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The 50 best games of 2017

A bad year full of good games

Video games have been a bright spot in a bleak year.

Early in 2017, we got the Switch, which made it all the more easy to take our hobby wherever we’d like. With the help from some noise-canceling headphones, the bus or the subway or the plane or the entire world can now disappear. Thwomp.

Who couldn’t use that escape? Fantastical worlds in collapse certainly feel more manageable than our own, where there seem to be few heroes and endless villains.

This pleasure can come with a pang of guilt. How can we knowingly escape to fantasy worlds when there’s just so much work to be done in the real one?

Are we really escaping when we play games? Or are we learning, experimenting and taking control of ourselves? Are we learning to experience life not as we know, but as those around us experience it? Are we gaining empathy and camaraderie and relief?

Yes, we escape into games. But when games are their best, the experience is so much greater than an emotional exit. Video games can be frivolous. They can be important. And quite often, they manage to be both at once. This year, we collected 50 of our top games into a list. What a strange joy to see all of them together.

And what a relief that, in 2017, so few of these games involve shooting people in the head, splashes of blood being the only color in their world. Instead, we have games that recognize the fragility and preciousness of human life, games that deal with death, mental health, teenage anxiety and child illness. They respect life.

Big franchises that could have preyed on our nostalgia voluntarily evolved, creators engaging with our fandom, but firmly pushing their artistic goals forward — and us with them. Rich video game publishers continued making games about stabbing and shooting, yes, but they framed them in a way that engaged with history, even when the message was as simple as, “Yeah, pal, it’s good to punch Nazis.”

Games dropped us into the lives of troubled families in the Pacific Northwest, morally complicated gangsters in Tokyo, baseball-obsessed high school girls in San Francisco Bay and artificial intelligence in the distant future. They questioned how we live through instant messages, texts, our home screens and even a glorified spreadsheet.

What’s most encouraging about this year in games, though, is the continued push toward accessibility and diversity. Looking at this list, you don’t see a niche for a band of entitled young men, but a medium that is pressing outward while also exploring inward. It is imperfect; it is improving.

Of course, games still can be addictive, puerile and base. (As they sometimes should be!) But the magic of games in 2017, stemming from the abundance and variety of experiences, is the emphatic confirmation that games mean so much more to so many more people than they ever have before.

In 2018, we will be once again escaping. In these escapes we have the opportunity to recharge and grow. We must work to make our world better, but there’s a value in mindfully embracing these other worlds, too. We mustn’t drown in them, but learn from them. Games offer the tools for us to contextualize the past, to safely experiment within the present, and simulate frameworks for the future.

Without further ado, it’s our pleasure to share some of these games with you.

-Chris Plante, executive editor of Polygon

A Mortician’s Tale - embalming machine Laundry Bear Games

50. A Mortician’s Tale

(Oct. 18, Laundry Bear Games)

Mac, Windows

An imperfect cri de coeur about the funeral services industry, A Mortician’s Tale begs players to consider the business of death. Its story of a young woman landing her first job as a mortician not-so-subtly spotlights the at best tacky and at worst malicious nature of the massive corporations that churn through grieving families, encouraging them to send off their loved ones in coffins and services that reap the most profit. As a polemic, it’s fine and quite convincing, but a little predictable. The staying power of A Mortician’s Tale stems from its moment-to-moment play. You clean, massage, empty, beautify and dispatch dead bodies. And then you provide a shoulder to loved one — or simply bear witness to a corpse when no one else will. The video game industry is built on the destruction of bodies of all kinds. How refreshing to play a game that asks you to care for them, even after their life has left.

-Chris Plante

Madden NFL 18 - Devin and his dad, Cutter, in Longshot story mode EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts

49. Madden NFL 18

(Aug. 25, EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts)

PlayStation 4, Xbox One

There are many endings in Longshot, the touching comeback tale that is Madden’s first-ever story mode. If you get what its writer, Mike Young, calls the “director’s cut” ending, you’ll know, because the feelings linger for days. Portions of the story draw on shopworn themes of sports movies, but given the constraints Young and partner Adrian Todd Zuniga inevitably faced with an image-conscious licensing partner like the NFL, that they could deliver something as meaningful as Longshot is an underappreciated writing achievement. The context for hero Devin Wade’s trials — a football reality show that never sees him play a down in the league — is novel and surprisingly plausible. Devin’s dad, Cutter, is his guiding light, but Coach Jack Ford’s humanity and dedication will have the player wholeheartedly busting their ass for him.

-Owen Good

SFB Games/Nintendo

48. Snipperclips - Cut it out, together!

(March 3, SFB Games/Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch

It’s rare you’ll play Snipperclips without a smile on your face. That’s partly because you’ll always play the game with a friend, which the two Switch Joy-Cons are perfectly suited for. But it’s also because of the game’s brilliant art, which easily toes the line between adorable and kid-friendly and weirdly subversive. The central gameplay conceit (your characters can “snip” and “clip” each other into unique shapes to solve puzzles) is easy to grasp, but the game continually surprises you with creative iterations of that simple mechanic. With a little patience and creative thinking, even the hardest puzzles are fun to figure out. Unless, of course, your partner insists on snipping you to pieces.

-Clayton Ashley

This screenshot from Uncharted: The Lost Legacy shows main characters Nadine and Chloe. Chloe is seated in the driver seat of a jeep, and Nadine is sitting up with a pair of binoculars in her hands. A jungle setting can be seen behind the pair. Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment

47. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

(Aug. 22, Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment)

PlayStation 4

The Uncharted series has always been about relationships: the relationship between Nathan Drake and his criminal buddy Victor Sullivan, or his wife Elena, or his brother Sam. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy pivots on this focus on relationships by removing Drake from the equation entirely. We’re left with two side characters — Chloe Frazer, who debuted in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and Nadine Ross from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End — having a short adventure together. The result is one of the best Uncharted games we’ve seen yet. The puzzles and history remain the focus, while the combat never overstays its welcome. It’s also a chance to hear more from two of the franchise’s most underused voices. After four main Uncharted stories, we were ready for a new take on the story, and The Lost Legacy refreshes the gameplay, the puzzles and the banter in one perfectly packaged experience.

-Ryan Gilliam

Observer - woman in pod with helmet Bloober Team/Aspyr

46. Observer

(Aug. 15, Bloober Team/Aspyr)

Linux, Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

The world of Observer is far from the neon-soaked streets you may conjure up when you hear that the game is “cyberpunk.” The entirety of the adventure is set in a run-down tenement. It’s 2084 and the Chiron Corporation has taken over Poland following a plague called the nanophage. The company has authorized a unit of police officers, “observers,” to hack the minds of citizens, recording their thoughts and fears. The game stars Rutger Hauer — of Blade Runner fame — as Daniel Lazarski, an observer working for the Krakow Police Department, by way of Chiron. He’s searching for his estranged son, a Chiron engineer, in one of Krakow’s “Class C” tenements. What follows is a meditation on fatherhood and family, on reality, on what’s next for all of us. Observer can be a nasty little virus of a game, infecting your mind with its sickly vision of a future.

-Chris Grant

The Sexy Brutale - church Cavalier Game Studios/Tequila Works

45. The Sexy Brutale

(April 12, Cavalier Game Studios, Tequila Works/Tequila Works)

Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

An ingenious blend of Groundhog Day and immersive theater like Sleep No More, The Sexy Brutale requires the player to prevent a string of murders without ever being spotted. All the clues (and character building) are seen through keyholes and heard through walls, giving the adventure an undercurrent of voyeurism that’s unsettling and alluring. If you miss a moment of the story (or the opportunity to stop a killing), you can stop and rewind time for another chance. Despite the clever, mind-bending mechanics, what sticks months after playing The Sexy Brutale is its lovely story of forgiveness and redemption.

-Justin McElroy

This screenshot from Yakuza 0 features main character Kazuma Kiryu. He is dressed in a nice suit and white shirt, and his head is tilted down slightly, as though looking at someone on the ground in front of him. Sega

44. Yakuza 0

(Jan. 24, Sega)

PlayStation 4

Yakuza 0 almost feels like the year's best minigame collection. In between its scenes about family loyalty and gangster drama, our hero Kiryu encounters one hilarious side quest after another. He’s a master of punching first and foremost, but when he’s not decking the Yakuza he left behind, Kiryu is a crane game expert. He’s also on the high-score board at the arcade. He even helps to produce a feature film. There are dozens of little adventures like this that transform Yakuza 0’s seedy take on Tokyo into the most unexpectedly funny open-world game.

-Allegra Frank

Splatoon 2 - Inklings playing music Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

43. Splatoon 2

(July 21, Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch

Never underestimate the power of local multiplayer. Splatoon 2 fixes the mistakes of its predecessor by embracing the couch — and reminds us how much fun we can have playing in the same room.. Giving squid kids the chance to go offline might be the game’s most important addition. As much as the new characters, clothing options, Splatfests and soundtrack are wonderful additions to Splatoon 2, nothing feels better than Salmon Run. The horde co-op mode creates for some of the most intense, heart-pumping, hilarious challenges found in any game this year. You can play it online, sure — but the instant bonding and teamwork required to beat Salmon Run’s enemy waves make it Splatoon 2’s most essential, homegrown experience.

-Allegra Frank

Nioh - fighting a demon Team Ninja/Koei Tecmo

42. Nioh

(Feb. 7, Team Ninja/Koei Tecmo)

PlayStation 4, Windows

Nioh is what happens when you build an entire game around a nearly perfect combat system. The premise of the mechanics goes something like this: Ninja Theory took the fast-paced character action style that it perfected in the Ninja Gaiden series and mixed it with the precision of Dark Souls, then added fighting stances that made the whole thing four times as complicated. On paper, it’s a setup that should never work. In practice, it’s a deep and engaging system that feels built to be learned and mastered. Across the thousands of fights in the game, every enemy you defeat — from lowly skeleton to giant yōkai demon — feels like a lesson learned.

