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10 Video Games for the Holidays

When it comes to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it can be difficult to know what to buy. Especially for both die-hard and casual gamers. 2017 has been a big year for video games with a large number of big triple-A titles released. With the cost of new games higher than it has ever been, it can be hard to know which games are worth the price of purchase.

That is where AFA Gaming comes in.

We've piled together a recommendation list of video games released in 2017 that would make great additions to your gaming library. Games that are not only fun and unique, but also have detailed animation that will take your breath away. All of the games on this list come personally recommended, meaning I have had the opportunity to play them to completion or have experienced several hours of gameplay. Every gamer has different preferences so I will try to cover as many different genres as possible.

Gravity Rush 2 (PlayStation 4)

One of the first games to be released this year and a highly anticipated one after my experience playing the original Gravity Rush. Given how well the first one engaged me with its world and characters, I was eager to see how well the sequel would expand the narrative and gravity shifting mechanics (since, unlike the first one, Gravity Rush 2 was designed exclusively for the PlayStation 4). What I got what a sequel that not only met my lofty expectations but surpassed them. The world of Gravity Rush 2 feels ten times bigger than the first with plenty of nooks and crannies to find collectible items and side missions that keep your attention as much as the main story. Not to mention a fun camera mini-game function that helps you feel like a tourist in this strange class-divided society.

The games visual style looks better than ever with some impressive lighting effects and new locations that feel alive. For people who played the original Gravity Rush on the PlayStation 4, the mechanics of gravity shifting are more and less the same (with a few added flairs thrown in). Though this seems to be the definite last installment for Kat and her superhero shenanigans, the Gravity Rush series has been an absolute joy to play with the positives far outway the negatives. If you're looking for a unique platforming experience with RPG elements, you cannot go wrong with Gravity Rush 2.

Nier Automata (PlayStation 4, PC)

If you're at all familiar with Yoko Taro's work, then you know how he loves to play with gamer expectations. This always applies to both the narrative, which is always more complex than it seems and using the gameplay to help reinforce the theme of the story. Nier: Automata, the sequel to the original Nier, is no exception to this rule. Though the original Nier was hit or miss for some due to its generic hack an slash gameplay, Nier Automata takes this style up to eleven by giving you the tools you need to feel like a robotic badass straight out of the gate. This post-apocalyptic tale of an army of human-like androids fighting to save humanity from alien machines is both straightforward and deceptive in its presentation. It is also very long, requiring several different playthroughs to achieve all the different endings. Though this can seem tedious, the game finds a way to switch things up with the player characters and game mechanics to make each playthrough feel unique. Making it feel like an organic extension of the narrative than a tacked on side stories.

For me, this game hit all the right points in telling a compelling tragedy with a possible happy ending that you, as the player, need to work for in order to get. Making the final achievement all the more satisfying. Definitely, my personal favorite game of the year and I recommended it to anyone who is a fan of hack and slash games.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U, Nintendo Switch)

I consider myself fortunate that I had a chance to play this game at all since for the longest time I wasn't sure if it had come out for the Wii U as well as the new Nintendo Switch. However, to my surprise, it was so anyone who is still on the fence of changing Nintendo consoles still has a chance to play this, for the lack of a better word, breathtaking game. Not only is the animation elegant but the design of the devastated Hyrule is as detailed as it is expansive. The Legend of Zelda franchise has always been able to capture unique yet compelling adventure stories, but the amount of trial and error the game gives you as you travel makes the experience much more personal than previous titles. For example, you could just be wandering through a local forest collecting food items for your latest recipe and just stumble onto a pack of Moblins fighting a rock monster. It is up to the player to decide whether or not to engage the creatures and take their stuff (at the risk of being overwhelmed) or simply pass them by. But more than that, it is a game that allows for the smaller moments as well. Letting you put up your virtual feet and feel like a hero at rest as you explore towns, talk to local NPCs or even go for a leisurely ride on your horse.

