Best of 2017: Top 10 Gaming Moments

Now that we’re finally talking about the games of 2017 themselves, it’s time to start asking the question – Is this the best year for videogame releases since 2007? Do we at last have an annum worth blowing past 2011 and taking on the year that gave us Bioshock, Modern Warfare, Mass Effect, Portal and Mario Galaxy? It’s a short question with a long answer, but perhaps so. If it is, then the ease with which I came up with content for this list makes an awful lot of sense. 2017 was a sensational year for gaming moments that encouraged some good old fashioned water cooler chat.

Even compared to previous years’ lists, this one is positively packed with story-related moments, so seriously, proceed with caution. Or don’t proceed at all.

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VR BEST OF 2017 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Intriguing, but strange. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

Big videogame spoilers follow!

Seriously!

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10. Simulation – Prey

Oftentimes you’ll need to get through several hours of a game before reaching any big twists, rug pulls or otherwise shocking plot developments, but Prey gives you several inside the first two hours. The fact that they make such an impact is testament to how well Arkane Studios builds up the pretense of one reality before literally and figuratively shattering it with one melee attack to a glass panel. Prey mixes together a visually arresting Hollywood-style title sequence with some unsettlingly clever tutorials ending with a terrifying first encounter with an alien species, then uses a detail-rich apartment environment and a tiny bit of familial drama to turn your attention in one direction before jolting you back the opposite way. This is all rather effective to say the least at leaving you on edge, setting the stage for a claustrophobic journey of fear and intrigue.

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9. Blind – Hellblade

Placing you in the role (and the mind) of Senua, a supposedly fearless viking warrior who has plenty to fear both internally and in the world around her, Hellblade has its work cut out for it as it tries to illustrate the experience of anxiety and other strands of mental illness in a tasteful way. The game carries a stern warning in its title card that real-life sufferers may struggle with certain scenes, but its goal is empathy, so most players are likely to find something within Hellblade that gets to them. For me this was unquestionably the blinded sequence, when Senua must attempt to reach an enigmatic goal by sneaking around past faceless demons and slumbering beasts that she and the player can barely make out. Each one can end Senua’s journey with a single touch and getting too close to one causes the screen to shudder as if recoiling from pain. I simply didn’t experience a more harrowing digital moment in 2017.

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8. Audition – Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein II does not pull many punches. Unafraid to go further than almost any other modern videogame in the name of either drama or comedy, this moment is a thoroughly bizarre example of both that left me with my mouth open in disbelief. Having already given you a first-person perspective on domestic abuse and then your own decapitation, Wolfenstein II sends you, Billy Blaskowicz, to the planet Venus in disguise to audition for the villainous role of yourself in a Nazi propaganda film. The producer overseeing the casting? None other than a near-senile Adolf Hitler. The scene that follows the fuhrer’s initial appearance is flabbergasting in its commitment to a bizarre brand of tension, making you watch as he intermittently screams, throws up, curls into the foetal position and dances with excitement, executing the aspiring actors who don’t match his vision for the part. At one point you even need to perform lines you’ve memorised, then the sequence ends with a brutal role-playing exercise that doesn’t end well for one Nazi soldier. Par for the course for a game like The New Colossus.

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7. Ridley Returns – Metroid: Samus Returns

Going into the long-awaited official remake of the Game Boy’s Metroid II: Return of Samus, fans of the storied Nintendo sci-fi series wondered what, if any, changes to the story would take place. In a post-Metroid Zero Mission world there was always the potential of a little extra something added onto the end of the main experience, but Samus Returns was already so much bigger and more complex than the Game Boy blueprint it was following that such a twist was far from guaranteed. Yet throughout the journey you glimpse the odd reptilian body part or creepy eye, making you wonder if something is watching you, waiting patiently to attack. Then, right after you beat the original final boss, it does attack, and it’s none other than the serial pest and avian Terminator known as Ridley. Boasting a really cool design halfway between his Metroid and Super Metroid appearances, some amazing music and plenty of variation in his attacks, Ridley is my favourite videogame boss of 2017 – fanservice done right.
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6. Traceback – Doki Doki Literature Club

Wow. How do you even talk about Doki-Doki Literature Club and what makes it so refreshingly, horrifyingly unique? Well, being able to spoil it on a page like this is a good start. Here’s a game that “rewards” (if you can call it that) the kind of player who obsessively checks options menus before starting a game. I am one such player, so when the game’s slightly buried manual casually reminds you that Steam/your device’s OS lets you check a game’s source files, best believe things start to get real interesting. Right around the time this cutesy visual novel / dating sim drops its first out-of-place piece of dialogue, a disturbing image file appears in the game’s directory called “Hxppy Thxughts”. It is not a happy image, and when a much clearer version of that image appears in the main game, showing the hanging corpse of the protagonist’s childhood friend no less, error messages and glitches assault the screen. One asks you to check out a file called ‘traceback.txt’, which smuggles in a strange message about “deleting” the suicidal character. From there, the hooks are in, and things start to get really gripping – and messed up.

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5. Joker’s Smile – Persona 5

The Persona series has never really been about plot for me. My favourite things about the games are the wonderful characters, the meaty JRPG mechanics and the unparalleled presentation style on show. So I was very pleasantly surprised when Persona 5 hit me with a tasty twist that felt properly earned. After scores of hours, most of the cutscenes shown in the trailers had played out within the context of the plot – except for one curious moment – Our protagonist (nicknamed Joker) had yet to smile in that devious manner from the first trailer years ago. The exact moment that he finally does comes at the end of a dire, seemingly inescapable situation. This marks the “a-ha!” point where a long, drawn-out plan devised by our lovable gang of misfits turns the tables and places their cocky enemy squarely in the crosshairs. The impact of this moment depends on how closely you’ve been following along, but for me it was an electric jolt that led me straight into the best sequence of the whole hundred-hour story.