-Austen Goslin

A landscape in Hidden Folks Adriaan de Jongh and Sylvain Tegroeg

41. Hidden Folks

(Feb. 15, Adriaan de Jongh, Sylvain Tegroeg/Adriaan de Jongh)

Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows

It’s tempting to dismiss Hidden Folks, a collaboration between designer Adriaan de Jongh and artist Sylvain Tegroeg in which the player spots hidden characters and objects in black-and-white drawings, as Where’s Waldo for the modernist crowd. But the game is neither as commercially crass nor artistically ostentatious as the premise suggests. Instead, Hidden Folks is confident, relaxed and charming. Credit Tegroeg’s hand-drawn art and de Jongh’s “mouth-originated” sound effects, which provide a distinctly analog vibe. Previously, de Jongh operated within the studio Game Oven, where he created games that explored physical spaces. Sadly, those projects have never found the mainstream audience they deserve. With Hidden Folks, de Jongh seems to accept that we now live within our screens. Rather than scold us for our obsession with screens, de Jongh creates a space free of gaudy color, notifications and noise. It’s an escape from our escape.

-Chris Plante

Arms - Ninjara vs. Ribbon Girl Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

40. Arms

(June 16, Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch

There’s something disorienting about Arms, Nintendo’s spin on the competitive fighting formula. The characters are the immediate signal that things aren’t quite right. They have stretchy, springy arms. And they come in oddball types. There’s the boxer and brawler, but also the mound of goo and the gargantuan mummy. The game flips the script on how you fight. Punches unfurl like Slinkies. Instead of the fighters’ bodies, their wild, telescoping limbs take center stage. Unlike 2D fighters, Arms builds its combat on the quirkiness of 3D space. A punch can come from any direction. What looks like another Nintendo party game is much deeper than the cartoony characters suggest.

-Chelsea Stark

Please Knock on My Door - kitchen Levall Games

39. Please Knock on My Door

(Sept. 7, Levall Games)

Windows

There is a hidden cost to doing things if you have social anxiety or depression. The point-keeping system assigns different costs or values to activities like making food or socializing at work. The challenge lies in balancing that point system in a way that leads to a tolerable existence. Please Knock on My Door takes the point-tracking metaphor for these diseases and turns it into a literal “game.” There’s no right or wrong way to play; you want to try to keep the character as healthy as possible, or role-play decisions you might make in real life. You’ll either learn something about yourself or gain more empathy for someone you know by playing. This is a gentle, caring game about a complicated subject.

-Ben Kuchera

Last Day of June - kissing on a dock at sunset Ovosonico/505 Games

38. Last Day of June

(Aug. 31, Ovosonico/505 Games)

PlayStation 4, Windows

Last Day of June’s best media comparison is the opening sequence in Pixar’s Up. It’s an animated puzzle game in which a lonely man tries to perfectly rearrange his life in an attempt to be reunited with his true love. A joyous little cast of characters speak volumes without uttering a single meaningful word. The universality of the game’s made-up language speaks to the breadth of its appeal, which relies on an almost childlike range of expressions. Last Day of June is also an object lesson in how creative indie developers are shaping worlds that feel like interactive works of art. It’s like stepping into a Renoir, mixed with a 1950s paperback love story.

-Colin Campbell

make a paperclip in Universal Paperclips Frank Lantz

37. Universal Paperclips

(Oct. 9, Frank Lantz)

Android, Browser, iOS

The new thought experiment from Frank Lantz, director of the NYU Game Center, looks like any other clicker game. You create a commodity, then sell it for cash to buy tools and machines to create more of that commodity, until you become the king of making of cookies or candy or, in this case, paper clips. And as a clicker game, Universal Paperclips is very good, which is to say it’s tuned to be perfectly addictive, offering little bumps of power right as they’re craved. That it’s so good at capturing the vacuousness of the clicker game is crucial, because Lantz’s real goal has to do with exploring what we gain from these games. In theory, we’re optimizing a machine to make more paper clips. But no, we’re being optimized to produce more and more and more materials for no greater purpose than growth. Universal Paperclips’ story (yes, there’s a rich story in a clicker game) dissects concerns about the danger of ethically incomplete artificial intelligence. It works just as well as a critique on capitalism. Who needs AI to destroy the world when you have Excel and middle management?

-Chris Plante

Getting Over It - taking a sledgehammer to an oar Bennett Foddy

36. Getting Over It

(Oct. 7, Bennett Foddy)

iOS, Mac, Windows

Bennett Foddy’s games, like QWOP and Super Pole Riders, get at the essential silliness of what we do when we play video games: We assume our fingers can control the complex motions of entire human bodies. Getting Over It may be Foddy’s best work to date. The player users a sledgehammer to push, pull and pop a bald man in a cauldron up and over a mountain. Ultra difficult games can be demoralizing, asking players to be fueled by little more than pride and determination. But Foddy converses with the player, encouraging them forward. When the player falls, losing hard-earned progress, the designer’s voice comes through the speakers, gently sharing thoughts on the pleasure of failure and the fickle nature of progress. Foddy is like a parent encouraging their kid as they learn to walk. He can see the mistakes coming, and yet, this isn’t about him. It’s about the two of you getting over this mountain together.