There is, of course, the traditional Zelda narrative that you are guided to follow (the first to have full voice acting by the way) but how you go about following that is up to you. And that freedom is key to what makes Breath of the Wild one of the best games of the year.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR, Xbox One, and PC)

After years of being embroiled with all of the action surrounding Umbrella corporation conspiracy/takeover, it is nice to see that Resident Evil has, in a way, gone back to its roots as just a straight-up suspense/horror game. Though the game does drop hints at a possible connection with the greater franchise, Resident Evil 7 Biohazard plays more like a stand-alone title than anything else. In my opinion that is to the games benefit.

You play as Ethan Winters an average-joe whose wife, Mia, has gone missing. His search for her leads to Louisiana, at a dilapidated plantation belonging to the Baker family. As with any good horror game, the narrative is quick to make you feel intimidated and out of place. Ethan is just a regular guy. No special powers, weapons or abilities (other than unusually fast healing) so the powerlessness associated with that is enough to make even a horror game veteran uneasy. But what really helps sell the horror when the game really gets going is, of course, the animation. There can be a few problems that pop up in terms of how the mouths match the spoken lines (especially when you get a close up) But the realistic look of the characters expressions and actions make the anticipation for the scare all the more effective.

If you know me, you know I'm not typically one to play or recommend horror games but there was clearly a lot of work put into this game and if you're a fan of the genre, this is definitely worth a purchase.

Persona 5 (PlayStation 4 & 3)

If you ever wanted a game that simulated what it is like to be a teenage superhero, juggling school life with saving the world, Persona 5 has got you covered. The latest in the franchise, it expands on mechanics explored in previous titles making them as eye-popping and intuitive as possible. Though it is technically the fifth game in the franchise, you don't have to have any previous knowledge of Persona games to enjoy P5. Every new title has new stories and new characters to follow so it is easy to just jump right in with this one if you are curious. But just know before you begin, Persona 5 earns that Mature rating, so this is not a game to be shared with the kiddies.

The theme of the game is about fighting against corruption, so as a result that corruption can and will show itself and it is not always pleasant. That being said, the message being communicated here is a very important one and handled extremely well within the context of the story. Not to mention the game throws in a lot of Lupin references as the main characters take on the roles of phantom thieves in their supernatural escapades. As it is a JRPG, this game requires a lot of commitment to play so I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is looking for a quick game to play every week. But if your looking for a mature but stylish game to sink your teeth into, Persona 5 comes highly recommended.

Sonic Mania (Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC)

As I have already written a review of this game, I will keep my thoughts brief. Sonic Mania comes recommended if you're a Sonic fan who has been craving to see a return to the blue blur's Sega Genesis days. Not only is it a faithful recreation of classic levels but an example that despite the franchise's troubled history, all the things that made the games fun for an entire generation still holds true. It also marks a big step forward in game design how a large company like Sega can work together with independent developers who have a clear understanding and respect for their franchise. If you're looking for a lot of fast action and beautiful sprite art and animation, Sonic Mania is a great choice for gamers of any age.

Uncharted: Lost Legacy (PlayStation 4)

Though  I only had a few hours to play Lost Legacy its latest outing still captured everything that has made Naughty Dog's action/adventure series successful over the years. While longtime fans may be disappointed with the lack of unique changes to the gameplay formula, Uncharted continues to stand out as one of the most beautifully crafted action games out on the market today in both animation and writing. However, instead of longtime protagonist Nathan Drake (who has officially ended his days of adventuring), Lost Legacy follows the adventure of Cloe Frazer (a side character from Uncharted 2) and Nadine Ross (Uncharted 4) as the two team up to find the legendary tusk of Ganesh.

The interactions between Cloe and Nadine, who are already both awesome characters in their own right, was one of the major highlights of this game. Both of them continue to be well written and interesting and it was a lot of fun have an action game with two female characters pushing the action forward. You would think that after spending so much time with Nathan Drake that it would be weird to have a game without him present, but I was pleasantly surprised that I was just as satisfied with the new cast. It is also difficult to talk about this game's animation without gushing but needless to say, the motion capture, camera and lighting in the cinematic scenes are absolutely wonderful. And this quality stays consistent as you explore the beautiful backdrops of India. 

