11 of 20
: There really isn't a role-playing game like the Persona series. While the third shifted the series in its new direction, Persona 4 was the cult hit that turned everyone on to Atlus's stylish, endearing game filled with honest characters and themes of self-acceptance, camaraderie and funky jazz-pop. After some time with the English version of Persona 5, it's safe to say that the game is sufficiently carrying the torch. Dark themes of oppressive adults and their abuses lead to the characters expressing themselves and fighting back, and I was taken aback by the tiny bits of story shown at PSX. Combat has been refined, letting you switch Personas on the fly without using up a turn, and assigning actions to face buttons rather than menus. The Persona flair is pervasive throughout, as everything from menus and pause screens to ambient dialogue looks stylish and expressive. Persona 5 is easily my most anticipated game of 2017, and everything shown at PlayStation Experience points to the game being on the right track to stand alongside its series' best.
12 of 20
: It seems a little strange that Sonic's big bid in 2017 is a return to the series' roots, but Sonic Mania looks, sounds and feels like a Genesis-era Sonic in ways that definitely made me feel a little nostalgic. Many classic stages like Green Hill Zone are redone, with more routes and options to proceed, and tough new Robotnik bosses add fresh challenge. The ability to spin-dash out of a jump feels like a natural addition, and significantly speeds up the game. Where I felt a little worry was with the new stages, including a Hollywood-themed level with popcorn machines and director's chairs. They were a little bit longer than I expected, and some of the new level mechanics were hard to intuit as I was rocketing through the stage. It still hits that nostalgia just right though, and hopefully the rough edges will be smoothed out going into 2017.
13 of 20
What Remains of Edith Finch
: First-person, experiential narrative games are some of the hardest kind to demo on a loud, noisy show floor. The headphones might have helped, but What Remains of Edith Finch managed to suck me into its storytelling and devices better than most have in the past, even when surrounded by the clamor of a games convention. The Finches have a habit of dying, often before their time, and in odd ways. Edith is returning to her home years later, a massive construct of rooms towering above the forest around it. Her mother built a new room for every family member, and if they died, they were entombed within. Exploring each room, you retrace your family member's dying moments, often surreal and fantastic, but grimly so. What Remains of Edith Finch is focused on vignette storytelling, and while it's tough to tell if the parts will come together to form a greater whole, the individual pieces are already stellar and worth keeping an eye on this coming year.
14 of 20
Ace Combat 7
: The best thing I can say about Ace Combat 7 is that it's simply more Ace Combat. The fighter jet simulation series has been seemingly absent for several years, since the Assault spinoffs took it in a different direction than most would have liked. Ace Combat 7 is a return to form, with its pseudo-political thriller backdrop, stories of national war and an infatuation with planes. In a special VR experience, you can use the headset to eyeball missile locks, adding a new dimension to dogfighting (this is a standalone experience though, separate from 7). Everything about Ace Combat 7 felt familiar, comfortable and keeping in line with the series, but with the span of time we've gone without any mainline Ace Combat games, that's just what many grizzled veterans will be looking for.
15 of 20
: The reception to Nidhogg 2's aesthetic may have been premature. Though the new game has significantly distanced itself from the Atari visuals of the first, the flopping rag dolls of Nidhogg 2 are part of a greater step forward, and all of it works well. The main goal is still to advance the "board" in your direction, moving from screen to screen in order to reach the final destination and get eaten by the worm. Though the new twosome looks different, controls are still tight, and you can still execute the same breadth of moves. New to Nidhogg 2 is an arsenal of weapons, randomly chosen on spawn, spanning from daggers and greatswords to rapiers and bows. The stages respond to this new depth on weapons, adding more elements of verticality and interesting routing options to fight your opponent, or run past them for the goal. Despite appearances, playing Nidhogg 2 felt every bit as exciting and tense as the original, and the new maps and weapons look to make good on the indie darling's legacy.