-Chris Plante

Gorogoa - three panels Jason Roberts/Annapurna Interactive

35. Gorogoa

(Dec. 14, Jason Roberts/Annapurna Interactive)

iOS, Nintendo Switch, Windows

Designer Jason Roberts has been crafting the puzzle game Gorogoa for over seven years, and yet it seemed to materialize in the world with minimal promotional fanfare. Perhaps that’s because Gorogoa speaks for itself. Or to put it another way, it’s quite difficult to speak for Gorogoa. In the last decade, a handful of indie games have taken inspiration from artists who play with perspective, particularly the eye-contorting works of M.C. Escher. Gorogoa isn’t so interested in imitating established optical illusions. Instead, it plays with visual perspective to explore what intellectual perspective provides us as humans. In a lovely profile by Chris Kohler at Kotaku, Roberts had this to say about his work: “What do I like about puzzles? I think it has to do with the idea that there is hidden structure or meaning in the world. That if you can look at an ordinary piece of the world and rearrange the parts of it in just the right way, you would discover some hidden structure. And if you look out in the world and you don’t see that meaning there, that means that there has to be some challenge to finding it, to explain why you haven’t found it yet.”

-Chris Plante

Screencap of Another Lost Phone Accidental Queens/Playdius, Plug In Digital

34. Another Lost Phone

(Sept. 21, Accidental Queens/Playdius, Plug In Digital)

Android, iOS, Windows

The prospect of a consequence-free stroll through a stranger’s phone is an ethically shady one, but the allure of an unlocked phone is strong. Another Lost Phone challenges that voyeurism by dropping you directly into a young woman’s phone interface. You unravel the context behind the lost phone through photo albums and calendar entries. Another Lost Phone is the sequel to A Normal Lost Phone. It’s predecessor establishes the style, but the avenue it takes to tell its tale relies on you disregarding the privacy of a person who chose to leave a part of themselves behind. But Another Lost Phone improves upon the original with a more careful and thoughtful story. They should be taken as a pair, showing the growth of an idea and its creator within a single year.

-Jeff Ramos and Allegra Frank

This screenshot from Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle shows Mario standing in front of two rabbids who are crossing a bridge. One of the rabbids is dressed as Princess Peach, and one is dressed as Luigi. Mario has an exclamation point above his head and is Ubisoft Paris/Ubisoft Milan/Ubisoft

33. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

(Aug. 29, Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Milan/Ubisoft)

Nintendo Switch

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle pushes the assumptions of how a character, franchise or genre should operate. Did we know we needed a lighter take on XCOM that starred Nintendo characters and Ubisoft’s Rabbids? And who would have ever expected Mario to hold a gun? And yet, Kingdom Battle works. It scales the basics of its genre well, giving your team powers that you’d expect to find in deeper tactics titles, all while incorporating a world that embraces the truly bizarre. Here’s a game that wouldn’t quite work without the Rabbids involved — even if their harebrained antics may be a bit hard to swallow.

-Chelsea Stark

Rakuen - hospital bed Laura Shigihara

32. Rakuen

(May 10, Laura Shigihara)

Linux, Mac, Windows

Cleverly disguised as a 16-bit top-down role-playing game, Rakuen is an exploration of human frailty in the face of tragedy. It takes place in a dichotomous world where a sick boy travels between his humdrum hospital ward and a colorful land of magic. The game delivers straightforward quests greatly illuminated by a range of characters whose lives represent the anxieties we all face: rejection, loneliness, guilt, fear and pride. Rakuen is a work of truth, elevated by a lovely musical score.

-Colin Campbell

This screenshot from Ys 8: Lacrimosa of Dana shows playable characters Adol, Sahad and Laxia facing off against a massive, dragon-esque creature. They appear to be in a jungle island setting. Nihon Falcom/NIS America

31. Ys 8

(Sept. 12, Nihon Falcom/NIS America)

PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4, Windows

Developer Nihon Falcom has always been talented, but Ys 8 represents a new high for the studio, a game where each piece comes together and interlocks in a way that feels damn near perfect. Don’t let the obscure name fool you; forgettable story aside, this is one of the best action-RPGs of this generation.

-Phil Kollar

Metroid: Samus Returns - Samus aiming at enemies MercurySteam/Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

30. Metroid: Samus Returns

(Sept. 15, MercurySteam, Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)

Nintendo 3DS

Metroid 2: Samus Returns isn’t the most beloved installment in the series, so news of a remake came as a bit of a shock. Of course, now we know “remake” isn’t the right word for this new Metroid adventure. Rather than just add new graphics to the original, Nintendo revamped every aspect of the game, adding new upgrades, boss fights and a reimagined world. Toss in some of the best-looking visuals in a 3DS game, and you begin to see why this is a must-play for any Metroid fan. This may be one of the last major 3DS releases from Nintendo; it’s not a bad way to go.

-Russ Frushtick

Sonic Mania - Sonic bursting through colored glass Christian Whitehead/Headcannon/PagodaWest Games/Sega

29. Sonic Mania

(Aug. 15, Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, PagodaWest Games/Sega)

Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

What if Sega had kept making 2D Sonic games? What if the 16-bit era never ended? What if Sonic could be as joyful as we remember it, rather than a frustrating and imprecise platformer? Sonic Mania is the answer to those questions. It has all the polish and nostalgia to feel like one of the best early Sonic titles, but also enough Easter eggs and winks and nods to give it its own personality. It’s so well-done that, for a brief moment, it seemed Sega would turn the corner with the Sonic franchise as a whole. Unfortunately, Sonic Forces arrived a few months later and proved otherwise.

