With some time and distance, 2017 may end up meaning for video games what 2007 or 1999 meant for film. It was a year that started from a place of incredible creativity, even in the doldrums of January, with Yakuza 0 and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard both steering their respective series off in unexpected directions. Then, week after week, we saw something new push every genre, every tired franchise, every burgeoning gem of an idea forward.
Common knowledge says that a new console denotes the beginning of a new generation. That the Switch’s inaugural year brought with it some of Nintendo’s finest work to date certainly plays into that rule, but even if the system had never happened, this would be the year when creativity and ambition took a drastic leap forward across the board. Whether enabled by new technology or not, the concepts of what a developer can do with a genre, who can be the starring character of a game, what a game is allowed to say or portray, even how players play have all been shattered this year.
We live in a gaming landscape where a sincere debate now rages as to whether the best way to play an RPG is in 4K resolution, as a portable title, or in virtual reality. The face of gaming has never looked so much like the future as it did this year. The best games of 2017 aren’t just exemplary at being what they are, but extraordinary in showing us what is now possible. Justin Clark
Assassin’s Creed Origins
During the time last year when Ubisoft didn’t release a title in its Assassin’s Creed series for the first time since 2007, the developer took the entire formula back to the drawing board, throwing out virtually everything except the idea that you’re a person in a hood who assassinates bad guys. The shackles that have long since held the series back from true open-world freedom—the locked structure of missions, the claustrophobia of its locales, its counter-heavy combat—have all been broken. Now, the mechanics favor the ingenuity of players looking to conquer their enemies in their own unique ways. Led by one of the series’s most endearing and honorable protagonists—the vengeful Medjai Bayek and his loving, bloodthirsty wife, Aya—Assassin’s Creed: Origins paints a grand picture of political intrigue, betrayal, and even the strained intimacy of a marriage in wartime, all in the shadow of a meticulous recreation of ancient Egypt in all its golden glory. Exploring Egypt at the height of its opulence, a place ruled by people of color in power and splendor, is a beautiful experience all its own. And the fact that the actual gameplay feels so fresh and new makes the game absolutely spectacular. Clark
Metroid: Samus Returns
It’s been seven long years since the last proper Metroid title, and 10 since the last one that wasn’t a slap in the face to the series’s fans. Metroid: Samus Returns would be an absolutely golden addition to the franchise even if fans hadn’t been waiting so long for Nintendo to deliver a back-to-basics Metroid game. But this is much more than a much-needed remake of the decrepit Metroid II. Samus Returns is a Metroid title with eyes on the future, injecting new blood and fresh ideas into just about every tried-and-true aspect of the series without betraying a single thing that made players fall in love with the series to begin with. The parry system and a more precise system of aiming bring the combat more in line with Metroid Prime’s up-close-and-personal brawls than the staid running and gunning of 2D Metroid games past. Meanwhile, the game emphasizes the silent, lonely horror of Samus being trapped on an alien world in a way we haven’t seen since Zero Mission, with the bright, luminescent colors camouflaging the very real dangers the reimagined planet of SR388 holds in store. We’ve all missed Samus for the past decade, but MercurySteam has thrown one hell of a welcome back party for her. Clark
Tacoma’s namesake space station is derelict and you’re tasked with exploring it to find out what went wrong. But Fullbright’s follow-up to Gone Home defies the standard tropes of similar games from the outset, utilizing a 3D virtual simulation that allows one to relive the final days of the station’s crew. The game’s unique interface allows the player to move from room to room around the ship to overhear personal and group conversations. The exchanges between individuals form a coherent and fascinating narrative, one which addresses modern ideas about the power of corporations and the ethical considerations (or lack thereof) with regard to their lower-class workers, that proves just as engaging as the incredible amount of detail that went into the characterization of the station itself. Each character has their own history and motivations, with appropriate reactions to the disaster that befalls them. If Tacoma’s ultimate outcome seems too optimistic, consider that it earns its victory without feeling saccharine, and serves as a pleasant and forward-thinking antidote to the ugliness and ignorance of the world as it stands now. Ryan Aston
The year’s surprise breakthrough multiplayer hit is the successful execution of the battle-royale subgenre of multiplayer shooters indebted to Kinji Fukasaku’s namesake film. One hundred individuals find themselves trapped on an island where they must fight to the death using whatever weapons they can find, until only one person remains alive to claim victory. The random placement of weapons and resources across the large, detailed island means that every time you play the game results in a unique experience. And so as to ensure that there is an inevitable end in sight, the game bombs parts of the island, shrinking the playing area and as such forcing opponents to close in on each other for the final confrontation. The way the game vividly and deviously constricts the kill zone that contains the combatants forces you to constantly be on your toes, ensuring that the tension throughout PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is consistently ratcheted up until it practically becomes unendurable. Aston
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
A remake of an early 1990s game that didn’t make it to the United States, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia carries modern relevance as a tale of two heroes who, despite being long-lost lovers, hold very different political philosophies and goals. This polarization involves lines drawn along class and spiritual lines, so when you alternate between controlling the respective armies of the protagonists, the combat is distinguished by overarching sentiments as much as it is by the characters’ abilities. The battles take place in a world where two imperfect gods have influenced populations to the point where citizens don’t realize how their divisions lead to their own downfall. Developer Intelligent Systems delivers a tough turn-based RPG free of gimmicks like dating systems, but more significantly, the game’s story is heartfelt and gives equal attention to the humanity of the opposing parties. Pressgrove