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You'd have a hard time tallying up how many great games shipped in 2017, but you can be sure there are more than ten.
In spite of this fact, or perhaps because of it, the staff of Gamasutra have once again picked ten games that we think highlight some of the game industry's best work this year.
Game developers know better than most that constraints breed creativity, and in forcing ourselves to pick just ten (just ten!) games we had to think hard about which were most important to us, and the game industry as we see it.
Here then, in alphabetical order, are our picks for the top games of 2017. Each is accompanied by a few thoughts from a Gamasutra staff member who felt strongly enough about the game to put it on their list of the year's best.
If you have strong feelings about this list, tune into the Gamasutra Twitch channel today at 12 PM PT/ 3 PM ET as we gather to reflect on 2017 and give each of these games its due.
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
A few years ago, some of the folks who made Panoramical published a deep dive into how that game affords players control over imagery and sounds "as a conductor in a quasi-totalizing fantasy of cyborg unity."
The whole article is worth reading, and at the end they closed it out with a coda excerpted from the book "Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn."
It's the story of a seven-year-old named Gita confronting the death of a beloved cat, and since space is effectively free on the Internet I'm going to take the liberty of reprinting it here:
“What happened to Katzie? Where did he go?”
Soensa said, “Where do you come from?”
“From my mother’s belly.”
“Where does your mother come from?” Gita was silent.
Soensa said, “Everything in the world comes from the same one thing. It is like in a cookie factory. Many different kinds of cookies are made — lions, tigers, elephants, houses, people. They all have different shapes and different names, but they are all made from the same dough and they all taste the same. So all the different things that you see — a cat, a person, a tree, the sun, this floor — all these things are really the same.”
This, to me, is Everything. The latest game from David OReilly and crew is an attempt to express ineffable truth through an interactive medium. It's a game that can play itself. It's a kind of koan you can roll around in. It's a great thing to leave on in the background during a party. It's a nice thing to do while you listen to some good Alan Watts talks.
I have very fond feelings for Everything, in large part because I was in the right place at the right time to appreciate its vibe. During a year in which the world seemed hellbent on drawing lines, building walls, and picking fights, Everything was a constant reminder that all of it is noise.
- Alex Wawro
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
I’m so glad this game sneaked into 2017, and that I was able to catch it before making this list. A puzzle in a pure form that also tells a story in a powerful way, Gorogoa had me wondering how developer Jason Roberts was able to conceive of such a game, let alone extract it from his brain and execute the idea flawlessly.
Gorogoa made me understand a new language when it comes to 2D spaces. It’s one of those designs we should be talking about when discussing “game literacy.” There was such an obvious conversation happening between me and the puzzle pieces that it was blowing my mind. Solutions were sometimes challenging to find, but they always made sense according to the rules that are established early on in the game. Gorogoa is one of the most brilliant intersections ever of artistic, design, and technical mastery, and everyone should experience it.
- Kris Graft
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
I can't remember a time a game has made me stop and take a moment to appreciate its world before Horizon Zero Dawn. Multiple times, I've completed a quest or finished looting a downed enemy only to turn around and take a moment to admire the colors spread across the sky by an approaching sunset or the shadows cast by a coming storm.
The world, characters, and stories of Horizon Zero Dawn are just as compelling as the breathtaking vistas you seem to happen across during otherwise routine tasks. Guerrilla Games' big departure from its Killzone series is an open world, post-post-apocalyptic game where nature has reclaimed the structures of modern civilization and massive machines roam about like wild animals.
There's something to be said about the sense of accomplishment you feel after single-handedly taking down one of the larger metal beasts wandering the world after stealthily laying traps across its path and disabling its weaponry with carefully placed arrows. Even with its place cemented on my top games list, I'm still scouring the map in Horizon Zero Dawn for activities, just to make sure I experience as much of this game as possible.
- Alissa McAloon
Night in the Woods is a game about anthropomorphic talking animals, and the stories it tells are more human, more relatable, than just about anything I saw in other games this year.
This game commits to a very specific tone so completely that if it resonates with you, as it did with me, playing through it can be almost painful. By the time I was done with Night in the Woods I felt like I'd grown up with each of the characters, knowing them as well (and as poorly) as all the friends I'd left back home.
- Alex Wawro
"WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!" isn't just the best thing you can see at the end of an hour-long match, it's a symbol for how oddly earnest and complex PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (aka PUBG) has turned out to be.
As the classic first-person shooter has grown and morphed into games like the highly-polished Overwatch, PUBG's rough edges and emergent narratives create far more relatable, human moments in a multiplayer shooter to the point that I honestly feel it's comparable with single-player role-playing games.
