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The 30 Best Games of 2017

Games Lists Best of 2017
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The 30 Best Games of 2017

Some year, huh?

2017 was a fairly tumultuous year for the videogame industry. The predatory nature of loot boxes became a legitimate mainstream political issue, proving once again that the economics of the videogame industry make no sense and basically nuking the launch of what EA assumed would be a best-selling Star Wars game. In news directly related to that, the supposed death of single-player games was widely editorialized throughout the industry, after EA shut down Visceral Games (who were working on a heavily anticipated single-player Star Wars adventure) and games like Prey and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider underperformed. Studios continued to be shut down left and right, from Visceral to Runic to Gazillion. The game industry news was constant, and often very bad.

At least the games were often very good. And the best line-up of the year came on a Nintendo system. The Nintendo Switch launched in March and immediately became a massive success on the back of the fantastic Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the novelty of the system’s home and handheld duality. 2017 was truly Nintendo’s year, as you’ll see as you look over the list below. Not only did the Switch see better third-party support than the Wii U did in practically its entire lifespan, but Nintendo put all of its design resources behind the launch, putting out not just a new Zelda but a new core Mario game in the same year for the first time ever. And they weren’t just new—they were both one of the best games ever in those two legendary series.

Where did Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild fall on our list of the best games of the year, though? Read on to find out.

30. Tumbleseed
Platforms: Switch, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac

Tumbleseed is all about patience. Predicting the trajectory of the seed and adjusting the angle of the bar requires quick thinking, and steady fingers. The levels change every time the player restarts, and thus the layout cannot be memorized. They can only anticipate what types of enemies and obstacles may lay ahead based on the environment they’re playing in. The mountain has four separate ecosystems as the seed travels upward, and they offer a change of atmospheric pace as the game progresses. At a distance, the limited number of areas would suggest the game is short, but with the repetition the game’s difficulty demands, they’re actually quite long.—Holly Green


29. Torment: Tides of Numenera
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Mac, Linux

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It is both a good thing and a bad thing that Torment: Tides of Numenera is novel-like in its ambitions and scope. It’s good in that I can say that the grand narrative payoff for the game is exquisite. It’s bad in that I cannot even give you one single plot point, because if I did I think it would ruin it. I would strongly suggest that you don’t read anything about the game’s story going in. Instead, just pay attention to what everyone tells you, and eventually you get to see these micro and macro story threads build up into a beautiful latticework of narrative. It really is wonderful.—Cameron Kunzelman


28. Prey
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

By the end of 2017 videogame publishers tried to convince the world that single-player games were dead. (Just google “single-player games are dead” and gaze upon the thousands of links to editorials from every videogame site ever for some background.) Prey may not have been a smash hit on the sales chart, but it’s another deeply satisfying, intellectually stimulating adventure from Arkane Studios, the designers that brought us Dishonored (whose spin-off title, Death of the Outsider, also almost made this list). It follows in the tradition of games from Looking Glass and Irrational, games like System Shock 2 and Bioshock that use the interactivity of the form to present questions and choices that try to dig a little bit deeper than simply shooting everything that moves. As Paste writers have explored, it winds up as both a surprisingly powerful evocation of mental illness and an important depiction of Asian-American identity in a medium largely devoid of that. Prey might wear its influences a little too brazenly on the sleeve of its spacesuit, but at its best it’s one of the most thoughtful games of the year.—Garrett Martin


27. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
Platforms: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac, Linux

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In a world of HD rehashing and the seemingly obligatory impulse to re-render old games with the latest in photorealistic graphics tech, it warms my heart to witness the stylistic human touch of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. It’s a splendid homage, a playable history exercise, and an unexpected touchpoint for the expressive potential of hand-drawn animation in 2017.—Dan Solberg


26. Injustice 2
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 

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Injustice 2 has this beautiful wax and wane that has the exact same pacing as a comic book. Heroes enter scenes, they have goals, villains enter the scene to prevent them from achieving those goals, and then a fight breaks out. The fight resolves, and the process continues. I don’t think anyone would suggest that this is breaking new barriers of storytelling, and the story and the way it is told is in classic comic form, but it works here. I feel like I am playing a comic book, and there’s very few games in the world that scratch that particular itch.—Cameron Kunzelman


25. Arms
Platform: Switch

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Arms is more than a game about fighting; it is a reminder of genre’s stagnation. Just like a bicep will atrophy in absence of exercise, so too will a category of game (“one-on-one-fighting game”, for example) become stunted by too many me-too attempts. There is both unlimited room and potential for videogames and yet the market is oversaturated with games that rely on stale conventions. Playing Arms feels both intuitive and strange. Stand in front of your TV with a Joy-con in each hand and you feel more connected to your character than in a typical 2D Street Fight. While Arms presents itself as a fighting game, in a way, it has become a sneaky demonstration of the limitations of the genre’s defining features.—Jon Irwin


