2017 was as great a year for video games as it was for cinema. The Nintendo Switch launched and surpassed everyone’s expectations with its first year of software. Major studios started new franchises and resuscitated old ones to surprisingly strong results. Indie releases large and small dominated the headlines. And now, as 2018 dawns, it’s time to put aside personal opinion and get completely fact-based and objective about which games were the best. Prepare your “what abouts,” and buckle in.
Honorable mentions go to:
- Prey, an intricate and atmospheric immersive sim that really makes you feel like you’re trapped on a space station with a bunch of extradimensional aliens;
- Little Nightmares, possessed of possibly the best creature design of the year, a dingy and wonderfully disgusting platformer with a real sense of style;
- Gorogoa, a mind-bending mobile title that sucks you into its seemingly infinitely-nesting paintings and confounds you with their puzzles;
- Star Trek: Bridge Crew, the best VR-compatible game I never got to play in VR, and probably the nerdiest major-studio release of 2017; and
- Splatoon 2, the year’s most addictive match-based multiplayer game, whose Salmon Run mode is just unbelievably moreish.
10. DESTINY 2
Bungie's big sequel has been incredibly controversial amongst fans, thanks to unsatisfactory endgame mechanics and increased emphasis on microtransactions for cosmetic items. But even with those issues, there's no game I sank more hours into this year. It’s the best-feeling shooter I’ve ever played, applying a handful of tweaks to its predecessor (which previously held that title), and I’ve had wonderful experiences in both its campaign and competitive and co-operative multiplayer. My clan’s hilariously bumbling attempts to make it through the “Leviathan” raid (which we’ve almost beaten a couple times, promise) were my favourite gaming moments of the year, full of frustration and laughter and excitement. Facilitate more of that, please, Bungie. (Full review)
9. MARIO + RABBIDS: KINGDOM BATTLE
Kingdom Battle was a borderline laughingstock when it was finally revealed at Ubisoft’s E3 showcase. The notion of squeezing a turn-based XCOM clone into a Mario and Rabbids mashup seemed utterly ridiculous. Where was the audience for something like that? Turns out, it was right here: I adored the game, blessed as it is with strong tactical combat, great jokes, and some of the Switch’s prettiest graphics and animation. Its structure, based around shortish combat encounters and environmental puzzles, is perfect for an on-the-go title, and makes me wish XCOM 2 was available on Nintendo’s console. I still haven’t finished the game, though: the "challenge" levels in particular are difficult enough to seem borderline impossible. One day. One day. (Full review)
8. HIDDEN FOLKS
This simple, black-and-white Where’s Waldo riff might not seem like much, but it’s one of 2017’s most wonderful delights. Taking a single mechanic - clicking on things to reveal other things - to its maximum potential, Hidden Folks presents huge, detailed environments and beckons you to...find things in it. Not much to that, but where the game shines is in the sheer variety and whimsy of interactivity it displays. Hidden Folks rewards poking and prodding with delightful animations and sound effects (all made using the developer’s voice), revealing a myriad of tiny stories and characters in amongst the busy line art. It’s a game you play less to complete objectives than to discover the various treats hidden inside.
7. HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE
I knew I was going to have a soft spot for this one from the moment it was announced. Though some have taken issue with its depiction of psychosis (which, regardless of the final product, involved consultation with psychologists and people with the condition alike), the fact that Hellblade is so singularly about mental illness, and can start the conversations it has, is quite an achievement. Driven by a committed central performance and borderline-oppressive sensory design, Hellblade is a haunting and at-times unbearably harrowing experience, and one of the most visually-stunning games of the year. Its gameplay doesn’t quite gel with its themes, but Dat Presentation is just Dat Good.
6. SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY
The first of two Switch games it feels almost obligatory to include here, Super Mario Odyssey has been talked about a lot already - but that’s only because it really is that good. Combining the best bits of all Mario’s 3D outings and adding a bunch of new elements for good measure, Odyssey spreads an unbelievably generous amount of content across its varied, sprawling-yet-dense worlds, offering adventure and challenge befitting the plumber’s Switch debut. Collecting Power Moons is an addiction I have yet to curb, with a few bastards still scattered around the game left to collect, and even though I’m unlikely to get them all, I’ve found few games where simply tooling around doing nothing is this much fun. (Full review)
5. WOLFENSTEIN II: THE NEW COLOSSUS
Following the surprising and brilliant Wolfenstein: The New Order was always going to be tough, but Machine Games managed to one-up itself by taking its crazy alternate history story to places even more ridiculous - and more personal. It's an accidentally-timely action game about savagely murdering the Nazis in control of the United States, but also one about a memorable, multicultural, genuinely loveable group of rebels, and a heartbreaking story of abuse, love, and introspection for its hero. Laugh-out-loud funny one moment and horribly sad the next, Wolfenstein II is one of the most rousing narratives of rebellion in a year full of them. Plus, you get to ride a fire-breathing robot dog. (Full review)
4. NIGHT IN THE WOODS
Night in the Woods is the kind of game I wish I'd written. A down-to-earth, domestic story about shame, youthful stupidity, family and friends, and finding one’s purpose, it’s no surprise it’s been hailed as one of the great indie triumphs of 2017. With an art style based entirely around cute, wistfully sad animals, and naturalistic dialogue that yanks on the heartstrings of anyone who’s ever felt a bit shit about themselves, it feels crafted almost eerily to my tastes. It’s even got an array of minigames, including a remarkably fleshed-out hack-and-slash game, that could have been indie releases in their own right. Love it, love it, love it.
3. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
In some ways, Breath of the Wild was *the* game of 2017. No other title dominated headlines and sales for so long (except maybe Battlegrounds), and few others were as intimidatingly good. Nintendo changed up its formula for Link’s latest outing, reinventing the open-world adventure genre as a big ol’ physics sandbox and allowing an often-surprising array of player freedom in how its various quests and tasks can be completed. It’s possible no console has had a launch title as quietly brilliant as the Switch in Breath of the Wild. Those bucolic hills, goofy monsters, melancholy characters, and maddening challenges will be remembered for a long time. (Full review)
2. WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH
Annapurna Interactive's big 2017 release came bearing all the imagination and quality you'd expect from that label. A true evolution of the narrative exploration genre most commonly associated with Gone Home, What Remains of Edith Finch is an absolute beauty of a game. Constantly inventive and surprising, Edith Finch introduces new mechanics with each new chapter, marrying gameplay to character development in a breathtakingly complete manner. Armed with some of the most layered and naturalistic environmental storytelling in the biz, the game tells a family saga full of memorable narrative beats, laced with tragedy and levity alike. (Full review)
1. HORIZON: ZERO DAWN
I didn't expect this. Zero Dawn arrived looking like any other open-world game, albeit with a sillier title. But through a combination of top-flight environmental design and world building, deep and satisfying action, and some of the best incidental storytelling I've ever seen, it absolutely won me over. Never before have I pored over lore this closely; never have I been so hungry to uncover more story material. Zero Dawn's tragic science-fiction tale frequently reduced me to tears: as it coldly recounts the future history of Earth's demise and rebirth, it injects relatable tastes of humanity that bring it all back home. Aloy and I traversed mountains, deserts, swamps, and farmlands, taking in the sights and offering help to all who needed it. If there's any game this year for which I'd happily write fan fiction, it's Zero Dawn, and given how much fan fiction makes me cringe, that's saying something. (Full review)
(Apologies to Tacoma, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Cuphead, Resident Evil 7, Nier: Automata, Nioh, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and more. There were only so many hours in the year (and only so many gaming devices in my possession).)
Looking ahead to 2018, there are a lot of major franchise releases worth looking into - Far Cry 5, Monster Hunter World, The Last of Us Chapter 2, Red Dead Redemption 2, Spider-Man, Yoshi, and remakes of Pathologic and System Shock - but here are our (my) ten most anticipated games:
- Anthem, BioWare’s enormous-looking, jetpack-enabled attempt to take on the likes of Destiny and The Division;
- A Way Out, a cooperative-only prison-escape drama from the director of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons;
- Dreams, Media Molecule’s next-gen followup to Little Big Planet, which promises ridiculous creative possibilities;
- Jurassic World Evolution, a park-simulation game from the developers of Planet Coaster that honestly seems like the best possible marriage of developer and license;
- No Truce With the Furies, an indie isometric “RPG meets cop show” with an appealing art style and dialogue/social-based game mechanics;
- Sea of Thieves, Rare’s cooperative pirate game that promises to be one of the funniest games of the year;
- Tunic, the game that won the top award at Fantastic Arcade 2015 with its adventurous little fox and addictive gameplay;
- Untitled Goose Game, the new one from the developers of Push Me Pull You, all about being an asshole goose;
- Vampyr, an RPG from the developers of Life Is Strange where you play as a Victorian-era vampire in a town with persistent NPCs you can feed on, killing permanently; and
- Wargames, a reimagining of the 1983 film by the creator of 2015’s breakout indie hit Her Story.