The Critical Hit Games of the Year: Our best games of 2017

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It is the year 2017. Morons hold the highest offices of the land, hatred is sweeping across nations and the future looks more uncertain with every passing day. More than ever, video games are establishing themselves as being more than an escape from our horrid reality. They’re interactive experiences which have us thinking, that leave us breathless and that have the potential to change our rigid mindsets.

2017 might just be the finest year yet for the industry. After a blockbuster 2016 that managed to release hit after hit every month, the bar was raised higher than ever before for anyone following in those glorious footsteps. 2017 didn’t just clear that bar, it vaulted beyond it. From Nintendo rewriting how we play games with the launch of the Nintendo Switch, publishers unleashing risky new projects and an increase in the diversity we see on the screen, 2017 simply felt…special.

Here’s a look at the best of the best, that 2017 had to offer.

Game Of The Year – The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

The Legend of Zelda Breath Of The Wild

We’re not going to draw this out, or have our Game of the Year awards as some protracted build up. It’s quite simple, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

To say that Breath of the Wild’s open world is large would be a severe understatement; it’s positively monstrous, and the largest open world Nintendo’s ever created. It’s got a breadth, scale and scope that evoke wide-eyed wonder. Unlike many sandboxes that seem to have been generated, just about every corner of its vast world seems meticulously crafted, and carefully placed. If a mountain has a craggy outcrop, it’s very probably there for a reason. If something looks out of place, it probably is – and a bit of prodding is likely to unveil a chest, a hidden passage or one of the game’s genuinely useful collectibles.

The world is so densely packed with things to do, but so lean on the mindless filler content that plagues so many games of this nature. It avoids the pitfalls of so many games of this sort, that checklist of chores that start to feel humdrum. Interactions and the side quests are meaningful, as are the rewards they offer. It’s one of the many things that makes exploring Hyrule’s undulating, verdant fields, its rocky and vertiginous mountains, and its snow-capped peaks so incredibly rewarding.

Why is it our game of the year? The Legend of Zelda has always been defined by what you can’t do. You can’t go here or open this thing until you get some or other object. Breath of the Wild ditches that. After it’s opening hour, you’re free to do whatever you like – and not just within the confines of established video game rules. When you play it or watch other people play it you’ll constantly exclaim “I did not know you could do this!” Breath of the Wild offers an unparalleled freedom, wrangling its systems for your own gain – so much so, that playing just about everything else feels like being forced to colour inside of the lines.

It’s not for everybody, of course. Some take umbrage with the game’s weapon durability, others like having distinct, more defined and set goals – but for anybody who loves the joy and freedom of exploration, Breath of the Wild is a rare masterpiece.

Honourable mentions: Persona 5, Super Mario Odyssey, Destiny 2

Best Xbox One Game – Cuphead

Cuphead

Unlike 2016’s bright roster of exclusives, 2017 has been an otherwise dismal year for the Xbox One brand. It may have the hardware that puts its rivals to shame in terms of sheer horsepower thanks to the recently released Xbox One X, but what good is a console if it doesn’t have a little something extra to offer its fans?

Relying mostly on third-party releases to support the console this year, the Xbox brand had one console-exclusive in its line-up that was well worth the wait however: Cuphead. Boasting a gorgeous aesthetic inspired by classic Fleischer cartoons of the past, Cuphead was also notable for being harder than a Vibranium shield to the face when you played it.

Brutally unforgiving and merciless no matter your skill level, Cuphead took absolutely no prisoners when it launched. And yet, it’s that very challenge that kept players glued to their seats, muttering curse words under their breath and constantly aiming to clear that one stage. In a year where the presence of the Xbox felt almost non-existent, Cuphead was a brief ray of sunshine. Even if you wanted to kick it right in the mugs.

Honourable mentions: Halo Wars 2, Forza Motorsport 7

Best PlayStation Game – Horizon: Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn

It’s been a stellar year for the PS4 in general, with Sony flexing its dominance with a varied selection of exclusives to remind you why you picked their box over the other. And while Japan certainly made an impression on the party with huge exclusive hits like Persona 5 and NieR: Automata, it’s a gem of a game from within Sony’s own studios that exemplifies why you need to own a PS4. Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t just a singular experience that deserves attention. It’s a peek into a future headlining franchise for Sony, and one that gets off to an incredible start.

