Game of the Year 2017

Happy New Year! Now 2017 has drawn to a close, we have voted on our favourite games of the year. Let us count you down through the gems that made it into the top 20.


20 Hollow Knight PC, Mac, Linux

Ian: I went into Hollow Knight expecting it to be a simple time killer – your run-of-the-mill metroidvania game, but it sucked me in completely. The cutesy yet sinister world and characters are contradictions of themselves – funny, silly, yet awfully dark and multi-dimensional. The combat is basic hack and slash and the movement abilities are the usual double jump/wall jump/dash etc but the hand-drawn animation and simply massive amount of enemy variation never stops surprising. Honestly, I believe Hollow Knight is simply a testament to game design because it doesn’t actually do that much new. It does, however, have a huge world, full of secrets and challenges, that simply cannot go unexplored. Every new screen beckons the player to keep going, searching, fighting with alluring set pieces and interesting recurring characters. Then, after several days of almost non-stop playing, when I had finally reached the end, found all the items, unlocked all the secrets, and played through the several different endings. Then, obviously, I just absorbed as much of the lore as I could find online, only to discover I hadn’t even kicked off one of the DLCs – The Grimm Troupe. This DLC not only added a good few hours more content but also posed probably the biggest challenge of the year in the form of a final boss fight, which, if it wasn’t for Super Mario Odyssey, would have earned my pick of best gaming moment of the year.


19 Worms W.M.D Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux

Ben: A blast from the past – Worms W.M.D marks the series’ long overdue return to relevance. The detailed 2D graphics look great and the game runs very smoothly. All of the new mechanics all slot in seamlessly alongside the original core of the game. This is now the definitive edition of Worms to buy, there is a lot to enjoy and it’s one of the best in-person social multiplayer games available.


18 Dishonored: Death of The Outsider PS4, Xbox One, PC

Simon: This vote is split between this and last year’s Dishonored 2, a game I loved when I finally caught up with it this summer. Death of The Outsider inherits so much of what makes 2016’s sequel enjoyable, and with worldbuilding as strong as this franchise, simply plunging you into a new adventure as a different protagonist, the narrative wraps around you as though it revolved around you all along. As a bonus for somebody reluctant to engage with the shadier tactics of Dishonored, Billie Lurk as a fundamentally shadier character made me feel OK about being a little stabby and mean, for once, too.


17 Prey PS4, Xbox One, PC

Thomas: For me, the “emergent gameplay” buzzword was never a fitting term for many recent games until Prey came along. Even as many raved about the options Metal Gear Solid V offered I’d always end up making the simplests choice to get the best result. A new unique adventure was behind every door I opened in Prey, which shook me out of the min-maxing mindset I fell into for many such games in the past. Away from gameplay, Prey gets its characters right to – showcasing a cast worth caring about. It is not just what they say, but what they write. Text logs matter in Prey, and I was happy to consume every email and text file I happened upon. Prey made rummaging fun. This is the Half Life 3 you’ve been waiting a decade for.


16 Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice PS4, PC

Ian: Hellblade is not just a game – it’s an experience. Whilst much of it is split between solving simple puzzles and fighting demons using a surprisingly basic yet effective and engaging set of mechanics, it’s mostly about being Senua. Seeing what she sees and hearing what she hears on her perilous journey through the underworld is haunting. Set to an epic soundtrack and incredible storytelling narration, the moans, whispers, and crying voices within Senua are constantly second guessing every move – ‘you’ll die here’, ‘go back, go back’. It’s an audio journey like no other – putting the player through the same madness that Senua herself must overcome. The execution and acting is fantastic, the world itself is hellish (literally) but nethertheless beautiful, and the gameplay, whilst repetitive, never once bored me because of the excellent and near-constant dialog. It honestly is one of a kind.


15 Nioh PS4, PC

Dom: I didn’t play Nioh until it arrived on PC, as I assumed back in February when it released on PS4 that it would just be another Souls clone, but how wrong I was, and I’m so glad I managed to play it this year. Nioh is more than just another game trying to capture an audience that love the Action RPG subgenre that fits the template around From Software’s Souls games. What Team Ninja created was a Souls-esque title that improves on one thing that I thought didn’t need improving on – the combat. Nioh brings deep, fast and furiously aggressive combat – something of a callback to the days when Team Ninja were the daddy of action combat games – while adding its own unique spin on the formula, developing many elements, such as its addictive random loot system (think Diablo), weapon upgrades and skill trees to enable new moves for all the various weapons. Team Ninja has done what no other developer has managed to accomplish when trying to take on what From Software has been expertly delivering over the years, and that was go toe-to-toe, and in some instances beat, the originator of the Souls games.