16 of 20
Ray's the Dead
: Most zombie games are about killing said zombies, or in rare cases, reversing roles and killing people as a zombie. Puzzles aren't really a staple of the genre, but Ray's the Dead is a little different. A telepath raised from the dead, your special power lets you control hordes of specialized zombies, commanding them to do your bidding. Early on, this mostly means killing humans to grow your army, and using the zombies to solve timing puzzles and contribute to group efforts. As the game progresses, you'll have to commit to stealth segments, or use different types of zombies to handle different puzzle elements, similar to Pikmin. It was refreshing to see the zombie aspect used in a manner that wasn't just blasting through mindless hordes of walkers, and it will be interesting to see where Ray's the Dead goes with its particular brand of zombie.
17 of 20
Resident Evil 7
: Testing out the newest build of the Resident Evil 7 demo was a strange experience. It seemed Resident Evil in name alone, at least at first blush, reminding me more of P.T. and Outlast than games like Resident Evil 4. The inspiration for 7 doesn't seem to be the action of more recent games, or even the Plagas-infested castles of 4, but the original Resident Evil. The Bakers are like Nemesis, unstoppable and constantly on your tail, and the mansion is massive. Exploring deeper into the house yields even more mysteries, and complex puzzles and mechanics allowed for even more endings than the prior demos had. If this design is anything to go on, Resident Evil 7 will be more reflective of modern horror games than its own series has been, but with all the good bits of the original's clever level design and terrifying horrors, greater in quality than quantity.
18 of 20
The Church in the Darkness
: The goal of The Church in the Darkness is straightforward: your nephew is part of a cult that has left for South America, and his correspondence has grown strained. You're to infiltrate the camp, find him and rescue him as needed. Bible verses ring out over the loudspeakers as you enter the town, between status updates on the chicken coop and militaristic rhetoric from Isaac Walker, the charismatic leader of the cult. You can sneak around, avoiding detection, or kill everyone in sight, affecting whether certain members of the cult will assist you on your venture or not. There are elements of permadeath (though there are save and load functions), and supposedly narrative bits will be randomly generated, but from what I've seen in my playtime, it's a genuinely tense, atmospheric stealth game that creates a palpable sense of dread and multiple conflicts of morality as you attempt to subdue, kill or rescue members of this cult—whether they want to be or not.
19 of 20
: A spiritual successor to the legacy of Banjo-Kazooie, it's no real surprise that Yooka-Laylee feels incredibly familiar. Controls have been tightened up and streamlined, and the cartoon caricatures look incredible on modern hardware, but this is the kind of platformer you would have expected to play on a Nintendo 64. Large world areas are filled with different collectibles, earned by picking them up or completing challenges, or assisting other characters with requests. You can transform into a plant to pollinate flowers, solve a matching puzzle, platform your way across a tricky expanse or dare to beat a speed challenge spanning the map to earn more pages and advance onwards. It may seem overtly familiar, but Yooka-Layee finds the right balance between homage and successor, using tried-and-true concepts and introducing more modern design, presentation and concepts into the mix. I never thought I'd be excited for a 3D platformer again, but here we are, with Yooka-Laylee set to be a promising revival of the genre in 2017.
20 of 20
Games of Glory
: Multiplayer online battle arenas, dubbed "MOBAs" or "the bane of my editor's existence," have yet to find a solid footing on consoles. There have been many attempts over the years, from franchised blunders to ports that felt clunky, but the twin-stick shooter appeal of Games of Glory is a more refreshing attempt at the concept. It's a bit overwhelming at first, but most of Games of Glory revolves around player-versus-player combat in short rounds, rather than long, drawn-out conflicts. The mode I played, Superstar, was similar to VIP modes in shooter games, where one character was designated the Superstar, and killing the other team's Superstar was your victory condition. It created some irksome situations where a support might get labelled Superstar and end the round quickly for my team, but it's a shift in the right direction. There's a greater focus on combat and tactics in Games of Glory, rather than lanes and tower-pushing, and different options for main weapons and melee secondaries allowed for interesting customization. I can't say for sure that Games of Glory will be the breakthrough for MOBA-likes on consoles, but it's doing much more than copying the trendsetters, and that's refreshing enough to make me want to revisit it once launch rolls around.