The Golden Barrel Awards 2017

It is always interesting to look back on the year of video game releases and realise that despite multiple reasons to be pessimistic on the future of the world, at least we still had lots of good titles to enjoy! This year, like the one before it, offered up some truly fantastic titles and it was appreciated, especially by those among us who needed even more escapism than normal to get by. So before we go any further, on behalf of the entire staff at Big Red Barrel, a sincere thank you needs to go out to everyone and anyone who is involved in the video game industry, as you help us in more ways than one.

Similar to previous years, our Golden Barrel Award winners were decided by a vote. Each member of staff was asked to list their five favourite games. Then, the results were collated with appropriate weightings based on the position of the staff member’s preference (first choice was 5 points, second choice was 4 etc.). Once the list of games was put together, we ended up with 27 titles; a testament to the diversity of superb games we saw this year. Narrowly missing the list were some excellent choices, including Injustice 2, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Cuphead, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Prey.

That being said, here is the final list of Team BRB’s favourite games from 2017:


 

10. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Jo)

With Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Cambridge developer Ninja Theory have created a game that not only boasts a gripping story, thrilling action and stunning vistas, but one that also tackles sensitive issues with a care and tact so rarely seen in the medium. Framed around an impressively raw and dedicated performance from first timer (and Ninja Theory video editor) Melina Juergens, the game approaches issues of mental illness with the utmost respect and understanding, while at the same time not forgetting to be a ‘game’ as well. Interesting puzzles, outstanding audio design and fluid combat support a story that stood out this year as one not to be missed.

With its self funded development marking a fascinating shift in how games of this calibre are made, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is not only one of the most moving and impressive games of 2017, it may also be one of the most important.

 

09. Dead Cells (Kev)

2017 was a weird year for games in early access. The ever-blurring line of whether a game should be counted towards an award based on its release eligibility is becoming foggier and foggier, because some of these games are outperforming their competition a full year away from their 1.0 release schedule. No game this past year – and I’d argue in the history of the early access paradigm – typifies this more than Dead Cells.

Here we have a love letter to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, designed as a repeatable, ever-changing rogue-lite, and allowing the player a control of combat flow that very few games ever achieve at a similar standard. Dead Cells is far more than every influence it wears proudly on its sleeve – it’s a complete package, despite still being five months and several further content updates away from 1.0 release. Whether it belongs on a Game of the Year 2017 list as an unreleased game is an argument I leave to the philosophers. All I know is I’ve not felt as attached to a video game in years, not since Dark Souls, and this might even top that.

 

08. Super Mario Odyssey (Coleman)

By far one of this year’s greatest gaming triumphs has been Nintendo’s console/handheld hybrid, the Switch. Not only is this thanks to the impressive piece of kit itself but also an amazing lineup of first party titles, lead (in my opinion) by Nintendo’s mascot himself. Super Mario Odyssey brings the perfect blend of nostalgia trip and innovation, with new features mixed into all sorts of tributes dedicated to the plumber’s 30+ year existence.

With its wide collection of worlds, costumes and other collectibles Odyssey is the must have game for any Switch owner that’s looking for a game that give’s them their money’s worth. Even now long after I’d finished its story, I find myself diving back in to see what new secrets I can unlock.

Now I’m excited to see just what (if any) Mario‘s DLC will bring to the table.

 

07. Assassins Creed: Origins (Ian)

What can be said about Assassin’s Creed: Origins? In a year with so many great games, Ubisoft managed to bring a tired franchise back to its former glory. Having not engaged with the series since Assassin’s Creed III, it was refreshing to find a fully immersive open world with animals, bows, arrows and camel riding. A year off from the series meant we got a well-rounded, completely polished single-player experience with plenty of post-game content.

Now you can finally be the Egyptian Assassin you always wanted to be!

 

06. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PacManPolarBear)

Big budget single player only shooters are a rare occurrence in this day and age, especially critically and commercially successful ones. The 2014 reboot of the series, Wolfenstein: The New Order, surprised a lot of people. Of course, if one thing has remained true all these years, it’s that punching Nazis never gets old.

Wolfenstein II is ostensibly a game about killing Nazis and looking cool while doing it. The game-play is tight, with satisfying gun-play and weapon variety, mixed with wonderful level design, visuals and audio. What puts Wolfenstein II over the top though is its story. Underneath the ‘good vs. evil’, ‘democratic America vs. fascist Germany’, ‘patriots vs. traitors’ veneer is a game about one man desperately trying ensure that the world his children will grow up in is better than the one he woke up from a coma in. Blazkowicz is not a mindless thug or a naive dreamer. He’s a pragmatic realist clawing his way through the muck because moving forward, no matter the cost, is the only way he can protect the people he loves.

The way Wolfenstein II mixes its dark, gritty, horrifying moments with glimpses of humour, love and hope is the reason the game is so much more than just a good shooter and why it deserves a spot in our top ten.

 

05. What Remains Of Edith Finch (Alex)

Video games can tell stories like no other medium. Yet very few of them take an opportunity to experiment with storytelling as What Remains of Edith Finch does. This game is not afraid to take risks, and it tells a story of one family by switching from one genre to another, blending them in a seemingly effortless manner. One minute you are part of a surrealist story, next a horror scenario told through a series of comic strips, followed by a mystic fairy tale. It has sorrowful and sad parts as well as stories that make you smile and laugh.

