Best PC games of 2017

25 of 26

Dead Cells

Matt: I didn’t expect to spend 35 hours and counting in Dead Cells, but they snuck up on me. At the start, every new area (apart from maybe the first) is an awful, terrifying gauntlet that you have to slowly crawl your way through. Normal enemies seem relentless and tough, and the elite versions of them almost impossible to get past without chugging through an entire stock of health potions.

But over a few hours, with each repeated encounter feeling fresh thanks to the magic of procedural generation, that changes. You go from being afraid of the world to on top of it, sliding and slashing your way across platforms without pausing for breath.

Once I’m comfortable in an area I’m constantly in motion, dispatching an enemy every other second as I combat roll through screen after screen. The game plays to its strengths, rewarding you with a speed and damage boost for each enemy you kill in quick succession. Rewarding skill with power might be a questionable design choice in a multiplayer game, but here it adds to the feeling that you’re a slick, unstoppable ninja.

There’s more to praise than the movement. A smart unlock system means the currency you collect from every slain enemy feels genuinely meaningful. The upgrades dovetail with your growing skills to allow you to push deeper into the game, expanding your arsenal as you do. I get far more excited about finding a rare blueprint in Dead Cells than I do a new gun in Destiny. Plus, it’s got the most gorgeous pixel art since Duelyst. I’ve only spent an hour or so with the latest update, and who knows how much more time I’ll have put into it by the time it’s actually finished.

Alec: I was a Johnny come lately to Dead Cells, not able to fit it in back when half my colleagues were joyfully ranting about it, and truth be told, I put it off because I figured it’d be too hardcore. Not in terms of being too difficult, but in terms of feeling playing it successfully would need to be a second career.

Well, I broke the seal and now all I can think about is Dead Cells, so I was halfway right. Up until a few days ago, it had been The Binding Of Isaac that occupied my every spare-time thought, but Cells has neatly and completely supplanted it. Much has been made of Cells’ tapping into Dark Souls and Metroidvania bloodlines, but, coming straight to it from Isaac, I can see just how strong that lineage is too. I.e. the combination of never know what you’re gonna get with slowly increasing the total pool of available goodies, and finding that sweet spot that, though death is gutting, you’re always highly motivated to try again immediately.

And that’s the secret sauce here – you never feel that you’ve wasted your time, and the slow growth of both your own ability and the toys you can call on to survive your voyage through this eerie underworld means there is real conviction that next time, this time, you’re going all the way.

This is one of those games that fits my lifestyle with almost creepy precision. The sense of accomplishment within a lunchbreak; the sense of going somewhere else; the sense of a story told only through implication around the edges; the sense that I will always pull a little more from it; the sense that it doesn’t put a foot wrong in terms of controls and interface, so every failure can be pinned on me and me alone. A jigsaw piece that fits perfectly right now. Dead Cells is going to live in my head for a long, long time to come.

Graham: Watched in videos, Dead Cells seems like total chaos. There are mobs of enemies leaping and dive-bombing, thorns are sprouting across the architecture, explosions are popping constantly, and magic effects are whooshing this way and that. Yet it’s surprising how quickly it becomes readable when you’re actually playing it, even for an amateur like me. From my first few minutes with it I could see an enemy’s pounce attack being clearly telegraphed, which meant I could time my dodge roll and attack it from behind. It felt methodical, satisfying – a feeling driven home by the sound and animation.

Then I’d advance and get overwhelmed. Too many enemies made for total chaos again. But I’d keep trying, and bit by bit those harder fights would come under my control. Drop a turret here; roll over there; spam grenades everywhere. Enemies would pop with a delightful squish, points would scatter across the gutstained floor, and I’d hoover it up gladly while rushing onwards. I love all the systems Alec and Matt outline above, but when it comes down to it, I’m playing Dead Cells for how good it feels to hit things. They mention Dark Souls, Metroid, Isaac, and I agree and would add Diablo to the mix.

It’s also worth recognising something else: this is an early access game. Its systems have improved over the course of the past year, and the satisfaction of hitting things has been present from the first release. This isn’t the first time we’ve awarded an early access game in the advent calendar – Kentucky Route Zero was our top pick, notably, with only three episodes released – but it remains a rare instance of an early access game that’s worth playing immediately rather than holding out till it’s finished.