24. Resident Evil 7
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

I enjoy a good horror game, and I’ve played through lots of horror titles in a variety of different genres. Nothing has bothered me as much as Resident Evil 7. There is something in the game’s specific combination of ambient sounds, level design, lack of soundtrack, and camera acceleration speed that ended up ticking all of the boxes for making me feel profoundly and disturbingly anxious while playing the game …Resident Evil 7 is so anxiety-inducing, I had to get someone to come play it with me. And I’m glad I did, because the game is probably best experienced in pairs. Its story is told in fits and starts, providing several opportunities to theorize about what is actually going on. Being a first-person horror game, there’s a lot of time spent avoiding enemies and slowly creeping down hallways, and we spent a lot of that time between story beats hollering about what the game’s story was even about at that point in time.—Cameron Kunzelman


23. Splatoon 2
Platform: Switch

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Some have dinged this one a bit (including our own review) for sticking too closely to the formula established by the Wii U original. It’s true that, at first, it can feel more like a remake than a sequel. In time though its unique attributes become more apparent, from the variety of weapons, to the new maps, to the various multiplayer modes that supplement the standard Turf War. Splatoon 2 might not break a lot of ground but it’s one of the most purely fun games to come out for any system this year.—Garrett Martin


22. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Platform: PlayStation 4 

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The Lost Legacy isn’t the best Uncharted since Uncharted 2 (and the second best overall) just because it replaces the increasingly annoying Nathan Drake with two strong women of color who don’t maintain a constant stream of sitcom-level chatter. That certainly doesn’t hurt, though. The game takes its subtitle seriously. Yeah, it’s another would-be action film full of bullets and improbable parkour, but it has greater depth because it explores the lives of its co-leads, Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, and shows how they’re both grappling with the legacies of their fathers and the decisions of their youth. By shifting the focus to these two characters the Uncharted series has struck a narrative vein richer than anything it’s explored in the past.—Garrett Martin


21. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Platform: Switch

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What originally felt like an ungainly mash-up between two properties that share almost no common ground unexpectedly turned into one of the biggest gaming surprises of the year. The Mario imagery and Rabbid humor is almost beside the point: this game works so well because it’s a smartly built and balanced tactical RPG that innovates on genre convention through its liberal approach to movement. If you like Final Fantasy Tactics and XCOM but wish you could move farther and faster across their grids, with multiple different ways to accomplish that, you should check out Mario + Rabbids. It’s a colorful strategy game that looks and feels like nothing else out there.—Garrett Martin


20. Stories Untold
Platform: PC

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Stories Untold is like the perfect snack: small, delicious and immensely satisfying. This horror game, inspired heavily by ‘80s text adventures, combines puzzle and point and click elements over four short chapters to deliver one of the more intriguing stories to emerge in narrative design this year. While the “big reveal” at the end dips slightly into some comfortable and well worn tropes, the writing features repeating elements woven through each episode that, in their bizarreness, beautifully heighten the suspense before reaching the game’s end. Go in blind, and play it in a single session for the best experience.—Holly Green


19. Old Man’s Journey
Platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, Android

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Old Man’s Journey is a small, quiet game that you can tell was a work of passion. Sometimes the best way to get someone to listen to you is to whisper. In a just world, this spare kaleidoscope of memories and manipulated hillsides will garner as much attention as bigger games beset with earth-shaking explosions. As we all learn in time, it’s often the smaller chance encounters that make the most impact on us. Especially when we look back.—Jon Irwin


18. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 

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Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Wolfenstein II is its simplicity. Today’s first person shooters are all but bogged down by overstimulating user interfaces that distract from the experience. Wolfenstein II, keeping intact its legacy as one of the first proper shooting games, is almost minimalist by comparison. The end result is a fluid experience that encourages forward momentum and continually rewards the player for tackling conflict head-on and at high speed. This is not to say that the game’s stealth elements go underused or ignored. Those too are understated and generally unsaddled with the many tweaks and innovations made to its genre in the past two decades. Whatever method used to tackle a mission, the ensuing rush is completely satisfying.—Holly Green


17. Tacoma
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux

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Tacoma might present itself as science fiction. It’s set in a shiny, futuristic space station, with each window a beautiful vista of black and pinpricks of light. But like all good sci-fi, it’s focused squarely on the present. Its depiction of exploitative labor practices and the one-sided relationship between employers and employees, of the marginalization of the worker, might be set near the end of the century, but its message is as current as videogames get.—Garrett Martin


16. Fire Pro Wrestling World
Platform: PC

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The cult classic Japanese wrestling series returned in 2017, and although it’s still in early access, it’s so fundamentally strong and feature-rich that we have no reservations with putting it on this list. Its stamina and lock-up systems capture the rhythms of real-life pro wrestling, and its creation tools and Steam Workshop have opened up an almost limitless universe of wrestling potential. If you have any love for the one true art and its videogame adaptations, this could be your favorite game of the year.—Garrett Martin


