The year is coming to a close and we wanted to celebrate some of our favorite games of the year. This is the first of a series of posts we’ll be putting up in the coming weeks highlighting games and experiences that spoke to us throughout the last 12 months. To be clear: we’re not claiming that we have determined mathematically the best games, but these all spoke to us on a human level.
In this week’s post we’re highlighting some of our favorite games without a price tag: the best games you can get without paying a dime. These games are just as good as their premium-priced cousins and offer a diversity that we can all be proud of. Check out our favorites below.
When we covered Doki Doki Literature Club before, I hinted that there might be something lurking under the surface of the game’s anime world. There is: a brilliant subversion of visual novel tropes. DDLC grabbed me in a way that no other game has this year, and twisted me around while playing with my expectations. The writing in here is tense, and plays with the fact that dating sims have notoriously questionable writing. DDLC is also one of the few games that really plays with the fact that you’re playing it on a PC. There are adventures and mechanics that take place outside of the game while it’s running and that’s an incredible feat.
As a warning, this game isn’t messing around when it throws up the content warning at the beginning. There is a lot of mature imagery in the game but it feels surprisingly earned. For a game about anime teens it’s interestingly adult.
In 1962 Ohio police staked out a series of men’s restrooms where men were known to have sex. In a chain of secret taping sessions and covert raids, the police forced gay men out of some of the few remaining places where they were able to practice their sexuality.
The Tearoom is my favorite example of a game that knows how to place itself into historical context. To talk about the game is to talk about these bathroom raids and their effects on the men they terrorized. The developer goes into the details more in what is the best artist statement of the year but the Tearoom is a brilliantly designed exploration of sexuality, gun culture, and the courage it took to be yourself in Ohio.
The Tearoom is most certainly one of the most interesting games with real world implications that I’ve seen not just this year, but ever. The experience is short but affecting and will be one of the indies that 2017 is remembered for.
2017 has been a nightmare hellscape in which existing feels like screaming into an unending void. Fortunately you can drink some Butterfly Soup and feel better -- at least for a little while. In a year that has seen so many direct attacks on marginalized people Butterfly Soup is an adorably queer story that makes the world feel a little less bleak.
Sure Butterfly Soup ticks all the visual novel boxes: great character design, fun writing, and a thumpin’ soundtrack but it transcends these parts and becomes so much more. Butterfly Soup doesn’t take a long time to get through but it’s worth revisiting whenever you feel like you need a quick pick-me-up.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned to value this year, it’s taking care of myself. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because standing against the storm that is 2017 takes a lot out of you. Either way, Nathalie Lawhead’s nihilistic comedy both skewers and supports taking time for yourself in brilliantly unique ways.
The developer describes Everything is Going to be Ok as a zine, but I’m not sure how accurate that descriptor is. Everything is structured as a series of short vignettes that can be played in almost any order that highlight the absurdity of trying to keep yourself and others sane. When I played a preview build of the game at E3 I saw a vignette where two rabbits were sinking into lava, and I had to give the rabbits compliments to make them sink both as slowly as possible and keep them at similar rates of descent. It’s this sort of optimistic nihilism that has kept Everything in my mind all year and made it one of the most unique experiences I’ve had all year.
And there you have it: a handful of our favorite games from 2017. Are these all of the great games that have launched this year? Of course not. What are your favorite free games that you’ve played over the past 12 months? Want to know more of our favorites? Come back next week for another year-end retrospective of 2017 on itch.io.