It may be the Land of the Rising Sun, but it had been looking like we were in the twilight years of console gaming in its spiritual home of Japan until 2017. Smartphones ruled the roost, with controllers swapped for touchscreens.
Capcom kicked off the revival by bringing zombie horror heavyweight Resident Evil back from the dead in January, then Nintendo returned to a form not seen since everyone was playing tennis with their grandmother on the Wii with this year’s Switch console.
Reinventions of their beloved big-hitters The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario certainly helped.
Back in the West, Nazi shoot-em-up Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus hit the streets in October to find them flooded with Nazis in the USA. Publisher Bethesda rode the resulting wave by invited players to ‘Punch a Nazi’ in marketing.
Long-brushed aside as media’s ‘new kid on the block’, the ability to delve into such prescient events has thrust games far beyond the realm of adolescent time-wasters.
This year was not the first time that the art form – and to settle a tiresome debate, it is indeed an art form –has been pushed forward with a focus on a broader subject matter than shooting space invaders. Indie developers continued to push boundaries in that respect where their AAA brothers played it safe.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice took its portrayal of mental health and PTSD so seriously that the first person acknowledged in the opening credits is resident mental health expert Paul Fletcher. What Remains of Edith Finch leant heavily on the abstract and symbolism in its vignette-based exploration of a cursed family’s tragic deaths.
You won’t find these names next to Call of Duty in the best-selling charts but these productions have become way more cultural. Last year I went to see the pioneering Dear Esther and its Bafta-winning score performed live IN A THEATRE – the industry has come a long way since Pong and more defining games like these in 2018 will continue that journey.
But growing pains are inevitable. Publisher EA caused a disturbance in the Force in November when their Star Wars Battlefront II was released with a loot box system that allowed players to pay cold hard cash to get the upper hand online. The move sparked investigations into whether this was gambling, and the resulting furore shone a light on a medium that is still maturing.
Next year is all about spaghetti western juggernaut Red Dead Redemption 2. Rockstar games are the equivalent of Star Wars in cinema – each blockbuster release sends publishers scattering to avoid a showdown. And they are mind-blowingly popular too – the latest iteration of their flagship title, Grand Theft Auto, can still be found in the UK top 10 four years after being released.
The first Red Dead told a seminal tale during the death of the Old West, delivering an engrossing western world to live out your most rootin’ tootin’ fantasies, and a twist that continues to shock me to this day. If they manage to top it this time then it will be worth tipping your hat their way.
The fact that this headline release of next year will not be available to play in virtual reality paints a bleak picture of the supposed ‘VR revolution’.
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was the most notable experience in VR in 2017 – but that is six years old, and probably available on your toaster as it has been released that many times. It is hard to see the expensive headsets getting much more traction in 2018 – but hopefully games will continue to show themselves off in an ever-more impressive light.
Main image and Super Mario Odyssey images received with thanks from Nintendo.