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It’s been one hell of a year for the video game industry, but what were the best video games of 2017? Here’s Team Thumbsticks’ list, in no particular order.

1. Horizon Zero Dawn – Josh’s GOTY

Horizon Zero Dawn

In a year that astonishing open world games (like fellow GOTY contender Breath of the Wild), a return to form for an old favourite (Assassin’s Creed Origins), ambitious indie efforts (The Signal from Tolva), impractically-large worlds reimagined in VR (Fallout 4 VR), and the return of an old friend (Skyrim on Switch), an open world RPG really has to prove its worth to stand out.

And Horizon Zero Dawn? That really stands out. Check out Josh’s thoughts on why Aloy’s adventure is so special, and deserves to be on this list, in a year so crowded with fantastic games.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Dan’s GOTY

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

To misquote Ezio Auditore, “What is an elf but the sum of his memories? We are the stories we live! The tales we tell ourselves!”

The Legend of Zelda Breath of Wild’s story is as familiar as it is slight, but the real tale is not what you see in the game’s cut-scenes, it’s the tapestry of memories weaved from your experiences. It’s the tale of stumbling into a Stalnox den on a stormy night, it’s the tale of helping two truffle pickers in a moment of peril, it’s the tale of a bird chorus reunited to sing together again.

To those who thought Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword were too restrictive, too guided, Breath of the Wild is the ultimate riposte. Underpinned by what director Hidemaro Fujibayashi terms a ‘chemistry engine’ it’s a game that rewards experimentation, curiosity, desire, and endeavour. It’s closest antecedent is perhaps the NES original, but it also liberally borrows – with dignity and considerable style – from the more recent works of Rockstar, Bethesda and Ubisoft. The result is one of the most varied and intricate worlds ever created, but one that also acts as a blank canvas for unique adventures to be authored by its explorers .

To get a real flavour of why Breath of the Wild is such a triumph, you need look no further than Dan’s write-ups of Nintendo’s GDC talks on the game – on breaking series conventions, on the clever little lies behind its mechanics, and on the design of its very green and pleasant land – earlier this year.

3. Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Rarely does it feel this good to be wrong. A new developer, a different voice actress, a mysterious character surely best left alone: there was so much to trip over. Developer Deck Nine crafted a wonderful prequel trilogy to 2015’s Life is Strange and, stunningly, made a better game than the original series.

The story of Chloe’s relationship with star pupil and mysterious Svengali Rachel Amber is one that leverages our knowledge of characters and events to rapturous effect. Hung heavy with dramatic irony and wearing literary influences on its sleeve, Before the Storm is a triumph of game writing.

It’s made by a team who not only love, but understand the original series. It’s been one hella of a trip.

4. Mario vs Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

Mario + Rabbids

You might have been expecting to see a game with ‘Mario’ in the title on our game of the year list for 2017, but nobody was expecting it to be this one. We doubt that, even in their wildest dreams, Ubisoft thought Mario vs Rabbids: Kingdom Battle would be as well-received as it has been.

The elevator pitch for this one is basically, “What if you mashed up Mario with X-Com, and put in those horrible Rabbids French Minions that Ubisoft insist everyone loves?” and that sounds truly awful. It sounds like the worst idea from the hall of fame of bad ideas. But the game itself is a delightful mix of challenge and charm, and a surprisingly worthy vessel for a non-Nintendo-developed Mario game.

5. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – Tom’s GOTY

Playerunknown's Battlegrounds performance issues

Extract of the transcript of the GOTY discussion meeting at Thumbsticks HQ:

Josh: So, what’s first on the GOTY shortlist?
Tom: PUBG.
Josh: Of course. No doubt. What’s next?
Tom: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
Josh: Right… anything else?
Tom: That battle royale game.
Josh: Fortnite?
Tom: Nah mate, the one by Bluehole.
Josh: Right. OK. It’s going to be like that is it? Dan, what about you?
Dan: Breath of the-
Tom, screaming, with his fingers in his ears: PUBG! PUBG! I’m not listening to any other suggestions! PUBG! PUBG!

6. Resident Evil 7

Resident Evil 7

It’s tempting to say Capcom pulled a Lazarus act before our eyes, bringing itself back from death, but they did something braver and more worthy of our respect. The truth is that the Resident Evil 6, the series’ spiritual nadir and stagnant tributary is the company’s second best-selling game, ever. Capcom didn’t need to change anything at all.

But from Resident Evil 7’s delicious larval moments Capcom’s vision, and its intent, is clear. It’s a game of reinvention and élan, and a game, most importantly, of fear. An antebellum Gothic mansion of chipped paint and rusted porch swings plays host to the Baker family: a clan of mysterious energumens, with a host of stomach-turning mutations ready to sally forth from their bodies and hurt you.

