As the AAA studios had rather mixed fortunes overall, the host of independently developed games in 2017 more than made up for it. More than any other year, there have been titles that have inspired us artistically, that have challenged us intellectually, and that have occasionally made us throw our controllers in a fit of rage.
Out of all the categories this year, Best Independent Game had the most candidates in the pool to choose from. 2017 was a phenomenal year overall, so even though choosing the winner was a no brainer, the runner ups and even the honourable mentions had a plethora of titles that whittling them down was somewhat difficult. Regardless, our winner is:
Given how many awards we’ve handed to Hellblade already, you probably saw this coming. Not only did Melina Jurgens give an award winning performance as Senua – the best character created in 2017 according to us, but it also wowed us with its audio design that took us from being mere outsiders looking in, to feeling as trapped as she does with the voices in her head.
But what we haven’t touched on is how clever Hellblade is from a gameplay perspective. As well as exploring the world through her eyes, we also fight the hallucinations before her. Since the game has a limited field of view, those same voices that torment Senua also warn her of dangers behind her, allowing the player to have time to react to an unseen blow. It shows us that those with psychosis can at times use their condition in ways that are beneficial to them, rather than see it as something to overcome.
It’s definitely a game that has lingered in our minds since the summer and one that we’re sure those who have played it won’t be forgetting any time soon. In a sea of indie games that have amazed us this year, for whatever reason, Hellblade still stood out among them as the cream of the crop.
What Remains of Edith Finch – Runner Up
What Remains of Edith Finch sounds like a game about death, as the titular Edith relives the final moments of various members in her family, but it also works as a celebration of life. What could be a morbid journey into the Finch family’s history is instead a uniquely personal and touching collection of tales.
Exploring the Finch household, each room is masterfully created to resemble the character of the person that lived there, while each memory that you’re then drawn into shifts in style and tone to explore these memories in different ways. It’s the way that Giant Sparrow manage to blend these engaging environments with its story that really helps to elevate it from its peers.
Cuphead – Runner Up
Cuphead certainly did a lot of things right with its visual design, bosses, and controls. It was a joy to play this Max Fleisher inspired cartoon about tea and coffee making facilities, duking it out with an assortment of characters as the devil’s debt collectors. The little details also shine through and while it’s absolutely clear that they’re secretly moonshiners making bootleg alcohol, you can’t help but adore the little scamps as Mugman takes a sip of dutch courage from his own bonce.
It’s a hard game. Each boss has multiple phases to overcome, with flag points indicating progress upon death in order to goad you into having one more turn, is genius design. I still have nightmares about one boss and its bullet hell section, but all the while there’s a jazzy soundtrack and wonderfully hand-crafted, award winning visuals, that keeps players from giving up.
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Hollow Knight
- Sky Force Reloaded