With 2018 just around the corner the Gaming Nexus Staff is taking some time to reflect on the games they played in the last year.
Today we are looking at the surprise games of 2017. These are games that came out of nowhere and turned out to be amazing or games that flew in under the radar and turned about to be amazing.
Sonic Mania - I haven't played as many new games as I'd have like to this past year, at least those not on the Nintendo Switch, so I didn't have too many "surprise games". However, one game that did somewhat surprise me was Sonic Mania. For the most part the Sonic 2D games have ranged from incredible to okay. I'm not going to lie, I actually didn't mind Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Part 1 (never played part 2 sadly). I was also a tad worried about several older zones being reused as I was hoping this wouldn't just be a compilation of stages from previous Sonic games. While a lot of the game was that for better or worse (now I REALLY hate the Oil Ocean Zone), Sonic Mania turned out to be an incredible 2D Sonic game, more so than I would have originally guessed it would be. It also doesn't hurt that the lamp post special stage is the Blue Spheres mini-game from Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles which I personally love.
Narcosis- I think the biggest surprise I had with a game was with a little horror game I reviewed, Narcosis. It's a short railroad of a game, but it was absolutely thrilling from start to finish. I already have a strong predilection for things set underwater, and this was one of the most satisfying and immersive aquatic video game experiences I've ever had. The scares were genuine, the pacing was perfect, and it delivered a genuinely moving and utterly surprising story that was so great that I explained the entire game to my girlfriend just so I could tell her how it ended. It's really a wonderful game that I expected absolutely nothing from.
Dusk - If Strafe broke my heart by masquerading as a retro dream come true, then Dusk redeemed it. Dusk is everything I wanted Strafe to be. It has the tight, frenetic action of Doom, the masterful level design of Quake, and the mischievous interactivity and sense of place from Blood and Duke Nukem 3D. It all adds up to gleeful guilty pleasure fun that reminds me of my best 90s FPS memories while offering new experiences. I'm a little disappointed that the second and third Dusk episodes missed their Halloween release date, but I'm highly anticipating their eventual release and the DuskWorld multiplayer component. Not too shabby for a game made by only three guys.
No Man's Sky - I know this game was released in August of 2016 but it felt like the game's one year anniversary, and the Atlus Rises update, was effectively the true release date. What Hello Games delivered in 2016 felt like a buggy alpha; the rickety skeleton of the game they wanted to make. Fast forward a year and No Man's Sky felt more like 80% of a full game. Still not finished by a long stretch but there is a lot more to do and the experience is overall a lot more solid. It still needs considerable balancing to cut down on the significant grind that still drags the game down, but I'm embarrassed to say I sunk a few dozen more hours exploring the new economy, farming, exploration and space combat. No Man's Sky is my big surprise of 2017, because I'm amazed that the admittedly dishonest developers didn't vanish into the night with all that preorder money. They stuck it out and atoned for the hype by building their game into something that resembles the pre-release promises.
Heliborne - The biggest surprise addiction for me in 2017 was Heliborne. I had anticipated a pale knockoff of World of Warplanes, but what I found was a depth and breadth that put WoW to shame. To be fair, this is at least partially due to the unique combat and troop support capabilities of vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, but the tactical and strategic decision making included in the game design is another huge differentiator from the run-of-the-mill open melee one typically sees in the other games.
Iron Wolf VR was another big surprise. It sounded pretty good right up front: either single player, or up to four online multiplayer friends, working a small U-boat type of submarine? What could be better? Well, a developer that keeps loading on really cool features just adds more and more value to what is already a great game is a definite plus. The only downside is that I am a Rift owner that's too impecunious to toss another $60 at the third sensor needed to do solid room-scale VR.
Bastion - The biggest surprise for me this year was Pyre. I didn’t really care for Supergiant’s breakthrough title Bastion (although the art style is dope), and I never engaged with the follow-up, Transistor. The tone and music of Pyre pulled me in, and the fascinating world building and crazed sports gameplay kept me through to the very end. I spent hours and hours on this game trying to earn all the trophies (fail), and the local multiplayer is incredible.
Runner-up: The criminally underrated and ignored PS VR title Starblood Arena. It’s so fun, you guys.
Gorn - I guess I should have known that the team behind BroForce would deliver one of the most violent and enjoyable VR games on the market. While Gorn is still an early access title the game has come a long way since it first hit the market. What's been great about Gorn is that the developers have enhanced the games quirks rather than smooth them out. Wonky hit detection with large weapons? It's a bit worse now but it feels a bit more refined and useful now. The FreeLives team has also recently added Wolverine like claws to the game which has made it some of the best wish fulfillment that a person could ask for.
Everspace- I didn't know much about Everspace going into my review of the game other than the game was exceedingly beautiful. What I found was a triumph of game design and a fantastic take on the roguelike genre. Sure the game is drop dead gorgeous but it's also fun, challenging, and a game that will constantly surprise you.
