This year has delivered an abundance of excellent, massive gaming experiences. You can easily lose yourself for days in titles like Persona 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But if you don’t have dozens of hours to sink into a digital world, 2017 also has a fantastic selection of quality games with less daunting commitments. 

We’ve singled out 10 of the best games of 2017 that clock in at 10 hours or less. These are still complete and engrossing titles – they just require a smaller time investment.

What Remains of Edith Finch
Estimated time to finish: 3 hours
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (review)
This narrative-focused experience from developer Giant Sparrow follows a young woman named Edith as she explores her eccentric family’s house. With novel gameplay moments and storytelling techniques, players see the world through the eyes of different Finches through the years – and witness the bizarre fate that awaits them all.

SteamWorld Dig 2
Estimated time to finish: 9 hours
Platforms: PS4, Switch, Vita, PC (review)
If you love exploration and upgrades with some undeniable Metroid influence, then Image & Form’s SteamWorld Dig 2 is for you. Robotic heroine Dot digs down through the dirt to find resources, and then spends them on a variety of clever weapons, bonuses, and enhancements that make her even better at digging. Though it’s fun on all platforms, SteamWorld Dig 2 is especially good for portable play on Switch or Vita.

Night in the Woods
Estimated time to finish: 9 hours
Platforms: PS4, PC (review)
Anthropomorphic cat Mae has dropped out of college and moved back in with her parents. Infinite Fall’s Night in the Woods is a 2D side-scrolling adventure game about Mae figuring things out and reconnecting with her hilarious friends and family. However, it’s also about a sinister mystery lurking beneath the desolate small-town charm.

Tacoma
Estimated time to finish: 4 hours
Platforms: Xbox One, PC (review)
What happened to the crew on the space station Tacoma? While the answer to that question is important, the real draw of this game from Fullbright (developer of Gone Home) is learning about the intriguing characters and their relationships through a system that lets you view their recorded interactions.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Estimated time to finish: 8 hours
Platforms: PS4 (review)
Nathan Drake has been the face of Uncharted for years, but The Lost Legacy proves the spirit of the series can live on through other characters. Naughty Dog puts Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross in the starring roles, but the gameplay and setpiece moments hit the same spectacular notes Uncharted is known for.

Battle Chef Brigade
Estimated time to finish: 9 hours
Platforms: Switch, PC (review)
Match-three puzzles meet hack-and-slash action is this surprising hybrid from Trinket Studios. Kind of like the show Iron Chef crossed with the game Bejeweled, players alternate between playstyles as they gather special ingredients and then prepare dishes for a panel of judges. Battle Chef Brigade is strange, intense, and unlike anything else you’ve played this year.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Estimated time to finish: 8 hours
Platforms: PS4, PC (review)
Senua is an ancient warrior struggling with psychosis, so players can never be sure of their surroundings in Hellblade. Developer Ninja Theory deftly uses sound design and visual tricks to impart fear and uncertainty throughout Senua’s journey. These aren’t just gameplay gimmicks; Hellblade uses them to confront serious (and sometimes uncomfortable) issues relating to mental health.

Observer
Estimated time to finish: 6 hours
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (review)
A cyberpunk detective story starring Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, Hobo with a Shotgun), Observer uses jump scares and a grim atmosphere to create a unique, narrative-driven horror game. Players jump into character’s minds to extract information, resulting in dream-like scenarios that developer Bloober Team has crafted to toy with your perception of reality. Fans of sci-fi and horror will love seeing how the genres collide in Observer.

Little Nightmares
Estimated time to finish: 4 hours
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (review)
Fans of Playdead’s Limbo and Inside should definitely play this puzzle/platform adventure from Tarsier Studios. As a tiny girl named Six in an oversized world, you navigate seemingly mundane obstacles like drawers and shoes, all while avoiding nightmarish horrors. The unsettling (but not gory) imagery makes Little Nightmares memorable, and the rising and falling tension keeps you engaged from beginning to end.

Everything
Estimated time to finish: 3 hours
Platforms: PS4, PC (review)
In Everything, developer David OReilly gives players the ability to hijack any object. From living creatures to inanimate structures, you hop from entity to entity in order to see what wonders (or horrors) the universe holds. The unbelievable wealth of things to possess and control is a major draw, and the relaxed approach to exploration makes for a delightfully weird game.

None of the trailers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi have given us a look at Supreme Leader Snoke’s crimson protectors, the praetorian guards, yet toy manufacturers can’t stop pumping them out. Hot Toys has gone all in on these mysterious warriors, offering fans enough parts and helmets to create the entire lineup that will supposedly be lining the walls of Snoke’s throne room.