As a player, you walk through the house that was home to the numerous Finch family members, exploring its rooms, grounds, and secrets. Each room tells a story of its inhabitant, and every single object, piece of furniture or portrait is there for a reason; serving a particular storytelling purpose. The level design serves just as important a purpose as the writing and narration of the game, and players can get a lot out of revisiting rooms, again and again, spotting details they missed on their first playthrough.

Narrative-driven games have gained a lot of popularity in recent years, and many games in that genre tell important, beautiful and haunting stories. However, What Remains of Edith Finch is one of the first games that takes storytelling to the next level. Visually stunning, sorrowful as it is joyful, it is impossible to remain indifferent while playing What Remains of Edith Finch.

 

04. Destiny 2 (Diarmuid)

It is odd that a game that seems to generate such a large amount of complaints and controversy from its most dedicated fan-base finds itself so high on our list. I simply cannot talk about Destiny 2‘s improved story, mission design, musical score and accessible progression systems without also bringing up the repeated maintenance windows, lacklustre PVP modes and never-ending string of newly discovered bugs. You only need to scroll through the game’s multiple fan fora to see the rising tide of discontent with the game.

Despite all of this however, the fans are still there. Even among the BRB staff, while many jumped on and quickly off the game, a core stayed. I have enjoyed hours with the game, even purchasing it a second time on PC. The only other games I can think of where I double-dipped like that are Grand Theft Auto V and Rocket League. It seems odd to place this game among modern classics like these but Bungie, despite their numerous, well-publicised faults, have still managed to create an incredibly fun, rewarding co-operative experience than improves on the first entry in all the ways that matter to me.

There is a laundry list of issues and improvements that need to be addressed in the game but I, like many others, are along for the ride.

 

03. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (Smashsoul)

Many will tell you that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds doesn’t deserve to be on game of the year lists due to it still being in early access up until a couple of weeks ago and still being rife with bugs and other issues. I can respect that point of view, but the fact of the matter is that PUBG is the most exhilarating multiplayer first/third person shooter I’ve played in god knows how long.

Dropping onto a deserted island/desert with 99 other players out for blood, you have one objective; gear up and be the last one alive. PUBG is tense, it gets your heart pumping and it’s a riot to play with friends. It makes you think tactically as you’ve only got one life to make it to the #1 spot and the promise of a fabled chicken dinner. Gear up, hide and survive to get to the final zone, or drop into a high risk zone and go guns blazing? The choice is yours.

If I were asked to point to a game that defined 2017 then I would more than likely single out PUBG over any other game. It took the gaming world by storm selling over 20 million on Steam, having more than 3 million concurrent players and being one of the most consistently viewed games on Twitch. Love it or hate it, PUBG is a phenomenon that is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

 

02. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Smashsoul)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might very well be one of the best games of 2017, but it will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest games of all time as well. Nintendo took a gamble on this one. They could have easily given us another formulaic Zelda game and people would have lapped it up. Instead, they gave us an excellent open world experience that truly allows you to play any way you want with an unprecedented level of freedom.

There is no right or wrong way to do things in Breath of the Wild. The game will gently push you in the direction of the main story, but the best thing you can do is pick a direction and see where you end up. The best adventures you can have in Breath of the Wild are those you’ll excitedly tell your friends about when you next see them (trust me, you’ll be doing that a lot).

In an era where open world games have become tiresome and full of busy work, Breath of the Wild kept me coming back for more. Hyrule is a world I want to be in. It’s mysterious, vast and occasionally challenging with no end of things to see and do and I absolutely love it.

 

01. Horizon Zero Dawn (Alex)

In a year when greedy executives scream about the end of single-player AAA games, Horizon Zero Dawn is just one beaming example that proves them wrong. The premise of the game sounds completely nonsensical when you are first introduced to it: in a post-apocalyptic Earth, robot dinosaurs roam, and people, who devolved to a tribe-like society, hunt them with bows and spears. Yet, you have to give it Guerrilla Games, not only does this start to make sense only a few hours into the game, it also feels completely believable.

When playing RPGs and third-person action games, the words ‘side-quest’, ‘open world’ and ‘collectibles’ have become akin to swear words. But Horizon Zero Dawn does not do boring meaningless fetch quests. Its missions, even ancillary ones, take turns, twists and explore its world. The open world of Horizon is not only gorgeous but feels hand-tailored and thought-out; where every object and every element of a landscape has its purpose. Collectibles in many open world games serve simply as an easy way to populate maps, giving players an illusion that they have something to do every five steps or possibly to drive completionists up the wall. Here again, Horizon Zero Dawn takes a sparing and thoughtful approach, rewarding players for their efforts with more in-game lore and fun character interactions.

Of course, it is impossible to talk about Horizon Zero Dawn without mentioning Aloy, its protagonist, a central female character, perhaps like no other before. Brilliantly voiced by Ashly Burch, she is willful, strong, compassionate and, maybe, a bit too perfect, but so easy to like and admire.

Horizon Zero Dawn has its flaws, however in the time of over-used terms, micro-transactions, countless sequels and stale ideas, this new IP from Guerrilla Games is a breath of fresh air and an absolute joy to play.

 


Do you agree with our list? Of course not, that’s not how this works! Let us know in the comments what you would pick.

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