14 Cuphead Xbox One, PC

Ian: Many games are blown out of proportion or are over-hyped and end up just disappointing. Cuphead is one of the rare exceptions – it blew everyone away a few years ago when it was first shown off and on release it amazed everybody all over again with its fantastic gameplay, longer than expected campaign, and old-school difficulty. I’m currently still working my way through the New Game + mode and aiming for S-ranks across the board – that means no hits taken and in a time limit, on the more difficult version of each stage. It can be seriously hard but I still love every second of it. The impeccable audio and visual design highlight the whole experience but nothing is more satisfying than overcoming a particularly difficult boss after studying their patterns and honing your skills. It’s a game that demands perfection and doesn’t stop the player from pursuing it – the simple mechanics juxtaposed with the wide variety and complexity of the levels are the true embodiment of Nolan’s Law – ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’.


13 Thimbleweed Park Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, iOS, Android

Ben: The point-and-click adventure genre is something of a relic from the past, but Thimbleweed Park embraces this – in both the pixellated 2D visuals and the verb list interface. The creators behind the Terrible Toybox name include Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, both formerly of LucasArts, who worked on classics such as Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. It’s a real treat to play such a well designed 90s-style point-and-click adventure that fans from that era will love. There’s a Twin Peaks atmosphere and plenty of creative inventory item puzzlers to think through. With a little patience to get to grips with the gameplay, a curious modern adventurer should also enjoy Thimbleweed Park.


12 Sonic Mania Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC

Simon: I honestly don’t value nostalgia very highly, and when Sonic has veered into that territory, whether with the plastic-like Sonic 4, or even a decent game like Generations, I’ve lost interest. But not only is Sonic Mania the best kind of nostalgia – not just evoking fond memories, but also confirming their legitimacy – it is a very polished and satisfying game that really doesn’t depend on it. In fact, where Mega Man 9 felt like a one-and-done with 10 already outstaying its welcome, Sonic Mania makes me excited for the prospect of a Sonic Mania 2. Old sights, new sights, and the benefit of hindsight helping to seamlessly bridge old and new design within the same framework. It would be a blatant lie to say that Sonic is back, but what is fact nontheless is that Sonic Mania is a genuinely delightful platformer that is easy to recommend to anyone.


11 Finding Paradise PC, Mac, Linux

Thomas: Finding Paradise is a sequel to To The Moon; a game I adored. It is best played after experiencing that story, but can also be consumed standalone should you so wish. In a year where many games were not afraid to make players shed a tear Finding Paradise makes a stronger effort than most. Like What Remains of Edith Finch, another one of my favourites from 2017, there is a strong focus on death in Finding Paradise. Alongside that, it deals with loneliness and feelings of hopelessness, which may be more relatable themes then the finality of death. Everyone feels lonely at some point in their lives, even if it is hard to admit. In defiance of it’s grief stricken themes, Finding Paradise is not afraid to offer jovial. downright funny moments. I really enjoyed this well told story about the inevitable misadventure of life.


10 Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone PS4

Greg: Boasting the largest collection of Vocaloid tracks in the Project DIVA series’ history, Future Tone is the ultimate package when it comes to rhythm gaming. While others like VOEZ and Superbeat Xonic are fun, for a weeb like me, nothing tops the computerised vocals and quirky MVs of Miku and pals. And with such an expansive catalogue of tracks to pick from in Future Tone, as well as glorious remastered visuals, it is certainly one of the best rhythm titles released this year.


9 Heat Signature PC

Simon: For numerous reasons, games like Heat Signature need to be clever and inventive about where to spend their resources, and yet when successful, they may achieve an exhilarating scope and freedom that often far exceeds that of big budget ventures. The strength of Heat Signature’s space heists is a real sense of urgency and suspense – its victories and defeats following emergent, breakneck stories of chance, risk taking and a little bit of cunning. The core loop of the game isn’t always entirely compelling, but your adventures in the galaxy always are, whether they are comical mishaps or grand successes.


