Cullen's GOTY 2017: The greatest year ever

The subheading may be a bit of hyperbole, I'll admit.

But that still isn't any less true, though. 2017 has been something else in regards to games. To say it's been a classic or even vintage year would be underselling it, though those definitely apply.

What 2017 has been, though, is historic. This is a year on par, if not surpassing, the likes of 2001, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2013 and maybe - just maybe - going so far as to even meet that golden year of 1998 when it comes to a year of insane releases.

Even the period between January and early April of this year would compete with most years' release lineup. A three month period alone that was filled to the wazoo of incredible games. In fact, for me, my top three games came out within a ten-day period, such is the insanity of this year.

Sony had a great year software wise with GT Sport, Gravity Rush 2 and more, speared by the return of the greatest game of all time - Knack. Not to mention the launch of a brand new flagship IP.

Microsoft, frankly, was disappointing in 2017. A software lineup that felt non-existent with the exception of Forza Motorsport 7 and Halo Wars 2, with nothing massive for the Holiday season. The main game it had planned for then, Crackdown 3, was delayed into 2018. The only positive of Microsoft's year is the release of Xbox One X, but even then, it's a consolation compared to Sony and Nintendo.

Speaking of Nintendo, this was the year where you learn to never write them off. The launch of the Switch saw the best year one lineup of any first-party for any system ever and a console that was innovative and fun. Not to mention the release of one of the greatest games of all time on a consensus level. Again, write Nintendo off at your own peril.

So lets wrap this puppy up in a bow. Lets end this year off with some words on my favourite ten games of this year. There's also links to previous GOTY lists I wrote on this blog at the bottom of the post.

2018 is shaping up to be decent, but I don't think it'll hit 2017's levels. Needless to say, 2017, you were something incredible.

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10 - Splatoon 2

There's an argument to be made that Splatoon 2 feels more like a Splatoon 1.5. And in some aspects, there's truth to that statement. But despite that, Splatoon 2 is still just as fun as the first game.

I've played more of the single-player than I did for the first game and yet, Splatoon 2's placing on this list is still mainly because of its multiplayer (and let me make clear, every other game on this list, despite some having a multiplayer component in some form with some of these games, is because of its single-player, so EA can shut up about the demand of single-player in games). The new addition of  Sammon Run as a co-op mode helps what is already a great game.

2017 truly was the Year of the Switch. And if you ask me what are the three best games for the platform, there's the two you'll see below. And then there's Splatoon 2.

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9 - Super Mario Odyssey

Hot take: I wasn't as enamored with Odyssey as much as everyone else. That's not to say it's a disappointing game - far, far from it. I just prefer the two Galaxy games over it, especially 1.

That said, Odyssey has some of the best game design in a game in a long time, with the final 90 minutes I spent with it before finishing just spellbinding. And *that level* in New Doink City is just...ugh. What can be said?

I may not have been as taken with Super Mario Odyssey as everyone else was, but make no mistake, this is still in the top three best reasons to get a Switch right now.

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8 - Persona 5

Persona 5 is a fantastic game. It has style and flare that very little games possess. It's a game that has some of the best set of characters in an RPG in recent years. Its soundtrack is just fantastic. And a turn-based battle system that, speaking for myself, doesn't bore me half-to-death.

So why do I find myself in a way disappointed in Persona 5 after the longest wait and after so many years being excited for it?

It comes down to two things which both tie into one another. One, the older I get, I don't necessarily want to spend more than 50 hours playing a game. Once I reach 50 hours, I'm ready for that game to end, no matter how amazing a game is. Which brings me to two, which Persona 5 is complicit of.

By needlessly and unnecessarily stretching and padding out the last 20 hours or so I had playing the game, it near killed any enthusiasm had to finish the game. When I did finish the game, my playtime came in at 75 hours.

Atlus and Team Persona really should have at least cut ten-to-twenty hours because otherwise, the last fifteen or twenty hours are unneeded and instead of racing towards the end, the padding out of the game's endgame almost destroyed my desire to finish the game.

Five years after Persona 4: Golden became one of my favourite games of all time, there was a lot of expectation on Persona 5 to deliver. And while it is still an incredible game to the point I'd still have it in my top ten for the year, it's an incredible game for 50 hours. After that, it went downhill into a near trainwreck.

Knowing the quality of Team Persona, this should not have been a thing in the first place.

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7 - Life is Strange: Before the Storm

By right, this is a game that shouldn't really exist. A prequel wasn't necessary to Chloe Price's story and her relationship with Rachel Amber. Even now the game is fully done, it still feels like it maybe shouldn't have existed.

