We asked a handful of our contributors to put together a list of their three favourite games from 2017. Their picks are running across the week while the rest of RPS slumbers.
I’ve been thinking about time a lot recently – how we create and manipulate histories and the present in video games and in general – so you’ll forgive me if my end-of-year choices are a bit Back to the Futurey.
Top of my list is Sloclap’s wiry 3D brawler Absolver, with its ravaged streets and palaces, devilish tapdance of a soundtrack and excellent combat deck system. One thing I particularly like about the latter is that creating combos is essentially an act of bruising prophecy. Ideally, you’ll anticipate exactly which tactics an opponent is likely to try at any point in your combo, and build in some kind of counter: if you’ve just launched a ponderous roundhouse kick, for instance, it’s sensible to stir in a few jabs to shut down any interruptions. This chimes intriguingly with how time in Absolver’s world is at an apparent standstill, only ever shifting by eerily precise increments as you pass between regions. It’s like you’re trying to construct your own sense of temporal flow within a sumptuous purgatory, doled out in elbow hooks and heel drops rather than seconds.
My number two pick The Sexy Brutale is also about seeing the future, any future. You awaken to find yourself trapped in a giant masquerade ball turned grisly murder mystery. At the end of each day, time resets and the slain are restored to life, to be hacked down, eaten, incinerated and lacerated anew. You alone retain a memory of the sequence of events, and must save each character by following them around and thwarting whatever dastardly machinations are in play, the main catch being that you can’t be in the same room as them. This reminds me of Walter Benjamin’s concept of the historical “constellation”, a jolting combination of historical data that disrupts any given crushing, “official” account of the past. That’s a very loose gloss of Benjamin and this is, no doubt, a deeply flawed comparison, but you could argue that in solving the game’s puzzles you are “constellating” its props, combining materials in odd ways to free people from a destructive chronology.
Last but not least there’s Sonic Mania and heavens above, had you told me back in 2007 that I’d one day mention Sonic the Hedgehog and Walter Benjamin in the same article I’d have probably gone into dentistry. Mania is great because rather than being some staid act of remembrance, it both constructs and deconstructs the past before your eyes, restoring the hedgehog’s 16-bit heyday in order to play around with and transgress upon it. This comes across most strongly in the dialogue between each classic Zone’s act, the first Act typically being a straight revival of vintage Sonic devices which the second then bursts open and stuffs full of new or cheekily borrowed concepts – a rhythm that harkens back most of all to Sonic CD, the franchise’s Majora’s Mask, in which each Zone can be played in several different timeframes. It’s a game that is always threatening to grow beyond the games it’s in love with.