Katharine: Dead Cells isn’t normally my type of game. I bounced off The Binding of Isaac after about 20 minutes – not because of the gore but because I very much like games to have a beginning, middle and end that doesn’t require me to start again every time I die – and I’ve more or less steered clear of the genre ever since. Dead Cells, however, has won me back.

It still sends you back to the beginning each time you shuffle off your mortal coil, but the way it banks and carries over unlocked items is a stroke of genius. It makes the whole game feel like more of a journey, and even if you do end up spending the vast majority of your time dying over and over again in the first three main areas (did I mention I’m also rubbish at these sorts of games too?), the progress you make and the cells you collect still feels like time well spent. The controls and combat are also super satisfying despite the fact it’s still in Early Access, and its pixel art is just gorgeous. It’s made me want to give rogue-likes another chance, and that’s a rare thing indeed.

Adam: There were three games I’d gladly have put at the top spot this year: What Remains of Edith Finch, Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Dead Cells. Three games that’d be contenders in any year and all so very different to one another. There’s the short-form narrative invention of Finch, the enormity and sheer mechanical density of Divinity, and the endlessly replayable combat perfection of Dead Cells.

My learned colleagues have already described its brilliance – the precision of the controls, the beautiful ugliness of its setting, the challenge, the unlock system – so I’d prefer to take a moment to recognise how rich and diverse a year it has been. Dead Cells is, even in its early access form, at the bleeding edge of a certain kind of design, but even though it’s at the head of our 2017 table of honourables, it’s keeping company with cousins many times removed. There were so many games to admire in 2017 and I expect we’ll cast our net even wider in 2018.

Here’s to all of them, with an extra special round of applause for Dead Cells, which takes the crown this year.

37 Comments

  1. dangermouse76 says:

    Merry Christmas all or none or some. Sipping Bunnahabhain ( responsibly ) bouncing my 3 week old girl Erin on my knee and about to start the lamb shoulder braised in white wine and garlic.

    It’s been a good year. Here’s to many more.

    Also CD projekt if you want to make an open world RPG of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, I wont complain about that.

    Much love
    Dangermouse.

    • ottovius says:

      Oh, the very notion of this makes me light-headed. Please, please, please…

  2. TΛPETRVE says:

    Prey made my GOTY, too. It’s a flawed game, nowhere particularly outstanding on its own, and yet it scratched an itch that had been bugging me for almost 20 years: It was a true successor to System Shock, a heritage that the BioShock series never lived up to (and Prey even had the great bolshy yarblockos to subtly call Irrational’s franchise out on some of its more glaring issues).

  3. digital_sneeze says:

    I really wish I liked Prey as much as some. Such great level design, visuals and decent narrative, along with some interesting mechanics let down by some of the least fun and most frustrating combat I’ve ever played.

    Still though, Nier, Divinity Sin 2, OneShot and Night In The Woods are on here and that’s what’s important. Still need to finish up Numenera too but I wish it didn’t get lost up its own backside so much. Maybe I just need to accept it’s not going to get close to P:T.

    • digital_sneeze says:

      Also, a special call out to the Ringed City DLC from Dark Souls, for the Slave Knight Gael boss fight for ending the series on the most fun battle in the franchise.

    • gtdp says:

      Totally agree with you about Prey, wonderful exploration and world-building totally let down by frustrating combat against endlessly-respawning enemies. Every time I’ve tried to go back to it, I have a really fun twenty minutes or so before finding that I need to waste more precious (non-respawning) resources on killing yet another mimic that’s popped up in the same place for the tenth time. It completely kills my desire to explore this fantastically built world and it’s a real shame.

      • digital_sneeze says:

        Yeah exactly, there was a major pacing issue for me as a result, I just wanted to get through it. Ah well.

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        subdog says:

        I normally agree about respawning enemies, but in Prey once I realized that it’s triggered entirely by progress in the main story (except for Nightmares, which have a predictable timer, and except for a certain end-game thing that everyone hates), it no longer put a damper on my exploration and actually encouraged me to make changes to the environment to prepare for new spawns that I knew were coming. Setting traps, posting turrets, blocking off paths, gooing ladders to sniper positions and clearing mimickable debris took up a lot of my time in Prey, usually with satisfying results.

