With 2017 coming to an end, the Gaming Respawn team have taken time out to look back at the last year in gaming to decide which titles really stood out. Read on to see what gems you might have missed.
Alec Hawley- Horizon Zero Dawn
End of the year lists have an inevitable problem with recency bias, your mind jumps to your current obsession and games from earlier in the year are at risk of slipping through the cracks. It’s testament to Horizon Zero Dawn’s quality and originality then, that despite coming out way back at the end of February, it’s undoubtedly my game of the year. Quite frankly, nothing else came close.
It was also one of the year’s biggest gaming surprises, first-person-shooter factory Guerrilla Games (Killzone, Killzone 2, Killzone 3, Killzone: Shadow Fall) took a massive risk and produced a masterpiece, a third-person action RPG that combined a vibrant game world, an engrossing story and a relatable female protagonist who’s already become a gaming icon. The last of these is far more than tokenistic (Aloy, the female protagonist in question, would probably punch you in the face if you said that), but instead her gender is important to the story, it affects how characters relate to her and she retains an empathetic quality unimaginable in most videogame main characters, without becoming a female stereotype.
She’s thrust into the primal chaos of the 31st century, humanity having been overthrown by an intelligent race of animalistic robots called machines and reduced to a stone-age-esque existence of living in huts and being part of different tribes. Aloy though is different from the start, she’s cast out from her tribe at birth, raised by another outsider named Rost and she retains an independent spirit that leads her to discover and use a discarded piece of machine technology, a metal triangle that attaches to her temple. It’s at this moment that she truly starts tumbling down the rabbit hole, gaining the ability to see the world as the machines do and, eventually, being able to override and mount them for robotic gallops across the fields, rivers, cliffs and forests that make up her home world.
Thankfully, the gameplay doesn’t let the side down, it’s not revolutionary but is beautifully polished, combining beautiful open world exploration, compelling quests and titanic battles in which Aloy takes on machines with a handcrafted arsenal that includes spears, bows, slings and thrown-together bomb launchers. It’s also still one of the best looking games on PS4, with a vibrant picture-postcard palette of lush green forests, shimmering blue rivers and yellow cliffs. Overall, Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the best things I’ve played in years and the only excuse for not playing it is not owning a PS4.
Matt Unwin – Super Mario Odyssey
Most of my gaming time this year has been spent reclining on my sofa playing on my Switch. While there have luckily been some stellar games for the console released this year, it’s also made picking my favourite almost impossible. However, after a bit of thinking time, I’ve decided to plump for Super Mario Odyssey. I also massively enjoyed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BOTW), but it was the latest venture for Nintendo’s omnipresent plumber that captured my heart. Although it lacks BOTW’s grand sense of adventure and scale, Odyssey more than makes up for it with its constant focus on fun. Every second left me with a smile on my face and every corner of each kingdom has a new challenge to overcome or area to discover. In fact, I enjoyed exploring each of these worlds so much that I found myself spending hours in each trying to uncover every moon I could, no small feat in a genre where I’m usually tired of collecting the same trinkets after a few hours. Although the reward for collecting all the moons is fairly unremarkable, I found myself compelled to find as many as I could just to see what new puzzles and scenarios were waiting for me.
Odyssey’s worlds are wonderful in their own right of course, with each having a few unique twists that make them feel special to traverse. What truly sets Super Mario Odyssey apart from other games is the capture mechanic. By allowing players to possess enemies, the game is constantly changing, presenting entirely new scenarios to overcome every few minutes. By doing this, the game ensures (even after the 46 hours I played it for) that it stays fresh and surprising.
Not only does Odyssey add new gimmicks that enhance the gameplay massively, it also perfects the attempts of its predecessors. New movement options and an upgraded physics engine make controlling the portly plumber feel better than ever, allowing for advanced tricks that let the most skilled players soar over vast chasms and reach high-up areas. The music, whilst not quite matching the grand earworms of the Galaxy games, is unsurprisingly solid with some standout highlights. The only real criticism is that Odyssey is often a little bit too easy but, given that I enjoyed the gameplay so much, that was of little consequence to me. Moreover, the final bonus world contained some particularly tough platforming gauntlets, as well as new spins on familiar abilities and entirely unique scenarios. This final flourish is typical of a game that’s simply bursting with enjoyable content that makes every minute a wacky, brilliant adventure, and it’s this unpredictability that makes it my game of the year.
