Writing a “Best of” list is fraught with peril in any year. Inevitably, someone’s favorite game will be left out, or a game one considers to be mediocre will show up in a place of honor. 2017 does not make this task any easier, but mostly for the former, not the latter, reason. Pound for pound, 2017 had more fantastic games than any year in recent memory, maybe than any single year in history. The list that follows is incomplete in that it is the opinion of one person. Good games will be left off, either because I didn’t get around to them (did I mention there were too many great games this year?) or because they didn’t tickle my particular fancy.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about (in no particular order) the best games of 2017.
Horizon Zero Dawn
If it had been released in any other year, there is no doubt Horizon Zero Dawn would have swept the Game Awards and most publications’ lists of yearly Best Ofs. But Horizon Zero Dawn had the misfortune of being a merely marvelous game in a year filled with so many other marvelous games, leading to it getting shut out at many award ceremonies.
Still, it’s an incredibly deserving game. The story of a young woman in a post-post-apocalyptic future where robotic animals rule the earth and small human tribes huddle together to survive,
HZD creates an incredibly compelling world filled with interesting characters, and marries it to gameplay systems that are pure refinements of open world games of the past. It’s definitely a killer app PS4 exclusive, and if you own that system, Horizon Zero Dawn should be on your hard drive immediately.
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm
I was a pretty good kid. I rarely got in trouble, didn’t drink or do drugs, and almost never missed curfew. That’s part of the reason I had such a blast playing Life Is Strange: Before the Storm. Taking on the role of rebellious teenager Chloe, I was able to act out in ways I never would have dreamed of when I was her age. One fantastic aspect of video games is the opportunity they give us to step into the shoes of someone who is unlike us, and Chloe, an openly bisexual, misbehaving teenage girl, is about as different from me as a person could get.
The game plays like a reimagining of classic PC adventure games, albeit in a fully 3D world with impressive graphics and performances from its actors. Living the drama of Chloe’s life is worth the price of admission, and the story goes to some places I didn’t expect. As the prequel to the original Life Is Strange, it fills in gaps in Chloe’s story, and it does so in ways that make Chloe an even more sympathetic character. It’s a wonderful way to say goodbye to the world of Life Is Strange (that is, until Square Enix announces another season).
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda had gone a little stale. Nintendo doesn’t make bad games, so even the weakest entries in the Zelda franchise are pretty great, but the mechanics had been done to death. Explore dungeon, collect item, use item to beat dungeon boss, repeat. Breath of the Wild dared to do things differently. Fewer dungeons in a much more expansive world; all your equipment at your disposal from the beginning; more than 100 mini puzzle dungeons to solve in order to grow your character. If not for your iconic, pointy-eared hero and a heroine named Zelda, you would be forgiven for thinking this was a completely different game.
The bravery required to completely rethink the Zelda formula is worthy of accolades on its own. A series this storied, this loved, could have fallen quite hard if it hadn’t pulled off everything it attempted to do. But it pulled it off. The ability to go anywhere, climb any mountain, explore any valley, is liberating after so many strictly linear games. It’s a mix of the best of Western open-world games with the charm and attention to detail Nintendo consistently provides. It took home Game of the Year at the Game Awards, and you won’t find many who disagree with that decision. Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece.
Super Mario Odyssey
Mario has been linear for a while now. Super Mario 64 redefined the Mario series by creating a sort of limited open world, and its direct sequel, Super Mario Sunshine, continued that trajectory in a much more tropical locale. But the Mario games that came after seemed to retreat toward a more linear approach (perhaps because of the lukewarm reviews of Sunshine). But Mario’s back in a huge way in Super Mario Odyssey. Sprawling across more than a dozen huge levels with hundreds of collectibles, most players will never scratch the surface of this massive game, which only really opens up after the credits have rolled.
The controls are as tight as ever, and Mario’s ability to possess enemies and other creatures to advance and solve puzzles is more than a gimmick — it’s central to what makes the game work. Good thing the possession mechanic is such a blast. Many wondered whether Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild would take home Game of the Year, which tells you the level of quality to expect from this game. It’s the best Mario has been in years.
Persona 5 continues the gameplay traditions started in Persona 3, but ups the ante and the oddity tenfold. As a group of Japanese teenagers, you’ll have to balance your school and social life with diving into wicked people’s psyches in order to force them to change their behavior. As a Phantom Thief, you’ll be creeping through grand halls and performing sneak attacks on unsuspecting enemies in style.
And this game oozes style. Even the menus are sharply designed. The music is terrific, the characters are fun, and the plot is long and engaging — don’t expect to finish in less than 100 hours. Everything comes together to make Persona 5 the most exciting game in the series. The localization is a little rough in places, but the actors do an admirable job of delivering even the toughest lines in believable ways. But despite the script failing on occasion, the story is intriguing and is more than enough to pull you through to the very end.
Doki Doki Literature Club
How can a free game that purports to be a typical Japanese high school dating sim find itself on a list of best games of the year? By upending every expectation you have about the genre, and about the nature of video games themselves. Doki Doki Literature Club begins with a content warning, cautioning children and those who are easily disturbed to seek entertainment elsewhere. And halfway through what appears to be a lighthearted take on a highschooler falling in love with his clubmates over poetry, the game intentionally derails itself, creating one of the most horrific experiences I’ve seen in gaming.
Dive into Doki Doki Literature Club. Even if you can’t stand dating sims or anime, see it through to the end. It’s only a few hours long, and the innovation on display is more than worth any initial misgivings. I’ll be thinking about this game for a long, long time, and I can’t wait to see what Team Salvato comes up with next.
What Remains of Edith Finch
Most games are epic stories, more like novels or blockbuster movies. What Remains of Edith Finch takes a different route — it functions more like a book of short stories. As Edith, you return to your family home and explore its many locked rooms, each containing the memories of a family member who died tragically young. That’s the curse of the Finch family.
Everything about this game is beautiful, from the way the narration appears in the world itself, guiding you forward, to each individual short story, which jumps seamlessly from genre to genre, mixing art styles and moods. You’ll laugh at some, cry at others, and be terrified on occasion. This is a game that puts story first, and it has a great one (or rather, several) to tell.
New Danganronpa V3
Two Japanese-style visual novels on one best-of-the-year list. Okay, maybe I’m showing my bias, but New Danganronpa V3 is beyond worthy of inclusion here. As in other games in the series, you’re trapped in a school where an evil animatronic bear forces your classmates to kill each other to escape. Every character you encounter is interesting and lively, but you’ll be afraid to get too attached, because you never know who will die next.
When a classmate does die, you enter investigation mode, where you attempt to discover who the killer is. If you’re able to identify the killer at the Class Trial, the killer is put to death. If you fail, everyone else is killed, so the stakes are incredibly high. Without giving anything away, I want to give props to Danganronpa V3 for cramming more awesome twists into one story than I’ve ever seen in my life. Trust me, until the very end, you’ll almost certainly never fully understand what’s going on. Question everything. When the truth is finally revealed, you’ll find Danganronpa V3 sticks with you, for better or worse. It’s a truly remarkable mix of story and social commentary.