Plugged In

Counting down the top video games of 2017

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2017 wasn’t exactly a great year for yours truly. As the year began, I found myself mired in a rut and with zero desire to pick up a controller, something I wrote about in this space last summer. And as some of you may know, the year ended with the passing of my dad after a short battle with leukemia. The time in between? That frankly wasn’t much better.

While 2017 is, by and large, a year I would just as soon forget, it was a surprisingly good year for gaming — Nintendo recaptured its magic with the Switch, Sony struck gold with console exclusives and Microsoft brought the phenomenon known as “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” to the console market.

Before completely shifting the focus to what lies ahead in the new year, let’s take one last look back at 2017 as I count down my picks for the Top 10 games of the year:

10. “The Evil Within 2” — 2017 was a great year for fans of survival-horror and developer Tango Gameworks delivered one of the genre’s best efforts with this sequel. A game steeped in creepy atmosphere and filled with nightmare-inducing monsters, “The Evil Within 2” is an unrelenting experience.

9. “Persona 5” — Having never played a “Persona” game before, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this latest iteration of the popular franchise. What I found was an insanely deep role-playing experience that sports a compelling story, memorable characters and a style unlike anything I’ve seen.

8. “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard” — The franchise that launched the survival-horror genre reinvented itself in 2017 with a new first-person perspective. The shift in perspective, combined with a return of the series’ hallmark claustrophobic atmosphere, help make this “Resident Evil” the most intense and terrifying installment since “Resident Evil 4.”

7. “Destiny 2” — Bungie’s online shooter returned with a fleshed-out campaign and significantly more content for solo players like myself, while still offering plenty of multiplayer action for dedicated squads. But it’s the unending quest for loot and the top-notch shooting mechanics that make this one of the year’s best.

6. “Middle-earth: Shadow of War” — How could anyone say no to taking another action-filled romp in the vast open world inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien? “Shadow of War” expands on everything that made “Shadow of Mordor” such a hit, including the groundbreaking Nemesis System, and adds a new wrinkle in the form of fortresses which can be assaulted by your personal army of brainwashed orcs. Bigger and better than its predecessor in every way, this is a sequel done right.

5. “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus” — There aren’t many first-person shooters that can list their story and characters as their strongest qualities, but that’s exactly what sets this sequel from MachineGames apart. I was immediately drawn to the game’s alternate-history story, which takes place in a Nazi-occupied 1960s-era America. And while protagonist BJ Blazkowicz and his supporting cast are terrific, it’s the reprehensible General Engel who steals the show. Battling Nazis in video games is nothing new, but as “Wolfenstein II” shows, some things never get old.

4. “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” — While it didn’t necessarily spawn the “battle royale” genre, this smash hit has become synonymous with the last-player standing concept. The game spent much of 2017 in pre-release form on PC, but I discovered it once it made the move to Xbox One and was immediately hooked. Whether playing solo or with a friend, few games can match the tension and drama that can be found in a match of “PUBG.” My quest to score my first chicken dinner will continue well into 2018.

3. “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” — To be fair, if things had been different this year, this game would likely be at the top of this list. I only recently began my adventures in Hyrule, having picked up a Switch and a copy of the game at Christmas. Yet even after only a few hours, I can see the incredible potential of this game. The attention to detail is nothing short of amazing and there is an almost overwhelming amount of things to do and places to visit. This one will keep me busy for quite some time.

2. “Horizon: Zero Dawn” — “Killzone” developer Guerilla Games returned in a big way in 2017, releasing this epic third-person open-world action RPG exclusively for the PlayStation 4. With an emotionally charged story, unforgettable characters (Aloy is my favorite new protagonist in years) and a huge world that begs to be explored, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” raises the bar for open-world gaming. And the recently released Frozen Wilds expansion adds even more content to an already jam-packed experience. This one shouldn’t be missed.

1. “Call of Duty: WWII” — I’ll be honest: Activision’s latest shooter wasn’t the best game of the year. Heck, you could make the argument that it wasn’t even the best first-person shooter. But when I think back to 2017, no game meant more to me than this one. It will be the game I remember most — because I’m not sure how I would have gotten through the end of the year without it.

Video games have always been an escape for me during tough times, and the end of 2017 was one of the toughest I can recall. While my dad was sick, I would spend my days at the hospital and my evenings at the office. When I finally got home after those long, emotionally draining days, I would head downstairs and jump online to play Domination or War mode in “Call of Duty: WWII.”

As I battled through the trenches on Pointe du Hoc and the forests in Ardennes, words like “cancer” and “death” faded from the forefront of my thoughts, if only for a short time. I came to cherish these brief moments of respite, especially toward the end of Dad’s journey.

One day when he was feeling well enough to talk, we reminisced briefly about my grandpa, Dad’s dad, who earned a Bronze Star for his actions during the Battle of the Bulge. I was not yet a teen when Grandpa died, and I never had the opportunity to ask him about his experiences overseas — though I doubt he would have had much to say, regardless. Dad said he never spoke about his time in the war, that what he witnessed and went through were things he’d just assume forget.

While cleaning out a closet at Dad’s house, I stumbled across a bag containing Grandpa’s Bronze Star and other medals, as well as the original letter he received which explained in great detail what he did to earn his commendation. As I poured over the words, the scene came to life in my mind. Even though I never heard my grandpa tell these stories, I could hear his voice narrating the events unfolding in my imagination. The whole thing played out like a cutscene from “Call of Duty;” when I got home that night and started up the game again, I had a new appreciation for what I was playing.

It’s been almost two months since Dad died, and “Call of Duty: WWII” continues to be more than just another game for me. It’s a reminder of that talk my dad and I had about my grandpa, a safe haven to retreat to when I’m having a bad day.

“Call of Duty: WWII” may not be your Game of the Year; it may not even be in your personal Top 10. For me, though, the choice is clear. “Call of Duty: WWII” not only provided countless hours of gaming enjoyment, it offered something that can’t be quantified with a review score — a lasting memory of my dad and my grandpa, and the peace of mind that comes with being able to push aside the pain of the real world, even if only for a moment.