Post-apocalyptic robot dinosaurs. These are probably the only four words that needed to be spoken in the pitch meeting that green-lit Horizon Zero Dawn. Pivoting away from their first-person shooter comfort zone, Guerrilla Games shocked everyone when they announced Horizon Zero Dawn. This open-world action game is, in my opinion, the finest work the studio has put out to date. The combat system is fun and diverse, with a multitude of options to approach any encounter. There’s plenty to do as you explore the world, with side-quests that feel more personal than the “go there and get that” fare of other games. The story is top-notch, with a vibrant world full of interesting characters and features an outstanding performance by Ashly Burch as Aloy. It’s also one of the best-looking games to come out this year from top to bottom. Horizon Zero Dawn more than earns its spot as the 4th best game of 2017.
The mark of a high quality difficult game is when it manages to be incredibly fun as well. Cuphead was quickly on most people’s radar due to the art style which oozes the charm of 1930s cartoons. Playing Cuphead, it’s almost incomprehensible how StudioMDHR was able to so accurately and fluid created the look of this game. Many people have floated the phrase “it’s like playing a cartoon” about games before, but it has never been more true than with Cuphead. The characters are fun and stylish and it has one of the best and most fitting soundtracks of the year. On top of everything else, the game is fun as hell! Each boss takes trial and error, patience and feels amazing every time you beat them. Cuphead certainly deserves the spot as the 5th best game of 2017.
Not often enough does a story in a video game leave you as speechless as Nier: Automata left me when I played it this past year. Starting off as a fairly common “how human are robots” type of tale, it escalates with each ending. Eventually, the places it goes will leave you a quivering pile of personified existential dread that few narrative media forms have been able to match up to this point. Nier: Automata also sports some of the best characters of the year and manages to make good on their arcs more often than not. In a play of classiness, not often seen in huge games like this one, it will even let you buy any of the game’s trophies after you complete the game so you can enjoy it without worrying about completing every last thing. Many of the mechanics in the game can be used in surprisingly creative ways and there are a few side-quests that are just as good as the main story. Nier: Automata definitely deserves the spot as the 6th best game of 2017.
Taking the formula set forth by the original entry and improving on it in nearly every way, The Evil Within 2 is a stellar second entry in this horror-action series. Opening up the environments allows the player to discover the scares it has in store at their own pace. The Evil Within 2 also makes some smart improvements to the combat, making encounters feel more tense and requiring some smart planning to get through. The story is a lot more cohesive this time around and has a clear arc that runs through the game and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The Evil Within 2 evokes the better parts of Resident Evil 4 in many ways and deserves the spot as the 8th best game of 2017.
One of the best-looking games to come out in 2017, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an intense journey that tackle some tricky subjects. I am always a fan of what Ninja Theory puts out, but the amount of care they put into Hellblade is staggering. Ninja Theory brought in mental health professionals to ensure they were accurately and tactfully representing mental illness in their game and their work shines through in the final product. The audio design around the voices in Senua’s head is superb, you need to wear headphones playing this game, and the subtle visual touches they make to represent both mild and major hallucinations are done extremely well. As usual, they have incorporated live action footage in some very creative ways to further improve the overall visual design and the performance from the Ninja Theory designer who played Senua is top notch. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice would have been much higher on my list in a different year, but it still deserves this spot as the 9th best game of 2017.
Shifting perspectives from a cramped insane asylum to the wide open spaces of a rural cult, Outlast 2 did not disappoint in the scare department. Despite the environments being a lot more open, Outlast 2 leaves you feeling even more vulnerable than the first game by often obscuring your view, as with the corn field, and forcing you to hide in water while holding your breath. The scenes where you are transported back to a traumatic event from your past added some interesting back story to the main character where there was little in the original game. In a year full of amazing games, it says a lot about Outlast 2 that I consider it to be number 10 on my list of the best games from 2017.