2017 is, without a doubt in my mind, the best year we’ve ever had for gaming. Narrowing down the stellar titles I played this year was far from an easy task, and it proved so difficult and jam packed that games I utterly loved were pushed out of the top 5 and even out of the honorable mentions (sorry, Wolfenstein 2!). But let’s get right to the games, shall we?
5. Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is not only one of my favorite games of 2017, it is also the best Metroidvania game since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Yeah, it’s that good. Not a lot of people are talking about it now, but mark my words, when it comes to consoles, gamers are going to lose their minds.
Part of why I like it so much comes down to its simple but unique combat that forces you to keep fighting to charge up a meter to heal and do special abilities. This makes the challenging boss fights a lot of fun as it is more than just proper dodging and pattern recognition. Bizarre bug-based enemies lurk in this enormous map and I was always down to explore more and more of it, and find the multitude of collectibles along the way.
Cuphead is stunningly gorgeous in a way that hardly seems real. The art and animation are so spot on there isn’t a single screenshot of this game that doesn’t look like a still from a classic cartoon. But that would be meaningless if the gameplay wasn’t good. Turns out, it’s almost perfect.
Cuphead is tough, extremely so at times, but it always felt doable. I knew I could get through it, and by playing it smart and learning enemy routines, I did just that. And I loved every damn second of it. In fact, I could probably describe not only most of the bosses, but individual stages of their fights because they were that memorable. Beyond that, everything in Cuphead is so creative and filled with life, it really is a one-of-a-kind experience.
3. Resident Evil 7
I love the Resident Evil franchise at a level that borders on religious fanaticism, but I was very worried about RE7 after the P.T. copycat demo Capcom put out. And I’ve never been happier to be so wrong.
In the course of two weeks, I played through Resident Evil 7 5 or 6 times. I found all the collectibles. I did the limited item box and healing item usage playthroughs. I could tell you exactly when you are safe in the house and what triggers the Family to start hunting you again. I intimately knew this game within those two weeks and still loved playing it. In fact, RE7 is the game on this list that I have the fewest complaints about. There’s very little wrong with it outside of the subpar basic enemies and some lackluster moments towards the end. The rest of the experience was pure survival horror joy.
2. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
I finished Hellblade and thought it was pretty good. But then I started reflecting upon my time in its world and inside Senua’s head, and my opinion quickly changed. What this game does is so smartly subtle, I almost didn’t notice and I’d bet many others didn’t either. The voices are obvious and implemented well but the hidden symbols throughout the world are also representative of mental illness. Knowing what must be done but putting bizarre restrictions on your own actions is something I’ve done throughout my life. Ninja Theory took this mental block and made it into a game mechanic.
You have to do this task several times throughout the course of the game, and it was all too relatable. In the same way there aren’t actually voices in her head, or demons fighting her, there aren’t locks on these doors that can only be opened by finding symbols in the environment. It’s all a fabrication of her mind. And it was so tactfully implemented, I didn’t notice until I had finished the adventure. I was utterly blown away. In retrospect, it might not even be 100% intentional, but its impact was beyond relevant to my real life, not just as a game I played. The more I think about Hellblade, the more I love it. It’s a game that made me realize things about myself in a tangible way and no game has ever gotten close to doing that before. Hellblade made me realize I am affected by some of these issues and didn’t even know it; it had just always been part of my life. That’s beyond incredible.
I played and loved both The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, but I want to talk about a few other fantastic games that haven’t gotten enough time in the limelight.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
I’m currently just at the beginning of episode 3, but I loved the original and this prequel does everything right. I could play stories revolving around the students of Blackwell Academy for the rest of my life.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
What if Breath of the Wild had experience points, perks, and more complex combat and stealth? That’s what ACO is and it feels like one of least talked about AAA games of the year.
Star Wars Battlefront II
I know it’s fun to hate on, but playing this game online is a ton of fun and filled with memorable moments that had me hooked.
A Hat in Time
The bonus levels in this delightfully charming and original platformer rival Super Mario Odyssey, and that’s saying a lot.
I love everything about this game. In making this list, I knew I wanted Prey to be towards the top, if not at the peak, but after playing the opening areas again, there’s no other place it can be. There’s so much to like about the game from the stunningly realized space station it is set in, to the atmospheric score that permeates the slow and methodical exploration and combat gameplay loop.
Almost everything in Prey feels like it was made exactly for me and how I play games. Slowly gathering materials, looking out for mimics, reading logs about what happened, it’s gripping in a way that’s almost indescribable.
There’s never only one solution to a locked door, a menacing alien, etc. Everything is so open and diverse and the skills you unlock along the way drastically change what you can do. It all feels less like game mechanics and more like a play set.
Prey is my game of the year. Prey is one of the best games of the generation. Prey is one of the best games ever made.