2017 was yet another year full of excellent PC games (see our GOTY awards and best-reviewed games of 2017 for reference), but with more games than ever releasing on a daily basis, there's no way we, let alone anyone, can possibly keep up with them all. (Though our new indie channel is doing a great job trying.) Great games slip by only for us to stumble onto them months later, buried under a pile of used-up algorithms and dusty memes. But we're always digging, because the PC is the only place a no-namer can turn into a phenomenon overnight.
These are just a few of the games that didn't catch fire last year, but are more than worthy of your time and money. In quiet month or two that typically kick off a new year, they're the perfect way to fill the quiet. Be sure to share the love, too: If there's a hidden gem you've been barking about, tell us about it in the comments.
"Mount & Blade + XCOM" should be all that I need to write, but I'm glad to gush more about my fifth-favorite game of the year. Although Battle Brothers' procedural story is skeletal, its turn-based, D&D-style combat is bottomless. You manage a team of mercenaries, recruiting clumsy tradesmen (cheap, expendable) or deadly veterans (irreplaceable) from towns and camps that dot a 2D campaign map, giving them names, equipment, and leveling them up into specializations around archery, javelins, halberds, dodging, shields, critical hits, and other handmade classes. Also crowding this map are dozens of brigand forts, ancient zombie lairs, and vampire dens waiting to be crossed off.
Battle Brothers is stingy with resources: you have to feed and pay everyone you recruit, and higher-end weapons and armor are not only expensive, but have to be repaired. Likewise, not only will you be gritting your teeth about the possibility of permadeath, but over temporary or permanent injuries your mercs will absorb—lost eyes and ears, sprained ankles, or brain damage that can dent their stats forever. Battle Brothers is a great example of how a small, independent team can do a lot by going deep on a couple systems.
Horror games often force you to move through an environment while running away from the monster, but Darkwood, with its dirty lo-fi birdseye framework, makes the fantasy of home invasion a reality. The monsters are still coming to find you, but you’re not going anywhere. By day, you’ll need to scavenge a randomly generated overworld in order to find materials for crafting weapons, bandages, and traps.
But when night rolls in, you’ll need to find shelter in an abandoned house and defend yourself from monsters on the hunt for… human flesh! It’s much scarier than a dramatic pause, trust me. You’ll need to barricade doors with furniture, set traps, hide, and pray that nothing out there catches your scent. Throughout the world you’ll also run into bizarre characters and uncover… secrets! Most of which are quite messed up. The feeling of being hunted as the world strips away resources and securities night after night is unlike anything I’ve played in a horror game before, a potent fusion of the crafting and exploration of survival games and good old-fashioned monster pursuit.
Dujanah was one of the strangest things I played this year. An adventure game set in a fictional Middle Eastern country, it's about searching for your missing family but it's also about riding around in a mech named Duck and playing arcade games to collect tokens for a giant spider. Many of the characters are made of clay, and sometimes it reminded me of Liquid Television. It's the kind of game where the creator shows up in FMV to talk directly to you. It didn't all hold together, but when it dealt with death it became genuinely profound. Few games manage that, but Dujanah is so casually and frequently profound I had to stop playing, like I was putting down a book and staring into the distance to think about it for a while.
As you can see from the user reviews on GOG and Steam, and my own review, Necropolis has some problems, not all of which are improved by the Brutal Edition update. But if the price drops or it goes on sale, there's plenty of fun, tense, one-life dungeon crawling here, so long as you bring a friend. I spent 18 mostly-solo hours in Necropolis before I beat it, and more than a few of those hours were dull and frustrating, but when I brought in a co-op partner I enjoyed it far more than not. A friend improves your chances, and solving Necropolis' mysteries is more entertaining when you have someone to experiment with. The simple combat, uniquely-styled monsters, and sparse story don't deliver any grand payoff at the end, so go into it looking for no more than a dungeon crawl that demands strike, block, dodge timing mastery (or a bit of cheesing with arrows) and a chance to catch up with a pal in between panicked retreats.
Paradigm might be the most absurd adventure game ever made. It still has one foot planted in classic point-and-click design, and you’ll likely be irked by the same problems such games always have, but the path to solving its puzzles is softened by a torrent of absolute nonsense. It’s a bright post-apocalypse story that resembles the future Asimov imagined in which the bad guy is an evil sloth genetically engineered to spit out candy. I don’t understand, neither will you, and that’s why Paradigm is so damn potent. Forget about logic, fold your arms across your chest, close your eyes, and let Paradigm take you where it will. And it will take you to excellent places, believe me. There’s an FMV featuring a damn dog in the opening minutes. It only gets better.
Brigador: Up-Armored Edition
Is it cheating to list a game that was re-released in 2017? If so, call me a cheater, I don't even care, because Brigador is rad and forever underappreciated, even after most of its attention came from a viral post about being underappreciated. But Brigador's big 2017 update powers up an already rad moody, isometric mech shooter with tweaks to controls and difficulty, a new intro campaign, and some more badass mechs.
Besides starring the most charming teapot-headed robot ever, Loot Rascals is a standout strategy rougelike. Think of it like a streamlined hexagonal board game. As you freely move over the grid, each step into a new hexagon counts as a turn. Monsters will hop into new spaces in turn with you, and every few turns, day turns to night, which inverses the attack and defense stats of the baddies. You'll need to be thinking a few steps ahead, all while keeping track of where you are in its randomly generated labyrinthine levels.
Monsters also drop loot cards (surprise!), which you can equip in a card-based inventory system. Certain loot can get buffed or debuffed based on their position in the two rows of cards and in relation to other cards, making for snappy, puzzling min-maxing. While Loot Rascals never transcends the genres it mashes up and streamlines, it's one of the most charming, lightweight strategy fixes you can play today. If you're tired of rougelikes that laugh at you while you're down, Loot Rascals laughs with you. Play it for the teapot guy alone.
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