Daniel Garcia-Montes – Middle-earth: Shadow of War
I’m the first to confess that I’m not one of these gamers who plays everything that comes out and has a hot take on every new release. Instead, I find games I love and take my time, exploring every nook and cranny, and properly finishing them. This year only three new games found their way into my disc drive (Nioh, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War). Of these three, my favorite was easily Shadow of War, not exactly a surprise given my love for Shadow of Mordor and, while the sequel had its issues with fidgety movement controls and a dragged out Shadow Wars section, the story, combat and Nemesis System greatly surpassed the efforts of its predecessor.
And yes, Shadow of War was one of many games this year to make use of the now notorious microtransactions and loot boxes. However, compared to how they were used in the likes of Destiny 2, Call of Duty: WWII, and Star Wars: Battlefront II, the ones found in Shadow of War were quite minimal and had almost no effect on gameplay. Moreover, while they were likely the reason the Shadow Wars end section was quite so drawn out in the first place, and this bit of the game could have definitely been less grindy, some of my best and most memorable gameplay moments occurred during this stage of the game. I can see why not everyone would love this game as much as I do, but I still feel it got a bad rap from many who wrote it off and decided not to give it a try simply due to the addition of microtransactions that can easily be ignored.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War is my GOTY because, while it’s not perfect, it’s a really fun game that deserves to be judged more on its gameplay rather than the “controversial” inclusion of microtransactions that were, in the end, much less intrusive than the ones forced into so many other games released this year. If you gave it a miss because of the bad press, you missed out.
Ian Cooper – Persona 5
I never would have expected this at the start of 2017, but my game of the year is without a doubt Persona 5. Now, I’m no long-time fan of the series, in fact I’d never played a previous Persona game, having been put off by its over-the-top cutesy characters. With this one though, I took the plunge and, wow, I was not disappointed; the game is fantastic, not only my game of the year but quite simply one of the best RPGs I have ever played. Much of this is down to the diverse cast of characters that everyone can relate to, with the cool, calm and collected protagonist Joker, the ditsy but sexy Ann, the naïve and hot-headed Ryuji, and Morgana the cat just a fraction of the extensive cast that will steal your heart.
And that’s fitting, given the story revolves around this diverse bunch entering the cognition of the miscreants of Tokyo and stealing their hearts in order to change their temperaments and make them admit to their crimes and wrongdoings. This great story is paired with phenomenally good gameplay that mixes exploration, dungeon crawling, and old-school RPG combat that allows you to use Pokèmon-like personas (manifestations of your psyche triggered by different masks) to unleash devastating elemental attacks to take down a variety of supernatural foes. In short, I can’t sing its praises loud enough and it was an easy choice for my game of the year.
Matthew Wojciow – Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Despite coming out way back in January, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was an easy choice for my game of the year. It quite simply blew me away, especially as I went in with modest expectations as the last two Resident Evil games strayed too far into action territory for my liking. The big change of course was the switch to first person, which was jarring at first but was a blast once you got used to the selection of guns on offer. You’ll generally be fighting the Baker family, who are exactly the right blend of hick and mutant to make them truly terrifying opposition and the story is paced excellently, forcing you to defeat each Baker in a different way in order to really test your abilities. You’ll also gradually gain access to stronger firepower, from pocket knives to flamethrowers and grenade launchers, so it really feels like you’re making progress.
In Resi 7, you’re once again in enemy territory, with the Baker estate very much the 2017 version of the Spencer mansion – there are even a few nods to the old place scattered around for curious minds. Throughout, I loved Resi 7’s blend of explosive action and tense exploration, but my favourite part of the game were the videotapes found all over the estate. They were well worth tracking down, with each previewing an upcoming section and showing an easier way for Ethan, our heroic everyman, to overcome the next challenge. Speaking of Ethan, he’s possibly the bravest everyman there has ever been, in just the first hour, he has his hand cut off with a chainsaw, “kills” his wife and gets knocked out by the massive Jack Baker. This is just the start of an incredible game which has now been complemented by stellar DLC, all of which is brought together in the newly released Gold Edition. Overall, Resident Evil 7 is an amazing experience and well worth a look even if you’re not a big fan of horror games.