A fresh first-person perspective reinvigorates and maintains the tension of prickling peripheral dangers lurking just out of sight. It’s the work of a developer returned, after too long, to the macabre comfort of home.

7. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey

You might think that a new Mario game would be the easiest inclusion onto a game of the year list. You might expect that Nintendo could never get this wrong, that a new Mario game is the development equivalent of an open goal: just do more of what you’ve been doing, and everyone will love it.

But they won’t. Look at formerly great franchises – like Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, and more – that have taken a turn by largely doing the same thing, year after year, because it’s safe and popular, and most importantly, repeatable. Like a big sausage machine.

Super Mario Odyssey isn’t Nintendo playing it safe. It’s bizarre, bonkers, and showcases all of Nintendo’s creativity, skill and innovation, and in a year that also contains Breath of the Wild? That’s almost as remarkable as the two games themselves.

8. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Uncharted The Lost Legacy Chloe and Nadine 02

Imagine if you were at the helm of Naughty Dog, and asked the team to create a standalone expansion for Uncharted 4. Then imagine your surprise when the pitch you receive contains no Nathan, Elena or Sully, that the normally-globetrotting adventure takes place in just one region, and that it was only going to be six-to-eight hours long. Would you be brave enough to commission that game?

Well, we’re eternally grateful that somebody did, because Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – featuring Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross – is not just a fantastic game in its own right; it’s also probably the best Uncharted game. Why? Because this is a streamlined, efficient supercut, that trims all the fat of the previous games and never even thinks about outstaying its welcome.

Check out Tom’s review of The Lost Legacy to read about what makes this game so special.

9. What Remains of Edith Finch

What Remains of Edith Finch

A young woman returns to the family home of her youth to find it deserted. She leafs through the knick-knacks of their lives, and uncovers the tale of a family with a curse.

Exploring the kaleidoscopic pile, it’s remarkable how free you feel as you’re lead through the house on spoors of curiosity, your route is limned with not just what can be touched and seen, but what form play may take. One moment you leap through trees as a cat; the next you sleuth through the saturated pages of a comic book.

It’s a stunning portrayal of magic realism that only this medium can produce. Utterly unique, transporting, and charming, it’s a tale of human vulnerability, strength, and the power that stories have over us all.

10. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap - Hawkman

In the age of Kickstarter flops, spiritual successors that miss the mark and retro revivals that nobody really wants, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a rare beast. This is a bundle of pure joy, an already-brilliant adventure platform game given a stylish, Albert Uderzo-style makeover. The core of the game is effectively left unchanged – in fact, the code was ripped from an original Master System cartridge to ensure it was a faithful, 1:1 port – but the look and feel is pristine and modern, thanks to a glorious hand-drawn art style and a sublime orchestral reproduction of the original chiptune soundtrack.

The best bits? You can flip between retro and modern at the touch of a button; all of the save codes (and cheats) from the original game work; and you can play it absolutely anywhere on the Nintendo Switch (without needing an additional Game Gear, Master Gear Converter, and your own bodyweight in AA batteries).

Read Tom’s review of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap for more on why this is the perfect retro video game remake.

11. Yakuza 0

Yakuza 0

So much is said of the Yakuza series’ quirks – its vivacious neon nightlife, karaoke bars, high-camp drama, and myriad mini-distractions – that it’s deceptive how good it is at the fundamentals. In the case of Yakuza 0, there is so much communicated to the player with such startling economy that inside of ten minutes you’ve more in your mind than most games can muster over ten hours.

It transports Kamurocho to the ‘80s, the perfect decade to marry excessive lifestyles to excessive game design: money pirouettes out of thugs’ pockets as you smash their heads with bicycles, while lurid colours cling to every character as they strike their battle poses in loud suits.

The story is a winding epic of betrayal, honour, and levity, which sees Kiryu sent on a suite on barmy missions, in turn poignant and ridiculous. It’s best summarised by his old friend Nishikiyama in the game’s opening minutes: “I can’t tell if you’re a sadist or a charity worker.” When it’s this good, who cares?

Honourable mentions

Again, in no particular order, here are a bunch of 2017 video games that were very close to making the game of the year list proper:

  • Dishonored: Death of the Outsider
  • Everybody’s Golf
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • The Long Dark
  • Nier: Automata
  • Night in the Woods
  • Persona 5
  • Prey
  • Rime
  • Splatoon 2
  • SteamWorld Dig 2
  • Tacoma
  • Thimbleweed Park
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Order
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