Aloy and her journey through the post-apocalyptic world you find yourself waking up in is riveting. It’s punctuated with some incredible character design, bringing to life the robotic wildlife you’ll routinely find yourself stalking and killing. Its combat flows with elegance that other games envy, giving you a robust tool set to experiment with and make your own.

It’s somewhat surprising how much freedom Horizon gives you in this regard, but it helps make Aloy feel like the seasoned hunter she is. Coupled with an overarching narrative that makes some surprisingly good points about our planet and how mankind seeks to sustain it, and you’ve got the full package. A stellar debut that is probably going to be around for a long time.

Honourable mentions: Persona 5, Nex Machina, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Best Nintendo Game – Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey

I hear you all already. How can Breath of the Wild be the overall Game of the Year winner but not take the platform award for the console it helped launch? In truth, it was tight. But where Breath of the Wild excels at pushing forward a genre with exceptional design and player agency, Mario Odyssey chooses instead to be one thing: A perfect Nintendo game. And if you’re picking up a Switch this festive season, it probably should be your first purchase.

Mario Odyssey is like junk food. It’s tasty, it’s comforting and it’s predictable to a degree. While Odyssey is packed with variations and unique features of its own that help set it apart from the rest of the series, you know what you’re getting into. Loads of platforming with some incredibly well designed creatures for you to mentally inhabit, along with a plethora of worlds to explore and secrets to uncover.

It’s straightforward in a way that Zelda is unforgiving, which makes it a far easier recommendation for a larger group of people. It’s still easily one of the best games of the year too, showing just how robust a small moveset can be when it’s married with top-class level design and ever-evolving ideas. Mario Odyssey is maybe not as revolutionary as Breath of the Wild, but it’s arguably more fun to play.

Honourable mentions: The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2

Best PC Game – Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight

Games in other genres are too frequently compared to Dark Souls, as if Dark souls is the pinnacle of video games and everything else needs to aspire to reach those same heights. For the first time since that ubiquitous comparison became so prevalent, there’s a game that deserves it. Hollow Knight is an action platformer in the Metroidvania vein, with a muted colour palette and beautiful hand-drawn art.

It’s all about exploring an open map, hunting for secrets, and finding new abilities to let you reach previously inaccessible areas. What differentiates Hollow Knight from its peers is not just how expansive it is (its labyrinthine tunnels extends for what seems like forever), but in how – just like Dark Souls – most of its story is told by little clues within the environment, organic discoveries that serve as small echoes of Hollownest’s fading past. That it’s challenging as heck, with some genuinely memorable boss fights only completes the comparison.

Honourable mentions: What Remains of Edith Finch, Pyre, Night In The Woods

Best VR Game – Superhot VR

Superhot VR

Superhot almost feels like cheating here, because it’s a game that immediately seems like it was designed first and foremost for VR. But while the puzzle shooter launched last year, its VR spin-off took another year to complete. And it was evidently a year well spent, with Superhot VR being the perfect way to both challenge yourself with your new headset or give new players a riveting experience to explore.

The content stands apart from the release last year, giving you all new VR-designed stages to blast your way through. Using motion controllers to control both of your arms is natural and well tracked, but it’s the way the game incorporates movement that sets it apart. In Superhot VR, time moves when you move. And that’s a very literal thing when you’re trying to keep a strange pose still as opposed to simply not moving a thumbstick.

It’s hilarious and grueling all at once, and easily the best game you could hope to purchase for your VR tech this year. Superhot’s idea of gameplay is just too unique to pass up, and manages to do wondrous things with the new input schemes you give it.

