Giant Sparrow

The 25 Best Video Games of 2017
The 25 Best Video Games of 2017

20

Cuphead

The game-design principles that guide Cuphead are at least 20 years old, building off of ideas that have laid stagnant since games like Contra and Gunstar Heroes fell out of vogue. The principles guiding its art and aesthetics, however, are closer to 90, and haven’t seen a resurgence since Termite Terrace took the baton of wacky anything-goes animation as far as they could run with it. The ability to live and play inside such art, however, is a pure 21st-century miracle. Cuphead brings a newfound respect for the immense work and boundless creativity that guided the most impressively animated cartoons of the 1930s, while also acting as a Trojan horse for a brand of trial-and-error gameplay of which there’s not nearly enough in the current landscape. More than just a mere imitation, just watching Cuphead in motion is to get a magnificent crash course on artistry, in this or any other medium this past year. Clark

The 25 Best Video Games of 2017

19

Stories Untold

Like an interactive version of The Twilight Zone, Stories Untold relates a simple moral story but masks it with clever misdirection, using familiar game genres and seemingly mundane tasks as a vehicle to catch players off guard. A text-based adventure game, which players boot up on a chunky computer from the 1980s, gets increasingly meta; a scientific experiment, running from the computers inside a laboratory, blooms into something quite otherworldly; and a radio outpost in the middle of a snowy nowhere, where another computer decrypts and responds to transmissions, might not be as isolated as it seems. For the most part, players cannot move from the desks that they sit at throughout the majority of the game’s four episodes or change the camera’s fixed perspective. And the particular framing of the shots that do see you sitting in front of a computer screen are so canny that you’re afflicted with a sense of dread as you helplessly type away, waiting for what may enter the room you’re in. This is the kind of psychological story that interactive mediums were made to tell. Riccio

The 25 Best Video Games of 2017

18

Destiny 2

Destiny 2’s biggest improvement over its predecessor isn’t what’s been added (a coherent plot) or preserved (the sublimely satisfying gunplay), but what’s been removed. Players aren’t given speeder bikes until they’ve completed the game, which makes the game less about racing on an endless loot treadmill from one mission to the next and more about embracing the strangeness of its alien worlds. What this means is that the environments now rise up to match the strength and detail of the gunplay. Destiny 2 uses its vivid surroundings to maximize the scope of each encounter, whether that’s chasing the Vex through physical and temporal labyrinths or fleeing a horde of the Hive through caverns littered with organic decay. The game’s kineticism isn’t reserved for dodging foes, but also required for dodging hazards like the searing rays of the sun as you shoot your way across a spacecraft. Look to how the vague and aimless Patrols of old have been replaced with objective-driven explorations (literally called Adventures), or how the map now features entire hidden zones (Lost Sectors), not just stray treasure chests. Destiny 2’s is as much of a time-suck as its predecessor, but now that’s for all the right reasons. Riccio

The 25 Best Video Games of 2017

17

The Norwood Suite

The public is more aware than ever of the infallibilities of well-known artists, and The Norwood Suite, Cosmo D’s follow-up to 2015’s brilliant Off-Peak, evokes the discomfort that many of us often feel when the dirty secrets of a musical icon are put on display. The setting of this game is a hotel that houses the legacy of a bandleader named Peter Norwood, whose exploitative relationships with other musicians come to the player’s attention via surreal trips down hidden passageways. Yet this building also bears numerous odd pleasures to behold, not least of which is a soundtrack that seamlessly morphs as you move from room to room. The characters are literally riffs in Cosmo D’s stupendous orchestration; different instruments and notes accompany different lines of dialogue as they appear on screen. The more you explore this strange location, the more you see the threat of commercialization in the form of corporate employees aiming to turn the hotel into a greater moneymaking scheme. Cosmo D gives no easy answers on how capitalistic culture can reconcile the sins of artistic giants, and that ambiguity makes The Norwood Suite a complicated and essential illustration of contemporary concerns. Jed Pressgrove

The 25 Best Video Games of 2017

16

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Nathan Drake, the central figure in previous Uncharted games, is a lying douchebag whose antics were more celebrated than examined. Enter Chloe Frazer, who redeems an immature franchise through a gradual moral awakening in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. This standalone expansion to the Uncharted series focuses on the sisterhood between Chloe and associate Nadine Ross, a friendship threatened by both Chloe’s default instinct to manipulate others and the appearance of Nathan’s irresponsible brother, Sam. Yes, the action sequences, while engaging, will be familiar to anyone who’s played an Uncharted game, but Chloe’s internal evolution toward caring about others gives the climactic chase scene a more altruistic bent that’s missing from the “gotta get myself out of this one” thrills that this series coasts on. As illustrated in its lighthearted and telling coda, The Lost Legacy stars a role model who isn’t only defined by her sex appeal, or her skill, intelligence, and ambition, but also by her willingness to be selfless—and that, unlike the empty escapism of the first four Uncharted games, is a legacy that developer Naughty Dog should be proud of. Pressgrove

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