What I've learned from the games I played in 2017: I really want a cuddly death-robot for a friend.
1. TALES FROM THE BORDERLANDS
What seemed on paper to be a jokey choose-your-own-adventure using the Borderlands mythos was actually the best sci-fi narrative I've played all year. Girded by a framework of slapstick and capitalism-run-rampant-satire is a deft exploration of friendship, betrayal, rogue AIs, and finger guns.
Also, Loader Bot stole my heart forever.
2. SHADOWRUN: HONG KONG
The retro mechanics are passable, but where the Shadowrun games shine is their characterization and intricate noir plots (and the Shadowrun setting itself). Hopefully not the swan song of the series, I already miss my time in Hong Kong with the motley group of runners who became my friends.
3. REZ INFINITE VR
Rez is one of those games I've bought on every platform but VR is truly where it was always meant to make its home. Already a beautiful synesthesia in prior incarnations, being fully immersed in its digital-analog wonderland finally made me feel like a cowboy decker breaking ice.
A space station where Something Went Wrong becomes a playground for mind games and power fantasies that reveal as much about you as the terrors you face. The real innovation of Prey (and its sister Dishonored) is the way that morality isn't a matter of grand, branching decision trees so much as your moment to moment decisions in how to play the game.
5. TITANFALL 2
My K2D ratios in most games are somewhat embarrassing, but the tactical nature of Titanfall combat made death feel like a learning experience instead of a punishment. Coupled with some surprisingly solid military sci-fi in the single-player campaign, this is definitely my favorite shooter of the year.
And for the second time, my heart was stolen by a robot: BT-7274, I salute you ::sniff::
Beautiful pixel art and a subtle, interesting conversation system, but what really sticks in my memory is the way it very specifically pings the feel of being a kid in the back seat of a car on a gray drizzly day and reading a spooky piece of YA that I found languishing forgotten on a library bookshelf.
7. MASS EFFECT: ANDROMEDA
Flawed and compromised, the main theme of building a new home after the boats are burned is still compelling and my crew eventually delivered a scruffy, goofy charm all their own. The design trips over its own feet at almost every turn, but Andromeda still captures the Mass Effect space opera of cruising among the stars and sexing the aliens you meet.
Hopping from star to star on a one-way journey into the unknown, these were the first games that really sold me on the promise of not just procedurally generated storytelling, but procedural writing. I felt real delight lying in bed, in the dark, never knowing exactly what my next jump into the void would bring.
9. VA-11 HALL-A
The game overlay is light and the narrative linear, but I was eventually drawn in by the quirky cyberpunk plot told through anime tropes and uplifted shiba inus. It's weird and strange but I love seeing a melting-pot of influences blend into something adorably unique.
There is also a cute, robot sex-worker who happens to be loaded with lethal hardware for troublesome patrons. No, I don't have a type.
No other game this year made me want to pitch my controller across the room as much as this one, but its vividly realized authoritarian fairy tale kept pulling me down the nightmare track laid in front of me. There is a deeply felt narrative here, but one that embraces ambiguity and refuses to give up its secrets all the way to the end.
RUNNER-UP: THE QUEEN'S MENAGERIE
A short but redolent game with echoes of Jack Vance and Lord Dunsany. I'd love to see the world expanded but suspect that would compromise its delicate grotesqueries.
GAMES I HAVEN'T FINISHED BUT COULD BE ON THIS LIST?
ECHO, BOUND, PYRE, HORIZON ZERO DAWN
GAMES I WANT TO PLAY AND SUSPECT WOULD HAVE BEEN ON THIS LIST:
DISHONORED: DEATH OF THE OUTSIDER, TACOMA, SUBSURFACE CIRCULAR, LADYKILLER IN A BIND, NIGHT IN THE WOODS, DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB