Summer is here, news from E3 has been fully analysed and many contenders for Game of the Year have already been released in what will surely be stiff competition come December. With this in mind, I thought I’d take a look at ten of the best so far this year, in a year which is already being spoken of as one to remember in gaming.
They are in roughly chronological order, and 10 is just an arbitrary limit- I could have easily included 20 games, and I’ve tried to keep to new games or games that had a particular impact, so apologies if your favorite didn’t get included – it was probably number 11 or 12!
Resident Evil 7
The first big release of the year, Resident Evil 7 had a lot to live up to, and surprisingly delivered a fresh take on the Survival Horror genre it had helped to pioneer in the 90s. Fans’ concerns for the series, which many agreed had lost its way over recent entries, had been assuaged somewhat by the compelling demo that showed off the new first person gameplay. Playable fully in VR, the game ditched the explosive, popcorn action sequences prevalent in REs 5 and 6 for an intimate, focused experience, bringing back a sense of powerlessness not seen since earlier Resident Evils.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Robot Dinosaurs. The two word answer to almost any problem you could imagine, and also a great basic idea for a game, although minor delays and little pre-release gameplay footage left many wondering whether Guerrilla’s new IP could live up to the hype of those two mighty words. Horizon: Zero Dawn released to almost unanimous praise. Despite a general feeling of open world fatigue, and managed to make what had seemed old feel new again.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo fans had been expecting a new Zelda for some time, and when the launch date for Breath of the Wild was pushed back to coincide with the release of the Switch, hype for the next installment of Link’s adventures began to reach fever pitch. Teased throughout the lifespan off the Wii U as the first truly open world Zelda, the game finally found its way into thirsty fans’ hands in February. Many have called it the best Zelda ever (which must automatically put it in the running for best game ever – Ocarina of Time regularly tops Best Ever lists) and it has been the main reason to own (and keep) a Switch so far this year.
The success of Dark Souls must have been a bit annoying for Team Ninja. Developers of the fearsome Ninja Gaiden series had been making rock-hard melee combat games for years and then Dark Souls comes along and makes it all popular, and everyone says how clever and innovative it is.
Nioh is Team Ninja’s take on the Souls template, and it feels like the game they were always supposed to make, a masterpiece, and a genre classic in an only newly emergent genre. Rivalling any other similar game in complexity and difficulty, Nioh manages to capture the feeling of being a sword slashing samurai in the way that Dark Souls nailed the weight and heft of medieval weapons and armor.
Another highly anticipated title, an extensive delay outside Asia due to localisation time did not help fans who had been trying to avoid spoilers for the first main entry in the cult JRPG series since Persona 4 on the Playstation 2. Persona 5 has been called the best JRPG ever and proves the once mighty genre is still relevant in 2017. Following the adventures of a group of Japanese teenagers who use anthropomorphised personifications of their true selves to fight the neuroses and fears of their friends and society in general (did I mention it’s Japanese?), the game is part traditional JRPG and part social-simulator and has an in-game calendar, with activities and events tied to certain dates similar to Harvest Moon. The stories and characters change in each Persona game, so newcomers to the series will enjoy it as much as long term fans.
Prey had seen so many revisions and delays that nobody was quite sure what to expect. We knew that it would not be Prey 2, and that it would have little resemblance to the 2006 game that shared its name. What we got was a creative sim-shooter, somewhere between Bioshock and Dishonored. With a highly customisable skill set, players explore the Talos 1 space station after a spooky disaster, and use their tools and abilities to manipulate the environment.
After a long pre-release in arcades, Tekken 7 launched on consoles and PC this year, and was the first mainline Tekken since 2007’s Tekken 6, and the first Tekken game for current-gen machines. The return of the Mishima Clan and the King of the Iron Fist tournament saw many old favourites making a comeback – Grandad Heihachi, Eddy Gordo and and Yoshimitsu were joined by new characters including Mishima matriarch Kazumi, Akuma from the Street Fighter series and of course, a brand new Jack robot.
Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds
Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds launched into Early Access on Steam in March and has been the big news in PC gaming so far this year. Based on the Japanese movie Battle Royale, it sees up to 100 players fight it out for supplies and dominance on a massive island. Developer Brendan Greene (the Player Unknown from the game’s title) had built previous versions by modding realistic army simulator Arma 3.
The emergent genre has seen several attempts to break into the mainstream, with several Early Access titles including mods of ARK: Survival Evolved and a dlc mode of The Division, but many have stayed in Early Access or had limited long term success. PUBG has bucked that trend, becoming one of the most played games on Steam ever, and remaining at number 1 in the sales chart, even through Steam’s Summer Sale.
Nier: Automata is a genre-straddling action RPG that combines Platinum Games’ signature melee action (think Bayonetta or Transformers: Devastation) with bullet-hell shooter sequences and platforming sections, often seamlessly to create a sci-fi story of mystery and beauty. Taking control of androids 2B and 9S in a war to claim Earth back for humans (who now live on the moon), the game explores deep themes of artificial intelligence, philosophy and war.
With a total of 26 different endings, Nier: Automata not only encourages replaying, but technically requires it. Without dropping too much of a spoiler, the first ending is not really the ending, 3 play throughs (which are actually pretty different from each other) are needed at least to unravel the full plot of this sleeper hit. Just avoid the PC version.
A re-imagining of the great 3D mascot platformers of the 90s (specifically Banjo-Kazooie), this Kickstarter success recreated a style of game once thought outdated, and in doing so forgot to leave out some of the more annoying design choices from Yooka-Laylee’s predecessors.
Yooka is a chameleon and Laylee is a bat, and they work together to sovle puzzles and collect Pagies across vast worlds. A variety of upgrades and abilities can be bought to explore every corner of the game’s 6 levels.
So with these 10, and plenty more excellent releases so far this year, what can we expect from the rest of the year? With many big franchises making a comeback from years off, or sequels to popular series slated for the rest of the year, the schedule shows no sign of slowing down as we move into the busy fall/holidays release season. Let’s hope that the last part of the year is nearly as good as the first half.