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The Very Best Games of 2017

by Staff

The gaming year of 2017 has truly seen an embarrassment of riches in terms of games that are well worth the time and money of discerning gamers everywhere. Hell, the first few months of the year alone had enough worthy titles to rival entire years of game releases in the past.

All in all, it’s been a truly excellent year for gamers of every stripe. The arrival of the Nintendo Switch gave the floundering tech giant more relevance than it’s had in a decade, while Sony doubled down on everything that’s been making the success of the PlayStation 4 such an assured phenomenon for the last 3 years.

While the Xbox One may have less to boast about, even their camp soared to a certain degree, with games like Cuphead making waves and the line continuing to blur between the PC market and the Xbox market.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, 2017 has been an absolute banner year for gaming, but now comes the hard part: finding some order for all of these wonderful gems. We polled our diverse staff and here’s what they chose as the 25 best games of 2017. We’re confident that regardless of what genre or style of games you prefer, you will almost certainly find a lot to love here, just as we did.  (Mike Worby)

25) Nier Automata

Nier: Automata did some serious healing in 2017. Not only did it revive an IP most probably thought would forever lay dormant; it (more importantly) repaired the reputation of one of the industry’s foremost action game developers. After some dodgy licensed games, a poorly received Star Fox title and the cancellation of Scalebound, Platinum Games was back – working with Square Enix to produce an exhilarating action-RPG that doubles as one of the most thought-provoking titles in years.

Automata succeeds thanks to the collaboration of two auteurs of their craft. Platinum Games reminded everyone of their action game chops with a combat system that was tight, fluid and varied, while Yoko Taro once again proved what a master of anti-narrative he is. The result is a hybrid of Bayonetta and a bullet hell shooter framed in an existential narrative with 26 different endings, and it’s absolutely glorious.

It’s a good thing that Platinum managed to create such a masterful and enjoyable combat system, because the key to fully appreciating Nier: Automata is to see all the of game’s five main endings. Each one adds twists, fills in narrative gaps and provides alternate perspectives on an already engrossing story of androids, humanity and what it is to live, die, and kill.

There are very few, if any, times you will feel compelled to play the same game through five times (at least), but such is the brilliance of Nier’s narrative and character development that it consistently feels like a necessity rather than a chore. Each time you’ll take control of new characters, adopt different combat styles and experience the world in drastically different ways, and each time you’ll fall deeper in love with Nier. All that’s left to do after that is complete the other 21 endings. Don’t eat the mackerel, yeah? (Alex Aldridge)

24) A Hat in Time

If my full review of A Hat in Time wasn’t proof enough, I love this game to death. It melds the best of the classic platforming generation with modern design sensibilities. Gears for Breakfast, A Hat in Time’s developer, approached a tried-and-true style of gameplay and brought fresh thinking unbound by nostalgia or preconceptions.

A Hat in Time’s design philosophy is one that emphasizes pure fun. From the overarching level design down to the movement mechanics, the game creates an environment for the player to simply play. The game was built around platforming and smart level design, and it shows. The player’s forward momentum allows enough room for creativity and skill to intermingle, while still providing a fun challenge. Rather than focusing on downright hard gameplay, A Hat in Time masterfully treads the line between intuitive and difficult.

But more than that, like so many plucky underdog protagonists, this game has heart. The world and characters of A Hat in Time are an absolute joy to interact with. Despite a small number of worlds, each one possesses a distinct personality. In one world, you’ll investigate a curious case of murder on a high-speed desert train. In another, you’ll zip through soaring vistas across airy mountain peaks. A colorful cast of disco penguins, mafia cooks, and mustachioed girls await you in this adorably cheeky adventure. (Kyle Rogacion)

23) Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

While most publishers are content to take an old game, slap a lick of high definition paint onto it, and get it onto shelves as an HD remaster as quickly as possible, Square Enix went the extra mile with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. Yes, the character models and locales look better than ever, and yes, it comes loaded to the gills with a trophy list that will take a hundred hours or so to best, but by far the most important addition here from the base PS2 game is in the Zodiac job system.

