2017 has been a phenomenal year for gaming, in terms of both software and hardware.
Whether it’s the launch of the Nintendo Switch – which practically redefined console gaming with its hybrid at-home and portable handheld nature and its versatile Joy-Con controllers that offer entirely new ways to engage with games (plus built-in two-player capacity); the retro delight that is the SNES Mini, and its notable inclusion of the ‘lost’ Starfox 2 game; or the Xbox One X finally making good on Microsoft’s earliest promises of the platform being an unrivalled powerhouse, it’s been a red letter year for hardware.
On the software side, it’s perhaps even better. Players on all formats have been blessed with some of the best games in recent memory, and even typically fallow months – the post-holidays lull, the summer software desert – bucked trends with major high quality releases.
Here, WIRED looks back at the best games of 2017. We’re highlighting eight categories, along with a singular game of the year. Read on, for the finest titles released this year.
Game of the Year
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo’s return to Hyrule remains nothing short of breathtaking. The scale and ambition of Link’s first truly open-world adventure is staggering, presenting a version of the series’ recurring mythology – a boy who comes from nothing, saving a princess born to everything, and defeating a monster of now-literal darkness – that tops anything previously seen. With gorgeous art direction, a renewed progression system with dozens of smaller dungeons to conquer, and versatile combat that allows for ingenious combinations of powers and skills, it’s also a near-total reinvention of what Zelda is.
Amidst all that, it presents one of the deepest and most emotionally absorbing stories in the series’ history, one that lingers with the player long after you’ve put it down. The thing is, you rarely will put it down – there’s always something new to discover in Breath of the Wild, from tracking down hundreds of Koroks to building a perfect arsenal, or simply interacting with the charming folk who inhabit Hyrule. With added DLC trickled out over the course of 2017 – most recently, The Champion’s Ballad, expanding the history of key characters in the story – it’s also kept fans hooked all year. A true masterpiece.
Best Action Game
On one hand, Automata is bewilderingly complex – a spin-off of a spin-off, set in one of myriad alternate endings of a previous game. On the other, none of that matters, as PlatinumGames’ action epic stealthily hides it all behind some of the biggest ideas and startling set pieces seen all year. With a heartfelt story covering environmentalism, artificial intelligence, and humanity’s legacy in a dark future, and its brilliant system of looped timelines and false endings that keep you guessing throughout, this was a rare and unexpected treat.
Guerilla Games’ open-world epic may be set after the robopocalypse, but it sure makes the downfall of civilisation look amazing. Thankfully, hunter Aloy’s journey through a future world dominated by cybernetic dinosaur titans provided a challenging and often thought-provoking experience for players, and with robust crafting and survival elements, really stood out from the crowd.
Ubisoft’s historical mash-up pitting samurai, knights, and vikings against each other has been a bit of a sleeper hit but players who’ve given it their time are soon enamoured. The online melee brawler offers a unique mix of skills and abilities to master, and with territory being won and ceded across combat seasons, there’s little else like it on the market.
Best Role Playing Game
The Persona games have always been deep – especially for Japanese RPGs – but with the fifth instalment, developer Atlus outdid itself. Set in the real world but bridging into a parallel reality dubbed the Metaverse, Persona 5 presented a rare, genuinely mature story exploring how youthful desires and ambitions can become corrupted over time, while its psychologically driven philiosphy delved into the very concept of self. Coupled with satisfying turn-based combat and stat management in the form of social interactions that makes you care deeply about the teen cast, all wrapped up in a painfully stylish aesthetic, this was a genre high.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
An RPG of an altogether different type, this spiritual successor to the venerable Planescape: Torment wasn’t the most accessible title, but perhaps one of the most engaging of the year. Set in an unknowably distant future where numerous cultures have risen and fallen, inXile Entertainment’s world was notable for its lack of easy answers. There are no heroes per se, only your nameless protagonist, and how you uncover the secrets of this ancient world is entirely up to you. Most impressively, after a remarkable Kickstarter success in 2013, the final release actually lived up to expectations, delivering an old-school RPG that’s densely packed with ideas, sometimes daunting, but always impressive.
Bandai Namco’s Tales of series rarely disappoints JRPG fans, but Berseria felt like a breath of fresh air. The first female-lead entry delivered a cast of multifaceted characters and tackled some unsettling themes, without losing the light-hearted moments the series is known for. Breezy real-time battles and and intricate character development system helped make this one of the best Tales of entries to date.
Best Platformer Game
Super Mario Odyssey
It would perhaps be more surprising if a new, core Super Mario game didn’t take this category. The red-hatted plumber’s return is nothing short of exemplary, with a world tour taking players to some of Nintendo’s most imaginative settings yet. Every stop on Mario’s odyssey is packed with unquestionably joyous moments, from the first time you shapeshift into another character thanks to the powers of new ally Cappy, to levels set to city-wide musical numbers or battles with giant rabbits on the moon. With a seemingly endless stream of objectives to complete and tonnes of hidden nods for long-time fans, Odyssey is simply phenomenal.
It’s been years since Sonic felt like a worthy rival to Mario, but Sonic Mania was a reminder of those halcyon days of the mid-90s and the Sega/Nintendo wars. With its mix of familiar and new Zones to zoom around, all with clever layouts impressive attention to detail, Mania was a brilliant return to form for the blue blur. Equal parts reminder of past glories and proof that the hedgehog isn’t past it yet.