-Matt Leone

Dirt 4 - jumping through the air Codemasters

28. Dirt 4

(June 6, Codemasters)

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

Dirt 4 delivered the biggest surprise and best action in racing for 2017. There is a ton of variety in its six driving series, and infinitely more thanks to a breakthrough course creation tool that generates an all-new run in the blink of an eye. Equally gorgeous and gritty, Dirt 4 finds that sweet spot where the driver is pushed to the limit while still feeling the challenge is fair. And its replay value is arguably the best among all genres for the year. Rally racing is sometimes an outlier to the larger world of video game motorsports, but this year, it’s the MVP.

-Owen Good

Little Nightmares - chef in kitchen Tarsier Studios/Bandai Namco

27. Little Nightmares

(April 21, Tarsier Studios/Bandai Namco)

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

The creepiness of this horror adventure is manifest in its colors, shadows, movements and moments. But the one aspect of this game that really chills the blood is its sound effects. You play as a little girl in a yellow raincoat who travels from one room to another, avoiding a host of misfit monsters. Little Nightmares progresses a lot like Limbo or Inside, posing a series of physical and mental puzzles that add up to a journey of survival. But those sounds! The world hums and gasps, clanks and squeals. Its monsters slurp and grunt with sickening effect. Perhaps the game’s best audible treat is — juxtaposed with the monstrous bangs and clashes of this frightful world — the soft little patter of the girl’s feet. The odds are against her, but she keeps moving.

-Colin Campbell

Emily Is Away Too - Senses Fail at Warped Tour Kyle Seeley

26. Emily Is Away Too

(May 26, Kyle Seeley)

Linux, Mac, Windows

Emily Is Away Too takes you back to high school. You might as well have been sitting on Mom’s couch, staring at AIM and aching for connection. Like its predecessor, Emily Is Away, this game presents its story over chats with friends online. As with real teenage conversations, dialogue is never simple: There’s constantly a tension between what you say and what you mean. Suddenly you’re 15 again, and every friendship is desperately genuine and totally performative. You lie about what music you like, because of course that’s a reasonable way to make friends. You lie about things that don’t matter, because you’re so hungry to be understood by the right people — to have them see you, even if the you that you’re presenting is painfully self-conscious and tries too hard to say the right thing. You want to be the person who says the right thing. Emily Is Away Too puts you back in those shoes. And more importantly, it doesn’t judge you for it.

-Simone de Rochefort

Blackwood Crossing - boy in red cape Paper Seven/Vision Games

25. Blackwood Crossing

(April 5, Paper Seven/Vision Games)

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

Months after completing Blackwood Crossing, seeing a screenshot conjures complicated, unnameable feelings. In the game, you play as a teenage girl on a train journey, coping with a troublesome younger brother. The story soon stretches into dreamlike territory, exploring the togetherness and detachedness of close relationships. It’s a tale about love and loss, about innocence and grief, so beautifully written and illustrated that the entirety of its cast of extended family and familiars is unforgettable. Some of them are sad and some are funny, but they are all absolutely human. Its story-based puzzles are just challenging enough to engage, but not so difficult that they slow a tale that stands far above the arcs of most video games. Blackwood Crossing is a joyful celebration of life — one that will likely leave you in tears.

-Colin Campbell

Hellblade’s protagonist, Senua, stands in a forest Ninja Theory

24. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

(Aug. 8, Ninja Theory)

PlayStation 4, Windows

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice follows the journey of Senua — who suffers from severe psychosis — as she descends into Helheim, the underworld of Norse mythology, to save her lover Dillion. To build empathy between the player and this tortured hero, the game includes the shrill voices, sounds and images of Senua’s psychosis. Like Senua, this blurs reality and illusion to the point that nothing can be trusted. To create this connection with the player and use it solely for scares would be to waste it. Instead, Hellblade takes a mature and compassionate look at grief and mental health in a way few games have. It’s a horror game with a heart.

-Austen Goslin

Night in the Woods bar Infinite Fall/Finji

23. Night in the Woods

(Feb. 21, Infinite Fall/Finji)

Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

How Night in the Woods navigates friendship in the wake of self-loathing is relatable. The story begins on a note of self-defeat and depression, yet never drags its heels or feels too sorry for itself. Mae, the main character who also happens to be a cat, has just dropped out of college and returned to her hometown. Through Mae, the game deals with the anxieties of early adulthood: feeling like your friends are leaving you behind, dealing with a hopeless sense of apathy, repairing broken friendships. But it’s not all serious and sad. In between catching up with friends and investigating a severed arm found in front of a diner, you play in a band, do some bottle-breaking crimes and party in the woods. It’s strange and sweet, alien and painfully familiar.

-Ashley Oh

Pyre - Jodariel in blackwagon Supergiant Games

22. Pyre

(July 25, Supergiant Games)

Linux, Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows

Pyre is a beautiful, moving game in just about every way. It’s gorgeous to look at, full of absurdly colorful vistas and strikingly subtle character art. The music is catchy and uplifting, a needed boost in the unforgiving world underneath the Commonwealth. The Rites are exciting and frenetic, but you’re still given enough breathing room for thoughtful strategizing. Weaving all these elements together is a story about the strength of diversity and the power that lies in both mercy and self-sacrifice. And it’s a story that continues regardless of your success or failure, giving every moment a narrative weight that few games reach.