These figures retail for $205 each, and are scheduled to ship between July and September 2018. Although you’ll want six guards to create the scenes shown, the praetorian guard only ship in two versions. Each of these figures ships with multiple helmets, hands, and weapons, allowing for the entire lineup to be created.

The praetorian guards’ weapons are different than we’ve seen in Star Wars, favoring old-school blades and whips over anything suitable for long-range affairs. You can pre-order the figures now, but I would hold off on buying them until you watch the movie in December. They look cool and deadly, but how much screen time will they actually get? Here’s hoping they serve more of a purpose than Emperor Palpatine’s royal guards did in the original and prequel trilogies.

This feature was first published in Game Informer Magazine issue 286, and includes major spoilers for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Telltale’s Batman, and Dragon Age: Inquisition.

In 2005, controversy erupted when the PC version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas released. The GTA series is no stranger to negative media attention, often looked down upon for its crude and juvenile themes. This time, the public was taken aback by sexual minigames hidden in the game’s code. These minigames depicted protagonist Carl “CJ” Johnson performing sexual acts with his chosen in-game girlfriend, with each move and action in the bedroom under the player’s control. Though inaccessible to the average player, some were skilled enough with game code to reveal its contents, creating a mod called Hot Coffee that enabled these hidden scenes.

The Hot Coffee scandal was subject to mainstream media headlines, several civil lawsuits, and a re-assessment of the game’s ESRB rating. Today, 12 years later, would these minigames still receive that same level of controversy? It’s difficult to say, but sex remains one of video games’ under explored bastions in terms of cultural taboo. Sex has had a tumultuous history in interactive media, and we rarely see authentic depictions. Often, games shy away from meaningful intimacy, preferring to have it swept under the carpet or passed off as humorous, but some game developers are looking to change that. From BioWare’s inclusive relationship arcs to Ladykiller in a Bind’s unabashed view of sexuality, developers are tackling sex in new and progressive ways.

Sex As Interaction

Most sex scenes in video games are sectioned off into short cutscenes, or are implied to happen off-screen. Some, however, bring more interactivity into the mix, but the result isn’t always satisfying. With 2010’s Heavy Rain, clumsy animation and exaggerated button prompts during a make-out scene made it too awkward to be taken seriously. In Telltale’s Batman series, a scene between Bruce and Selina gives the player some light interactivity with flirtatious choice mechanics, such as unzipping the other’s jacket or kissing; but before things get too steamy, it fades to black.

Portraying sex in a video game can be difficult, especially when bringing interactivity to these scenes means they could veer toward eroticism and pornography. Another issue is that their inclusion can feel stiff or forced rather than meaningful. However, independent game designer Christine Love, known for visual novels such as Analogue: A Hate Story and Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story, tackles interactive sexuality in a blatant but refreshing way with her newest game Ladykiller in a Bind.

Ladykiller in a Bind is an erotic visual novel billed as a romantic sex comedy. Playing as a lesbian, you cross-dress as your twin brother during a school-trip cruise, where you pursue different classmates and assume various power dynamics during sexual encounters. While titillating eroticism is one of the game’s major themes, it handles sex in a positive light with inclusive queer intimacy and mature storytelling, dabbling in important topics such as consent. Above all, Ladykiller in a Bind isn’t afraid of bringing realism to sex, with all the awkward, silly, embarrassing moments that it can bring out. Love believes most developers don’t think about how sex informs their work, and that it can be challenging to portray it with tact, often coming across humorous unintentionally.

“There’s a big challenge to how do you portray sex, how do you make it feel like ‘this is not a joke’ which is, again, a big problem a lot of designers have – there’s no confidence,” Love says. “So, there’s this inclination to either pass it off as funny or as something that’s just swept through quickly.”

Love subverts popular conventions in Ladykiller in a Bind, such as moving away from the concept of rewarding the player with sex should they choose the right dialogue options. Most choices in Ladykiller in a Bind stay within the spectrum of progressing a relationship in a natural way, each with their own attributed mood. For example, you can be bratty, embarrassed, or noble in the way you speak to others, or you can say nothing at all by letting these options slowly fade if left unclicked.

“I really want to stay away from [players having to] pick the right option to impress someone,” Love says. “There’s a lot of that sort of design, where sex is a reward but very little where sex is an interaction, so it turned into an interesting challenge of how do you structure choices in the middle of a sex scene without it feeling weird, gratuitous, or not meaningful.”

In contrast, writer Patrick Weekes of BioWare, whose work has encompassed both the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, believes that for the stories he creates, focusing too much on the act of sex itself can be detrimental, and that those physical moments can be more effective when left to the player’s imagination.