The Long Dark - It won't get out of my head. Hearing the crunch of snow under my feet. Salvaged gear clattering around on my belt and shoulder straps. My breath steaming up the lower half of the screen. It practically makes me shiver just playing this game, regardless of how warm my living room is. The Long Dark figured out what horror games figured out a long time ago: sound effects will mess with your head. Even when it comes to the deep gurgle of your stomach from hunger, the sip of hot coffee next to a crackling campfire, or the main character hissing between his teeth when trying to walk on a twisted ankle. Frankly, I'm not surprised that I like The Long Dark—I'm surprised that I never hopped into its Early Access at any point in the last three years. I've saturated myself in survival sims and didn't think any game had it in them to rekindle my interest. Instead, my non-gaming hours are haunted by the setting and the severity of what I'm calling "Firewatch Survival Mode."
Everything - No, really, Everything surprised me. One, because I'll never get tired of the inherent wordplay in its title. But two, because I love any game that makes people implode on their own definitions of what a "video game" is or isn't. And three, because developer David OReilly has done it twice now (I have 12 hours on record of playing Mountain, OReilly's other non-game game, from 2014). Everything's premise is insurmountable: Give a player the ability to be anything and everything you can see in the universe. The interactions go wide but not deep. It's more about walking a mile in someone else's shoes, not trading brains with them. I was a tiger laying flat on its back in the middle of the desert. I was a street light in an empty city. I was an amoeba in a spec of primordial soup. But I was still me, Randy Kalista, in all those exchanges. I was just me from a different perspective. Video game genres are often named for their perspective: first-person shooter, third-person brawler, isometric RPG, virtual freaking reality. But Everything indeed gives you a different kind of perspective. The kind that makes you take a second look at everything around you that's so easy to ignore. The perspective that reminds you, interestingly, to quit looking at everything from only your own perspective.
Titanfall 2 - This might seem like one for the disappointment category but I’m honestly not disappointed about this, just surprised. My surprise game of the year is Titanfall 2. I fully expected to be playing this game as my go to shooter for all of the time in between Destiny 1 and 2 but it just didn’t captivate me like the original had. I played it for a total of 6 weeks start to finish, and even took at least 2 weeks off in the middle of that. So 4 weeks of actual playtime later, had the platinum and had moved on. I think the critical mistake the devs made was simply not including anything by way of online trophies. The crux of the longevity of a game of that type is in the multiplayer, but it was so overlooked that by the time I saw that Platinum ping i wasn’t sure why I should keep up the chase. So I moved on and spent much of 2017 without a go to FPS instead. I have nothing bad to say about the game and poured more hours into the original than any game on my PC, but surprisingly this one just didn’t hook me like I expected.
The Evil Within 2 - Considering that the first game was an impossible-to-follow mess, I wasn't holding out much hope for The Evil Within 2. But I am totally blown away by Tango Gameworks' follow up to 2014's middle of the road horror title. The addition of an open world element could have spelled total disaster for the game, and initially it kind of does, just because there is so much of it. But once the game settles in to its groove it becomes a much more cohesive and enjoyable game. In typical Shinji Mikami fashion, it's got its fair share of camp that keeps you from taking things too seriously, but at the same time has a few spooky moments that can give you the chills.
Fire Emblem Warriors - Even though this doesn't qualify as a game per se, I have to say I am shocked at how good the first year of the Nintendo Switch has been. We got both a Mario and Zelda game, Fire Emblem Warriors, a sequel to Splatoon and Xenoblade Chronicles, and a ton of digital titles on the eShop. Considering how anemic the WiiU launch was, this 180 isn't a total surprise, but to get so many quality games in the first year is something I didn't expect.
Killing Floor 2 - Surprises in gaming are rare and ones that surprise you after past experience are even more so. Enter Killing Floor 2. I had already played a bunch of survival/zombie-killing games that have left me as uninterested as a Trump speech would. So when I got the review for this game, I couldn't figure a non-campaign, zombie-fest game could be this good. It turned out to be THAT good. The game is frenetic gun madness with just a hint of teamwork. The enemies are as horrifying as you can get and are matched with a heavy-metal soundtrack straight out of a rock-gods' amphitheater itself. With hundreds of weapons, dozens of characters, 10 specializations (with different weapon proficiencies), and a huge selection of customizing gear, Killing Floor 2 knocked me on my proverbial butt.
Fortnight Battle Royal - Having played the Fortnight game before the Battle Royal mode came out, I thought it was just a little above average horde/build/survive game. It didn't capture me that much even though the premise looked really, really good. But then, a battle royal mode was released and boy did that blow up. Yes, it helped that it was free, but man they struck gold with how the game plays. I didn't think any game would knock PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds off its perch, but here we are with Fortnight Battle Royal. A lot of friends and family members that I knew were just casual gamers were talking about it and how much fun it was. Who would have thought that such a game would be an incredible hit this year.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.