Just like that, 2017's drawing to a close, and a new year looms on the horizon. However, it would be remiss of us not to take one last look at the past year, so as is practically mandatory, we asked our writers to list their favourite games of the past year. These were the results.
For me, Breath of the Wild is easily the best game to have been released in the past decade, let alone 2017. The huge open world is a joy to explore, with secrets, puzzles and stunning views to be found around every corner. What separates this from your standard open-world adventure is just how fun it is to explore - Hyrule isn't just a backdrop for your travels from A to B, it's a living, breathing world that never fails to surprise you with its many hundreds of puzzles embedded into the landscape and the charming, quirky characters you meet throughout the wilderness. The weapon durability system has been criticised by some, but in my experience encourages you to be more inventive when tackling enemies, using the environment to take them out to avoid wearing down your arsenal. On top of everything, BotW is simply stunning visually - if ever there were a game that could be called a work of art, it's this.
Horizon Zero Dawn graced our screens as a PlayStation exclusive at the end of February 2017, and honestly, I’ve never looked back. A single-player, open-world action-adventure title, the game follows Aloy (the player) as she navigates through a world overrun by robots and tries to protect both herself and her tribe from extinction. Horizon Zero Dawn boasts a breathtakingly expansive environment to explore with huge amounts to find, see and do, and with stunningly believable characterisations (in Aloy, Rost and Elizabet Sobeck especially), an intriguingly unusual plot to follow, and rewarding systems of both progression and character design, is there any more you could really ask for? What’s that? DLC you say? How about the Frozen Wilds, which offers an entirely new area to explore, an extended new storyline, and never-seen-before machines for you to face off against and conquer? See? You can’t get any better than this.
After getting a Nintendo Switch at launch, I knew it was only a matter of time before a title completely captured my attention and turned me into an unresponsive, lazy (yet dedicated) and obsessive gamer – and Splatoon 2 was that title. Releasing in July 2017, I managed to accumulate 100 hours of playtime in the first two weeks alone. The title has built upon the success of the first game on the Wii U and has completely transformed it into a fantastic, enjoyable gameplay experience. Bright colours, sharp graphics, fun and energetic music, and a huge range of modes, weapons, costumes and maps to choose from make the game one you can either play for extended periods or just hop in and out of, and it is one of the most fun multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a long time, too. I just wish that people in Salmon Run would eliminate the goddamn Flyfish.
In retrospect, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus didn’t quite live up to its predecessor. The levels weren’t as cohesive and the difficulty could, at times, take the piss. Still as I said in my review, Wolfenstein II represents something of a dying breed as a linear, story driven FPS and it’s a pretty spectacular one at that. Wolfenstein’s gameplay, though challenging frequently proves cathartic in its brutality, with numerous ways of dispatching the plethora of Nazis in your way. But perhaps more impressive is how this visceral gameplay is balanced with the game’s story, which centres on a strong cast of characters and several bombastic set pieces. All these factors are good in themselves, but I further admire how, unlike so many other games that seek to abstract their politics, Wolfenstein II wears its on its sleeve. If you’re up for brutalising Nazis, you could do far worse.
Hellblade is many things. It’s a fascinating mechanical exploration of psychosis. It’s a colossal “fuck you” to the Triple-AAA side of the industry. But on the most basic level, Hellblade is just a good fucking game. By breaking away from excessive Triple-AAA business practices, Ninja Theory were able to create something far more refined and poignant than they would’ve otherwise been able to. Senua’s quest to rescue her lover’s soul from the Norse underworld is a far cry from the typical video game story, as is Ninja Theory's decision to depict psychosis as something other than an insulting stereotype, a decision made all the more apparent by the inclusion of experts and people with personal experience of psychosis in the game’s development. Hel is a psychological landscape of Senua’s own making, shifting in accordance with her state of mind. Senua herself is one of the most expressive and nuanced protagonists the medium has produced this year, coloured in no small way be the world she lives in and the stigma she faces. In a year dominated by lootboxes and Triple-AAA greed and avarice, Hellblade demonstrates that gaming is still a medium capable of delivering powerful, moving experiences. Pick it up if you haven’t already.
