled in with the SNES Classic, but it did come out this year technically, and it totally blew my mind.

If I had to choose one game to be my “Game Of The Year”, which I don’t really want to do because I feel that it makes the other games in this section seem somehow lesser, it would probably be Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Yes, I gave a few other games released this year equal or even higher scores, but no game this year has gripped me or occupied my thoughts in such an intensely personal way as Hellblade has.

Beautifully atmospheric, brilliantly written and masterfully designed, Hellblade grabbed me from minute one and didn’t let go until the very end. Even it’s missteps were at least interesting missteps; the rot system might be a little clunky, but it intertwines the motivations of Senua and the player and immersed me like few other games have before. If you haven’t tried it yet, fix that.

Honorable Mentions

Not only did we get some excellent games in 2017, we also got several high quality expansions for existing games. Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Frozen Wilds expansion benefitted from excellent storytelling and attention to detail. Like the main game, most of it’s side missions are self-contained short stories and do away with much of the repetitive busywork that plagues most open world games. Since Horizon’s main game was such a complete package, The Frozen Wilds ultimately can’t help feeling a little vestigial, but it’s a welcome addition all the same.

Dark Souls 3’s Ringed City could easily have just been more Dark Souls, but not content to simply jog in place instead delivered probably the best single Dark Souls expansion and brought a satisfying, if melancholic end to it’s series.

Also not content to rest on it’s laurels was Resident Evil 7. Capcom peppered 2017 with quality downloadable content for RE7, each experimenting with a different tone and gameplay style. My favorites were Bedroom, a tense, clever little story where the player must escape from being shackled to a bed in a locked room, and End Of Zoe, a hilarious action-horror-comedy in the vein of Evil Dead that has you beat monsters to death with your bare fists. Most of RE7’s DLC can also be played using PlayStationVR, which only enhanced the experience.

Speaking of which, the PSVR came into it’s own this year and has actually done quite well for itself in 2017. Could it have used a few more big-name games and more exposure? Sure, but Resident Evil 7, Farpoint and a handful of other PSVR-compatible games both big and small helped demonstrate it’s potential as a viable platform, so here’s hoping it gets even better next year.

Last but not least was the release of the Nintendo Switch. After the disaster that was the Wii U, I honestly didn’t have much confidence in Nintendo’s new system, but I’ve slowly been brought around by the Switch’s smart, novel little device.
Even more impressive was the Switch’s release schedule across it’s inaugural year. 2017 saw a steady supply of high-quality first party games like Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey, ARMS and Splatoon and a few good third-party titles with lots of great indie games on the Switch’s eshop to keep fans sated between major releases. Even if I haven’t quite been motivated to pick one up yet, I find the Switch to be a genuinely impressive machine and one I anticipate will only improve as time goes on.

Worst Games of 2017

Nope. We’re not doing this here. Sorry. Not that I don’t occasionally enjoy the catharsis of a well put together “Year’s Worst” list, but I don’t feel that their level of popularity is ultimately a good thing. Not only does their prevalence encourage an unhealthy obsession with negativity in general, but I really don’t think we should be making lists like that enshrine bad games in the same manner as good ones. My philosophy is that we should hold up the good works of art and let all the others pass into the annals of history, neither celebrated nor derided. A kind of cultural natural selection.

The Year of the Loot Box

Speaking of natural selection, 2017 is the year that publishers really started pressing their luck by including loot boxes in every one of their products with no consideration for whether or not that inclusion is appropriate. Not that loot boxes are ever truly appropriate in a game you’re asked to pay for up front, but I think it’s is fair to say that some games push it to a greater degree than others when it comes to their use of loot boxes.

See, Overwatch more or less kicked off the loot box craze, but Overwatch is a multiplayer-only game like the first Titanfall or Star Wars: Battlefront, and in those games, you’re pretty much doing the same thing over and over again. That’s not a criticism, it’s a fact, and for the record I love Overwatch, but it and it’s ilk all use loot boxes to keep players coming back to an experience that has you doing the same thing ad infinitum. Back in my day, games kept you coming back to them by being good. I mean, there’s a reason my friends and I spent nearly our entire high school careers alternating between Halo 2, Burnout 3 and Super Smash Bros, and it wasn’t so we could buy Zelda a new dress every other day.

I’d like to avoid simply joining the dogpile and sounding off on how terrible companies like EA and Activision are, I mean, we all already know EA and Activision are terrible right? Well they are, and in the case of EA specifically I’m seriously worried about Titanfall’s future, but that’s a rant for another time. Instead, let’s talk for a minute about exactly what loot boxes are for from a design standpoint and why their presence should turn you off as much as they do me.

Trying to be as objective as possible, loot boxes seem to serve two possible purposes. Firstly and somewhat cynically, loot boxes could be seen as a method of withholding meaningful content (“meaningful” in this case being either a cosmetic item that you personally like or an item that’s useful functionally) by interspersing it amongst easy-to-produce “filler content” like profile icons, emotes and sprays. This necessitates that less meaningful content actually be produced and allows it to be drip-fed to players who might otherwise unlock it all and then tire of the game much more quickly. In that case it could be viewed as a way to cut costs and lengthen gameplay.

Incidentally, if I didn’t care about sprays back in the era of Counter-Strike, where personally uploaded sprays could be anything from magic-eye pictures to actual porn, I don’t care about getting a Chibi-Tracer spray from a loot box, and I sure as hell don’t consider it a reward.