With that caveat aside, for its first attempt at a narrative game, Deck Nine Games delivered in a massive way its telling of the two's relationship and providing closure to that aspect of Max/Chloe/Rachel saga (as of writing this, there's still the Farewell episode for Deluxe Edition owners, but in context of the main story, that's it).

It delivered a story that was fresh and unique in games. But more importantly, it felt real. Moments like the play, the train, bunking off school etc help add to that. As does the ending without going into any more details.

Having no Ashly Burch as Chloe again in light of the voice actor's strike earlier this year, Rhianna DeVries did justice to the character and was the closest thing to Burch taking up the mantle again for the main game. Daughter also provide an incredibly well-made soundtrack for the game that aptly sums up the game as a whole.

In total, I think Deck Nine pulled it off. The skepticism met by the fans for the game was rightfully placed for a prequel that wasn't - and even in my opinion is arguable still isn't - needed in the first place. BUT for what they were given, they actually pulled it off big time.

I'd love to see them get their own Life is Strange series outside any other established canon and have them build off this as a jumping point and have two studios with Dontnod and Deck Nine making their own series.

Either way, for its first narrative game, Deck Nine did fantastic. Big props to them.

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6 - Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein II is the best shooter this decade that isn't Titanfall 2.

Or quite honestly, it's a straight up battle between them two for the mantle (people will say DOOM as well and I love DOOM and I could see the argument, but for me and me alone, it's between Wolf and TieTieFall).

There are people who've said the shooting mechanics of The New Colossus is not as good as the first game and to them, I say you've never been so wrong about anything in your life. Wolfenstein II's shooting gameplay feels as strong to me than before.

One thing that can be agreed, however, is Wolfenstein II's story is just as brilliant than before with an incredibly broad and diverse cast that don't feel like token inclusions, and showing a relationship that is as raw and intimate than BJ and Anya that makes you feel for them and want them to succeed in a way few pairings in games - romantically or non-romantically - ever manage to achieve. Not to mention Anya being a straight up badass anyway.

Wolfenstein II couldn't have come at a better time considering the horrific return of Nazism and the rise of white supremacy and alt-right fringe groups. For those reasons alone, it's an incredibly cathartic game. But even when you take those factors out, you've still got one of the best shooters of the decade and easily the best shooter of the year.

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5 - What Remains of Edith Finch

I was genuinely concerned for What Remains of Edith Finch at one point.

Announced at the first PlayStation Experience as part of developer Giant Sparrow's then-three game deal with Sony and Sony Santa Monica in the same vein of Thatgamecompany's deal between Flow and Journey, the game disappeared off the face of the Earth before reappearing as a game that'd be released by the new games division of movie label Annapurna Pictures.

My concern was misplaced. Edith Finch is one of the most unique, heartfelt, emotional and genuinely gutwrenching takes at death and grief, all told through the curse of the Finch family and the stories of how each of them died, told in many way different and creative ways to the point they could be considered unique anthology stories in a way, from Barbara's thriller/slasher story, Molly's transformation into various animals and Gregory's bath-filled adventure, among others.

That's not to even mention the incredible story of Lewis Finch which, in many ways, was the game's standout moment and one that resonated a lot with me. Not to mention how it manages to essentially be two games in one.

If The Unfinished Swan was a prologue for Giant Sparrow, its second act knocked it out of the park. And you can only imagine what comes next and the possibility it could be even better. In turn, it also shows Annapurna Interactive a a serious player for interesting and unique stories in games and certainly, they are the publisher to watch for next year, if not already.

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4 - Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Truth: I finished this in one sitting in eight hours. From just after midnight to around 8am the day after it came out. And you know what? It was worth every minute.

The fact we got an Uncharted game with no Nathan Drake as lead, but instead the return of Chloe Frazier, not seen since Uncharted 3, and Uncharted 4 co-antagonist Nadine Ross was something that is worth celebrating. Not only because of the fact an action game had a duo with personality and trust flaws between the two that get worked out during the game, but a partnership that actually feels real.

As a result, I actually prefer The Lost Legacy a lot more than Uncharted 4 on that alone. Plus, Claudia Black and Laura Bailey's performances as both characters are just standout and help enhance each other's characters.

But from a gameplay perspective, even that feels somewhat varied and for the better. The game's puzzles are some of the best in the series, some setpieces are on par with the best in the series - the last section of the game alone easily jumps into the top three of the series alongside the Tibetan hotel in Uncharted 2 and Madagascar in Uncharted 4 - the exploration of the entire jungle area and even its quiet moments are just something wonderful.

Consider as well that this was only £25 for a boxed game? To say I got my money's worth out of The Lost Legacy would be a tad bit of an understatement. I got a lot out of it and thensome. And it also shows you that you don't have to pay over your arse for fascinating and incredible AAA games. The fact this came from Naughty Dog as well? No excuses.