Weekes, in a tongue-in-cheek tone, describes BioWare games as “dating sims with a small save-the-world minigame,” though what makes these experiences stand out is that romances are entirely optional, never forced upon the player like they would be in linear storytelling. BioWare characters are held dear by many players, and for some, these romances are the core experience. Discovering what worked and what didn’t was a learning experience for the team.

Looking at earlier iterations of both franchises, Weekes thinks the team focused too much on portraying physical sex scenes, with not enough emphasis on natural progression. “I think we were very focused on the act of sex,” he says. “In the first cases, sex was very much there as the goal. One thing that I feel we’ve gotten better at as we’ve gone on, in both franchises, is looking at sex as not just the win condition where you have to succeed in maxing out this character’s approval, but more as a natural and healthy part of a relationship between two consenting people.”

Inclusive Representations

BioWare has always shown a dedication to fleshing out romantic moments, and as time went on, the team grew more comfortable with building a more varied cast that has their own sexual identities, preferences, and interests. While Dragon Age II and the original Mass Effect include same-sex relationship options, most players interpreted these characters as ambiguously bisexual. Rather than presenting concrete identities, these characters were available to the player protagonist regardless of their chosen gender.

With Mass Effect 3’s release in 2012, BioWare designed specific characters that were exclusively gay and lesbian, as well as bisexual. With 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, the team molded these concepts further, moving away from the convention of bisexuality as a crutch, and leaning more toward portraying characters with diverse and fleshed out sexual identities.

“In Inquisition, we made the conscious decision to change that,” Weekes says. “Part of that was to have some characters who are very clearly bisexual, who are open to all players, and other characters who are straight romances, and characters who are exclusively same-sex romances and are not available to the opposite sex.”

Weekes explains that giving characters sexual identities allowed the team to explore stories about being gay. “In Inquisition, you could not take the same-sex element of Dorian’s romance and have it be the same romance, because Dorian’s character is about someone who is gay, and dealing with being gay.”

BioWare games feature large casts of characters, but not all of them are pursuable. For example, in Dragon Age: Inquisition, others will react to your race and gender differently. Sera is only interested in other women, but she’s got a fondness for Qunari and in contrast has difficulty opening up to Dalish elves. Although these limitations may be frustrating should you want to pursue a character that isn’t mutually interested, it introduces a realism rarely seen in games.

“Overwhelmingly, [fans] said that it made the characters more realistic and feel more like people who continue to exist even when the game’s turned off,” Weekes explains.

Dragon Age: Inquisition also introduced its first transgender character, Krem, who is a mercenary under Iron Bull’s leadership. His gender identity is revealed through conversations if you spend enough time in his company, and BioWare meticulously designed his character to come across genuine and be an accurate as possible representation for the LGBTQ community. Following an LGBTQ panel at the Penny Arcade Expo, BioWare listened to player feedback, where many fans indicated they wanted to see transgender representation in a game. Weekes, who wrote Krem’s character, was incredibly willing but “hugely afraid,” as it was something he had never tackled before.

“The only rule was that we were going to do it right, professionally, and were going to do it well. Inside the company, we talked a lot with every department, raising the issue early, and clearly,” he says.

Ladykiller in a Bind similarly features same-sex romances, with most intimate interactions being between women, and this is partly because Love identifies as a lesbian herself. “I make games that I would want to play,” she says. The visual novel features queer intimacy in a way that is unabashed in its rawness, whereas Love believes other games often don’t tackle the nuances of a lesbian love story in the same way they would a heteronormative narrative.

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Welcome back to The Game Informer Show! On today’s episode, Ben Hanson, Kyle Hilliard, Javy Gwaltney, and Andrew Reiner discuss 12 games from 2017 that deserve more love. After some great community emails and some more venting about EA and Star Wars Battlefront II, Jeff Cork and Jeff Marchiafava join the show as we celebrate Thanksgiving by running down 75 gaming-related things to be thankful for this year.

You can watch the video below, subscribe and listen to the audio on iTunes or Google Play, or listen to episode 374 on SoundCloud. Also, be sure to send your questions to podcast@gameinformer.com for a chance to have them answered on the show and win a prize by becoming Email of the Week!

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Our thanks to the talented Super Marcato Bros. for The Game Informer Show’s intro song. You can hear more of their original tunes and awesome video game music podcast at their website.