The second reason is more obvious, people will always be attracted to mystery, especially when that mystery means potentially easy gains for them. It’s why people would rather go to a casino for the slim chance to win a ton of money instead of working somewhere to earn guaranteed, but comparatively less money.
In the US and UK, loot boxes have already been determined not to legally not be gambling; not entirely surprising but one that I can’t completely find fault with either. In the UK, the argument for the ruling is that the prizes obtained from loot boxes cannot be used outside the game, even though the boxes themselves were purchased with real money. While it still puts a bad taste in my mouth, I find it hard to find fault with this argument, since people who buy loot boxes should know what they’re getting into.

The US on the other hand had a significantly weaker argument for it’s verdict, stating that real money isn’t being used to pay for random prizes directly, and that extra step between payment and payout create enough of a difference that loot boxes and the premium currency sometimes required to buy them can’t be considered gambling.
Now, that reasoning can itself be countered with an emphatic “Oh, come on!”, but let’s look at a more in-depth analogy to get a better understanding of how this argument can be torn to shreds, rolled up and smoked with very little effort.

Imagine if I opened a casino and, instead of letting people gamble or pay for drinks with real money, I exchanged their money at the door for Ryan’s Patented Totally Legal Fun Bucks. The exchange could be one-to-one, or I could skim a little off the top for every transaction and tell people that my RPTLFBs are worth as much as I say they’re worth, not an uncommon practice in the “AAA” game industry. Of course, I wouldn’t give out prizes in the form of money, not at all sir. I’d just give out items that I determine to have the same value as the Fun Bucks being gambl-uh…spent on them (and yes, I know that’s how a lot of raffles actually work, but raffles are considered gambling under the law).

I wouldn’t go out and get a gaming license because hey, by the US’s logic, it isn’t gambling. Would I be able to run a successful business that way? Of course not. I’d get shut down faster than a studio acquired by EA.

There, I win at the law. You’re welcome.

Pictured: Nothing worth spending several hours or dollars to obtain.

The Battle For The Net

But if you think loot boxes were the worst thing to happen to games this year, think again. On December 14th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) narrowly voted to roll back regulations that forced internet service providers to treat all internet traffic equally. What does that mean? Well, it means that ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T can block or slow down sites they don’t like and charge customers for faster speeds. In other words, they are not being regulated to the same degree that they were before.

But despite the ruling, the battle over net neutrality is far from over. Congress could simply overturn the ruling by passing a Resolution Of Disapproval if the house and senate vote for it within 60 days. While a resolution like that could pass with a simple majority, it would need a full two-thirds of each house backing it to avoid getting vetoed by Trump.

But how does this affect gamers? Well for one thing, there’s a good chance that you can look forward to the prices for decent connection speeds getting totally jacked. Then there’s the additional prices that ISPs could start charging for access to sites like Youtube which, if you’re into gaming culture at all…..I mean, do I even need to finish this sentence? I shouldn’t have to. You should be outraged that big corporations ae trying to put the repository of all human knowledge behind a paywall, possibly preventing everyone below a certain demographic from using the internet at all in any meaningful way. And if you’re an American, you should go to Battleforthenet.com and write your local congressperson about how this ruling is bad for everyone. Not just for gamers, not just for people whose jobs primarily exist on the internet. No, I speak no hyperbole when I say that this is bad for the entire human race.

Most of all, you should do it because these people who want to control you shouldn’t get to win. People like FCC Chairman Ajit Pai shouldn’t get to win. Seriously, if you want to get good and righteously angry about this issue, go look up Ajit Pai, a guy whose looks like he learned how to smile from reading a manual and who is already doing his obnoxious victory dance in your face.

So do it. Don’t wait, this ruling will only be harder to reverse later. And oh hey, I put another link right here so you don’t even have to look two inches higher on the screen to find it. Do it. You already write multiple tweets a day, this is just as easy. Do it now. Do it for yourself. Do it for your friends. Do it to spite me. Just do it.

Do it because this idiot doesn’t get to win.

Looking Ahead

It’s more than a little annoying that half of an article about the video games of 2017 has to be taken up by discussions of the politics surrounding them. But while I generally try to make the Co-Op Couch a more positive space, I won’t shy away from issues that need to be addressed. Regardless, I found writing those sections completely exhausting, so let’s close this thing out with something more positive shall we?

2018 already has some fantastic looking titles lined up. The God of War reboot looks incredibly refreshing and I’m personally interested to see how it compares to Hellblade. The co-op adventure game A Way Out by Hazelight Studios is intriguing and you can bet we’ll be covering it at some point next year. Far Cry 5, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Kingdom Hearts 3 all have 2018 release dates and look like quality games, even if I’m not personally all that into them, and while I’m a little worried about Metro: Exodus, I do love that series, so it’ll probably get a look in at some point too.

If there’s one piece of advice I can leave you with dear reader, it’s to not decide that 2018 will be terrible just because 2017 may have been. At this point, it can only suck if you decide that it will.
Pessimism is a trap. Worse, it’s a trap that you put yourself into and the longer you’re in it, the harder it is to leave. So try to be mindful of that, and don’t be so quick to be angry. Don’t throw away an apple to gnaw at the pit.

Oh, and Happy New Year.

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