I’ll let you decide what you think of 2017 in general. It’s been quite the year no matter where you stand. But from a gaming perspective, it’s been absolutely bonkers. The number of critically-acclaimed games that hit the scene is utterly unprecedented. It would be impossible to play them all and hold down the job that lets you afford them. And some of them, games like Persona 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Divinity Original Sin II, begged for our time in not just hours but days.
Over here at TechnoBuffalo, we played as many as we could get our hands on, but we went through a few changes this year as some of our gaming staff moved onto new fields or made new humans, while I was out of commission for almost a quarter of the year with a hand injury that you’re welcome to give me a hard time about down in the comments.
So, there are going to be some favorites missing from here. Some obvious ones. Some must-plays. Some indie darlings. Join us in the comments to tell us what game you spent more time with than any other this year. About the game you can’t stop thinking about. About that one moment that blew you away.
Here, presented in alphabetical order, is our list.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
I’m as surprised as you are. I was excited about the new Assassin’s Creed from the moment word slipped out it would be taking place in Egypt. Ancient Egypt is a sort of a pet subject for me, something I enjoy reading and learning about. Even ignoring that, though, Assassin’s Creed Origins offers up some of the best exploration of the year, topping even Horizon Zero Dawn in terms of giving us an open world that’s fun to just wander around in and check out every detail. Few open worlds have felt alive in quite the same way Assassin’s Creed Origins‘ take on Ptolemic Egypt does. I do know, though, that this is the first time since Assassin’s Creed 2 that I’ve spent the time to explore every location I could find and complete every activity I could.
You kind of don’t even need to play Cuphead to understand why it belongs on this list. For a game so hyped, it wouldn’t have been a big surprise to see it tank when it didn’t live up to expectations but… it actually did. Seeing what people wanted from the game, the Cuphead team rolled back its initial plan and refocused development, coming back with a brutally difficult platformer that happens to be the prettiest game of the year.
In an age when so many games take shortcuts to make visuals work, the Cuphead team did everything the hard way. Everything was animated by hand, and it was done “straight ahead” style, meaning that the animators drew every frame of animation you see in the game, rather than using keyframes to make it look like that without actually doing it. Tens of thousands of frames of animation make up the game, and it’s worth highlighting simply as a modern marvel of game design just for that reason. If you have an Xbox or a Windows 10 PC, you owe it to yourself to check this game out.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Post-Apocalypse. Alongside ‘Zombies,’ it’s one of the most tired words in gaming right now. With a slight tweak, though, we can make it exciting again: Post-Post-Apocalypse.
The world’s death is old hat in video games, but the world being reborn has barely been touched.
As Horizon Zero Dawn begins, we have an idea that we’re probably on Earth, but something happened. Something sent us back to the stone age. And now, giant mechanical beasts roam the earth. That simple difference sets up one of the most interesting game worlds and game stories of the year.
Horizon Zero Dawn is, simply put, one of the best new game properties in years, and easily my personal favorite new series from this year. Guerrilla, known previously for the grimdark Killzone shooters packed with dirty sci-fi men, made a bright, beautiful, and mysterious world. Then they filled it with beasts that are fun to fight, dungeons that are fun to explore. Then, they gave us a character that was a joy to both play as and to learn about with Aloy. The game has its hiccups here and there, but Guerrilla seems to have learned from its predecessors when building an open world and managed to build one of the best worlds around.
In a year packed with great games, Horizon Zero Dawn is among the best games out there.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It won Game of the Year and has been praised by fans and critics alike. So, what else can be said about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Nintendo promised an open world Zelda experience and delivered a tour de force, complete with cooking, unforgettable characters, and a rich, vibrant world to explore. Best of all, Breath of the Wild let players do what they wanted, when they wanted, while offering a stiff challenge to boot. Zelda games simply don’t get better.
Our own Ron Duwell pegged NieR as a new classic right away when he reviewed it earlier this year, and its reputation has only grown since then. Ron was ready back in March, while we were deep in the fog of the Switch release, to call it one of the best games of the year.
“Yoko Taro’s storytelling, PlatinumGames’ hardcore action, and Square Enix’s localization decisions” took what should’ve been merely a “sleeper hit to a cult-favorite game” to new heights, signaling a return to form for one of our favorite Japanese publishers.