15. Doki Doki Literature Club
Platforms: PC, Mac

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Doki Doki Literature Club violates the silent contract of dating sims, and almost all games everywhere: it acknowledges the nature of its existence. It’s dark, at times bleak, and dabbles in the surreal. Its premise is poised heavily on letting the player know they, the fictional girls of the titular literature club, are wise to your presence. In fact, they know their very being relies upon it. At any time you could stop playing, or even erase their character file altogether. But please don’t. They love you.—Holly Green


14. Gnog
Platforms: PlayStation 4 

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KO_OP’s candy-colored Gnog is as much of an interactive toy box as a game, especially in VR. It situates its puzzles in a series of three-dimensional boxes that have to be poked, prodded, turned and explored as you try to figure out the exact right way to interact with it. With its fanciful, lightly psychedelic images, and its warm electronic score, Gnog is a soothing multimedia treat.—Garrett Martin


13. Metroid: Samus Returns
Platform: 3DS

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This “reimagining” of Metroid II: Return of Samus bears some clear hallmarks of that Game Boy original, most notably in its focus on hunting down and killing a specific number of metroids. It’s so far removed from that game, though, in terms of both its structure and how you play it, that it feels unfair to call it a remake. Basically it takes a handful of ideas from a game released in 1991 and expands upon them to make something that feels fresh and vital in 2017. The most crucial addition is a parry counterstrike that feels nothing like you’ve ever done in a Metroid game before.—Garrett Martin

12. Battle Chef Brigade
Platform: Switch, PC

As a “match-three” game, Battle Chef Brigade goes above and beyond the call. Anime characters are superimposed on soft backgrounds featuring wet washes of paint pooled over textured paper, set to a lilting orchestral soundtrack not unlike a Miyazaki score. The combat segments, which from a distance may seem tacked-on, are not only well-incorporated mechanically, but also provide immense satisfaction with the fluidity and power of Mina’s attacks. Despite the time limit on each battle, the back and forth between two sources of panic—quickly cooking a dish to the judge’s specifications versus killing monsters for key ingredients—is actually pretty fun. The complexity of solving puzzles contrasts the no-brain hacking and slashing for a very welcome change of pace.—Holly Green


11. Horizon Zero Dawn
Platform: PlayStation 4 

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Guerilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn looks like a living nature painting. As the player runs or rides from one settlement to another, the landscape constantly shifts between distinct, gorgeously realized biomes. One minute, it’s a frozen tundra, with sun gleaming off enormous white, snow-covered cliffs, and ground covered in scraggly little bushes and errant branches. The next, it’s an orange sanded desert with towering red clay mesas jutting up into a perfectly clear blue sky. In each, birds and foxes, boar and rabbits frolic. (And, because Zero Dawn is science fiction, herds of robotic bulls, flocks of giant metal birds or a lone, lumbering cybernetic tyrannosaur.) The world is genuinely stunning, a place that wants simply to be soaked in—observed and inhabited. It is our planet in miniature. It’s the globe shrunk down and captured in a videogame console. Sweep the in-game camera around a landscape and it’s almost possible to smell the air or feel the warmth of the sun.—Reid McCarter


10. Yakuza 0
Platforms: PlayStation 4 

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Yakuza 0’s overarching faithfulness to its era and place in history provides fascinating insight into the time, and its over-the-top cutscenes and climactic fights quickly endeared me to the series. A hefty batch of side-games and engaging, well-paced combat roped me in and sold me on my first ever Yakuza experience, but the vibrancy of its semi-fictional Japan will be what I remember most. Yakuza 0 doubles-down on the series’ signature combination of hyperbolic action and self-aware comedy, while providing an honest window into a major period in recent Japanese history, and does so flawlessly.—Eric Van Allen


9. What Remains of Edith Finch
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

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Despite its sometimes too-broad character development and stylistic stumbles, Edith Finch is still a fascinating game—one that has admirably tailor-built its player interactions to fit the varied stories it tells. This is welcome, especially when the inverse approach is so often taken. It’s a game made with real imagination and an honest attempt to capture the unique perspective of its wide range of characters. Given its wide scope, it’s understandable that it’s also a game that succeeds more in concept than execution. Like the subjects of the multi-generational novels whose tradition it embraces, Edith Finch’s individual successes and failures are less important than its overall effect. It’s a story made of stories, and the results of its breadth seem more important than the fine details.—Reid McCarter


8. Destiny 2
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC

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Destiny disappointed us at launch because it felt so empty and aimless. Destiny 2 doesn’t suffer the same fate, arriving with a more defined story and a greater variety of environments and enemies. The game’s structure and narrative is now as satisfying as its core action, turning the constant need for stronger weapons and armor from a chore into a compulsion. It’s also a game committed to secrets, letting you discover so much about it that isn’t directly transmitted, giving it a depth and mystery rarely seen in this type of game.—Garrett Martin


