This article previously appeared on Crossfader
2016 was a hard act to follow, but 2017 was defined by a bevy of truly remarkable games. Because this year’s lineup was so impressive, your friends at Crossfader couldn’t be confined to just 10 games to commemorate; listed below are our top 20 games of 2017! Read our picks and give our attached podcast a listen for further elaboration on what made it onto our list!
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20. TACOMA (Xbox One, PC)
I don’t need to be told that the world is not as good as it could be. I don’t need to be told that it’ll probably get worse later, especially by a video game—for whatever reason, that just seems more absurd. Yet in 2017, the only fiction I devoured were dystopias. I read many things, but these had me in another way. TACOMA takes place in a dystopia. It’s a hellworld that is very much aware of the volcanic fault lines in our current world order. That sort of precision might be how to measure the quality of a dystopian fictional world, though I’m deeply uninterested in taking out my genre yardstick—instead, I see that precision as where I meet TACOMA and all those scary books I read this year that were scarily unscary. That meeting place is, as always, the reality of our real world, where individuals with inordinate amounts of wealth draw scars in the night sky for reasons no one else consented to, and we seem to only ever conceive of space as a point where property becomes. And of course, in the reality of this real world, there’s other humans doing other human things. In TACOMA, there’s the objects humans leave behind, and the playback of a camera that never stopped recording them. Look at this one, that plays guitar in their room when they are alone. And here, an email about a worker’s union and an office party to celebrate it. This is how TACOMA extends the anxiety of the present into a fictional future worth inhabiting. [Jimmy]
Click here to read our review of TACOMA.
19. YAKUZA 0 (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3)
Few games in 2017, if any, crafted a world as enticing and opulent as that of YAKUZA 0. A prequel to the renowned beat ‘em up series, YAKUZA 0 places us right in the heart of the economic boomtown that was ‘80s Japan, taking us on a tour through an underworld of gangsters, sex workers, and general ne’er-do-wells. While the main plotline is commendable, spinning a violent yarn of betrayal and redemption that’ll scratch the itch of any jonesing for a Takeshi Kitano yakuza flick, believe me when I tell you that the side missions and minigames are perhaps the best of this decade, and I’m not forgetting about GTA V or SKYRIM. The combat is decadent and over-the-top, but it’s the time spent sprinting through the streets trying to retrieve a young boy’s coveted Gameboy game, delivering messages between gossiping youth in order to stop an ill-advised panty-trade ring, or faking your way through directing a food commercial where YAKUZA 0 really hits its stride. I’d be lying if I denied the core arc doesn’t cover a lot of familiar ground for the genre, but with so much to do around you, you’ll never be bored for an instant. [Thomas]
Click here to read our review of YAKUZA 0.
18. NIDHOGG 2 (PlayStation 4, PC)
With Messhof’s latest iteration in their swashbuckling multiplayer bonanza, players are blessed with a wealth of expanded content, from nearly triple the playable stages to a revamped arsenal and options for cosmetic customization. However, it’s NIDHOGG 2’s overarching accessibility that makes it such a surefire hit. Perhaps NIDHOGG 2’s greatest asset isn’t that it’s a quick-burst game in an industry oversaturated with massively multiplayer slugfests and 100+ hour RPG endeavors, but rather that it’s so darn easy to pick up. The pairing of intuitive mechanics with a high skill ceiling places it in the company of OVERWATCH, but gains some serious mileage thanks to its old-school charm and commitment to local multiplayer fun. If you’re looking for a party game that’s guaranteed to get the room roaring, you can do no better than NIDHOGG 2. [Sergio]
Click here to read our review of NIDHOGG 2.
17. GRAVITY RUSH 2 (PlayStation 4)
I dreamt of flying one time in my life that I can remember. I was low to the ground and moving so fast that I woke myself with the realization of my speed. It was a disappointingly short dream but it stuck with me. There was something about the fantasy that was preternaturally unsustainable. The power I felt becoming a bullet was so intense and therefore alien that I was in communion with the full intense alienness of dreaming itself, and upon touching the surface of dreaming this way, it necessarily broke apart in my hands. In GRAVITY RUSH 2 I’m confronted by another kind of dream of flight. It’s the pitiful subconscious clawing for air that my waking shames and unattended obligations must create. It’s the terror and death of spirals. It’s falling forever in a black hole. According to this definition, I have dreamt of flying many, many times. But playing as Kat I have finally seen the grace in it. What I have now thanks to this game that I needed before is a space filled—the void but with a brilliant nightmare of a city in it called Jirga Para Lhao—and a very specific conviction. Falling is flight for as long as I am charting my own course. [Jimmy]
Click here to read our review of GRAVITY RUSH 2.
