2017 has been that type of bizarre year where I almost spent more time reading and writing about games than actually playing them. Life, as it happens, really stayed in my way and granted me with some duties far away from my gaming laptop.
As a result, I naturally fixed myself around indie games this time. Mostly because they were shorter to beat and that worked fine with my lack of dedicated gaming hours… But most importantly, because indies have always touched my emotional strings way deeper than, say, triple-A hitters packed with heart-pounding action and cinematic craze (nothing against those, mind you!). Maybe it’s because they seem more down to Earth, in a way: purer, more authentic or devoid of any martial hype around them. Or because I can simply relate better to their characters and condensed narratives. Whatever it is, the questions these games ask me do remain very vividly in my mind.
Like always, it’s hard to bring a whole year of gaming into just five picks – even if my total list of finished games is not that long… But after pondering titles and experiences, here is the list of picks that went the extra mile to gain a place in my gaming memories. Off we go!
5. The Sexy Brutale
We start with The Sexy Brutale, a delicious game that brings together the concepts of time traveling, murder and fancy aristocratic decadence. This title is all about playing stealthy and harnessing the tides of time to save an assembly of guests whose deaths are played in loops within the walls of a mansion. Not an easy feat, I tell you.
Since I do not fare very well with puzzles I was quite skeptical at first. But the art direction was stunning, the music was catchy, and it had some interesting mechanics, so I stuck by. After a couple of hours, and some head banging on the table, everything started clicking together. The Sexy Brutale is, above all, a discovery trip through the life stories of its actors but, especially, the masked protagonist you command. Once your mind understands the parameters of the mansion, it’s easy to shift focus and concentrate on the small details. And there are plenty of those, all of them sprinkled with original plot twists and lots of black humor.
If this caught your curiosity, check the review I wrote about it – and thank me later.
4. What Remains of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch is like your typical walking simulator through the mysteries of a patchwork house. Except nothing about this game is typical. It surely drinks from the hallmarks of Gone Home or Dear Esther – but it manages to improve that genre in a direction of its own, offering some of the most memorable gaming scenes I can remember this year: Calvin’s race against the swing, Lewis’ world inside a fish factory, Gregory’s ability to see life on a rubber frog… If it’s not higher on my list is just because I found it a tad too short for my taste. A small setback, really.
What Remains of Edith Finch follows the thoughts of Edith as she sets foot in the house of her childhood. Each new room holds the essence of a ghost from the past, family members and secrets. What struck me the most about this game is the way these ghosts shape each storytelling episode differently, to the point that you don’t know who the protagonist is anymore. Or where the game really begins.
Ever since I played it, I’ve been an advocate of its storytelling techniques and originality, recommending to everyone I encounter with a weak spot for narrative-driven games. So far, no one has ever walked away from it.
For not liking puzzle games, I am adding way too many riddle-solving titles on my list. But who would have thought that the mysteries of RiME would be so mesmerizing? This title from Tequila Works proposes you a journey of self-discovery, personal goals and everything painful and human in between. And it does so in its own tempo and with its own rules, peaking over the last levels in a way that is incredibly touching. I believe there’s a little bit of us in RiME‘s kid, one way or another.
RiME totally bought me with its absence of dialogue or text, the shifting environments, its mute but unforgettable companions. The only thing I sort of regret is not spending more time on those pristine Mediterranean shores, thriving on exploration with the red fox before my hero’s path began. I suppose this will be material for a second playthrough though, which will definitely happen sooner than later.
I tied up more thoughts around RiME on my spoiler-free review, if you are interested.
2. Night in the Woods
We move into the real world here, folks. To the little industrial town of Possum Springs, populated by ordinary and sometimes, vanquished personalities. Night in the Woods tells the story of what it means to return to your hometown to discover that a lot has changed since you left, touching upon the alienating feel that comes with it. Because of that, it’s probably the most relatable game I’ve tried in a long time. Nevermind that its protagonist, Mae, is a cat and the world of Possum Springs is populated by anthropomorphic animals.
Night in the Woods is a game of down-to-Earth problems, little quandaries, and big existential questions. But there’s also room for supernatural happenings, disappearances, and even conspiratorial theories. There’s a mission down Mae’s path but the joy of this game comes from experiencing her journey towards it and how this changes the way she sees the world. In the end, Night in the Woods is a clear ode to human relationships and the struggle of coming to terms with yourself. And it’s worth every single minute of your time.
And here we come to the end of my list: Supergiant Games’ Pyre. I started this title without knowing what I was getting into; and oh, boy, it turned out to be the most emotional journey of them all. In Pyre, you play as an outcast in the Downside seeking to gain the forgiveness of those who got you exiled in the first place. This is the story of a group of anti-heroes trapped with their demons, hopes, and plenty of personal motivations to come back to an unyielding civilization.
If you dig interactive stories, like me, then Pyre will blow you away. Its main plot is somewhat linear but it branches on the sides all the time, keeping itself away from predictability. There were plenty of decision-making scenes that left me pondering long after choosing. Long after finishing the game even. If I invested a lot in those choices, it’s because they were all about Pyre‘s greatest accomplishment: its characters. Each of them has a blueprint, a trait that makes them unique and marks their personal evolution. The developers give you a big say in how their lives develop, but in the end, each of them has been singing their very own tunes.
All in all, Pyre created some of the most compelling moments I can remember inside a video game this year. I’ll never forget the feeling of fulfillment after finishing my last Rite – and everything that came with it. Needless to say, I am already planning to come back in January for a second round.
I hope this list has provided you with interesting alternatives for your to-play inventories. Or maybe you have revisited these titles with me while reading. In any case, here’s to a great beginning for 2018, filled with (even) more time to enjoy the video game art in all its forms. Cheers!