        Combat also got more fun with the Combat Focus skill. Bullet time is always woth using.

  4. LionsPhil says:

    Merritudinous Chrimulations, gamefolk.

  5. Pulstar says:

    Wolfen 2 was quite forgettable, nowhere near a worthy sequel to the first.

  6. Addie says:

    Just because I’m a number-puzzles type: 80 points total, less 8 on uncounted games, leaves 72 points on 24 games – exactly 3 each. For Edith and DC to be the only ones to tie in first place, they must have scored at least 5 (many ties on 2,3,4) and at most 16 (every other game tied on 2). So whoever really loved Edith enough to give it a majority will have had to give it between 3 and 9 points. In any case, all of the games from 3rd place onwards will have had to have been really close, and mostly draws. Which seems fair, because it’s been a great year for games and it’ll be all difficult decisions to decide what’s best.

    Merry xmas and happy new year everyone. Don’t drink anything I wouldn’t.

    • Addie says:

      Actually, two games can draw on two, and the rest but Edith and DC could have 3, so Edith and DC could win with 4 if it was a really close race.

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    Aerothorn says:

    (For those confused at the above post and this one: RPS has added an explanation of their methodology to slide 26 . It took me a little while to figure this out.)

    Thanks for the explanation! That certainly explains some of the oddball picks (I am going to go ahead and guess that Katherine put a decent number of points on The Nonary Games), and also explains how you kept Assassin’s Creed: Origins out of the calendar, which in any other year would have featured on account of being a good-enough game that was played by multiple staff, as opposed to a truly great game played by one person. So I’m gonna say this is a pretty great system :)

    I’d also like to say that I’d have been sole victor of the competition had Edith Finch been selected instead of Dead Cells, but I’m happy to share the victory (and I get to continue to enjoy being the only person to ever correctly guess RPS’ GOTY (Rocket League in 2015) which just goes to show how unpredictable you folk are.

    So under this system: what happens if, say, 40 games got 2 points each? Was your method for tiebreaking/kicking games off just in-group discussion? Or did people self-adjust by reassigning points to prevent such shenanigans?

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      Graham Smith says:

      “So under this system: what happens if, say, 40 games got 2 points each? Was your method for tiebreaking/kicking games off just in-group discussion? Or did people self-adjust by reassigning points to prevent such shenanigans?”

      We’d have dealt with this should it have come up, but re-assigning points did lead to a certain amount of useful self-adjustment, And from previous years, yes, we’ve broken ties just by talking over it. It’s helpful that we’re not making an ordered list, aside from the one winner!

  8. cpt_freakout says:

    I enjoyed the reveals and the final list quite a lot, particularly because of the surprises. I have a lot to catch up to in the coming year!

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    Frog says:

    Merry Christmas all :)
    I picked up and had fun finishing The Norwood Suite, oddly fun bit there.
    West of Loathing, Nuamera and Edith Finch are taking up my time now. All good stuff, thanks RPS.

  10. DeepSleeper says:

    Hey RPS folk: For some reason the “Supporter” tag is showing under my name on the sidebar and I seem to have access to supporter articles.
    I didn’t give you anything and don’t deserve this. Just a heads-up.

    • Premium User Badge

      calcifer says:

      Some (but not all) of the supporter articles become public after a little while. Those are the ones you can see.

  11. unraveler says:

    No Okami? :(

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    subdog says:

    Hidden Folks didn’t even get one point! :(

  13. icarussc says:

    Yay, WotC! It was cool! But somewhere along the line, I got so sucked into the numbers that I stopped loving my soldiers. That was sad. We’ll give it another go and see if we can do better. The only other thing on this list that I’ve played was Numenera, which was very interesting and different. But I find I don’t remember much of it.

    My best games of 2017 were Witcher 3 and its DLCs, plus MGSV and *its* DLCs. I quite enjoyed the latter (though, goodness, Quiet was the Most Gratuitous Person of 2017), but I was honestly blown away by Witcher 3. It’s the first (and only) CPDR game I’ve played, and it was so incredible. Ironically, unlike MGSV, I felt like the fanservice elements were totally avoidable. But I digress.