Rather than having all characters able to take on all techniques, abilities, and weapons as they previously could, The Zodiac Age requires players to assign two strict job roles to each party member. There’s twelve jobs to choose from, and while you can make a party of six white mages if you so desire, part of the fun comes from mixing and matching the jobs you give to your friends for maximum effect. Want a healer that can also deal out massive damage with a spear when the situation warrants it? Or perhaps an archer that also specializes in deadly black magic spells?

Variety is the spice of life, and Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age gives players enough options to make the experience wholly different to the original, and the new best way to play the game. (John Cal McCormick)

22) Splatoon 2

Creating a sequel to a beloved shooter is difficult. If the game is too similar to the original, new players will compare it to any number of the typical annual shooting entries. On the other hand, existing fans of the series need to be catered to with familiar mechanics and game design decisions. Splatoon 2 managed to tread this line incredibly well, and ends up feeling like a new game while retaining the tight, addictive Splatoon gameplay that made the original one of the best games of the surprisingly strong Wii U library.

It’s clear that the dev team listened to fan feedback from the first game and made tons of small quality of life tweaks. There’s now a difference between team ranks and single-player ranks. Players can finally change their loadouts in-between matches without leaving the lobby. The addition of pants and hair options allows for more character customization than ever in a game that’s very much about style.

At the same time, Splatoon 2 also succeeds with its major additions like an inventive new story mode, a completely new horde mode that works online as well as locally, and the new ranked mode: Clam Blitz. These all offer incredibly fun and inventive takes on the shooting genre as a whole.

Coupled with noticeable visual upgrades and continued support promised for at least 2 years after launch, Splatoon 2 is an undeniable must-own for anyone with a Switch. (Brent Middleton)

21) Nioh

What’s that thing Miyamoto says about delayed games? Total production of Nioh took between 12 and 13 years, and let’s just say ol’ Shigsy was right – these things are eventually good.

If you wanted to be lazy, you could say that Nioh is just Japanese Dark Souls. If you wanted to be pedantic as well as lazy, you could say that Nioh is just Dark Souls in Japan. Granted, it has a variation of the Souls progression system, is punishingly difficult, has a co-op and invasion system, has maps filled with traps and shortcuts that lead back to a save point that resets enemy placemen… Okay, it is like Dark Souls, but at a time where the phrase “like Dark Souls” is being used almost every month about something new, Nioh is easily the best game to bear the label.

Nioh sets itself apart with an outstanding combat system that is facilitated by an almost overwhelming amount of loot. Protagonist William Adams (loosely based on the real-life historical ‘Western Samurai’ of the same name) can quickly snap between one of three fighting stances on the fly during combat, and mastery of this mechanic is where the game is won and lost.

During the game’s lengthy and arduous campaign, you’ll be spending a lot of time crafting, combining, enchanting and selling the hundreds of new pieces of weapons and armour you’ll pick up in a variety of beautifully haunting levels. While it might feel like a chore after dozens of hours, it cannot be argued that the game doesn’t provide nearly endless choice in terms of how it can be played.

Punctuating the combat with exploration and some truly impressive bosses, Nioh is one of the most rewarding games of the year. It might be a little repetitive, and it isn’t better than Dark Souls, but it offers just enough individuality to enter into From Software’s realm and still feel essential alongside Miyazaki’s masterpieces. (Alex Aldridge)

20) Doki Doki Literature Club

Doki Doki Literature Club is easily the biggest surprise of the year. It’s also the hardest one to talk about, with even the most minor game details spoiling huge parts of the plot. Generally speaking, it’s an intense visual novel that disguises itself as a simple high school dating simulator. Once that disguise is peeled back, it turns into one of the wildest narratives ever crafted in the realm of gaming. So with that being said, let this be an explanation of how and why everyone needs to play this awesome game at least once.

The most important thing about Doki Doki Literature Club is that it should be played completely blind for the best experience possible. It may seem slow at first, but the game eventually starts introducing some pretty disturbing content after a couple of hours. The game can even be downright shocking at times, meaning this should be an experienced reserved for the older crowd. Eventually, it becomes so much more than a simple visual novel and introduces some ideas that simply haven’t been done like this before. Again, this all sounds incredibly vague, but that’s only because the experience can be so easily spoiled.