Whether it's the unexpected grenade that shouldn't have made it into the house, a surprise encounter while combing through the ruins, or a Fury Road-worthy firefight along the bridge, PUBG isn't just a game about shooting other players, it's a broad platform of experiences birthed from its sizable map and shrinking play zone.
- Bryant Francis
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
You’re stuck on a giant space station infested with shape-shifting aliens and your only chance of survival is to fuse alien genetics with your own, to become a hybrid human-alien...thing.
My favorite “immersive sim” of all time, Prey does an incredible job of teaching the player what they can do with the systems at hand, then enabling and encouraging players to do those things.
The accompanying level design lends itself to experimentation, and the way it manages gating is such that players feel like they’re cheating or breaking the game, which just adds to the fun of it. It’s like an improvised jazz solo version of a Metroidvania. And yeah, you can morph into a coffee cup.
- Kris Graft
Pyre is beautiful. Supergiant weaves the music, the ideas, the art, the characters and their stories into something that feels greater than the sum of its parts.
I also appreciate that in so many places Pyre surprised me, striking off in a completely different direction than I expected. Characters who at first seem cruel or foolish become relatable, even likable; opponents are sometimes so sympathetic you find yourself kind of hoping they'll beat you, because they deserve a win; losing can be the best thing that happens to you; the people you save can't always save you.
Pyre is a triumph, and easily the most interesting game Supergiant has ever made. The fact that it's all bound together by what's basically a supernatural NBA Jam-alike is just icing on the cake.
- Alex Wawro
At this point, there's nothing I can say about Breath of the Wild that hasn't already been written. It achieved the near-impossible by redefining the evergreen franchise and simultaneously supporting the successful launch of an entirely new console. Indeed, the highest praise I can give Breath of the Wild is that it managed to reinvent the wheel without ripping out the series' heart and soul.
Gone are the predictable temples, familiar items, and linear world progression. In their stead we got gigantic mechanized puzzles called Divine Beasts, a sweeping open world that can be fully explored right from the get-go, and fresh powers that can be combined in marvelous, infinitely surprising ways.
At the best of time it feels like an experiment in fun and a shining example of how vertical open world design should be implemented. At the worst of times… well actually, there weren't any worst of times. Let's be real: Nintendo knocked it out of the park and then some, delivering my favorite Zelda game since Wind Waker while yanking a classic into the modern age.
- Chris Kerr
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
It’s telling that the graveyard you encounter near the end of Edith Finch feels empty, as though the gravestones are just placeholders, a reference to the occupants, rather than any sort of memorial. Because the house itself is the true graveyard, these shrines to each member of the house locked away behind sealed doors, frozen in a snapshot of the person in the moments before they passed.
There should be something morbid about traipsing through this empty house, but there’s enough joy in the vignettes that you slip into for each character that it never feels oppressive. Instead you’re just struck by the unrealised potential of these people that so often passed before they should have, as well as how so many of them died in what was seemingly their most triumphant moment.
Lewis’ cannery job is an obvious standout, but so many of these inventive and surprising stories manage to capture the essence of the characters in sharp relief. The room that you entered before, that was filled with hints of the person who left it behind, now left like an echo of those final moments. It’s rare for a game to really reverberate emotionally, but Edith Finch is a rare game.
- Phill Cameron
Like a lot of people, the Yakuza series has hovered just below my radar for a long time. It really wasn’t until social media, where people could share all the cool, weird things that happen in this series, that I had to reevaluate my life and subsequently punch myself for not getting into Yakuza sooner.
Yakuza 0, for me, possesses zero ludonarrative dissonance. It’s basically a hyper-accurate “If Kris Graft Were an Actual Yakuza Simulator 2017.” Part of this is because so much of the game’s open world quest design derives from what I’d call “welcome distractions.” You run into people and situations that are so weird and compelling, your motivation to help them overtakes the motivation you have for any main questline, and you go on a tiny, satisfying adventure.
starting to think that the best, most relatable open world game protagonist is just a person who has the attn span of a butterfly, easily distracted by anything.— kris graft (@krisgraft) November 14, 2017
so yes, kazuma kiryu. pic.twitter.com/n6jzuU9LIE
The main storyline is full of real estate intrigue, and the intersection of the game’s two protagonists, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima is actually pretty well done for an open world game. There’s just so much charm and heart here, not to mention it’s one of the few games anymore that truly feels like a “Sega game.” It’s wonderful.
- Kris Graft