  14. Renato84 says:

    No AC Origins, really? It’s the game I’m playing now, been a bliss since the very beginning. It’s definitely up there with other excellent ones I’ve played like Prey, NiER Automata and Edith Finch. It can’t not be in your “25 best of 2017”!

  15. andycheese says:

    No love for Warhammer2 Total War? My strategy GOTY for certain… I’d have thought it might at least warrant an early spot on the calendar, especially given the largely positive coverage you guys have given it across the year.

  16. RaymondQSmuckles says:

    Good Lord, I have almost 600 games in my Steam library, over 100 on GOG, plus assorted Origin and Uplay. And somehow I’ve only bought and played Bayonetta on this list.

  17. aoanla says:

    As usual, these lists mostly make me sad that I don’t have the time/energy to have played more than one of the games on this list this year (it was XCOM2:WotC, btw, and I haven’t even finished one campaign of it yet – the only other game I actually played for any significant amount of time this year was Heat Signature…).

    I guess I should buy Opus Magnum now, then…

  18. upupup says:

    Not my type of list. Games such as Tacoma, Getting Over It and Numenera are by no means bad, but they pale in comparison to the stellar achievements that are Rain World, Darkwood and Hollow Knight. Then there’s ports of a classic like Okami and the excellent Nioh, the adventuring goodness of Thimbleweed Park and Cuphead’s ample style.

    This was such a strong year so a number of okay-but-not-great titles sneaking in is weird, though I agree that Rakuen is quite good. That game had a lot of heart.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Totally agree, including your specifics. Darkwood is fucking unforgettable, Rain World is a work of art, Hollow Knight is just all the fun. Like you say, the picks werent at all bad, but I, too, feel like there were worthier games out there. I’ve played Getting Over It, and I do think Darkwood could have taken its place…

    • Turkey says:

      I’m listening to the Giant Bomb deliberations and it’s heartbreaking how often Hollow Knight is brought up only to get dismissed.

  19. alms says:

    For anybody looking for more reasons to get upset :P I’ve collected all of RPS’s picks since 2007 in this post:

    link to forum.rockpapershotgun.com

    • poliovaccine says:

      Ohhh if I wanna get upset I dont need all that..! All I need is to go back and revisit the RPS review of Fallout New Vegas! That one damn near cost this whole site credibility in my eyes! They have John Walker and Brendan Caldwell to thank for my loyalty!

      Exclamation!

      • Premium User Badge

        Aerothorn says:

        In defense of Quinns’ review – while Obsidian does the absolute best they can with New Vegas, making an interesting world, great characters, very difficult narrative decisions – they’re still doing it atop an incredibly ropey Bethesda engine and systems design that is flawed at best and broken at worst. Insofar as New Vegas has problems it really isn’t their fault (they couldn’t change engines, rebuild the combat engine from scratch, or any of that) and I throughly enjoyed the game, but if someone didn’t like it because it shared all the mechanical problems of Fallout 3, I really couldn’t blame them.

        • left1000 says:

          not only that but bethseda was actually in charge of hiring and supervising beta testers during the final quality assurance push for new vegas. So not only was obsidian hampered by the engine, but bethseda was responsible for making sure new vegas was as buggy or less buggy than fallout3, and bethseda dropped the ball on this issue. As a result of these bugs obsidian lost their bonus, which would’ve accounted for almost 100% of the profit they made on the deal. In my mind, this colored bethseda’s supervision of a rushed quality assurance phase before going gold.

  20. left1000 says:

    I do not like having to click 25 times to read a short list. Sites that force you to do this are usually much more scummy than RPS. In the past the final page of these on RPS was a table of contents list. I love those summary pages. I read the summary, then I see some interesting games on it. Then I go back and read page’s 3 8 and 15, skipping the extra 20 clicks I don’t want to invest.

  21. Renato84 says:

    AC Origins is my GOTY so far (still haven’t finished, I’m in Alexandria, at level 12). Prey, NiER, Edith Finch, F1 2017 may all have been masterpieces, but AC Origins was the one that jaw dropped me the most.