Now that we’ve taken a peek at the best PC games of 2017—so far, at least—it’s time for our other biannual tradition: Rounding up some of the top PC games of 2017 that might have escaped your notice. The smaller indie titles, the B-games, the ones that slipped between the cracks here at the site and maybe slipped through the cracks in your Steam library too. New PC game releases are a dime a dozen these days, after all.
Some of these games have flaws, some are definitely suited for a niche audience, but they’re all interesting—and ultimately that’s what makes PC gaming itself interesting. All of these games can coexist on the platform. We’re living in a golden age for games. We’re spoiled for choice.
And here are 10 games that prove it—everything from a modern Where’s Waldo to a Monty-Pythonesque point-and-click to a sci-fi detective story, and more.
The humble Metroidvania has had quite a renaissance the last few years, with Axiom Verge, Ori and the Blind Forest, Owlboy, and so on.
Hollow Knight might be the hardest of them all, though. I’ve seen the ol’ Dark Souls name thrown around a couple of times, and for good reason: Some of Hollow Knight’s bosses are hair-tearingly difficult. Be warned.
But if you’re up for a challenge, Hollow Knight can be incredibly rewarding. It’s got tight combat and platforming, a wonderful soundtrack, a memorable cast, a unique mapping system, and hand-drawn art that only gets better as the game goes on. This one’s up there with the best the genre has to offer.
Rime didn’t exactly “fly under the radar,” but it also didn’t get off to a great start. The inclusion of Denuvo DRM sandbagged the game before it even released, and then launch day woes amounted to strike two.
No strike three came, though. And if you skipped Rime at release, for whatever reason, I think it’s worth going back. The performance can still be rough in certain sections—I had some issues with a GTX 980 Ti, which is unheard of. But if you can slum it at 40 frames per second, your reward is a gorgeous adventure that’s at times reminiscent of Ico and Journey and Zelda and all the ol’ touchstones. The puzzles and moment-to-moment game aren’t anything special, but it makes up for that fact with awe-inspiring environments and a soaring soundtrack.
The full-motion video or FMV genre pretty much died in the mid-’90s, and the few games since have mostly emulated that period—hammy acting, awkward pauses between scenes as if watching a CD-ROM load video files, that sort of thing. See, for instance, Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure a.k.a. a ‘90s revival.
But I like to think Late Shift is closer to what we’d see if FMV games had never died out. It’s more an interactive film, both in the quality of the cinematography and in the pacing. The action never stops as you’re coerced into aiding a robbery and then have to make it out alive.
Sure, it’s not the most original story, nor has it completely shaken the awkward segues of old FMV. It’s an interesting experiment nevertheless, and maybe bodes well for the genre’s future—especially with Netflix scoping out the field.
Four Last Things
We can debate all day about the so-called “Citizen Kane of games,” but there’s no disputing the role of Four Last Things—it’s a Monty Python sketch. With an art style created by cutting out and casually pasting together early-Renaissance paintings, it’s about as close as I’ve ever seen to one of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s animated Terry Gilliam interludes.
It has similar themes, too. Four Last Things concerns a man who seeks salvation at the Catholic Church, only to be told he can’t be saved because his sins weren’t committed in the correct jurisdiction. His only recourse? To commit every sin again.
It’s a wacky point-and-click, with some excellent one-liners and puzzles that are amusing without ever being obtuse. And at around two hours long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Quern – Undying Thoughts
I’m cheating a bit by including Quern – Undying Thoughts on this list. Technically it released in 2016 and…well, I overlooked it. Probably because the name isn’t exactly eye-catching.
It’s so damn good though. Last year was full of Myst-alikes, including Cyan’s own Obduction. Quern is right up in that top tier though, with puzzles that touch on everything from sound to physics to mechanics to fictitious botany. Combine that with the desaturated, bleached-bone aesthetic of Riven, and it’s almost like stumbling back to 1997. The only shortcoming is the story, which doesn’t really blend well with the puzzles themselves, but if you’re just here for the puzzles? This is one to grab.
