Absolver's enthralling brawls are all about fashion and deceit

2017 GOTY Awards

Alongside our team-selected 2017 Game of the Year awards, each member of the PC Gamer team gets to champion one favorite from the year. We'll continue to post new personal picks until the end of 2017. 

Absolver's 1v1 brawling is a layer cake, each sheet tasty on its own without overpowering the others. At the bottom are individual moves—drunken twirls, powerful taekwondo kicks, all-or-nothing haymakers—that are chained together with one button. Sweet and simple. Above the moves, multiple dodging and parrying styles, and then a savory customization engine, where attacks can be chained across four stances. I've spent hours just trying out new combos that auto-cycle my stances, sometimes reserving one stance that I manually switch to when I think my opponent has my core moveset figured out. Instead of high kick, low punch, spin, they suddenly get sweeping kick, twirly dodge attack, jumpy kick. Delicious.

Then there are the dances around ledges, where opponents can be shoved or sometimes just psychologically pressured into slipping to their demise—also great, except when you get force pushed by one of Absolver's special moves.

Finally, with all the decorative edible bobbles at the top, Absolver is about fashion. I haven't concerned myself with style in any other game this year as much as I have in Absolver. Though I find the world drab, the characters are sharp dressers, and using masks to express personality without the need for eyebrow sliders is clever and effective. What's more, Absolver has tactical fashion. Clothes have stats, and affect how much damage you take and how much damage you can deliver depending on your fighting style. They tell you about the player you're up against, and what sort of moves they'll bring. Light, airy dress implies a speedy, dodging style. Or does it?

It's vital to time moves to chain them most effectively, but tricky button presses aren't Absolver's primary focus. Absolver is about misdirection and deceit through and through, from how you design your moveset, to which stances you prefer, to how you dress. Fighting games like Street Fighter deal in trickery, too, but more subtly and with more conditions—namely, perfect input execution—and I've rarely felt capable enough in them to compete against good players in a fun way.

In Absolver, on the other hand, I may have gotten my ass kicked regularly (and after some time away, I'm sure my play is now dreadful), but I was always keen to return with a redesigned fighting style and new plan—to adapt as a player but also as a character. It is perhaps in my head. A better player will beat me most of the time, but feeling like I have the opportunity to surprise them or fool them without perfecting inputs as a prerequisite kept me trying again and again. I only stopped playing Absolver because I had so many other games to get to this year. When a quiet moment presents itself, I will be back in the ring, trying out my drunken spins again.