Boy oh boy, the end of the year is finally here! Time to flex my hipster muscles and declare that the crowning achievement of the year’s collective gaming experience was a combo of Darkwood, Bendy and the Ink Machine, and Detention. Maybe now the art community will accept me and girls with Pokéball earrings will finally return my texts. Later boys, this guy’s not dying a virgin!
I’m preemptively taking the piss out of myself because my list is kind of going to be that. I can’t help it! The year just had so many great indie titles. Looking back on the year, such a wild variety of stuff kept me entertained, enthralled, and another day away from the shotgun in my closet. That said, how the heck am I supposed to rank something like Nioh with >Observer_?
So this year, instead of doing a simple numbered list, I’m going to pick a number of GotY selections based on why they stood out. As a bonus, I was also sure to review every game on the list this year, meaning if you want to know more you can click on the title and scoot on over to the full review. The categories come in no particular order, but are ranked against other titles that fit into that category. The categories also have their own runners-up, so feel free to let me know on a case-by-case basis why I’m a horrible cretin for missing your favorite game.
Best Small Indie Horror Title: Narcosis
There was a time when I really did not think Narcosis was coming out. It would have been a shame, as the concept of Narcosis’s “walking coffin” is pure distilled terror. Trapped in a deep sea dive suit at the bottom of the ocean, this proves to be both your salvation and damnation. It keeps you safe from the crushing depths and oceanic life, but it only holds so much oxygen. The constantly ticking timer ensures you never feel safe. But don’t panic. That will just make you lose oxygen even faster. Trying to keep your cool while facing your creeping end is almost impossible. More than once you’ll stare at a puzzle, trying to concentrate as each passing second stuck means another breath being sucked out of your lifespan. And that’s all before the ghosts show up.
Honorable Mentions: Stories Untold, Conarium
Best Medium Indie Horror Title: Outlast 2
This is for the horror titles that were “indie,” but were a little more robust in length/budget.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: most horror gamers aren’t actually scared. I know, I know, I hate to shatter your illusion. Your favorite YouTuber/Streamer/Professional Manchild is actually just faking it. They are maybe startled, but the wetting their pants terror is for show. That all being said, in the comfort of my room with no one to impress and only a deadline watching me, I had to stop playing Outlast 2 a few times out of not wanting to deal with the spooks.
But the game doesn’t just shock you with screaming mutants and enraged ShowBiz Pizza Bears. Outlast 2 is disturbing. Most games would be blowing their load early by starting with a pit of dead babies, but Outlast 2 honestly grows from there. Looking back on it, it’s hard to find a single moment that didn’t stand out to me. It’s one of the few games that actually earns its reputation as true horror.
Honorable Mention: Little Nightmares
Best Mainstream Horror Title: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
This one was a no brainer. There were other great mainstream horror titles this year, but none came close to Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. In my review, I claimed that Resident Evil 7, “redefines what to expect from survival horror from here on out.” I wholeheartedly stand by that statement. In the years to come, we will see game after game copy its style to try and capture its success. It’s genuinely scary without being cheap, challenging without being tedious, and memorable without being stupid. With the DLC now all finally out, there’s even more of a reason to check out this modern masterpiece. If this were a numbered list, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard would be the clear #1.
Honorable Mentions: Dead Rising 4, Injustice 2, The Evil Within 2
Best Hunting Simulator: Horizon Zero Dawn
What, hunting simulators don’t belong on a Dread Central list? They do when they involve cavemen fighting giant robot dinosaurs in the post-apocalypse. One of the most baller concepts in all of gaming, it’s actually the story of Horizon Zero Dawn that sticks in my brain. The world it paints—the tragic history, the triumph, the sacrifice—is as much of the Horizon experience as shooting Bellowbacks in their giant glowing weak points. It can easily be enjoyed as just a fun dino-hunter, but really rewards you for uncovering every nook and cranny the game has to offer.
Honorable Mention: Friday the 13th
Best Worst Use of My Time: Total War: Warhammer 2
Since the game came out at the end of September, I have put over 200 hours into Total War: Warhammer 2. This is largely due to the Mortal Empires campaign, a massive sprawling map that combines the teams and locations of Total War: Warhammer with those of Total War: Warhammer 2. The game is absolutely gargantuan, and every playthrough promises another dozen hours of entertainment and an all new experience. With the new unrestricted map, you really can go anywhere and declare war on whomever you want. And with the new Tomb Kings DLC coming this month, the game promises to be 20% spookier. Doot Doot.
Honorable Mention: Conan Exiles
Best Dark Souls Clone: Nioh
This one was really close between Nioh and The Surge. While The Surge is definitely more gruesome, Nioh just has so much more. This is an absolutely massive game, with far more to master than the title that inspired it. This can easily push 100 hours on just your first playthrough, and that’s not even counting the sprawling NG+ and DLC. As with all such games, Nioh will likely be too hard for the average gamer. If you’re up for getting your ass kicked as a baseline and working your way up from there, Nioh delivers.
Honorable Mention: The Surge
Best Surreal Mind Fuck: Observer
It’s a bit surprising that a game I described as assaulting me with its visuals would make it on my Game of the Year list. As much as I’m an old man who can’t stand bright lights and loud noises, I still respect Observer for what it is. It’s a true horror game through and through, reflecting the dark side of both humanity’s waking life and your innermost mind. It’s far from a perfect game, but what’s there is all unique and memorable. Sometimes it shocks you, sometimes it frightens you, and sometimes it just disturbs you. But the gamut of experiences makes it well worth a few headaches.
Honorable Mention: Detention
Best Storytelling: Get Even
Get Even is a game that could easily be put in the “Best Indie Game” or “Best New Idea” category. Hell, if this were a numbered list, I’d have it at #2. From the sound design to the story, there is just so much to love about Get Even. Every detail is poignant and laden with hidden significance. But where it stands out the most to me is how it tells that story. Get Even surprised me in ways I didn’t even think that a game could surprise me. It blindsided me with some true twists and turns that bent the very nature of what the game was. It leads you in one direction, whips you around, shouts “guess again!”, and sends you on your way. All before doing it another two times.
Honorable Mention: What Remains of Edith Finch
Best Aesthetic: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Anyone familiar with Ninja Theory shouldn’t be surprised that one of their games would win a graphics award. But they went above and beyond their typical facial animation excellence with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. The whispering voices, Senua’s cracking face paint, the dangling tortured corpses, the demonic enemies… everything coalesces into a mural of madness. Not just Senua’s madness, but the true madness of warfare, violence, and strife. Though the gameplay leaves some to be desired, there’s no doubt that this is one of the most beautiful games you can play.
Honorable Mention: Prey
Best New Idea: Echo
From the illogical labyrinthine halls of the palace to the inhuman mimicry of the Echoes, Echo is a horror game in a league all its own. With the simple concept of enemies that copy your every move, it manages to be uniquely challenging and terrifying without ever resorting to cheap jump scares. With just a few broad brushstrokes, it paints a world far larger than you’d expect from one girl in a series of sterile rooms. If you’re looking for a thinking man’s horror game, Echo delivers in spades.
And with that, we conclude my 2017 Game of the Year. Like my selections? Anything that I missed? Let me know what you think below!