No other game this year was as popular (or as surprising) as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It overtook the Steam charts and surpassed 20 million sold—all before leaving Early Access. There’s simply never been anything like it. The Battle Royale-style title offers tense, heart-pounding gameplay as players fight to be the last man standing. With new maps, weapons, and refinements on the way, it’s very possible PUBG will continue to dominate into 2018 and beyond.
I’m stumping for this one because I feel like it’s going find itself overlooked like a Typhon disguised as a coffee cup on lots of other lists. In the tradition of the System and BioShock games, Prey takes us, playing as scientist Morgan Yu, to a space station in orbit of Earth, where aliens that can mimic everyday objects and control humans. If they make it planetside, it’s all over – humans are done. With your ingenuity and a bit of alien DNA, you can stop them from taking over and save humanity.
Like any classic –Shock game, Prey gives us a compelling, attractive, and memorable place to explore and fills it with puzzles and traps to conquer. The skills and abilities we pick up along the way help us decide how to tackle these, but a player with a different playstyle can have a different approach entirely. And while we’re used to getting new powers in these games, having to wonder how much humanity we were giving up in the process felt fresh, and so did turning into soda cans and turrets to solve puzzles.
In a time when it feels like single-player games are dying, Arkane’s addition deserves a spot on the short list for putting a new spin on a classic theme.
Resident Evil 7
The best zombie moments happen when you think the creature is finally dead, and you’ve relaxed for a short second. Resident Evil 7 is the ultimate zombie moment.
To say that Resident Evil was dead is an understatement. After the megaton impact of Resident Evil 4 on game design back in 2004, the series slipped downhill. RE5 was fun in multiplayer. RE6 was fun to talk crap about. And then we saw some really bad multiplayer-focused stuff that felt like a killing blow to the series.
RE7 somehow does everything the series has done over the years, but in a way that feels fresh and close and personal. The first-person perspective and focus on horror makes the first chunk of the game some of the most terrifying experiences I’ve had in a game, putting even many of the recent first-person horror games to shame. One heart-stopping moment after another left me afraid to turn the corner.
But it’s not just that. The puzzles are there, the conspiracy, the weird characters. Ammunition is sparse, and gunshots are meaningful. Capcom’s designers dug into Resident Evil and knew they were at a do-or-die moment for the series. They could revive it, or retire it. They examined every aspect and brought us the best Resident Evil in over a decade, and one of the very best in the series.
Super Mario Odyssey
Nintendo’s mascot may no longer be a plumber, but he still makes a mean video game. In Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo brings the character back to his Nintendo 64 days by giving players the ability to run through intricately detailed levels brimming with personality. There are secrets, quirky enemies, and fantastic new gameplay mechanics, including Cappy, a talking hat that allows Mario to control any character in the game. Odyssey is endlessly charming and a big reason why Mario continues to delight after all these years.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus
You fly a spaceship to Venus where you can kick Hitler in the chest. Do I really need to say more?
Yes? Okay, fine.
2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was a huge surprise. The Wolfenstein series had languished for years, and the game didn’t play well in previews. And then MachineGames polished it to hell and gave us one of the year’s best games, an intense shooter that handled a lot of touchy themes seriously. We got to see from the inside what it’s like to be part of a resistance group – the hopelessness, the bonds that form, the strength people give each other to keep fighting.
In 2017, we’re living in a different, weird, and more political world. MachineGames started Wolfenstein 2 almost as soon as it was done with the original, and had many of the themes present in place before we started seeing the movements and conflicts of the past couple years. With that in mind, the game is almost prescient in its handling of extreme propaganda and media manipulation in American politics. It tackles revolution instead of resistance, and makes our super-badass BJ Blazkowicz a fragile man running on fumes. It’s wearying and invigorating at the same time.
And all the while, it never gives up its grasp of its over-the-top setting, letting us infiltrate airships, and yes, go to Venus, even as we see the results of occupation, of nukes, right in our own backyard. Even when the story details get silly, the cost of war is handled deftly and maturely in Wolfenstein 2 in ways few other games about war ever have.
There you have it. We missed some big ones this year. What was your favorite? Jump into the comments and sound off.