It’s also worth mentioning that the game was released for free on steam, meaning that anyone with a steam account should definitely try this one out. The themes get very dark, especially near the end of the game, however, that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from giving it a try. It’s an experience that is sure to be remembered for years to come. (Zack Rezak)

19) Golf Story

All throughout the Switch’s banner first year on the market, there was one genre that felt severely underrepresented: Role-Playing Games. For a long time it seemed like RPG fans on Switch would only have I Am Setsuna at launch to sink their teeth into until Xenoblade Chronicles 2 hit in December. Enter Golf Story, a late September indie release from relatively mysterious two-man team, Sidebar Games. Billed as a spiritual successor to the stellar Camelot Mario Golf RPGs, Golf Story surprised many with its charm, wit, and inventive game design.

From its opening scenes, two things are obvious: Golf Story is all about the characters, and it never takes itself too seriously. Sharp writing with Australian sensibilities abound (“Sucked in!”) and keep players grinning throughout the classic underdog story. Golf Story leans into the typical sports narrative tropes to create a truly lovable cast of characters and some of the most hilarious moments in a game I’ve seen in a long time. The mark of any great RPG is its storytelling, and Golf Story uses a combination of unique set pieces and creative dialogue box animation to drive its ridiculous story arcs home.

Though certainly not the focus, the actual golf gameplay is also quite satisfying both during side quests and full-scale matches. Though the elevation of the ground is a bit difficult to determine due to the 16-bit style, the game does an otherwise great job of providing a solid golf experience with a full range of clubs, courses, hazards, and gimmicks. Optional side quests will test the mettle of the best players, while the main story does a good enough job of steadily introducing new strategies and concepts. If you’re in the mood for a silly adventure that might just trump the Mario Golf classics of old, you owe it to yourself to play Golf Story. (Brent Middleton)

18) Life is Strange: Before the Storm

When Dontnod Entertainment first announced that there would be a prequel series developed for their breakout hit Life is Strange, the idea was met with understandable trepidation.

With the further knowledge that Dontnod had handed the project off to another studio, Deck Nine, and that the voice actress of it’s main character would not be able to return (due to a voice actor strike), Before the Storm seemed increasingly doomed in its hopes of living up to the original.

However, as many fans discovered earlier this year, Before the Storm hasn’t just met the expectations of fans, it’s wholly exceeded them. By focusing the adventure on Chloe Price, and removing the supernatural bent that powered much of the first game, Deck Nine has actually given the town of Arcadia Bay and its inhabitants even more emotional gravitas.

Dripping with the same teenage angst and adolescent rebellion that powered much of Life is StrangeBefore the Storm may even supplant its predecessor as it concludes. Either way, this prequel is a worthy part of the Life is Strange saga, and deserves to be experienced by anyone who had even a passing affection for the original. (Mike Worby)

17) Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

Mario has been relying on his feet for decades, and the precision gameplay behind the high-jumping, goomba-stomping action rarely disappoints. However, for the Switch Ubisoft had a different idea (so different that it was initially met with a chorus of internet boos), and instead decided to give Mario’s dogs a rest while putting the power in his hands — and players’ minds.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle might go against the grain a bit for those who never imagined concocting a strategy for anything outside of tricky platforming, or that their favorite former plumber would wield a firearm, but somehow it came together and worked beautifully. The X-COM-style gameplay translates amazingly well to the Mushroom Kingdom’s core characters, where Mario, Luigi, and Peach must team with Rabbid lookalikes and a talking Roomba named Beep-O in order to stop a maniac bunny that can’t control his VR goggles. Or something. Like with the best Mario games, plot doesn’t matter that much; gameplay is where it counts, and Mario + Rabbids does not disappoint.

Once the oddity of not directly controlling Mario wears off, players are treated to a surprisingly deep and engaging level of turn-based strategy, as well as a variety of maps and enemies that constantly challenge one to rethink tactics from battle to battle. Those new to the genre might feel a bit intimidated at first, but like a typical Nintendo game, the difficulty is paced to perfection, never suffering from intense rises or falls, all the way through to the end.