8 What Remains of Edith Finch PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac

Thomas: Games are often used for escapism; to help forget about life’s woes. What Remains of Edith Finch goes in the other direction and confronts the pain. It offers a collection of poignant and powerful interconnected short stories with a central focus on death. It’s a macabre theme to be sure, but the game also offers hope as it never forgets to celebrate the life the came before. It treats its subject matter respectfully, rivaling similar efforts seen in any other medium. Those that ever lost a loved one will find it strongly affecting, and may even find it’s message uplifting. What Remains of Edith Finch condenses its message into a short timespan and is best played in one sitting; offering the most rewarding two hours I spent with a game in 2017.


7 Life is Strange: Before the Storm PS4, Xbox One, PC

Thomas: Before the Storm redefines what Life is Strange can be. In removing the mystical elements, and focusing directly on the insecurities of people, this trio of episodes turns out to be more personable than what came before, and as a result it finds success in a different way. A world ending threat is no longer a necessary part of the Life is Strange formula. Deck Nine proves the series simply needs well written characters to succeed, and when placed in a compelling situation they will blossom. Where Life is Strange goes from here will be very interesting, but as long as the creators continue to treat the characters with respect I will be happy to follow.


6 Resident Evil 7: Biohazard PS4, Xbox One, PC

Greg: Being less than enamoured with the third-person perspectives and control schemes issued by Capcom in previous instalments, Resident Evil 7’s overhaul had me hooked from its first announcement. Grim and unrelenting, Resident Evil 7 is a great example of how a series wearied by time can be reinvented to feel fresh, and that drastic changes to the formula can actually do some good. If we look past the feeble Not a Hero DLC, RE7 is safely on of the best games released this year.


5 Horizon: Zero Dawn PS4

Ian: I was quite surprised to hear that many of my friends didn’t like Horizon as much as I did. Personally, it clicked me with instantly and I found the main element of the game, the combat (against bots at least), involving and deep – requiring the use of different weaponry and tactics to take down the many different types of beast. Setting up traps, equipping the best weapons for the job, and crafting the most potent types of ammo in preparation of a mighty battle is what I’ve been dreaming of since I first saw the original Monster Hunter trailer, which ended up delivering an entirely different experience. Even the modular design of the enemies (being robotic and all), adds a huge amount of depth to hunting. Find it annoying to fight flying creatures? Trap them on the ground and damage their wings. Fire breath causing you problems? Focus on their fuel containers.

That’s not everything the game has to offer, however. The story, which started out fairly generically, develops into a truly fascinating lore that gripped me right up until the end and has me pining for a sequel. The depth of the world made exploration incredibly rewarding and the painting-worthy sights, along with the accompanying orchestral soundtrack, constantly left me in awe. I deeply enjoyed Horizon: Zero Dawn on every level and I’m terribly excited to go back and play the DLC in the new year.


4 Nier: Automata PS4, PC

Thomas: There’s a lot to say about Nier Automata – far too much for a short paragraph in an article such as this. It has a 40 hour journey you could write unending articles about, with a 5 hour finale that could fill a novel. If you focus on gameplay alone it is not the best playing game PlatinumGames have ever released, but it is certainly the most complex – on a multitude of levels. It fixes many of the real problems (as well as my self imposed ones), seen in a Yoko Taro helmed game; but keeps a firm grasp on everything that makes his games unique. It bottles his innate weirdness and love for quirky complexity, but portrays it in a palatable way. Every corner of the world you inhabit has something to say that’s worth hearing should you choose to listen. For a bunch of mechanical robots everyone you interact with is surprisingly well fleshed out. While you initially feel the biggest question Nier Automata could ask is “what does it mean to be human?” you quickly find this is a a game willing to go multiple layers deeper before it even begins to assemble an answer to that question.


3 Persona 5 PS4

Dom: Persona 5 improves many areas for the series, and while the story might not quite be as memorable as Persona 4’s (it’s still a great tale), nor the cast as charming, everything else about this game is better than the previous Persona games. On a technical and mechanical level, it’s improved in many areas over its predecessors, bringing fluid, satisfying combat, more manageable time systems, hand crafted dungeons that are more involving than the random generated patterns of old, and such a stylish presentation, from the catchy soundtrack to the slick UI and menus, so much so that it surely it has to be the game with most flair in 2017. There are many reasons to ignore Morgana’s recommendation for sleep and stay up late with this one over the many nights I did to finish this 100 hour plus game.

