Usually I start these mid-year lists of the best PC games with “Can you believe it’s already June?” But I think I speak for everyone when I say, “wow, we’re only halfway through 2017? Seriously?” This has been one of the busiest spring release windows I’ve ever seen, with dozens of major PC games already released this year.
Sure, a few we were looking forward to turned out to be high-profile flops (cough Mass Effect: Andromeda cough), but there have also been some instant classics—Nier: Automata, Prey, Thimbleweed Park, and more.
Look for those and more inside, as we round up the best PC games of 2017—so far, at least. This fall’s looking even more packed.
It’s not the story you tell, it’s how you tell it. You could easily look at Prey and dismiss it as same-old, same-old. Immersive sim on a space ship? Oh, so it’s System Shock 3. And indeed that’s the target Arkane aimed at when it started this whole project.
What it lacks in originality it more than makes up for in style, though. Dishonored’s take on the genre is always slow, plodding, and methodical. Creative, to a point—but restrained by the tools at your disposal. Prey has no such restraints. The fact that speedrunners have beaten the game in seven minutes is testament to the freedom Prey gives you, as is the fact that your first “gun” is good mostly for building platforms and accessing those hard-to-reach areas.
Is Prey a revolution? A reinvention of old ideas? Not in the slightest. But it takes much of what made System Shock 2 great, repackages it in a modern game with modern design and modern tech, and runs with it. It’s one hell of a space station and one hell of a game.
I didn’t really understand Nier: Automata until the credits ran for the fifth time. It’s an RPG that breaks all genre conventions from the get-go, with lengthy bullet-hell sequences interspersed between the fast-paced and fluid combat Platinum’s games are known for. And it’s a game that features singing robots, villains named Adam and Eve, and all sorts of other oddities I’d hate to spoil.
But it only gets wilder the longer you play. There’s a lull in the middle as you go for the second ending—that section’s probably the weakest part. It’s worth it to push through though, as endings C and D bring the story to some wild places and ending E...well, I can’t say anything at all. Except that it’s worth the journey.
The PC port has some issues, and I might have abstained from putting Nier:Automata on this list if it were a lesser game. But the problems are at least easily fixed with a well-maintained fan patch. Grab it and you’re set.
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods looks maybe a bit too cutesy for its own good. I still don’t know why everyone’s an animal, except...well, they just are. It doesn’t really matter though, because Night in the Woods features extraordinary character writing, with some of the best moment-to-moment dialogue I’ve seen in a game. Not in the “You’re the hero and you’re fighting evil!” way, but the much-harder-to-pull-off “You’re a normal person and this is a sketch of your life” way. Chats with your parents. Chats with your friends. Chats with neighbors. It’s identifiable on a personal level that few games achieve.
And that’s great, but when I think back on Night in the Woods, it’s the town I remember. Underneath the twee story of a college-aged kid looking for somewhere to belong, there’s a deeper story about rural America—specifically, about an economically depressed mining town, the toll taken on the people who call it home, and the slow decay after the boom years are over.
It’s good. And timely.
The Kickstarter campaign promised a “long lost LucasArts adventure” and that’s exactly what Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, and co. delivered with Thimbleweed Park. It’s a point-and-click the way point-and-clicks were made in their heyday, complete with the SCUMM-style graphics and the block of verbs in the bottom left corner.
But it’s also 2017’s take on the ‘90s adventure game. The Twin Peaks-esque story of a murder in a strange town filled with strange people is quickly usurped by meta-humor, in-jokes, and just all-around bizarre occurrences—some explained, some left to the imagination. Thimbleweed Park’s both a brilliant homage and a brilliant game in its own right.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
Torment: Tides of Numenera might not reach the same heights as its spiritual predecessor Planescape: Torment, nor will it perhaps last as long in people’s hearts. But that’s a bit of an “Aim for the moon, land among the stars” deal, because Torment: Tides of Numenera is still an excellent throwback CRPG.
Why? Because it’s all so damn weird. That’s what made Planescape: Torment a joy to play, and it’s Tides of Numenera’s strong suit too. Whether it’s a city contained within a dimension-spanning slug, an orphan from another time and place, a garden where only the person you’re talking with can hear you and vice versa—the game is just full of wondrous events and areas that make it a joy to explore.
There are definite issues. Combat is superfluous, which doesn’t annoy me but may annoy some. The story wraps up too quickly and ties together a bit too neatly. There are definitely aspects I would’ve wanted to see fleshed out. But what’s here is still an excellent journey despite its flaws.
Everything is a philosophical treatise. A game, sure, but also a way of looking at the universe, of understanding the world around us. One that’ll be innately familiar to lovers of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, for instance—a world interconnected, a simulation of...well, everything. And one where everything is related to every other, where we’re defined by our similarities more than our differences.
What this means for you, the player? You’re put in control of an object—a cow, a bear, a pencil, a streetlamp, a cigarette butt, a grain of pollen—and can, at will, scale up into a larger one or down into a smaller one. Maybe you’ll spend a few minutes as a cloud, or an island, or a single electron. There are over a thousand objects in Everything, and you can control each of them in some manner. Oh, and periodically you’ll stumble upon excerpts of talks by philosopher Alan Watts and listen to him discussing how all beings are related, and actually part of one huge organism.
It’s a game that demands a particular mindset and a willingness to approach it on its own terms, but Everything is stunningly ambitious. There’s certainly nothing else quite like it.
Next page: The best of the rest