2017: Games

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Friday the 13th: The Game

While lacking the claustrophobia and vice-grip tension of Dead by Daylight (whose console port also dropped this year), Gun Media’s Friday the 13th: The Game makes the best use of its asymmetric concept. Counselors are easily digestible archetypes, complete with tailored stats; capable enough to allow for a hard-won survival, but squishy enough to make (the far more likely) grisly death not only feel like an earned outcome, but even a little enjoyable. The various permutations of Jason, however, are where the game finds its fun: brutish, indestructible, capable of rending bodies apart, forever urged by Mommy to kill. You prowl, biding time until your abilities power up, then strike down fleeing counselors when they tire themselves out. The graphics might be shoddy, the maps limited and kinda plain, but it captures both the goofy sadism and the rinky dink, knockoff quality Friday the 13th has cultivated since 1980.

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Persona 5

Atlus’ most mainstream Shin Megami Tensei yet, but also its most grim. Where the PS2 cycle represented in Persona 3 and 4 tempered their angst and psychosexuality with clear-cut morality, Persona 5 presents a world having gone insane. Administrators overlook student-diddling psychopaths and the cops and prosecutors are in the pocket of elitist cabals jockeying for power. To the teenage anti-heroes, the entirely human evil takes on cosmic horror dimensions suited to the series’ aesthetic. This formula twist pervades the game, with dungeons built around infiltration and heist film theatrics juggling multiple realities. To further your picaresque activities, you build up a healthy social life of fellow outcasts, each confronting their own inner demons, to get the tools and skills needed to set about your impossible task.

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Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Both a reset and complete overhaul, RE7 (particularly its opening hours) sings. Initial impressions of Capcom coat-tailing P.T., Amnesia, and other, trendy first-person horror games fall away when the game hits you with themed locks, deathtrap puzzles, and claustrophobic encounters with shambling monstrosities. Soon enough, you’re backtracking across a dilapidated mansion to test out new equipment and keys. Players are invited to re-examine the survival horror genre’s (and specifically, the Resident Evil franchise’s) core tenets through an HD prism, fixated on sweaty flesh and toxic mold. Simultaneously, they are put through enough subversions of every gaming impulse and shorthand solution built up across console generations, making every step forward nerve-wracking.

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Persona 5

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The PS2 cycle of Persona games, for all their angst and psychosexuality, tend to have a clear-cut morality to them. The authorities in those tales (schools, the police, adults in general) could be clueless, inept, even staffed with the odd turncoat, but the values they espoused still had legitimacy. Good was good, bad was bad, and the teen heroes had to defeat the bad as it intruded upon society. Persona 5, however, presents the world itself as having gone insane: administrators overlook student-diddling psychopaths to maintain prestige and the cops and prosecutors exist to shield elitist cabals jockeying for power. The ordinary people these arcane conspiracies gobble up don’t even merit a first thought. Apathy is the order of the day, served up by a media keen to avoid any uncomfortable questions. Dropped into the center of this madness is another quiet misfit, saddled with a juvie record for pissing off the wrong plutocrat. Despised and labelled a crook by the Tokyo prep school he’s shipped to, there’s a sense at the beginning his prospects are zero. Naturally, when he and some other teen outcasts gain the series-standard Persona abilities and access to human desires made manifest, they jump at the chance to lash out as self-styled “Phantom Thieves.”

This twist on formula pervades everything. Dungeons are constructed around infiltration, maneuvering around obstacles, and lying in wait to ambush a patrolling Shadow. Persona are no longer the friendly spoils of war, but the (willing?) subjects of your enemies. You have to batter and coerce them into seeing the error of their ways. Train up enough, and you get the option to talk them down with a silver tongue or fire a warning shot near their heads. The relationship sim aspect of the game remains primarily shonen-flavored visual novel, but spikier personalities have found room among the dorky children, troubled teachers and quirky enthusiasts. Wrack up good enough stats, and you’ll find yourself befriending an ex-yakuza who needs you to get around the cops. Interact often with the bullied dork running your fan page, and you get an alarming window into how the slightest (imaginary) amount of power can warp someone towards spite and cruelty. There’s a real sense you’re fighting, impossibly, from the brink.