It all began with the reveal trailer. From the moment Mario threw his hat, then jumped on top of it, an iconic aspect of the character's image became an intuitive mechanic. For many fans, along with myself, the initial reaction to this was that it was genius followed by a sense of confusion as to why and how it had not been done before; it just seemed to work so well! That feeling ended up being indicative of the innovation present throughout the entire game. Not only is Odyssey riding the train of Nintendo’s recent successful return to the mainstream, but it's also my favourite main-series Mario game since the 2007 classic, Super Mario Galaxy. In an acceptance speech for five Golden Joystick Awards, the most ever received by one game, Eiji Aonuma, producer of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild stated that he was “a little relieved that Super Mario Odyssey had only been out for a week when voting ended!” If that doesn’t indicate the stellar year Nintendo has had, I don’t know what can.
Developers at Naughty Dog are on record for saying that the fourth entry in the series would be the end of Nathan Drake’s story. With a mysterious subtitle like ‘A Thief’s End’, how could it not have been? The Lost Legacy, something that initially began as DLC for Uncharted 4, expands the roles of some of the series’ best supporting characters to show that Uncharted can still be Uncharted without Nathan Drake. The few issues in Uncharted 4 (mainly the slow pacing in select chapters) were noticed by Naughty Dog and addressed in the expansion - The Lost Legacy is focussed, ensuring a great balance of exploration, climbing, gunfights and cutscenes. On top of this, it offers some of the best environments, gameplay and puzzles seen in the franchise, with a final chapter that is perhaps the most memorable out of all the games. If this ends up being the end of Naughty Dog’s run on the series, both Uncharted 4 as the conclusion to Nathan Drake's story and The Lost Legacy as a superb expansion, one thing is clear - Naughty Dog has made sure that their Uncharted franchise has gone out with a bang.
Anyone could tell you I’m possibly the biggest wimp known to man. And yet, my 2017 game of the year is undoubtedly Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. The game is so good it transcends my fear and rockets straight to the top of the must play list. The latest in a long line of Resident Evil games, which oscillate wildly in quality, Biohazard marks a return to the survival-horror of the earlier titles, with emphasis on horror. It’s no longer whoever has the biggest gun wins, but a desperate tooth and claw fight to live in a richly realised storyline that utilises all the best storytelling devices to keep you both invested and terrified. The victories in this game are hard won, but by god are they satisfying. Resident Evil 5 was so bad it was good. 6 was so bad it was unplayable. 7 is a masterwork.
The time I spent with Yakuza 0 was easily the most fun I’ve had this year. In this game I experienced a long, deep, crime thriller story full of drama, violence, and twists. I got into countless, hugely-entertaining fights against legions of knife-wielding thugs, only to get noodles and sing and dance the night away moments later. I won a chicken in a bowling contest, and then placed it in charge of some of the most lucrative real estate in all of Tokyo. I beat down zombies, with a moped, trying to eat a Michael Jackson wannabe as he moonwalked down a crowded Japanese high street. All this set in a world with so much detail there is always something new to do. As a series newcomer, this prequel has completely won me over to this weird, wonderful and truly unique series.
“Winner Winner Chicken Dinner?” Those were the words uttered by one of the international students on my course as I was scrolling through Polygon mid-lecture. I hadn’t spoken to this person before, but the old British idiom has become such a worldwide phenomenon that we started to bond over a mutual love… a battle royale video game. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is the early access ARMA mod turned game of the year, and if you’re not on board/don’t believe the hype, you’re probably just waiting in vain for it to arrive on your console. Undoubtedly the most popular game of the year, and easily the most exciting moment-to-moment multiplayer gameplay I’ve experienced in years, this camaraderie simulator feeds on tension and adrenaline to provide an unsurpassed multiplayer experience. All hail the MOBA/Overwatch killer in the yellow tracksuit. Also, try the starting island if you think you’re hard enough. That’s the real rotisserie strat.
Alright, I’ll admit it’s a controversial one amongst the great games released this year. I’ll also admit that Halo Wars 2 did have a few flaws: the campaign seemed to not be quite finished, leaving players on a gigantic cliffhanger; we still couldn’t be The Flood; and for some reason the badass cutscenes of the first were cut. However, the sequel built on its predecessor’s success, combining strategy with a range of different modes and even elements of tower defence. It’s always great to explore some more of the Halo universe (let’s just agree to overlook the massive liberties taken with the source material). In principle I’m massively against console exclusives, but it was relieving for the Xbox One to finally have something different enough to contend with the PS4’s mighty arsenal. Overall, Halo Wars 2 might not have been perfect, but it was a treat to have such a highly addictive strategy game which plays so well on consoles.