Lauri Kubre – Yakuza 0
To call Yakuza 0 my favourite game from 2017 is a huge understatement, it’s a game that has huge personal importance for a number of reasons. Two years ago, I saw a video of the original Japanese release of Ryu ga Gotoku 0 (Yakuza 0, the literal translation being “Like a Dragon”), the brutal combat, interesting characters and playful tone hooked me immediately and it’s since become my favourite game series of all time and become the conduit to a complete change in my gaming life.
Desperate to try the series, I blew the dust off my PS2 and played the first two games, before getting a PS3 to play the other entries. When SEGA announced that Yakuza 0 would be getting an English release in the West, I went out and got myself a PS4. In short, having played PC for my whole life, Yakuza managed to introduce me to the wonderful world of console gaming.
Obviously, with Yakuza 0 having both introduced me to my current favourite series and convinced me to buy two consoles, my expectations were sky-high. Remarkably, it surpassed them tenfold, with the gameplay and story beautifully demonstrating everything that the devs at SEGA had learned over the last 10 years. The graphics were fantastic, with the rich detail usually confined to the environments now also being lavished on character animations and faces; and the fighting was more brutal than ever, offering a depth and variety never before seen in the series. The music was so good that I’m still listening to the soundtrack on a regular basis, and all of it combined to produce an extremely convincing recreation of 1980s Japan.
All of this pales in comparison however to the story, which manages to be both an introduction to the series for new players and a gripping, emotional journey for long-time fans. By the first Yakuza game, the main characters, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, are already established as legends in the criminal underworld. In 0, however, we see them as simple thugs who are slowly shaped into the iconic figures we know and love, and it’s fascinating to see these legendary men in such lowly positions. They both go on emotional journeys, with Kazuma evolving from a stubborn, rough-around-the-edges young man who wants to do good into a kind-hearted warrior, and the humorous Majima’s heart-breaking backstory is revealed for the first time. With this backdrop, some of the best fights and most dramatic scenes in the whole series take place in this entry.
Yakuza 0 is therefore my only possible choice for my favourite game from 2017. It’s not only the game that got me into console gaming, but also an amazing experience that managed to bring tears to my eyes not only through its drama but also its fantastic sense of humour. It breathed new life into my favourite series and, in short, I simply cannot praise it enough. Yakuza 0 is one of my all-time favourites and, if you give it a go, it might just become one of yours too.
Will Worrall – Sonic Mania
2017 has been a hell of a year for my gaming nostalgia. Sonic the Hedgehog was the first video game I ever played, and the original Crash Bandicoot N. Sane trilogy (plus Crash Team Racing) has barely been out of my disc drive since I was five years old. This year, both emerged sparkly and new to offer a particular thrill that, for me, no modern game could match. Of the two though, Sonic Mania edged it.
This latest Sonic game was a huge leap forward for a series which has taken my emotions on a rollercoaster ride over the last few years, high expectations for each new release followed by a disappointing plunge when it failed to match past glories. Most importantly, it perfectly captured the feeling of playing the old MegaDrive games, while managing to add lots of fresh new visuals and music that you just couldn’t have squeezed out of the old console. It felt like we were finally getting the Sonic game we have wanted since the 90s and I for one couldn’t be happier.
Sonic Mania won out over the N. Sane trilogy for one simple reason, it offered something new. I’ve been playing Crash 1, 2 & 3 every few months since they came out and so while the 2017 version was an amazing remake that made me weak at the knees, it didn’t feel all that different to me (plus I felt that the time trials were a bad addition to the first two games).
That isn’t to say that Sonic Mania didn’t have its issues too (that third robot boss in particular) but overall it felt like a much needed breath of fresh air, whereas Crash felt like an interesting take on something which was already a masterpiece of design within its own limitations.