Read  Destiny 2: Where is Xur (and whats he got for sale?) – 28 September

Honourable mentions: Resident Evil 7, Skyrim VR

Best Shooter Game – Destiny 2

Destiny 2 GOTY

With a Taken King vanquished and the a new age of Guardians in full swing thanks to the Rise of Iron, it was time for Bungie to evolve their grand vision for the future. The only way to do that? To start from scratch and reintroduce the world to Destiny in a brand new sequel. Bungie didn’t just create a larger universe to explore, but a game that addressed many a complaint, adding numerous quality of life changes along the way.

Destiny 2 was brighter, optimistic and ready to set the stage for a new cycle of action in a future where humanity’s very existence was at stake. A grand ambition, and one that was built on some of the finest gunplay to ever grace a console. Destiny 2’s core shooting experience was as solid as ever, offering fans plenty of options along the way: The precision of a scout rifle, the sheer badassery of a hand cannon or the pay ‘n spray tradition of an SMG at close-range.

Glorious stuff, made even better by Guardians having access to new powers and skills with which to enhance the experience even further. While Destiny 2’s endgame may be in need of a tune-up, it’s still the best game around when boiled down its basics, standing head and shoulders above its contemporaries in a challenging year that was full of number one contenders.

Honourable mentions: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Lawbreakers, Call of Duty: WWII

Best Fighting Game – Injustice 2

Injustice 2

Fighting games operate on a double-edged sword, because their very nature limits them from truly breaking free of the genre’s expectations. NetherRealm challenged that assumption this year with Injustice 2, pitting DC Comic’s finest heroes and villains against one another in a massive brawl to save the say one more time.

Mechanically perfect in its execution of combos, special moves and hard-hitting finishers, Injustice 2’s entire Gear System took the experience a step further by giving players the chance to truly hone their favourite fighter with cosmetics and game-changing enhancements. Managing to not succumb to the loot box pitfall of 2017, Injustice 2 was generous with its game-defining hook, throwing plenty at players and asking little in return.

More than just a technically superb entry that took the fighting game genre to new heights, Injustice 2 also had plenty of heart. In a year where the Justice League’s greatest enemy was a massively underperforming big budget movie, it was NetherRealm who picked up the slack and showed audiences just how great the world’s finest heroes truly were.

Honourable mentions: Arms, Tekken 7, Nidhogg 2, Marvel vs Capcom Infinite

Best RPG – Persona 5

Persona 5

Japan come with the gifts this year, and no one package was more impressive, expansive and revolutionary as Persona 5. This is Persona speaking to the mainstream, but without losing a single thing about what makes its DNA so intoxicating. Instead, it dived even deeper, bringing back features from past Persona titles while wrapping the entire thing up in an electrifying presentation and ridiculously good story.

Persona 5 is a lengthy adventure, but it’s one where every hour feels both important and captivating. It’s more bustling setting of Tokyo stands in strong contrast to Persona 4’s sleepier town, and it makes good use of the extra real estate. You’ll get lost in its stunning recreation of this metropolis, and be rewarded with your curiosity at nearly every stop.

But it’s Persona’s signature combat, time-mechanics and characters that deliver in spades again, even if some of the most important friendships don’t quite hit the highs of previous entries. It’s still the most refined Persona title to date, making it almost impossible to go back to previous titles and have the same amount of fun. It’s slick presentation and infectiously addictive soundtrack are just cherries on top of one of the best JRPGs ever made. And it would be a crime to skip on it.

Honourable mentions: Nier Automata, Divinity: Original Sin II, torment: tides of Numenera

Best Sports/Driving Game – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

In what’s been a relatively disappointing year for sports and driving games – with both Forza 7 and GT Sport failing to live up to expectation – it’s good to know that there are good stanbys that never disappoint. It may be a re-release of an older game, but Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a delight.

Mario Kart 8 ha a new home on the Switch, and it’s fantastic. The Switch itself is terribly versatile, letting you play the game as a handheld one, or even as a pick-up and play split screen one, using a pair of JoyCon. Sure, it may be hard to discern fine detail on the Switch’s screen when it’s propped up on a table, but at Mario Kart’s blistering speed, it’s moot.

With improved visuals, accessibility, more content and a newly invigorated Battle Mode, Nintendo has demonstrated a masterclass in spiffing up an older game – giving us Mario Kart at its very best.