In fact, Ubisoft has done an incredible impersonation of Mario’s makers, nailing the colorful look and feel of the franchise so well that those unaware of the game’s actual developers could easily be fooled. A lot of love was put into Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, and the results amount to one of the best “Nintendo” games not made by Nintendo — this year and ever. (Patrick Murphy)

16) Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus has no right to be as good as it is. I mean, how does a game about killing robot Nazis end up being one of the most emotionally impactful and well written narratives of the year?

Wolfenstein’s 2014 reboot became a bit of a cult classic. For many it went under the radar, but there were several voices in the industry that praised it highly. The 2017 sequel does little to improve upon what The New Order established in regard to gameplay. It was a simple premise to begin with: run through Nazi bunkers and occupied American cities, shooting anything with a swastika. Combat is gory, over the top and fast.

What quantifies The New Colossus’ placing on this list, is its narrative. It’s hard to explain without spoiling some rather impressive and chilling moments. For the most part Wolfenstein II feels like a video game adaptation of Inglorious Bastards. It’s bombastic, gruesome and funny.

Yet, amongst the absurdity, it finds ample opportunity to tell an emotional and thoughtful tale. A story of abuse, racism and mortality. The genuineness of the actors’ performances and the respect shown to the games writing puts Wolfenstein II among the best single player shooters of the generation. (Chris Bowring)

15) Metroid: Samus Returns

After years of waiting with baited breath for a new Metroid game, fans were finally met with Metroid: Samus Returns earlier this year.

And while calling the game entirely “new” might be a bit of a stretch, Nintendo and Mercury Steam have done enough new things with Samus Returns to justify its existence. As a remake of the Game Boy game, MetroidReturn of SamusSamus Returns has seen a huge and favorable upgrade in the looks department first and foremost.

Another new addition comes in the fast and frenetic combat which the game boasts, thanks to it’s new counter attack system. Though the mechanic feels a bit over-used toward the beginning of the adventure, the gameplay grows more and more balanced as Samus Returns marches onward to the extinction of metroid-kind.

Though it takes some effort to adjust to this new play style, by the time your super-powered Samus is approaching the end game, you’ll be right at home with this latest iteration of Metroid, and truly sad to see those credits roll.

With a few new surprises for even series veterans who have played the original and the unsanctioned AM2R remake last year, Samus Returns is one more reason to hold onto Nintendo’s fledgling handheld, and its success may even lead to a remake of another classic Metroid title if fans are lucky. (Mike Worby)

14) Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

A tragic tale of grief and personal struggle against mental illness, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice follows the Celtic warrior, Senua, as she ventures into the mysterious Norse land of Helheim to save the lost soul of her dearly beloved, Dillion. With only the memories of her former mentor, Druth, as her guide, Senua must battle the nightmare guardians of Norse mythology and a curse that has followed her most her life. With the story Ninja Theory takes incredible risks to show that small studios are capable of creating beautiful, unique, AAA-like games that tackle important and often taboo subjects like mental health.

Early in Senua’s adventure, Hellblade warns the player that death will cause the rot infecting Senua to snake up her arm and, should it reach her head, the journey will end. Every encounter and puzzle are bathed in tension, as the fear of perma-death lingers in the background like one of the darker voices in Senua’s head. Sadly, one of the few flaws in Hellblade lies in its combat, which feels almost unfinished for a game developed by the same team that made Heavenly Sword and DmC: Devil May Cry. Players are left with a few simple, limited choices and the encounters become repetitive and drawn out, as if they are only there to break apart the story elements.

While Hellblade features an incredible cast and beautiful level design, its greatest triumph is in its sound design. The swirling voices of Senua’s mind come alive through the use of 3-dimensional recording to torment her throughout her quest into the depths of Helheim. This technique creates a truly immersive experience when playing with headphones as voices whisper back and forth around your head. With Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Ninja Theory took painstaking efforts to try and deliver an authentic look inside the mind of an ancient warrior suffering from psychosis. Hellblade is twistedly dark, completely unsettling, and constantly living up to the multiple warnings that are presented at the start, making it one of the greatest games of 2017. (Ryan Kapioski)