2017 has been a banner year for gaming. With massive hits like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds stealing a lot of the spotlight, there are many equally great games that players may have completely missed. Jessica Alouette and Ashe Yee highlight some of those games, just in time for the holidays.
Night in the Woods
“Gregg rulz ok”
Available on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. Coming soon to iOS and Android.
Jessica: Night in the Woods is one of very few games to ever truly hit home emotionally for me. The debut game from Infinite Fall, Night in the Woods centres on Mae Borowski, a uni student returning to her hometown after a couple years away. She finds that her friends are in new relationships and the world around her seems to have moved on. Little of what she remembers is still there, leaving Mae on the outs as mysterious events begin to affect the town and folks start to go missing.
Featuring great writing, a set of well realised characters and relationships (many of which are LGBT+), a charming animation style and a stellar soundtrack, Night in the Woods shouldn’t be missed. I was able to see the best and worst of myself in its cast in a way few games have been able to. It was a funny, heartfelt, emotional experience, and it’s the kind of game that’s been impossible to keep off my mind. If you’ve already played it, Infinite Fall have recently released a director’s cut of sorts called the “Weird Autumn Edition” on all platforms. It’s a brilliant excuse to remind yourself just how damn good this game is.
“You’ll never see it coming”
Available for PS3 and PS4.
Ashe: Don’t let the cute anime art style fool you, Persona 5 is complex and thematically dark.
Persona 5 is a high-school drama with a supernatural twist. You play as a transfer student who has relocated to a new town after being blamed for a crime you didn’t commit. You’re viewed as a problem child by the adults around you, and are warned not to cause trouble. However, trouble finds you when you stumble into a parallel world called the Metaverse. Here, the twisted desires of Tokyo’s corrupt elite have manifested into complex dungeons called Palaces. You soon discover that by stealing a symbolic treasure hidden within you can purge the corruption from the owner’s heart in the real world. So the stage is set for a series of increasingly risky heists with an ever expanding cast of characters to back you up.
During the daytime, you live the life of a regular teenager. You go to school, play video games, and spend a lot of time hanging out with your friends. In a way reminiscent of The Breakfast Club, characters who seem like stereotypes at first, like the bad boy jock, become more fully realised as the game progresses. Persona 5 really strives to get you emotionally invested in these characters and their fates, and it succeeds completely.
At night, you’ll be breaking into the Palaces, a challenge which blends puzzle solving with turn-based battles fought using demonic beings called Personas (think Final Fantasy meets Pokemon). It’s within these unique Palaces that you’ll confront some of the worst people society has to offer. Many of Persona 5’s villains feel right at home in 2017, like a lecherous gym teacher who preys on his female students, and a nationalist politician willing to take down anyone who gets in his way. Each of these villains have deeply wronged the main characters in some way, which personalises the stakes and makes the quest for justice feel all the more real.
Persona 5 is at its heart a coming of age story about the goodness and ideals of youth triumphing over the evils and corruptions of adulthood. Genuinely funny and charming, hard hitting and tragic, Persona 5 is a true gem, and one of the best games I’ve ever played.
Oh, and did I mention your best friend is a talking cat?
See The Spinoff’s review of Persona 5 here.
“Glory to Mankind.”
Available for PC and PS4.
Jessica: If you didn’t play the original NieR in 2010, I don’t think anyone would blame you. The game didn’t play well and was reviewed poorly, but gained some praise for its writing. Automata on the other hand is developed by Platinum Games, makers of ultra-slick action games like Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
NieR: Automata offers up Platinum’s signature combat and a fascinating story about androids and humanity from the original director of NieR. The game is set in the ruins of our world, which humanity has long abandoned for a home on the moon following a robot invasion. It follows two androids, 2B and 9S, who work for a humanity-serving organisation focused on reclaiming Earth from the soulless robots. Upon their arrival on Earth though, it quickly becomes apparent that the robots have learned more than ever thought possible.
It plays with the fact that the protagonists are androids in a number of unique ways, including a system of equippable “chips” which give you various bonuses and also control on-screen elements like health. There’s even an OS chip, which you can remove if you want (but you probably shouldn’t).
