Our 2017 staff picks: video games
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus (Machine Games/Bethesda)
Seb Chan, chief experience officer, says:
Usually my top games would be indie titles, but this year Wolfenstein 2 just managed to top Horizon Zero Dawn and Zelda Breath of the Wild for my pick of the year - all big budget, single player, narrative heavy AAA titles. To be honest, I picked up Wolfenstein mostly out of curiosity and nostalgia for the pre-Doom days spent on a friend’s 386 playing Wolfenstein 3D in the early 90s. After Horizon Zero Dawn’s great story line and Zelda’s endless little delights, It was the sheer intensity of Wolfenstein’s “absolutely batshit crazy” story line, smart commentary on contemporary white supremacy, and its relentless Nazi-crushing mayhem that won me over.
In a year where real Nazis came back to public prominence, and in some parts of the world, even managed to be portrayed as 'respectable' or 'some very fine people', Wolfenstein doubled down on a dystopian parallel world where the Nazis won World War 2 by nuking New York. Throughout the game there are very pointed jabs at the alt-right, fascists, white supremacy and casual racism that make the game instantly relevant to today.
Clearly not for kids, it’s like playing an ultraviolent pulp film - in the best way possible. As social commentary, it speaks to 2017 not just through its visual portrayals and narrative but, as games should, through their mechanics and details. I won't spoil more of it for you, but Australian game academic Brendan Keogh explores the way the game does this through its design in good detail.
Play Wolfenstein 2 on Steam (nb: it's age restricted).
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (Larian Studios)
Caitlin Cronin, Public Programs and Education coordinator, says:
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is the second in a highly regarded and loved series, and was built thanks to the support of a Kickstarter campaign that saw 42,713 backers pool together just over $2 million. D:OS2 was certainly worth the money as it represents everything great about modern day, open world, story driven, role-playing games.
The universe of D:OS2 is vast and filled to the brim with side quests, dungeons, puzzles, party members and original NPCs, all while somehow maintaining a sense of uniqueness and avoiding the trap of a cookie cutter experience. The mechanics of the game mean that there is never a point where you feel limited; if you can think it, you can do it, with the characters and environment reacting accordingly. My favourite part of D:OS2, though, is the game’s sense of humour, which is irreverent and dry with a slight dash of self-deprecation.
It’s essentially Dungeons and Dragons in a digital format, and I can’t get enough.
Cuphead (Studio MDHR) / Star Wars Battlefront (EA DICE, Criterion Games, Electronic Arts)
Katrina Sedgwick, ACMI Director & CEO, says:
My son Franklin plays this obsessively and I love having a go. Translating the 1930s animation aesthetic into a shooter game environment is an inspired choice that works surprisingly well. It's challenging and tricky to play and wildly imaginative visually with a fabulous sound track.
Star Wars Battlefront also blows my mind. As a child who experienced Star Wars when I was 10, it’s a world I have always loved – to be in it is thrilling!
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG Corporation & Bluehole Studio Inc)
Arieh Offman, Public Programs producer, says:
My pick for game of the year is definitely not the most polished. Hell, it wasn't even the most complete game, as it only moved out of early access on 20 December. But PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has taken the world by storm, dominatating charts and boasting up to one million concurrent players. A game developed as a mod by a single developer, Brendan 'PlayerUnknown' Greene, it speaks to the power of the independent development scene and online distribution platforms.
100 players parachute into an island arena, and battle it out until only one survives. I have yet to win a round, but I know that chicken dinner will be so sweet when I finally do.
Everything (Double Fine Productions)
Jim Fishwick, assistant curator, says:
In 2017, things happened very much. All the time. Everywhere. It was overwhelming. What we needed was some perspective, a chance to be present in the world and consider other points of view. Enter Everything, a game that lets you play as… everything. Well, anything. Starting as an animal (a Zebra, in my case), you learn to roam, find friends, dance, and sing, before shifting to smaller perspectives: an armadillo, a blade of wheat, some pebbles. Then you can go bigger: landmasses, planets, galaxies. Everything is not so much a game as a consciousness simulator. From lampposts to llamas, pinwheels to pollen, to atoms or abstract notions of reality, you live a dazzling range of existences, and commonalities slowly emerge between them. Under the calming narration of philosopher Alan Watts, we’re invited to not be individuals in a world of others, but to be the universe itself, in any of its various manifestations. Is it the most technically brilliant game of 2017? Maybe not. Is it the game we needed the most in 2017? Absolutely.
Stranger Things / Super Hot VR
Vincent Trundle, digital education producer, says:
Two games really stood out this year - two games which really would cause me to miss my train stop, or close my eyes and still have the gameplay running in my head. With the first, I always made sure I had the volume up before I touched the Stranger Things app icon, as playing it without getting that synth intro just wouldn’t be right – and I never skipped it. The combination of 70s retro sound and vision (reliving my childhood years), the neatly constructed puzzles, the beautiful violence of belting baddies with a bat, and the layered world had me so hooked I often lost all track of time.
The second game is first-person shooter SuperHot in VR. Who needs a gym when you can do a full workout in 30 minutes of this fabulous time twisting game? The intuitive controls made grabbing objects and guns easy, and getting the hang of the throwing mechanic really gave a sense of the object weight and physics. I highly recommend this game as long as you have a team of spotters stopping you smashing your lounge room furniture in the real world.