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3 - The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

For a series in Zelda that I had played a combined -ten hours (maybe less) with, I was getting super interested with Breath of the Wild the more and more I seen it pre-release than any other Zelda game before it just purely on its art style alone.

Over 50 hours and a week post-Switch launch later, Breath of the Wild showed why gaming is a form of entertainment like no other. It's kind of hard to describe why Breath of the Wild works in the way it does. Not because I don't want to spoil it - story wise, there ain't much to spoil - but in terms of trying to process what makes Breath of the Wild so special.

The fact it's the first Zelda game that truly embraces an open-world philosophy is one key component to that. But once you leave the opening plateau, a section which in itself could be its own game, and go out to explore Hyrule at length, the possibilities are endless. There's stories elsewhere in the world that you could go and listen to, quests outside the main story to be done, shrines to beat, korok seeds to be found. All that before you even start approaching the story head on properly.

Not to mention the possibility of mish-mashing certain gameplay mechanics and systems. There are times where I'd done things in the game where I said out loud 'YOU CAN DO THIS WITH THAT!?' or 'FUCK, THAT IS DOABLE BY DOING THIS!?' or seen YouTube videos of similar tricks and just thought 'HOLY FUCK'.

I mentioned Hyrule as a world to explore above, but it's as much part of the gameplay too, from weather being for or against you (especially in a thunderstorm where you become a conduit by, you know, carrying weapons and shields of steel) to the point I had that happen once or twice in the game just being incredibly impressed that was a thing.

Yes, its art design was incredible, what else did you expect. But Breath of the Wild's gameplay is truly what defines what makes it special. Not so much in their own unique way, but rather for the sum of its parts.

And while I won't go as far as to say it's actually now one of my favourite games ever now, the fact The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is now one of the best games of all time on a consensus level less than a year after its release is certainly well earned

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2 - Horizon Zero Dawn

How is this possible?

How is it possible that a Dutch developer can go from its previous MO of first-person shooters with Killzone (and the first Shellshock game) - most of which were mediocre at best and a bit shite at worst (with the exception of Killzone 2 - I'll fight anyone who says otherwise on that game and I'll die on that hill if I have to) - to making not only one of the best RPGs of the year, but of the generation so far?

For switching from FPSes to RPGs and coming out of its comfort zone, Guerrilla Games easily deserves recognition for that alone. But it also managed to deliver an RPG in Horizon that is just breathtaking, not only to see, but also play. A combat system that was just incredibly surprisingly fun to play and deep. As you'd expect from a competent RPG, but maybe the fact I find this so successful - despite all the indications pre-release this would game would be a home run - is because Guerrilla managed to create something so outside its comfort zone first time round. That's not to say there's not flaws with Horizon, but to get it near perfect the first time is worth applauding in a massive way.

Having Aloy as its main central character is also a watershed moment for games as well, or feels like it at the very least. Here they made a strong, badass character who's not a damsel in distress, not sexualised and is front and center to everything the game is. Ashly Burch's performance as Aloy makes it the best acting performance of any game this year and helps elevate the character even more to great heights in a fascinating and interesting story that had me curious to how everything played out in the World before the blackout and how Operation Zero Dawn came to be.

And yet, somehow, Guerrilla managed to find time after the release of the game to announce at E3 and then release five months later a story expansion in The Frozen Wilds which helps elevates the game's experience even higher. The fact Guerrilla was working on this just as the main game was coming out, and then have it come out within the calendar year, is nothing short of impressive.

In fact, Guerrilla making the game look as incredible as it did is the only non-surprise here. Say what you will about the Killzone games, but they at least looked incredible. With Horizon, that's not a shocker, but a post-apocalyptic game with not the tropey drab and brown, drowned out melancholy look of the world, but with colour and natural life and plantation coming out the wazoo is a breath of fresh air. Its art design is something that should be taken note of.

For its first non-FPS, for the first game in a brand new IP and for establishing a successful franchise in its first game alone, Guerrilla should, and deservedly can, take applause for what it did. It stuck the landing, bowed, did a curtsy and twirl before coming to a complete stop. On the first game and subsequent DLC story expansion.

Imagine what it'll be like when Horizon 2 comes out on PS5, then?

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1 - Nier Automata

Straight up the following two things.

One - I've not played the original Nier, though I did pickup a copy on Xbox 360 before Automata came out for a fiver at CEX, cheap as fucking chips considering the resell price of the game going about on eBay at that time was roughly, if I remember correctly, £70 or £80 (this was late 2015, though). But I knew that despite a small cult following, it was a meh game at best, going by critical consensus.