To jump to a particular point in the discussion, check out the time stamps below…

2:00 – Embers of Mirrim
3:40 – Everything
6:40 – Agents of Mayhem
10:40 – Nidhogg 2
13:10 – Get Even
16:35 – Robo Recall
21:17 – Little Nightmares
24:00 – Nex Machina
26:10 – Golf Story
29:00 – Observer
33:05 – Bye-Bye BoxBoy!
34:35 – Metroid: Samus Returns
37:20 – What Remains of Edith Finch
41:15 – The Sexy Brutale
43:10 – Community emails
44:50 – What’s wrong with EA?
58:45 – Predicting Star Wars: The Last Jedi
1:08:40 – More community emails
1:47:55 – We give thanks to gaming in 2017… with jokes

The second episode of To The Moon, the narrative-driven game which first released in 2011 on PC, finally has a release date and a new trailer.

Developer Freebird gave the announcement today, finally getting close to the release of the RPG Maker sequel. To The Moon was lavished with praise for its narrative, which has fueled anticipation for Finding Paradise.

Check out the trailer below and you can check out Finding Paradise on December 14 on PC.

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Thanksgiving is upon us, providing a chance to catch up with relatives and take part in some joint gaming.

From family plans to recipes involving a cooked bird carcass with crab legs to finally knocking out those games that have been sitting on our to-do lists, the GI crew is more than ready for the Thanksgiving weekend. Be sure to let us know how you’ll be spending your holiday weekend, and we hope you all find plenty of relaxation and fun.

Elis Favis (@elisefavis): I’ve been sucked back into Persona 5, and I think this time I’m in it for the long haul. I’m about 65 hours in, and I plan to continue playing with my brother during Thanksgiving break. I’m also going to play some more of Super Mario Odyssey, which I’ve been enjoying a lot.

Brian Shea (@BrianPShea): With a few extra days off, I’m tackling multiple games in my attempt to wrap up some of the bigger releases of 2017. I’m nearing the end of South Park: The Fractured But Whole, and I’m about halfway through Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. After those, I want to focus on Assassin’s Creed Origins, Call of Duty: WWII, and Star Wars: Battlefront II. I’ve already started all of those, but I can’t play 32 games at once, so I’m trying to focus.

Kyle Hilliard (@KyleMHilliard):My parents are in town for the week so I will be spending time with them, or making them spend time with the kid while I go off and do grown-up stuff, like shopping at Target without someone constantly asking me if they can get a toy. As far as games go, I hope to spend more time with Assassin’s Creed Origins and play through the Star Wars Battlefront II campaign. I’ve also already got my tickets to go see Coco on Friday, and I can’t wait. Going to see the new Pixar movie has long been a tradition for my family. I will also eat some turkey, too. Maybe I’ll even sneak some into the theater.

Javy Gwaltney (@Hurdyiv): I’m going to be replaying the Mass Effect trilogy, Skyrim, and trudging through Battlefront II’s dud of a campaign.

Jeff Marchiafava (@GIJeffM): I’m going to be using the extended Thanksgiving weekend to play more Breath of the Wild, and hopefully start Mario Odyssey. Call of Duty WII and Assassin’s Creed Origins are also on the “to-play” list, along with about a dozen other big games from the year that I want to get some time with before putting together my Top 10 list. What a wonderfully busy year!

Jeff Cork (@gijeff): After several failed attempts, I can finally say that I finally get why people are so gaga over Breath of the Wild. It’s a pretty good game, guys. The only problem is that the timing couldn’t be any worse. Fortunately, the long break will (hopefully) give me time to catch up on it, more Super Mario Odyssey, Wolfenstein II, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and whatever else I can fit into my schedule. Woof. 

Keenan McCall (@KEeNanMcCall525): I’m heading home to Denver for the weekend, so I’ll be playing some games with friends and family: One friend wants to check out the Yakuza sweries, so we’ll be playing through Yakuza 0 for a day or two. My siblings are making their way through Skyrim as well, so I’ll play a bit with them while we wait for all of the Thanksgiving food to finish cooking. Other than that, I might check out the Frozen Wilds DLC for Horizon Zero Dawn and take a crack at making something from the Necro Nom-Nom-Nomicon.

George Ash (@GeorgeEAsh): This long weekend I’ll be on-the-go, so if anyone wants to send me their Switch I’d appreciate it. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll dust off the old 3DS and go weed my Animal Crossing village before getting back to Ocarina of Time 3D. I’ll also be playing South Park: Phone Destroyer and may even download Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans!

Cody Mello-Klein (@Proelectioneer): This weekend I don’t have time to waste time. I’ll be busy trying to hang out with friends and family in Boston before I come back to Minneapolis, so I won’t have much time to play video games. That being said, I will get the chance to finally start Cuphead, the perfect game to remind me of what I’m thankful for in my life.