Greg: As a self-confessed weeb, Persona 5’s release was highly anticipated. It is perhaps the most stylish game I’ve ever played, and puts quirky visuals and acid jazz backings above all else. Living the daily life of a Japanese teenager was a blast, however it was slightly too long, and towards the end did begin to feel like beating a dead horse. But it is impossible to deny the slickness and depth of Atlus’ latest outing.


2 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Switch

Dom: Since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the Zelda series has followed a specific structure that hasn’t been reinvented until now. We saw signs of Nintendo’s new openness to this franchise with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, but I personally thought the implementation of this was poor and very limited in scope. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has none of those issues, in fact, it’s actually doing stuff for open world gameplay that even in this current climate of open world games is still managing to be innovative with its approach to how you want to play the game. It’s an evolution of that idea, having a world where you can visit and interact with almost anything in any order, finding surprises at every corner and solving puzzles in a multitude of ways thanks to the brilliant physics and individual properties that every object has in Hyrule.

We talk about games able to give players their own stories through self created gameplay experiences rather than the set story scenes, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one such game that elevates this premise. For many years to come, people will still fondly remember doing things in this world that they cannot do in any other game.

Greg: Expansive, emotive and beautifully crafted, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the jewel in my 2017 gaming crown. As a day-one title for Switch, Breath of the Wild really showcased the console’s innovation and stands as a true landmark of video gaming. While there have been plenty of great games this year, looking back, it is this one that shines the brightest. It has set the bar so high for all future games that I’m worried that everything else coming next year will feel so lacklustre.


1 Super Mario Odyssey Switch

Dom: Super Mario Odyssey shows that even after crafting something as brilliant as the Super Mario Galaxy games, Nintendo still knows how to make superb platform games that can refresh the core experience. It sure wasn’t an easy task to follow such critical Mario titles, as Nintendo has been looking at multiplayer Mario for ways to spice up the formula, but by using Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine as a base to build upon new ideas and mechanics, what Nintendo created was a game that embodies the delight of discovery that comes with the openness of a sandbox Mario title. Super Mario Odyssey pushes the genre forward with Nintendo’s creativity to think up thrilling platforming scenarios, especially with the use of Cappy, Mario’s cap friend that enables him to take over many enemies and items. It’s a platformer free from restricted gameplay, one that I feel isn’t just the celebration Mario hitting his 30th birthday, but a jubilation for platform games in general.

Ben: The way Mario controls feels just right – every little nuance has been considered and you feel fully in control when performing every action. Super Mario Odyssey builds on the Mario 64 formula and manages to feel similarly impactful today. Using Cappy to control other creatures is a terrific idea and perfectly implemented, a real innovation. Graphically this is wonderful, silky smooth and shows that the Switch hardware can deliver a visually impressive game. The quest to get all the moons is addictive and rewarding, suited to bitesize or more lengthy sessions. Each moon collected gives me a special warm feeling. An absolute joy for both young and old to play – simply brilliant.

Greg: After playing the Super Mario Galaxy games on Wii, I was quite sure that they’d never be topped by another series entry. And while Odyssey doesn’t hit the galactic heights (heh) of its sister titles, it still floats peacefully in the stratosphere of gaming greatness. Its content seems endless, with each new visit to old worlds somehow leading to the discovery of something you missed the first time around. Not to mention each area has been meticulously crafted and looks sublime with the Switch in or out of the dock. It also works to show that Nintendo still have plenty up their sleeve for their most famous red-capped mascot.

Ian: I mean, what is there to say that hasn’t been said already? After a few sub-par titles on the Wii U and 3DS, Nintendo clearly went all out for this one. 7 years after the Super Mario Galaxy games, Odyssey is the next step in the evolution of Jump Man. Putting fun above all else, Odyssey is the Switch’s first must-have console exclusive and it takes that role very seriously – being the most developed, deep, and lengthy Super Mario game to date. Throughout the story, Odyssey continues to build into these spectacular crescendos of action and music (especially in New Dunk City and the ending), yet the incredibly wide variety of challenges and difficulties boast a huge amount of replayability in exploration and moon-hunting. The themed worlds, new mechanics, and graphics that seem to somehow reach beyond what the Switch should be capable of are all indicative of a truly fresh, yet somehow oddly nostalgic, Nintendo experience.

 

Congratulations to Nintendo for securing the top two slots this year.

Happy New Year from everyone at DarkZero & best wishes for 2018!

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