It was a mixed bag year for Xbox One.
On one hand, the platform has been dogged by complaints of a thin library with too few exclusives, and for that, continued to live in the shadow of PlayStation 4 in 2017.
On the other, Xbox One X, touted as the world’s most powerful existing console, was released this year, updating the performance of many games in the console’s back catalog, and offering graphics natively rendered in 4K resolution.
There was also Cuphead. While not solely available on the Xbox One (players can also find it on PC), its absence on PlayStation 4 was deeply felt, scoring a win for the underdog upon the game’s release in late September. Cuphead has since gone double platinum, selling two million units since its debut.
Like our lead editor Garrett, I’m not too invested in the so-called console wars, but as he noted in our PlayStation 4 round-up, the Sony console has traditionally gotten more attention from the games media. The Xbox One X came out too late in the year to really change that narrative, but it might’ve started to close the gap.
With new hardware and at least one solid hit, the Xbox One ended 2017 on the upswing. Also being the exclusive console home of the phenomenon known as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds doesn’t hurt. We took a look at all the games released on the Xbox One this year, both the exclusives and the multiplatform titles, to sum up the best of what the console had to offer. Here’s what’s good on Xbox One in 2017, starting with an enigmatic and intriguing new RPG.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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