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4. Outcome of the First Case – Danganronpa V3

This one is exceedingly tricky to write about. The real big memorable moment of Danganronpa V3 is its brilliantly insane ending, but I just don’t have the guts to spoil it here. If I did, that means I’d have to talk about the earlier games in the series, which I still want to encourage people to play blind wherever possible. Luckily there’s a moment from much earlier in the game that still left me reeling in its audacity and is shocking all on its own. Successfully pulling off the decoy protagonist trick is so difficult that you can probably name the amount of times you’ve seen it done on one hand. Famously the realm of Hideo Kojima and his ilk, opening a trap door under the player like that is just as likely to provoke anger as it is to blow minds. So of course Danganronpa tried it. Thanks to some well-placed foreshadowing and deliberate tonal beats, the revelation that the character you’re playing as is actually the killer in the game’s first case (and is executed as a result) feels only as crazy as anything else the Danganronpa series has pulled in the past.
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3. Jump Up Superstar – Super Mario Odyssey

If you told me at the start of the year that the Nintendo game with the most amount of delightful surprises worthy of a spoiler tag would be Super Mario Odyssey, I’d have told you to lay off the Super Mushrooms. But lo and behold, Super Mario Odyssey packs in at least three – Maybe more, depending on your attitude going into the game. And though the Bowser-powered finale and the revelation of the Mushroom Kingdom’s Super Mario 64-flavoured Power Stars could easily have ranked highly on this list, I just can’t go past the finale of the New Donk City quest line. In the final months leading up to Odyssey’s release, we were already well aware that the jazzy Jump Up Superstar! theme song is an absolute jam. But hearing it performed by mayor Pauline within the actual game as the meaning behind New Donk City’s name becomes apparent is an expression of joy that probably couldn’t be showcased in many other videogame series. Equal parts nostalgic, toe-tapping and surprisingly difficult (OK, maybe just for me), careening around three-dimensional corners in 2D towards Mario’s original 8-bit nemesis while an audience hollers and fireworks fill the sky is a videogame moment worth savouring for all time.
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2. Stranded on Eventide – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The only moment on this list that isn’t explicitly tied to story, exploring Eventide Island within The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is still one of the most engrossing, magnificent gaming memories I have from 2017. Every BotW player has a different opinion of Eventide Island. From what I can gather, most players find it by gliding down from a tall cliff to the west several dozen hours into the game, armed with at least a line of heart containers. Some players never find it at all. I found it within the first week of the game’s release after sailing across the ocean from the north, when I had but three hearts to my name. Suffice to say that particular evening’s play was entirely devoted to exploring the island. Negotiating a space not that much smaller than some Zelda overworlds using only your wits and whatever you can scavenge from the environment is an enthralling challenge I was more than happy to bang my head against for hours upon hours. Each time I died, I learned something from that death. Finding the optimal paths to each of the three challenge orbs made me feel like a genius. In my opinion there is no point in the game where systems and mechanics exist so perfectly in harmony. Discovering this magical place – delicious Link’s Awakening references and all – so early in my playthrough forced me to start wondering if Breath of the Wild could actually be one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.

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1. Cannery Daydream – What Remains of Edith Finch

Videogames very rarely get to portray an empathetic story so effectively as What Remains of Edith Finch does. Some tell and others show, but Finch does something else entirely. It puts the player in the shoes of various connected people, each in the final moments of their lives and each with some new style of gameplay or visual flair to differentiate him or her from anyone else in the story. One of the final sub-stories concerns Lewis Finch, a recovering drug addict with an active imagination placed into a soul-numbing job for the sake of his rehabilitation. You play as Lewis as he daydreams about being a noble in a fantastical land, and you control that noble with the left stick while using the right one to move his real-life hand as it retrieves and decapitates fish at irregular intervals. As the narrator – Lewis’ psychologist – talks about his increasing reliance on these daydreams to get by, the scene takes up more of the screen and adds visual fidelity, then some mild choices, all the while demanding that your right hand pays attention to the task at hand. Eventually the fantasy fills the whole screen and you control Lewis as the noble in first-person, every step inching closer to a tragic end. Not since the climax of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has a dual-stick control setup been so on-point with its delivery of an emotionally relatable gut-punch. Wow.

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Honorable Mentions
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Rainbow Rocket Run – Pokemon Ultra Sun 

Following in the spiritual footsteps of the excellent Delta Episode at the end of Pokemon Omega Ruby / Alpha Sapphire, this post-Elite-Four chapter is dedicated to two things – weaponising your nostalgia and destroying your Pokemon. A whirlwind of villainous cameos, banging remixes and insanely strong bosses makes this epilogue one of the Ultra twins’ very best features.

Ring Fight – Gravity Rush 2

One of the things that never fails to get my attention when it pops up in a videogame is the bending and twisting of mechanics designed for one style of gameplay to fit another. This doesn’t always work so well, but the primal, chaotic feeling you get from fighting someone in a ring at the end of the prologue using only Gravity Rush 2‘s loose melee combat system is surprisingly effective.

Tower in Flames – Destiny 2

Another treat you can find very early on in a 2017 game, Destiny 2′s decision to have you participate in the real-time destruction of the Tower from the first Destiny right at the very start of the main campaign is way more effective than it might be in other games, because of just how many hours Destiny veterans spent there. It also shows just how serious Bungie is about telling a better story than before.

 

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