2017 was the year of the nostalgia-driven platformer, with this serving as spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. The initial release fell short of expectations, mainly thanks to an iffy camera and a hard-to-navigate hubworld, but a hefty recent patch revealed the great game underneath. It’s still no Super Mario Odyssey but it’s one of the best of the genre all year.
Best Shooter Game
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Yes, it’s single-player, but Bethesda’s alt-history dieselpunk horror show of a world where the Nazis won World War II is one of the most satisfying shooters of the year. For all its gore and gratuitous violence, stepping into William ‘BJ’ Blazkowicz’s one-man campaign to dismantle the Reich’s most terrifying war machines and gruesomely dispatch legions of fascists in a hail of bullets is practically cathartic. More than that, it’s also brilliantly structured as a shooter, with tense shootouts and enough difficulty to test seasoned veterans. Schlock is rarely this good.
Developer Bungie stumbled on a winning formula for Destiny 2: put the story in the game. With more reason to get invested in the world, Destiny has never been so appealing. Throw in new locations dotted around the solar system to explore, refined player-vs-player, and new competitive modes, and it’s a significant improvement on the original.
Nintendo’s second round of colourful, ink-spraying, arena shooting remains proof shooters don’t need to be violent to be fun – you’ve just got to stay fresh. With regularly cycled maps and game modes, plus the frequent ‘Splatfest’ events, there’s always something going on to keep players coming back for more. A significant single player campaign makes it worth playing when you’re on the move with the portable Nintendo Switch, too.
Best Horror Game
Resident Evil VII
Long-running series rarely re-invent themselves as well as Resident Evil did here. Dropping zombie B-movie fodder for disturbing hillbilly horror was a bold decision but it paid off, providing new avenues of fear for the game to explore. Shifting to a first-person perspective was an equally successful gambit, trapping players in the claustrophobic halls of the decrepit Baker mansion, where the mutated clan relentlessly hunt you. With the (arguably masochistic) ability to immerse yourself in the nightmare via virtual reality on PlayStation VR, this is simply the scariest Resi yet.
A more traditionally structured survival horror – little surprise, given this series comes from original Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami – this expanded on the 2014 original but still retained the weird science-meets-psychological torture aspects. It also borrowed from Silent Hill, with protagonist Sebastian Castellanos venturing into an unreal town in search of a loved one thought dead. The familiar tropes don’t stop this being a great slice of sci-horror though, and an improvement on its predecessor.
A horror of the deeply unsettling sort, rather than the ‘jump out of your pants’ kind, this sinister puzzle-platformer drops players into a disturbing orgy of wanton consumption, where misshapen giants gorge on the flesh of everything they could find. Guiding silent protagonist Six to safety takes unpleasant turns though, and by the time the credits roll you’ll be left with plenty of questions about the macabre world. Horror with a dark aftertaste.
Best Racing Game
Project CARS 2
British developer Slightly Mad Studios seemed like it was living up to its name when it stepped up against racing giants like Forza and Gran Turismo with the first Project CARS, back in 2015. Two years later, and the sequel stands as one of those giants. With just shy of 200 cars to drive, 60 track locations to race them around, and multiple racing disciplines, it has almost unrivalled variety, making for a nigh-perfect driving sim. In a year packed with great racers though, what tips it over the competition is full VR support on PC, and “12K” visuals – spread over three 4K monitors for a dazzlingly immersive experience.
The darling of Xbox One X, offering a real showcase for the hardware’s power. With dynamic weather effects, laser-scanned tracks, and perfectly modelled cars, all in 4K HDR, and Forza 7 is a joy to behold. Thankfully, it’s a remarkably polished racer beyond its good looks, offering complete accessibility to newcomers while offering real-world physics and complete driving authenticity to die-hards. With a shocking 700 cars to tear up the tracks in, there’s something for everyone.
Racing game or party favour? Ask that again once you’ve tried your hand at the 200cc class and seen how challenging Mario Kart can be at its best. Although an upgrade to the Wii U game, the Switch version packs in enough new features – chiefly a battle mode that’s actually enjoyable – to warrant a nod here. The best Mario Kart yet.
Best Fighting Game
Bandai Namco’s fighting series has long been a staple of the genre, but this year cemented itself as the reigning champ. Tekken 7 delivered one of the biggest fighter rosters in the series’ history, introduced new Rage Drive and Power Crush mechanisms to add depth to the combat system – without over-complicating the familiar ‘one button, one limb’ control scheme – and wove it all around an expansive story mode. It even boasted PlayStation VR support, and brought back fan-favourite minigame Tekken Bowl through DLC. A melee masterpiece.
Half the fun of the Injustice games is being able to settle all those nerdy “who would win?” debates, and this sequel to the 2013 original doesn’t disappoint. With even more heroes and villains from the DC Universe lined up to hammer each other’s faces into paste again – plus a few other guest characters from other publishers, such as Hellboy and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – and an RPG-like progression system, this was a comic geek’s dream.
ARMS did for fighting games what Splatoon did for shooters – made the genre more accessible to newcomers than any other title in years. Featuring an array of colourful and delightfully weird characters with telescoping limbs gives the game a unique look, while using the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controllers to actually punch out your opponents makes it a surprisingly intuitive brawler. Sets of swappable weapons allowing players to customise their fighters’ attacks adds surprising depth beyond the gimmick, too.