16. NIOH (PlayStation 4, PC)
The “brutal action-RPG” subgenre attained a new gold standard this year, and that standard is NIOH. Despite some petty grievances with the game’s story and character development, NIOH succeeds in taking the most marketable aspect of the Soulsborne franchise, its sadistically unforgiving-yet-rewarding combat, and jacks it up to be more visceral, more fast-paced, and even more tactically involved than the games it took inspiration from. In addition, the game utilizes its creator’s previous work on the NINJA GAIDEN and SAMURAI WARRIORS titles to create a look and feel that gives NIOH the over-the-top flair it needs to set itself apart from the competition. Make no mistake: NIOH is by far the best Souls-related experience we’re going to get for quite a while. [Jon]
Click here to read our review of NIOH.
15. HORIZON ZERO DAWN (PlayStation 4)
Who’d have thought that the worst name in video game history would end up being one of the most refreshing action-adventure RPGs of the current console generation? HORIZON ZERO DAWN really scored some serious brownie points for being the most innovative action game in recent memory. I’m perhaps the only person under the sun to reference PORTAL RUNNER when talking about Guerilla Games’ lush action-RPG, but there is something to be said about the fusion of old school weaponry and sci-fi shenanigans, an energizing change of pace from the countless Far Crys and Call of Dutys on the yearly conveyor belt. Towering bosses a la SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS and gorgeous scenery are really the name of the game here, cementing HORIZON ZERO DAWN’s reputation as one of the most gorgeous games of the current console generation, a vast bow-and-arrow adventure, lush with intricately designed monoliths. [Sergio]
Click here to read our review of HORIZON ZERO DAWN.
14. DETENTION (PlayStation 4, PC)
“Oppressive” might be the best word used to describe the White Terror, a 38-year-long period of martial law in which the Kuomintang ruled Taiwan through fear and paranoia. Suitably enough, “oppressive” is also an incredibly apt qualifier for the debut title from Red Candle Games, DETENTION. A horror game set in a haunted high school during that period, DETENTION is at its most frightening when it reminds us that the real monsters don’t hide under our beds, but behind rhetoric, uniforms, and podiums. DETENTION is a short but sobering journey into the mind of a teen growing up under a brutal regime, culminating in one devastating knockout of a finale. [Ed]
Click here to read our review of DETENTION.
13. SPLATOON 2 (Switch)
The squids are alright. Nintendo is far from dropping its support for its multiplayer titles, despite the high-profile singleplayer hits dominating discussion on the Switch right now. The quirky shooter has gotten everything short of an overhaul at this point, with new ranked modes, battle maps, and weapons being added at fairly regular intervals—and for free, no less! That’s right—Nintendo has yet to roll out its paid online services, so the salvo of free updates continues unabated. I pondered in June about SPLATOON 2’s longevity, but it seems there wasn’t a whole lot of room for doubt between its bustling, meme-slinging community and a number of in-game events to keep players coming back for more. SPLATOON 2 still stands tall as far and away the best shooter of 2017. [Angelo]
Click here to read our review of SPLATOON 2.
12. PERSONA 5 (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3)
One thing high school actually taught us was how fast time passes. Once given a routine, usually capped off with rehearsal or practice, days bled into weeks, months, and years. But if an adventure were to be had to break the monotony, be it a midnight screening or a first date, sacred Saturdays were to be meticulously scheduled, since Sundays were reserved for church, of course! PERSONA 5 puts those time management skills to the test under a slick, acid jazz anime lens while simultaneously burning through the player’s real world time. In reality, what kept most of us sane in our routines was getting to know people, their innermost fears and desires. Forming these bonds is essential to becoming more powerful in PERSONA 5, and the dimensionality of its cast, plus the scandalous plot ripping into current politics and pop culture, makes getting both a job and a waifu worthwhile. And fear not, anti-weebs! Its flashy exterior is only complementary to a satisfying JRPG structure filled with satanic Pokémon guiding the player through the most intriguing delve into Jungian psychology. Take a Saturday to study, binge X-FILES, or peruse through all of Tokyo’s subconscious defeating the evil manifestations of everyone’s repressed thoughts. [Alec]
Click here to read our review of PERSONA 5.
11. ASSASSIN’S CREED: ORIGINS (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
The resident comeback kid, ASSASSIN’S CREED: ORIGINS is one of 2017’s few examples of a franchise taking a year off and actually coming back reformed and stronger, rather than confused and hampered by shameless money-making schemes. As a new piece in the ongoing series, ORIGINS attempts to explain the centuries-long conflict between the Templars and Assassins through a revenge story driven by two parents, Bayek and Aya. As Bayek takes down the Order of the Ancients (a Templar precursor), Aya develops a political conscious as the right hand woman to Cleopatra. It’s by no means revelatory, but injecting meaning into a series (and a story) that often defaults to “cool killing” feels like the right move to make in 2017. It’s this concerted effort to reinvent that elevates the series combat into something vaguely reminiscent of Dark Souls while slathering a heaping dose of open-world RPG, taking the series in a loot-driven direction wrapped in an increasingly gigantic world. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but ASSASSIN’S CREED: ORIGINS is a return to form for a long-suffering series and an excellent game to return to and explore, by horse or bird-drone. [Ian]
Click here to read our review of ASSASSIN’S CREED: ORIGINS.
10. LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
Lightning rarely strikes the same place twice, and hackles were raised when virtually-unheard-of studio Deck Nine announced they were handling the prequel to Dontnod Entertainment’s surprise critical darling of 2015. An idiosyncratic delight that partly skates by on the unapologetic charm of its shortcomings, the original game felt like something that couldn’t possibly lend itself to the series treatment. But against all odds, BEFORE THE STORM stands tall on its own two feet, doubling down on character writing and perhaps packing even more of an emotional wallop than its parent text. BEFORE THE STORM is brave enough to do away with the supernatural touches of LIFE IS STRANGE, instead telling a relatable and fully realized tale as old as time: falling in love with someone others say you shouldn’t. Those looking for knife-sharp thrills should look elsewhere, but anyone with a taste for nuanced coming-of-age tales is sure to be swept away. This time around the characters actually talk and behave like living, breathing teenagers whose drama you can’t help but be absorbed by, though as before, the best part is spending hours getting lost in the minutiae of the everyday, whether it be playing DnD with friends or memorizing your lines for the school play. Who knows what will come next, but for now, Life Is Strange is the odd upstart series with a knockout one-two punch. [Thomas]
Click here to read our review of LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM.
9. HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE (PlayStation 4, PC)
2017 saw the return of the self-published blockbuster, with a notable few outclassing their AAA brethren in both style and substance. HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE was easily the most ambitious, boasting an experience that is hauntingly beautiful in aesthetic and narrative from start to finish. Your journey with Senua to the land of Helheim is wrought with intense visuals and truly masterful sound design, the latter of which acts as the game’s greatest success as it’s seamlessly and simultaneously incorporated into navigation, interface, tension, and narrative. It would be remiss to omit the topic of mental illness when discussing HELLBLADE, as the game’s depiction of psychosis is one of the best-explored and utilized by the gaming industry in years. Ninja Theory’s masterful union of theme, genre, and presentation provides not only a totally unique experience, but a damn memorable one as well. [Jon]
Click here to read our review of HELLBLADE: SENUA’S SACRIFICE.
8. CUPHEAD (Xbox One, PC)
As passé as it may sound, few titles deserve the designation of “labor of love” as much as CUPHEAD. One merely has to look at the game to understand why. StudioMDHR presents an experience that is all but unheard of, managing to create a game that captures the charm, surreality, and entrancing quality of 1930s animation to a tee, while throwing the nail-biting challenge of 1980s shoot-em-ups into the mix as well. These wholly different flavors of nostalgia blend together beautifully, creating a spectacle that is just as much fun to watch as it is to play. And while the difficulty curve may be steep, the catharsis of finally beating a boss is well worth the initial frustration. CUPHEAD is undeniably one of the most satisfying endeavors to come out of this year—just don’t throw your controller too hard when you’re killed for the 50th time by a dancing flower. [Jon]
7. NIGHT IN THE WOODS (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
It’s hard to find a more unassuming game that packs as strong of a punch as Infinite Fall’s NIGHT IN THE WOODS. 2017 saw games with longer stories or more complex and rewarding mechanics, but NIGHT IN THE WOODS represents a near perfect execution of a big idea: the class division, economic collapse, and general suffering at the hands of cold, unfeeling systems are symptomatic of a much larger problem and a much more destructive philosophy, a black hole at the center of everything that can never be filled, but rather survived. It is also a game about talking animals. This dissonance between story and presentation is one of the many joys of NIGHT IN THE WOODS, along with wonderfully informal dialogue and a cute, if spooky, art style. The fusion of these serves the strong story, complicates the imperfect and often caustic characters, and makes for an experience that feels true, even if it’s told by an anthropomorphic cat and features an old, God-worshipping cult. NIGHT IN THE WOODS is as unexpected as it is powerful, wrapped up neatly in a delectably digestible package. [Ian]
Click here to read our review of NIGHT IN THE WOODS.
6. WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
There was a time not long ago where the “walking simulator” was maligned by gamers for its relative lack of interactivity. From the moment it begins, WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH swiftly and surely silences any such naysayers. Like most walking sims, EDITH FINCH places story first, but delivers its narrative through an unprecedentedly tactile manipulation of the player’s surroundings. It’s one thing to revisit an ancestral home after many years, but it’s another entirely to hold the family scrapbook in your hands, crack open its dusty covers, and run your fingers across its weathered pages. EDITH FINCH is a game that understands full well the storytelling, not just narrative, potential of the medium, and it uses that knowledge to deliver an immersively unrivaled experience. [Ed]
Click here to read our review of WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH.
5. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD (Switch, WiiU)
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD is THE game that Nintendo and legendary game developer Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to make all those years ago. It represents the result of years and years of reimagining Zelda’s core concepts while waiting for technology to catch up to Miyamoto’s staggering vision. This iteration of Hyrule radiates with life and tension, instilling a sense of wonder and immersion into both series newcomers and seasoned veterans alike. 10 months after launch and it’s still too easy to sit down and lose track of time exploring every corner of the game’s absolutely massive open world, and any game that can make its players forget where they are truly deserves the title of “legend.” [Angelo]
Click here to read our review of THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD.
4. RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
Throwing a decade’s worth of design changes out the window, RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD is both a revitalization and reinvention of the classic horror franchise. Though it largely returns to the conventions of the original RESIDENT EVIL, RE7 is more gritty and gruesome than ever before. The locale shift to a fetid Louisiana bayou, coupled with the unforgettable introduction to the psychotic Baker family, assured players that this was a far cry from the quasi-campy action shooters of yesteryear. Particularly effective was the switch to a first-person perspective, allowing players to get face-to-face with the horrors that lurk the Baker mansion. Combined with photorealistic graphics, claustrophobic level design, and a dash of subtlety, RE7 brought back a new level of terror that has been strangely absent from a series known for its never-ending horde of flesh-eating monstrosities. 2017 represented a return-to-form for many beloved franchises, and RESIDENT EVIL 7 is absolutely the king of that camp. [Steven]
Click here to read our review of RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD.
3. SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY (Switch)
Video games are supposed to be fun. It sounds obvious, but so many games eschew that all-important aspect of play in favor of the routine, instead falling back on letting players do what’s familiar and expected to the point of desensitization. SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY does anything but fall back. It triple jumps forward with unprecedented style and finesse, preferring to keep players constantly guessing as to what kind of strange new ability they’ll be able to utilize next, or what strange, innocuous task they’ll have to complete in order to attain the game’s myriad Power Moons. It’s especially notable that, despite being the umpteenth time that Nintendo has gone about making a Mario game, this feels little-to-nothing like previous entries in their flagship series. SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY is, above all else, an absolutely joyful experience that isn’t to be missed. Don’t take my word for it, though—this isn’t one for hearsay or Let’s Plays. Live it for yourself. [Angelo]
Click here to read our review of SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY.
2. DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB! (PC)
As anyone worth their salt will tell you, the less you know about DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB! going into it, the better, which makes singing its praises difficult. Independently developed by Dan Salvato, DDLC! ripped into our lives in late September and wrecked a path of absolute devastation. An emotionally ruthless perversion of the dating sim genre, DDLC! undeniably demands a certain level of patience, but possesses a finale that is the most viscerally reactionary of 2017, bar-none. Rarely have I squirmed or felt so fundamentally violated in terms of the implied contract between player and game—“horror” doesn’t quite do it justice, even if the qualifier of “psychological” is leaned into. Though controversial and guaranteed to upset and anger some members of its audience, if nothing else, DDLC! belongs on any year-end list for its daring and creative parameter shifts despite making use of such a limited toolbox. This game is not for the meek, and any content warnings you come across are well-earned, but most importantly of all, the literature club is full of cute girls! Will you write your way into their heart? [Thomas]
Click here to read our review of DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB!
1. NIER: AUTOMATA (PlayStation 4, PC)
NIER: AUTOMATA has everything: a vast world to explore, tightly kinetic combat, a constantly evolving story that keeps you on your toes, and 26 different endings to unlock. NIER is a product of genius in many ways. The constant upheaval of genre and flipping of perspective is a credit to Platinum’s mastery of game design. The crystal clear vision present in Yoko Taro’s direction cements him as an auteur of the same caliber as Kojima or Mikami. Even the moneymen at Square Enix deserve their fair share of credit for taking such a risk on creatives whose grasp had never previously quite met their reach. The most critical contributors to this endeavor, however, are the players themselves. NIER truly could not exist as anything other than a video game. Its messages and themes are not addressed to any character in particular within its tale, but to the person holding the controller, and they are not told or shown, but felt. More than any other game, NIER exploits the “art” within “artifice.” NIER realizes that the television, not the camera, is the frame that a game exists within. NIER knows that the empathetic quality unique to video games is their ability to involve an outsider as a participant, and by allowing the player, not the creator, to tell its story is why it will be remembered as a masterpiece. [Ed]