Update:

More former employees have chimed in, saying they’ve been let go without severance or PTO:

Orignal Post (November 22 at 07:24 PM)

A number of rumors circulating today indicate that Marvel Heroes, which was scheduled to shut down at the end of the year, is actually shutting down on Friday. Furthermore, employees of the company are suggesting that the entire staff at Gazillion has been let go with no benefits paid out.

The rumor started today with a message in the official Marvel Heroes Discord. “I’m super sad to communicate to all of you that Marvel Heroes ex-developer Winterthur just told us that Marvel Heroes Omega servers will close before the announced date. The new date is 11/24, that’s two days for now.”

People who made in-game purchases for the game on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have been trying to get refunds due to the game only launching five months earlier, but have been refused so far.

Andrew Hair, senior engineer at Gazillion, has been fairly open on Twitter about the firings at Gazillion, saying “I know a lot of people are upset and wanting refunds for their purchases in @MarvelHeroes, but please keep in mind the developers were not paid out PTO, severance, and our medical insurance is ending in 8 days.”

Other employees have chimed in similarly, talking about how they are unemployed the day before Thanksgiving.

It is the worst case scenario for the company after Disney declared they were cutting ties with the developer and cancelling Marvel Heroes. If true, we wish everyone who has been let go the best.

 

Our Take
Assuming the rumors are credible, Gazillion must be trying to bury this news. It is hard to see how the company expects to restaff and survive, though, or if it’s now nothing but a name.

If we were to encounter an alien race would we react with kindness or cruelty? It’s a question at the heart of some of our favorite science fiction stories and one that a player in the space flight/combat/trading simulator Elite: Dangerous decided to answer. 

According to a story on Kotaku, Benjamin “Heisenberg6626” Bahr started working to communicate with the game’s Thargoids despite ongoing anti-alien sentiment among players and the lack of in-game methods of communication with Thargoids. Working with members of  the Canonn Interstellar Research, a Thargoid alien investigation group (yes, we’re still talking about a video game), Bahr began a year-long research process that recently culminated in “Project Mercury.” Bahr essentially analyzed the structure of sounds that Thargoids make and created his own messages, the product of converting images into sounds. He’s basically Amy Adams’ character from Arrival. You can find a video of him sending one of these messages to a Thargoid below.  

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Of course, all of this is role-playing. Bahr can’t actually send these messages to aliens – his message in the video is just part of the video production – however, it’s still an oddly heartwarming moment and proof of the passion and ingenuity of Elite: Dangerous’ community. Bahr’s work also has a genuine message behind it. “It is never too late to start talking to each other,” Bahr says.

[Source: Kotaku]

In a blog post today, Axiom Verge’s developer Tom Happ revealed today that BadLand Games, the publisher of the game’s retail release on the Switch, is donating 75% of their earnings from the game to a special fund for Happ’s son.

“As you may have seen elsewhere on my blog and Twitter, I’ve tried to be pretty open about my son Alastair’s health situation,” Happ wrote. “In short, he was born healthy, but the doctors failed to treat a routine case of jaundice during a critical period when he was just days old. The result was a life-long condition called Kernicterus that is characterized by severe neurological damage which robbed Alastair of much of his motor control and hearing.”

Happ explained that BadLand offered to donate 75% of their take to Happ’s son to help cover his healthcare costs and to keep it secret so it did not look like marketing. Happ decided to praise the publisher for their help, however, and wrote about their gesture for his son.

They didn’t want to publicize it, since none of us wanted to be seen as trying to use my son’s suffering as a marketing tool for the game,” Happ explained. “I hope this doesn’t come off that way. I just wanted to thank them for their generosity in offering that up, since it was definitely something they didn’t have to do.”

Axiom Verge launched at retail today for the Switch. You can read our review for the PlayStation 4 version here.

[Source: Axiom Verge Blog]

Yesterday, Democratic State Representative from Hawaii Chris Lee held a press conference to explain that the state of Hawaii is going to be investigating legislation banning games like EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront II from being played by young children, both in Hawaii and possibly pursuing it on a national scale.

Similar to Belgium also declaring today that the government has ruled that games with lootboxes will henceforth be categorized as gambling, Hawaii is pursuing investigations is whether the same idea applies in the U.S.

“This game is a Star Wars-themed online casino,” Lee said from the podium. “It’s a trap.”

You can find the video here of Lee, speaking with other legislator Sean Quinlan, a concerned parent, and a gamer who just seems to be mad about lootboxes ruining games.

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Our Take
It is one thing to have this problem in Belgium or Hawaii, but both at once implies that there is momentum to the concerns. It is starting small, but if it becomes politically beneficial to take a stand against this idea, then the industry is going to be forced to move in ways they explicitly do not want to.