It may be more of the same, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)

It has only been out for two months, but Mario Odyssey has been making plenty of waves through the gaming industry. Not only does it keep with that traditional Mario charm that has persisted despite his more mixed outings, but it offers some unique ideas for game design that offers some really fun experiences for the young and young at heart. 

Once again, Bowser is out to kidnap Princess Peach with the help of the Broodals (strange anthropomorphic rabbits) to plan the Koopa King's wedding to the damsel. Mario attempts to stop them but is beaten, his iconic hat being shred in the process. He then finds himself in Cap land and meets Cappy (a hat being called a Bonneter) whose sister Tiara has also been kidnapped by Bowser. The two team up and must travel across the worlds in order stop the wedding to save both Peach and Tiara.

Is it as silly as it sounds? Yes, but with Mario games, that level of silliness has become part of what makes the series so special. The concept of using Cappy to possess other individuals (whether they be NPCs or enemies) is really novel and makes for a lot of really fun puzzle solving. Much like Mario 64 (one of my all-time favorite Mario games), there is tons of exploration to be had. New worlds are packed to the brim with fun characters, secret items and fun scenarios that will keep players entertained for hours.

Odyssey is a must buy for any Mario fan or comes as a great package deal for the Nintendo Switch.

Injustice 2 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, iOS)

If you pay a lot of attention to video game reviews, then you may have heard about a certain DC comics fighting game that came out in May 2017, getting a lot of praise for both its gameplay and animation. This same game was made by NetherRealm Studios (the same folks behind the latest Mortal Kombat games) and has become one of the most popular fighting games of the year. After playing it myself, this game's popularity is not unfounded. NetherRealm really went above and beyond the call of duty to bring this alternate reality of the DC Universe to life. A universe where the iconic Superman has become a tyrant and gathering a small collection of other heroes who share his ideas on defending justice at the cost of freedom. With Batman and his own team out to stop him. Though I am not personally a big fan of all of the decisions regarding the characters (I really wish Superman had been given at least SOME redeeming qualities despite his new status) there is truly a lot of incredible character moments in the game's campaign and even in the arcade modes. Harley Quinn is a major standout having graduated from reluctant anti-hero to full-on member of Batman's faction of the Justice League.

The animation, though it is not perfect, is still one of the most beautifully animated 3D fighting games I have played this year (even beating out one of my all-time favorite fighting franchises Tekken 7). The game feels cinematic and grand, much like the comic universe that is bringing to life. There is also a great deal of replay value outside of online play with a better use of the loot box mechanic. These boxes containing new equipment and costumes for your favorite characters can be achieved by playing online or doing multiverse quests that are offered daily. If you're looking for a game to play with your friends in person or online, Injustice 2 packs in tons of iconic characters to have fun with than your typical fighting game.

Pyre (Playstation 4 & PC)

Supergiant games, in spite of only having three games to their name, has a reputation for it's creative approach to both game and narrative design. Two of their previous games, Bastion and Transistor have been huge hits due to their twist on traditional gaming genres (Bastion was an RPG top-down shooter, while Transistor was a strategy action game). Pyre is the third game to come out of this studio and continues to break expectation by exploring new themes and new combinations of gameplay mechanics (this one is a combination of a visual novel and semi- sports game). 

The story of Pyre is set in a high fantasy world where anyone who breaks the societies rules is exiled to a barren realm. The player character, who is left unnamed, is found by three other exiles and invited to join in the trials that all exiles must participate in to achieve their freedom. You meet a wide cast of colorful characters (both on and off your team) and your decisions will affect how the story plays out and eventually resolve. But at no point does the game tell you what is right or wrong. There is no good ending or bad ending, just an ending based on your choices. This lack of narrative railroading, great character design, and writing that makes for a wonderful game. One that is definitely worth the purchase this holiday season.