-Clayton Ashley

The Evil Within 2 - man in front of a burning house Tango Gameworks/Bethesda Softworks

21. The Evil Within 2

(Oct. 13, Tango Gameworks/Bethesda Softworks)

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

Given the universally milquetoast reception to the original Evil Within, expectations for developer Tango Gameworks’ survival horror sequel were slim. Surprise is my enduring memory of The Evil Within 2. It not only dramatically distinguishes itself from its predecessor but (like Resident Evil 7) adds smart, original and well-executed ideas to a genre that seemed stale not so long ago. Unlike so many franchises, The Evil Within 2 exhibits a willingness, if not outright eagerness, to change. Every few hours, it morphs and transitions: a linear haunted house, an open world, a series of puzzles, a collection of dungeons. It can be slow and methodical, and it can be loud and aggressive. By the end, the game feels like a mixture of fresh new takes and a greatest hits tour of the genre’s past two decades.

-Dave Tach

Fire Emblem Heroes - character art Intelligent Systems/Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

20. Fire Emblem Heroes

(Feb. 2, Intelligent Systems, Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)

Android, iOS

Nintendo hasn’t had the best track record with its mobile gaming attempts, but damn if the company didn’t crush Fire Emblem Heroes. At first glance, it seems like an oversimplified version of the popular turn-based strategy franchise. But it is in fact a more codified, lean and tactical interpretation, focusing the combat on smaller maps where every move must be carefully considered. Sure, the game has some predatory free-to-play elements, but it also offers a stunning amount of content for those who aren’t interesting in spending a dime. Few free-to-play mobile games treat the player with as much respect and generosity, and even fewer are as well-designed as Fire Emblem Heroes.

-Russ Frushtick

Gravity Rush 2 - leaping through the sky in a red dress SIE Japan Studio/Project Siren/Sony Interactive Entertainment

19. Gravity Rush 2

(Jan. 20, SIE Japan Studio, Project Siren/Sony Interactive Entertainment)

PlayStation 4

Gravity Rush 2 features multiple strong female leads, a story about the insidiousness of income inequality and a protagonist who never fires a gun. Video game fans have been asking publishers to take these risks for decades, and when Gravity Rush 2 was thrown into the market, there were few arms ready to catch it. What a shame, because not only is Gravity Rush 2 intellectually fascinating, it’s also a really well-made open-world game. With the power to shift the direction of gravity, players send the affable heroine Kat up, down and sideways through a collection of cities and villages stacked upon each other. The art, music and writing are equally playful, blending together into the video game equivalent of hot cocoa. This game warms you up. Maybe you missed it in the beginning of 2017, but don’t let the year pass without it.

-Chris Plante

Lone Echo - platform with five people in spacesuits dancing Ready at Dawn/Oculus Studios

18. Lone Echo

(July 20, Ready at Dawn/Oculus Studios)

Windows

Lone Echo is the most engrossing, most important virtual reality game to date. It follows android engineer Jack and his human captain, Olivia Rhodes, aboard a collapsing deep space mining facility — but their frantic fight for survival isn’t what makes the game so exciting. Lone Echo rewards the player with constant little discoveries. Every interface in the game is presented physically, often pulled out of a wrist-mounted display that feels incredible every time you use it. Traversal entails pushing yourself off of walls to propel yourself through zero gravity. It’s also the most emotionally resonant adventure title I’ve played in ages, but it’s those VR interactions that make it much more than just a great game — it’s an essential design mandate that could blaze a trail for VR experiences yet to come.

-Griffin McElroy

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen - a Templar unit powers up his energy sword for a melee attack Firaxis Games/2K Games

17. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

(Aug. 29, Firaxis Games/2K Games)

Linux, Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

Rather than gilding the lily, the team at Firaxis opted to turn the entirety of XCOM 2 into solid gold. War of the Chosen fills in the gaps that have plagued the franchise since the beginning. Traditionally, players have beaten their heads against the same objectives over and over again, so through hard work and iteration Firaxis invented new classes of enemies and new mission types that give the game a truly dynamic range of experiences. That is to say: Firaxis focused on the micro, and fixed the macro. Meanwhile, the team wrote a great cast of characters and provided organic systems to let players create their own. It’s no exaggeration to call this expansion not just the best but the definitive XCOM experience.

-Charlie Hall

This screenshot from West of Loathing shows two characters standing in front of what appears to be a massive pile of buffalo bones. A horse also stands nearby. Asymmetric

16. West of Loathing

(Aug. 10, Asymmetric)

Linux, Mac, Windows

Let me tell you about my friend, my “pardner,” Doc Alice. My companion through West of Loathing, I picked her because (1) her comments were snarky, and (2) I figured I’d need a healer. She proved to have other talents and likable traits, too. She seemed to not like clowns, and she was good at knowing where nearby cemeteries were. But when I got really curious about necromancy — which, like all things West of Loathing, seemed like a silly little thing within this world — Alice got sad. Sad and worried. Eventually she left me over my relationship with the dark arts, and that’s when I realized how much of my story had been interpreted through her, and how different it was without her. For all their crudeness and puerile jokes, these seemingly simple stick figures contain more humanity than the vast majority of lifelike CGI characters in games that cost tens of million dollars to produce. West of Loathing was a game that I found infinitely joyful, a journey through life’s absurdities led by its heart.