7. Cuphead
Platforms: Xbox One, PC

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Can you call something “frustrating” if you’re actively enjoying it all the way through? You will repeat yourself a lot in Cuphead, a brutally hard game built around old-school arcade-style boss fights and platforming. A major reason the constant restarting doesn’t grow old is the beautiful presentation, with an art style patterned after early 1930s hand-drawn animation and an original score of big band and ragtime music. As difficult as it is, though, the game rarely feels capricious. You’ll usually understand what you have to do, and the struggle is just being able to pull it off. As frustrating as it can be to fight the same enemy two dozen times before finally winning, it only makes the satisfaction of pulling it off that much more powerful.—Garrett Martin


6. Persona 5
Platform: PlayStation 4 

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Persona 5 might not be for you—maybe you’ve no love for the anime aesthetic, or maybe the notion of an 80-hour game with no open world isn’t your bag. Maybe you don’t like JRPGs!

But maybe, if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend eighty-three hours with this game over the course of a month and sit there as the credits roll with an empty feeling in your chest, turning your year in Tokyo over and over in your head, thinking of the friends you spent time with and the struggles you endured together. Maybe, despite the unreasonable wealth of games that 2017 has afforded us, you’ll navigate back to the main menu and immediately select “New Game Plus.”—Nate Ewert-Krocker


5. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Platform: PC

The surprise hit of 2017 has an unwieldy name, but there’s a reason for that: “PlayerUnknown” is actually a person, real name Brendan Greene, a well-known modder who created a Day Z mod based on the Japanese novel and movie Battle Royale. Battlegrounds takes that concept of a shooter where the goal is to eliminate every other player on an increasingly dangerous island and turns it into a far more accessible game. It’s not even officially out yet, but it’s already proven itself to be one of the biggest stories in games this year, and this isn’t just a case of runaway hype. The extreme pressure of Battlegrounds elevates the multiplayer shooter to a previously unknown level of tension and catharsis.—Garrett Martin


4. Night in the Woods
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, Linux

The genius of Night in the Woods is that it grounds its heavy themes not in the worn down characters of Raymond Carver, but in the queer anarchist punks of its lead character’s generation. The game is a rare look at characters who balance all of the burdens above with a love for retro videogames and band practice and drinking in the woods while some blowhard from high school plays acoustic guitar. The game borrows tonally from a variety of sources—everything from the hyperkinetic Scott Pilgrim to the peculiar horror of Haruki Murakami or Blue Velvet back to the blue collar sob stories of Breece D’J Pancake. Plus, did I mention all the characters are animals? Like BoJack Horseman, this aesthetic allows the game to fluctuate rapidly between over-the-top absurdity and soul crushing sadness.—Salvatore Pane


3. Nier: Automata
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

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Nier: Automata is a mature, sophisticated game that avoids the JRPG trap of the narrative, the themes and the play being separate entities. Platinum and Yoko Taro are an expert pair here, harmoniously bringing together dozens of eclectic sources from philosophy to anime to history to real-life war to silly, over-the-top fight sequences into one cohesive whole where not a single part feels unnecessary, and all contribute to the larger message. It is a timely story about our priorities as a society and our continued relevance in an increasingly automated world, told in a clever way that makes meaning out of about four different genres worth of mechanics and yet could still be called elegant. It’s a sharp commentary that could only be done through games, and for now, it is easily the magnum opus of either of its authors.—Michelle Ehrhardt


2. Super Mario Odyssey
Platform: Switch

Bicker about what makes up a “core” Mario game all you want. All I know is that Super Mario Odyssey is one of the two or three best games to ever have that lovable little guy’s name in the title. It is every bit as powerful as Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Bros. 3, the previous high-water marks for Nintendo’s mascot, and for the platformer genre in general. Odyssey is an overwhelming cornucopia of pure joy, full of the kind of freedom typically found in open world games but with a constant chain of clear objectives and attainable goals pulling you ever deeper into its roster of candy-colored kingdoms. It’s a perfect bookmark to Nintendo’s other major Switch game of 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: both recraft a classic cornerstone of the entire medium into an effortlessly enjoyable and crucially contemporary masterpiece that unites all eras of gaming history.—Garrett Martin


1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Platform: Switch

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Breath of the Wild is a fresh approach to what Zelda games have strived for since the very beginning. The depth you expect, the open exploration and constant sense of discovery the series is known for, are here in perhaps greater effect than ever before, but with the systems and mechanics that drive the moment-to-moment action heavily overhauled. The result is a Zelda that feels unmistakably like a Zelda, but that also breathes new life into the venerable classic.—Garrett Martin

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