If my massive backlog of videogames is any measure, 2017 was alright. A bit too alright.
With Nintendo back on form, there was barely a reprieve from awesome releases. In a way, this was a tragedy: some of the most well-regarded releases of the year, sat on my grubby list of shame. Here’s hoping for a shit 2018, then.
In the meantime, here’s 10 games I did play, all of which were good enough to justify typing out some words of enthusiasm. Yay, enthusiasm!
This nearly didn’t make the list. Taken at face value, Prey has mediocre enemy design in a prosaic space station setting. The game came after years of false starts in a franchise that barely found its feet in the first place, making this (entirely disconnected) reboot arrive as something of an anti-climax.
The circumstances of its birth do it no favours, but Prey contains some of the year’s most inventive gameplay. They include the glue gun: a tool that slows down enemies and also paints dynamic platforms to be climbed. There’s also the humanising ruse of having you track all the station’s inhabitants (living or dead) as a motivation for deep exploration.
Prey might take its time in getting its hooks into you, but it has plenty of them.
Shut your big yap. When you stop moaning about Battlefront 2’s microtransactions, you will realise this: you can unlock all the heroes and stuff easily enough just by playing the game. Also, you will realise this next thing: Battlefront 2 is really good fun.
For anyone that wants to relive an 80s childhood of Kenner plastic, Battlefront 2’s mix of ground warfare, space battles and familiar heroes hits all the right cues. Once you’re in, it’s simple and accessible enough to keep you there (despite its convoluted levelling / perk system).
It also helps that the Xbox One X version looks absolutely phenomenal.
8) Cuphead (Xbox One)
A game that drew attention for its beauty turned out to be the most challenging release of the year.
Cuphead’s classic cartoon aesthetic made it a boss rush experience for platform purists; unapologetically demanding, it rewarded dedication and gave away none of its charming craft for nothing.
Referencing classics like Gunstar Heroes (most notably via a late-stage board game of consecutive boss challenges), Cuphead revels in nostalgia. At the same time, it modernises upon the technical palette of its inspirations. The result is an inked beauty that goes much deeper than the inkwell.
7) Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PlayStation 4)
The return of Naughty Dog’s celebrated action series arrived with a new focus on its female cast. This was small antidote to 2017’s explosion of ignoble testosterone and regressive politics, but a welcome escape nonetheless.
Chloe’s return as the main protagonist introduced more than a feminist champion â€“ The Lost Legacy expanded beyond the series’ traditionally funnelled experiences with a more expansive world to explore. More than ever before, Uncharted lives up to its name for treasure-hunting and exploration.
With a wider scope, it loses nothing of its focus, delivering plenty of its signature action sequences and snappy dialogue. It is a treasure in itself.
6) Splatoon 2 (Nintendo Switch)
Spoilers, but Nintendo totally won 2017. In the year of Switch’s phenomenal debut, a triumvirate of classics landed, including a well-deserved second outing for Nintendo’s fledgling team shooter franchise – Splatoon is back for the audience it deserves.
A colourful reinvention of the team shooter, Splatoon 2 is built around paintball, asking you to paint the map in preference to blasting opponents. Quickfire rounds of 3 minutes each make it an accessible and unimposing experience, while its well-balanced maps and match-making ensure that winning never feels completely beyond reach.
As a defining multiplayer experience on the year’s most important hardware release, Splatoon 2 is state of the art.
5) What Remains of Edith Finch (Xbox One)
Always a sucker for a good story, I loved Edith Finch. Not least because it isn’t one good story, but several.
Visiting her childhood home after years of estrangement, the abandoned and desolate estate brims with enchanting trinkets that tell of lives departed. Her family are all dead, victims of an apparent curse that afflicted them each with an end that is relived through exploration of the house’s many rooms.
With the fanciful whimsy of fairy tales, the grimness of Edith’s story is explored with childish wonder, building to a touching conclusion that completes the circle of this intriguing and wonderful experience.
Sometimes a game comes along that completely changes your mind. For the longest time, RiME resembles a 3D puzzle adventure chasing the tail of The Last Guardian. Visually it shares that game’s bright saturation, off-set by a cold loneliness in its narrative.
It’s not until late in the journey that the aesthetic gives way to clear and meaningful substance. What felt like welcome echoes of RiME’s inspirations were in fact fragments of a significant and unique voice. RiME delivers a gut punch of an ending that has you reconsidering all that went before, provoking an instant desire to do it all again. Powerful and disarming, RiME stood out.,
3) Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PlayStation 4)
The most socially important game of 2017, Hellblade delivers a sincere exploration of psychosis and mental illness. In consultation with Wellcome Trust and individuals with experience of mental health conditions, this latest release from Ninja Theory is a passion project that marks a departure for its triple-A stable.
The titular Senua has suffered a catastrophic loss after a lifetime of grief and abuse. Her journey through medieval Orkney is much more an expedition of emotion than geography, the world being coloured by the symptoms of her condition. The dizzying brightness of floral fields during a bipolar high subsides into hallucinogenic glows and the terrifying fog of depression. Accusing voices in an oppressive 3D soundscape hem Senua into the boundaries of her mind, however far her feet might travel.
As an independently published title, no corners have been cut in building the most honest and heart-rending experience of the year (and possibly beyond). Ninja Theory’s experience in 3D combat and world-building make this an admirable action adventure, but it’s the duty of care to its subject that makes Hellblade so special.
2) Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)
I said that Nintendo brought a triumvirate of classics in 2017. It’s astounding that Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t come out on the top of that list, being as it is an almost perfect modern take on the premium 3D platforming experience that started with Mario 64.
That classic’s quest to collect all 120 stars felt impossibly generous at the time. Broadening that scope to over a dozen worlds and closer to a thousand individual objectives across them, Odyssey is mind-blowingly ambitious.
For a series so long established, Odyssey’s new move set (focussed around a sentient hat, of all things), feels as if it’s always been there. With a resurgent Nintendo riding the success of the Switch, this splendid Mario adventure is perfectly timed for the audience it deserves.
1) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)
While the Zelda series has been celebrated for decades, it’s been a while since I personally enjoyed one of them enough to finish it. In that I’m not typical, as Zelda continues to be the most important of franchises for Nintendo.
That’s why Breath of the Wild’s departure from the series template is so brave. Nintendo didn’t need to reimagine Zelda as an open world sandbox. They didn’t need to risk everything with a genre they have little experience with.
But this is Nintendo. In retrospect, any doubt that BotW would be anything less than epoch-making seems foolish in the extreme. Link’s awakening in a post-war Hyrule presents a new world scarred by unknown history, every corner of which tells a tale, or allows new tales to be made.
Every step, every climb, every swing of a blade, it’s all part of a meaningful journey that isn’t directed by map markers or side-mission icons, but your own sense of exploration. Nintendo’s ability to create rich worlds and charismatic characters has been expanded here impossibly, to the point that weeks of play can leave entire villages undiscovered.
This is a masterpiece so accomplished that it will change how other games are made. That seems undoubted, but what cannot be imagined is how Nintendo can follow it. Of any game in 2017, BotW shows that in even the most established of franchises, anything can be possible.