-Ross Miller

Assassin’s Creed Origins - lion leaping toward hippopotamus in marsh Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft

15. Assassin’s Creed Origins

(Oct. 27, Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

Assassin’s Creed Origins doesn’t waste much time before it sets you completely loose in Egypt. It has a tale to tell, but who wants to follow a dotted line to a story objective when you can sail a reed boat through a marsh and — oh no, crocodiles can destroy your boat! Open-world games offer delightful and sometimes ridiculous opportunities for discovery. They can also be intensely relaxing: You slip into something comfortable and pick up where you left off, perhaps riding your horse through a vibrant farming village, under a cloudless blue sky. There are people who need your help and you know just what to do. Forget the story. Origins isn’t a rethinking of the genre; rather, it’s an extremely and lovingly polished version of what already works. The franchise has become the Original Recipe, familiar but irresistible. Origins is worth a visit. Get lost in the desert and make the world a better place, one bite-sized quest at a time.

-Simone de Rochefort

Cuphead - the devil StudioMDHR Entertainment

14. Cuphead

(Sept. 29, StudioMDHR Entertainment)

Xbox One, Windows

On paper, Cuphead’s a pretty simple game. You run, jump, shoot, parry. As a retro-inspired action game, Cuphead is fine enough. But the reason Cuphead is high on this list — and so high, at that — is because of its art and music, which make it feel like an interactive 1930s cartoon. Cuphead’s developers nailed the game’s presentation so thoroughly that many critics and fans have wondered why no one else had done this before — perhaps ignoring that Cuphead wasn’t just a success because the team behind it chose the ’30s aesthetic, but because of its masterful execution of it.

-Matt Leone

What Remains of Edith Finch - Calvin Finch Giant Sparrow/Annapurna Interactive

13. What Remains of Edith Finch

(April 25, Giant Sparrow/Annapurna Interactive)

PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

At first blush, What Remains of Edith Finch is awfully similar to Gone Home. As a young woman, you return to a large family home on the outskirts of society in search of questions to a vague mystery. But where Gone Home is the video game equivalent of a novella, Edith Finch progresses like a collection of short stories. A strange “curse” has obliterated the Finch family — every member is now deceased except for 17-year-old Edith. She revisits the house that’s been in her family for generations, but now has access to all its secret passages and bedrooms. There’s something thrillingly voyeuristic in exploring an old house, and in turn, people’s memories and diaries. Each room spurs flashbacks to its previous owner, the objective tied to a specific (typically tragic) moment in their life. You fly a kite on a stormy shore, take photos on a nature hike or pass a tedious workday with daydreams. It lulls the player with the mundanity of life, and just as in real life, the most shocking moments arrive without warning. Edith Finch is one of the most existential walking sims out there, examining life and death with humor, grace and sincerity.

-Ashley Oh

Destiny 2 - canyon, Nessus Bungie/Activision

12. Destiny 2

(Sept. 6, 2017, Bungie/Activision)

PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

On paper, Destiny 2 is the most generic flavor of video games: Dime-store sci-fi meets boardroom-approved monetization in a package that tries to merge the the two most exhausted genres of the past decade, the first-person shooter and the online role-playing game. What elevates Destiny 2 above its contemporaries is its feel. The sway of the rifle, the glide of a double jump, the sharp thwack that accompanies a melee attack: Every motion and sound hits the brain, as if it’s real. It helps that Destiny 2 is the best console shooter since Gears of War. It just feels right.

-Charlie Hall

Butterfly Soup - group of four girls Brianna Lei

11. Butterfly Soup

(May 29, Brianna Lei)

Linux, Mac, Windows

There's a music cue in Butterfly Soup that, when it plays the first time, is shocking. Not in a bad way, and not in a horror movie way; it’s shocking because of how inspired, how smart, how straight-up funny it is. The saccharine Titanic soundtrack classic “My Heart Will Go On” plays as Akarsha and Min-Seo, two of the visual novel’s four stars who spend much of its story at odds, finally have a breakthrough. The new friends find themselves finding common ground as they skateboard off into the sun, all to the tune of Celine Dion’s song. Except the version that plays isn’t the original, but a cover performed on a very shrill recorder. It’s a hilarious and pointed moment that encapsulates what makes Butterfly Soup so endearing: It’s a powerful tale of female friendship, teen sexuality and coming to terms with who you are. But it’s also the kind of game that will turn expectation on its head.

-Allegra Frank

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus - Kampfpistole grenade launcher blowing up armored Nazis MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks

10. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus

(Oct. 27, MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks)

PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

From “Wolfenstein 2’s true heroes are its moms”:

“It’s easy to champion The New Colossus as strikingly relevant in 2017 because of its gleeful fascist-killing. But where the game’s real relevance lies is in its feminine center. And how refreshing it is, in a world in which women’s bodies are consistently under threat, to play a video game that respects women as equals: strong, capable, persistent.”