Two - Platinum Games have a sort of mixed record for me. Whilst both Bayonetta games - especially 2 - and Metal Gear Rising (and to a lesser extent, Madworld on the Wii) were all fantastic, games like The Wonderful 101, Anarchy Reigns and Vanquish - oh God especially Vanquish - were mediocre at best, shit at worst (the latter definitely applying to Vanquish).

So seeing a Nier sequel announced at E3 2015 was a surprise, especially with Platinum at the helm. Seeing Nier Automata for the first time was more of a surprise because it actually looked really good contrary to my pre-concieved notions of what this game could be.

Its last biggest surprise? Not only becoming my game of the year, but to actually get into just outside my top five games of all time is the biggest shock of all. And yet, Nier Automata did them all and thensome. MOTHERFUCKERS.

Where do we even begin? And without trying to spoil shit as well because there is some stuff you NEED to find out for yourself playing this game. And that particular bit can't be emphasised enough. There is so much to discover that to try and encourage you not to find them would do the game a great disservice.

Simply put, I just absolutely love the relationship between 2B and 9S. I straight up. LOVE. IT. Starting out, it's cold and distant, but as the game progresses, they get closer and closer to the point it actually is wonderful. But there's so many complex lairs as well to their relationship even then. But to understand them, you need to go play the game if you haven't already. And that's without mentioning A2, who has a massive part to play in the story as well.

Then you get characters like Pascal, the most wholesome character you will ever, ever meet in a videogame. And if you find another character who is as wholesome and sweet as Pascal in a game, you, sir/madam, are lying out of your arse. Not to mention the Ying and Yang like duos of Adam and Eve as well as Devola and Popola.

There are so many mysteries - and madness especially - to this game that to go further on that aspect is ruining a classic story, so I'll leave it at that other than one final bit of advice: KEEP. PLAYING. BEYOND. ENDING A. You may be thinking once you finish up getting Ending A, why you're playing onwards again? Trust me. All will make sense. So please, keep going after Ending A. If you only trust me on one thing for the rest of your life, it's that you keep playing Nier Automata past Ending A and get Endings B-E.

Story stuff aside, Nier Automata's gameplay is just as stylish and fun as it looked from its first gameplay video in late 2015 and is an absolute joy to play. The soundtrack from Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Hoashi is beyond incredible, with Copied City and Weight of the World particular personal favourites. Some of the game's bosses are some of the best I've played in games in recent times in terms of how diverse each one throws up from a gameplay perspective. And some of the environments in the game, particularly the fairground, are just charming in differently weird but also wonderful ways.

Look, I said I wouldn't say anything else on the story and I won't, but I have to touch on at least this. There is a whole lot of madness that happens in this game that has you on a rollercoaster of a lifetime. Whilst Platinum did its part massively and did it well, Nier's method of madness came primarily from director Yoko Taro, helped out by his right-hand man producer Yosuke Saito. And how Taro convinced Square Enix higher ups to make a game so out there, so insane in its themes of humanity, love and more is an indescribable achievement in itself.

Look, I am for the batshit insanity in games, there's a reason why I have a fondness for Kojima after all. But as someone going into his work for the first time with Automata, Taro just takes it up to a whole new level. And I am all for it and whatever comes next from Taro, but with Square Enix saying Nier will be a franchise going forward post-Automata, I can only hope that the team of Taro/Saito and Platinum Games, such an incredibly effective pairing the first time, can come back and make magic together again. Hell, we now live in a world where not only Nier is a franchise in Square Enix's eyes, but Bayonetta 3 is an actual thing. God, that's an actual thing. LOOK, I DIGRESS.

Nier Automata is nothing short of incredible. It shot right into my top ten games of all time for a magnitude of reasons, most of which I can't really mention out loud here because of spoilers. And I know I could just put a spoiler alert up top and just go nuts. But I'd be taking away any reason for you to play the game. So I'm just going to end it with this.

Embrace the ride that is Nier Automata and let it consume you for what it is.

Honourable mentions: Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, Yakuza 0, Tacoma, A Mortician's TaleFIFA 18, Gravity Rush 2, Night in the Woods, SUPERHOT (PS4), DiRT 4, F1 2017, Everybody's Golf, Destiny 2, Subsurface Circular, I Am Setsuna (Nintendo Switch), Nex Machina, Assassin's Creed: Origins and ARMS.

Games that came too late for the cut off: Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, Yakuza Kiwami, South Park: The Fractured But Whole.

Previous winners: Mass Effect 2; (tied-three way) Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted 3; Journey; The Last of Us; Bayonetta 2, Life is Strange, The Last Guardian.