Honourable mentions: Everybody’s Golf, Project Cars 2

Best Action/ Adventure Game – Steamworld Dig 2

The voting team struggled with this category more than any of the others. We didn’t want Breath of the Wild to walk away with everything, but we also had trouble deciding exactly which games belonged here. We just really couldn’t come to a decision – so I (that’s the editor, Geoff) made a decision. Mostly as a way to award Steamworld Dig 2 with something. 

With its incredible mix of exploration, combat, platforming  – and yes, that resource collection  – Steamworld Dig is more than just your average Metroidvania platformer. It’s the sort of game you become sad about when you’re done.

Honourable mentions: Assassins Creed Origins, The Evil Within 2

Best Multiplayer/Ongoing Game – PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

Much like how the general public just wouldn’t shut the hell up about BitCoin this year, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was on every gamer’s lips. A simple enough game on the surface: You, 99 other maniacs and an island whose area of activity would slowly shrink around you as the net tightened and tensions rose.

PUBG is a game of patience, of waiting for that perfect moment and then grabbing it by the horns. When it happens, it’s beautiful stuff and well worth the massive damp spots that formed around your armpits. There’s no denying the impact that PUBG has had so far, even in its current early access incarnation. PUBG has changed a genre, spawning many an imitator and some flatout plagiarism along the way (COUGH “FORTNITE” COUGH) as it continues to grow in leaps and bounds.

That’s the keyword here: Impact. While even PUBG’s creators would downplay the fact that the game is up for so many awards, the honest truth is that PUBG deserves the honour. It’s just that important. Which makes PUBG our winner winner, chicken dinner.

Honourable mentions: Destiny 2

Best New IP – Horizon: Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn 2

For years, Guerrilla Games was known as “that Killzone developer”. After 2017 the studio will be known for creating one of the freshest most exciting games to ever grace the PlayStation 4, in the form of Horizon: Zero Dawn. Awe-inspiring and massive upon your first foray into a future where mankind is no longer the dominant species, Horizon: Zero Dawn was a breath of fresh air early into the year and an absolute gem to experience first-hand.

With a rich eco-system of dangerous robots and a deep lore to explore, Horizon: Zero Dawn set itself up perfectly for a daring future. It established its world, laid the foundation for more adventures to come and introduced audiences to a brave new protagonist in the form of Aloy. This year’s best IP made an impact that left us staggered and dazed in wonder at the potential for Guerrilla’s bold new frontier, winning this award hands down.

Honourable mentions: Cuphead, Nioh

Best OST – Nier Automata

Nier Automata

2017 was an amazing year for video game soundtracks. From the soft ambient sounds of The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild, to the upbeat, feel-good jazz of Persona 5, there was always something catering to the broad spectrum of musical tastes. Nier Automata, without a doubt, has an absolutely stunning soundtrack, with themes and songs so nuanced and emotionally potent that the story, and even the game itself, wouldn’t have been the smash hit that it was without it. On the pure basis of composition however, one could argue that other games are on par with it, and taste is, after all, subjective, but like Automata mixes things up with its story and gameplay, it does the same with the soundtrack, and it’s that very reason why it’s a cut above the rest.

Nier Automata plays with the music in interesting ways. Spoken dialogue in a cutscene turns into a bewitching chant, forming part of the vocals of a song. In-game music has different phases, slowly introducing vocals and increasing in intensity depending on the current situation. It even switches seamlessly between normal and 8-bit versions of the current song depending on if a certain mechanic is activated. The final track of the game perfectly encapsulates this brilliance by transitioning the theme song from 8-bit, to the English, Japanese and made up language vocals, culminating in the introduction of a choir in the background, which actually consists of the various people who worked on the game. As much as I enjoyed all the OSTs I heard this year, none were as weird and beautiful as Nier Automata’s.

Honourable mentions: Persona 5, Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn, Cuphead

And that’s it for our awards! We will have articles on our own personal favourites coming up this week though.

 

 

Last Updated: December 11, 2017

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