-Allegra Frank

Birds in a city in Everything David OReilly/Double Fine Productions

9. Everything

(March 21, David OReilly/Double Fine Productions)

Linux, Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows

From “Everything is a game for everybody”:

“OReilly included in Everything an auto-play mode, which sends the perspective up, down and up again through the creatures and things of its galaxy. There’s a tempestuous debate among video game fans about what makes a video game a video game. Is it an amount of challenge? Is it a degree of interactivity? Who gives a shit? Here is a game that plays itself. It exists with or without you. In a medium full of power fantasies, Everything invites you to savor the power of knowing you’re powerless.”

-Chris Plante

Horizon Zero Dawn - Aloy nocking an arrow Guerrilla Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment

8. Horizon Zero Dawn

(Feb. 28, Guerrilla Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment)

PlayStation 4

From “Horizon sends a warning from the post-post-apocalypse

“The lesson, and hope, of Horizon Zero Dawn is this: Humans can impose their will on the planet. We have the capacity to unmake this world. But with enough care and ingenuity, and a dollop of luck, we can remake it, too.”

-Samit Sarkar

Prey - Transtar lobby Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

7. Prey

(May 5, Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks)

PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

From “Prey is the culmination of its genre”:

“Whether or not Arkane gets to expand on the universe it created, Prey is a towering example of a game that flourishes under brilliant constraints. As with System Shock, maybe it will inspire other developers to revere the past, imbue players with the power to make meaningful decisions and mimic one of 2017’s best games.”

-Dave Tach

persona 5 Atlus

6. Persona 5

(April 4, Atlus/Atlus USA)

PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4

From “Persona 5 strives to be accessible — ever though its 125 hours long”:

“So while Persona 5 is still contains the utterly fantastical — grotesque monsters, a dark alternate dimension and a talking cat bus — it’s still something I could heartily recommend to anyone, with any gaming background. One-hundred-and-twenty-five hours later, and Persona 5 had snuck thief-like into my heart, changing how I forever felt about games like it.”

-Chelsea Stark

Resident Evil 7 - dinner art Capcom

5. Resident Evil 7

(Jan. 24, Capcom)

PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

From “Resident Evil 7 captures the joy of the entire series

“That Resident Evil 7 would be an improvement following the cacophonous Resident Evil 6 shouldn’t be a surprise; after all, there was almost nowhere to go but up. But Resident Evil 7 is something far more ambitious. It’s a game full of reference — both to itself and to the world of horror games that have filled the half-decade void while Resident Evil figured out what it was again — but in assembling the parts, the development team has managed to create something greater than the sum of those parts. Resident Evil 7 isn’t only one of the best games in the storied, two-decade-old series, but a confident new entry in the survival horror landscape.”

-Chris Grant

A screenshot of Nier: Automata in which 2B pets her robot pod PlatinumGames/Square Enix

4. Nier: Automata

(March 7, PlatinumGames/Square Enix)

PlayStation 4, Windows

From “Nier: Automata earns its obsessive fandom”:

Nier: Automata is talented, weird, serious, goofy, thought-provoking and beautiful, and it mixes up those qualities to hit you with each often enough that you don’t forget about any of them. You don’t have to be a superfan chasing around the game’s director to like it, but chances are you might become one anyway.”

-Matt Leone

Super Mario Odyssey - throwing Cappy in the Cascade Kingdom Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

3. Super Mario Odyssey

(Oct. 27, Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch

From “Super Mario Odyssey uses the series’ past to kickstart its future”:

Super Mario Odyssey is a celebration of all things Mario. From his wardrobe, which lets Mario dress up in outfits that reference games as obscure as NES Open Tournament Golf and Qix for Game Boy, to Odyssey’s midgame musical number paired with a recreation of Donkey Kong, Nintendo won’t let players forget about Mario’s past. But what’s special about Super Mario Odyssey is the acknowledgement that the franchise must move forward and expand outward.”

-Michael McWhertor

a guy dropping from the plane in PUBG PUBG Corp.

2. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

(Dec. 20, PUBG Corp.)

Windows, Xbox One

From “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds will define the next decade of shooters

“A year or two from now, I fully anticipate every AAA shooter will have a battle royale mode. We’ve already seen Epic’s Fortnite and Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto Online take a stab at it with their own unique twists. EA and Activision will undoubtedly follow suit. But without PlayerUnknown’s mods and, eventually, PUBG, we wouldn’t be here. The genre wouldn’t be forever changed. And that’s what the best games do. They lead the charge.”

-Russ Frushtick

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Link looking out at Hyrule Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

(March 3, Nintendo EPD/Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii U

From “Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece”:

“If you like puzzles, there are more than 120 shrines to conquer. If you like combat, enemies are everywhere. If you like building a character, there are weapons and armor to collect and upgrade. If you like side quests, it has dozens of hours of them — including one where you straight-up build a town. If you like story, Breath of the Wild imbues its characters with more life than any of its predecessors.

“And if you don’t like some of these, you’re free to ignore them. If you want to collect cuckoos, knock yourself out. If you want to ignore them (or just whack them with a weapon until they lose their minds), that’s fine, too. Not only does Breath of the Wild present players with an enormous, believable world, but because it puts exploration in players’ hands, it offers an abundance of freedom.”

-Dave Tach

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