NieR: Automata frequently plays with genre in a way that’s completely unexpected, sometimes shifting perspectives from a fairly standard action game camera to a classic arcade shoot-em-up. You don’t need an understanding of the original NieR to enjoy Automata, and it’s accessible for gamers of virtually all abilities. It’s even one of the games of choice for speedrunner Clint “Halfcoordinated” Lexa, who can only use one of his hands properly due to a disability.
Two important notes: First, NieR: Automata has multiple endings, so make sure to continue playing after the first one. Second, avoid the PC version if you can; there are an array of technical issues that are yet to be patched.
The Evil Within 2
“There’s evil within, too”
Available for PC, Xbox One, and PS4.
Ashe: Like NieR: Automata, The Evil Within 2 is another unexpected sequel to a game that received mixed reviews. The Evil Within was not bad, exactly, but too often felt like an inconsistent blend of horror tropes with little regard to pacing or character development. The Evil Within 2 improves on the best parts of the original, while also bringing fresh new ideas to the horror genre.
You play as returning protagonist Sebastian Castellenos. He’s investigating the disappearance of his daughter whom he had believed to have died many years prior. Turns out, this isn’t the case: a clandestine organisation has in fact kidnapped her to power the STEM, a sort of virtual reality akin to The Matrix. Sebastian is given the chance to descend into the STEM and save her, but things inevitably go wrong as some of the other minds connected to STEM begin to nightmarishly deform the world to suit their dark desires. There are some neat callbacks to its predecessor that returning players are sure to enjoy, but The Evil Within 2 works as a stellar standalone game with no prior experience needed.
One of The Evil Within 2’s best ideas is the introduction of open world elements, a massive departure from other games in the genre. The design of open world and horror games seem to run counter to one another. Open worlds tend to offer many paths and encourage exploration and creativity, whilst most horror games funnel players along a single path towards scripted scares. The Evil Within 2 is not only able to reconcile these seemingly disparate ideas, but actually contains some of its best and scariest content off the beaten path. This ties in well with the underlying survival-horror gameplay, as supplies are scarce and you will need to scavenge and look for alternate pathways if you want to survive.
“Good morning, Morgan. It’s Monday, March 15th, 2032.”
Available for PC, Xbox One, and PS4.
Ashe: Science fiction isn’t normally my jam, but Prey sucked me in like a black hole.
Prey takes place on the Talos I space station after the Typhon, a new lifeform that was being studied, have escaped and wreaked havoc upon the inhabitants. You play as Morgan Yu, the second in command of Talos I, who awakes to find the station under siege, and is the last, best hope to stop the Typhon before it is too late.
Jess: The opening is a brilliant tone-setter, setting up both what you’re doing and what you have to fear in a swift motion. There is a prevailing sense that things are out of place, and a set of emails in all caps warning you to escape. After that, nothing is really as it seems. The game carries a unique set of tension in a particular Typhon, the Mimic, which can disguise itself as any object in the world. This lends itself to some pretty unsettling “hey, was that box there a minute ago?” kind of moments. It’s completely unique to Prey, and that alone makes it worth experiencing.
Ashe: Like Dishonored, another series from developer Arkane Studios, Prey has a number of ways to accomplish your goals. If you can think of a creative solution to a problem, chances are you can probably pull it off. Whether it’s using a glue gun to create new platforms, or morphing into a cup to get through a small crack, I was constantly amazed by the level of freedom Prey provides.
While you’ll meet interesting characters along the way, some of Prey’s best storytelling comes from characters who are already deceased. There are an abundance of voice logs, emails, and contextual clues located on Talos I that give a glimpse into the lives of the station’s inhabitants. Many are tragic and show what happened during the desperate attempts to contain the Typhon. But in some, Prey allows itself to be joyful. One particular standout was a series of logs detailing an ongoing Dungeons and Dragons-esque game among the staff.
Jessica: What I’ve played of Prey has me coming back for more. The art style is a beautiful blend of modern and retro-futuristic design, and I was clamouring to know more about the alt-history of the world Prey is set in, and about the nightmarish corporate dystopia aboard the station.
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