This one’s easy: If you like Where’s Waldo/Wally, you’ll enjoy Hidden Folks. The dozen or so hand-inked environments in Hidden Folks are packed full of hidden folks and all manner of other objects to hunt down, from a big snake to a lady sleeping in a tree to a radio-loving ficus to Sir Isaac Newton himself. Aside from simply scouring each black-and-white image, you’ll also need to interact with the environment to find certain Folks—opening a suitcase to reveal the man trapped within, for instance. And each action? Accompanied by sound effects that are actually just weird mouth noises.
It’s about as lo-fi as could be, but in a manner that’s pretty charming.
Next page: The rest of the best you’ve missed.
It’s a bit of a miracle that Limbo and Inside haven’t spawned more clones. Not only have Playdead’s platformers been critical and commercial successes, they’re also “platformers” in the barest of senses—most of Limbo was running to the right and occasionally dragging an object, and while Inside’s themes elevated it to new heights it was still the same game at its core.
Little Nightmares is the first game I’ve played that really feels like a Playdead clone, though. Not only do you play as a small child who loves running to the right of the screen, but Little Nightmares features the same over-the-top imagery, the same surreal aesthetic that makes Playdead’s games so interesting despite their rote mechanics.
And in some ways I like Little Nightmares better. It’s more coherent, its monsters grotesque in ways that sometimes evoke Spirited Away. Like Playdead’s games, there’s not much of a challenge here—but that’s not the point, is it? You’re just here to run right and enjoy the ride.
I don’t really know why Bandai Namco pushed Get Even out to die. I didn’t hear any hype, any marketing, anything at all really, and then it dropped the week after E3—probably the worst possible time for a game to launch.
Get Even is pretty interesting, though. It’s part adventure game, part detective story, part psychological thriller, with a bit of shooting thrown in. You play as some sort of mercenary, reliving your memories, and most of your time is spent creeping through and scanning environments with your phone—checking for blood with a UV light, photographing evidence and the like, piecing together smaller mysteries to hopefully explain your own circumstances.
It’s bizarre, and definitely fits in that effervescent “Flawed B-Game” category. But it deserved better than being dumped on Steam among a hundred other releases that week.
The Sexy Brutale
The Sexy Brutale’s title isn’t doing it any favors, especially in this day and age, when Steam is flooded with “adult” games. I think I missed this one the first time around because I assumed it was a very different sort of experience.
But on the advice of a friend I checked it out and wow, I’m glad I did. You’re a guest at a masquerade ball where all the guests are being murdered, and it’s your job to figure out whodunnit in each scenario. The catch? The party is trapped in a time loop, and resets every twelve hours. You’ll walk around, make notes on who was where at what time, who might have committed the crimes, and then retain that information when the loop resets. Then it’s up to you to prevent the murders.
Like a grisly version of Groundhog Day, you might say.
It’s a wonderful idea, with even better art and music. Ignore the title and try not to worry about friends seeing you playing something called “Sexy Brutale” on Steam. It’s worth the sidelong looks.
Great VR games
Last but not least, I want to take a moment to call out some of the best VR experiences I’ve played this year.
Giant Cop is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You play as a giant police officer, fighting crime from your perch a hundred feet above the city. Mostly you’ll arrest people for smuggling cabbage, where “cabbage” means “marijuana” and “arresting people” means “picking them up and throwing them into a futuristic trash can prison.” It’s full of low-key humor and ‘70s vibes, and I dig it.
Wilson’s Heart is one of the few VR games we’ve actually taken the time to review, mainly because it’s one of the few VR games that feels like an actual, full-length experience. At around 8-9 hours, with Peter Weller voicing the titular character, Wilson’s Heart takes you through basically a B-horror film—creepy hospital, classic monsters, black-and-white aesthetic. It’s a bit overlong at times, and none too revolutionary, but definitely one of my favorites this year.
And then there’s Star Trek: Bridge Crew, the fulfillment of many nerd dreams. You’ll take on the responsibilities of either Captain, Helm, Tactical, or Engineer on the Enterprise, coordinating with three teammates to solve various galactic crises. The only problem? It works best when you have three friends who also own VR headsets, which I imagine is a very small niche. Still a great concept, though.