Best games of the year:2017

This year continues to provide us an ongoing procession of ridiculously good games, and September gave us a rare treat: both of our Game of the Month picks garnered five-star scores, the highest honor we can give in a review. In addition to those two, the rest of September’s games run the gamut; at the higher end are titles like the empowering standalone expansion Dishonored: Death of the Outsider and the challenging cyberpunk action of Ruiner. In the sports world, FIFA 18 offers fantastic footballing with PES 2018 close behind, while NBA 2K18‘s open-world MyCareer mode is a strong step forward. Less enthralling is Sony’s samey platformer sequel Knack 2 and the not-so-hard-hitting tag-team fights of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. If you can get your hands on an SNES Mini, being able to play the seemingly lost Star Fox 2 is a treat. And lastly, we wrote a new, definitive review of Minecraft following the cross-platform-play revolution of the Better Together update.

At the end of every month, we comb through all our recent reviews to find the two games that qualify as must-plays. Consider these games to be the highlights of the year thus far – and if you’re looking for something to play while you wait for all the new games of 2017, you really can’t go wrong with these standout titles.

Game of the Month – Sept. (Runner-up): Cuphead

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Format(s): Xbox One, PC

The appeal of Cuphead‘s immaculate presentation is universal. Using cartooning techniques pioneered way back in the 1930s, Cuphead’s lively, hand-animated characters and beautiful watercolor backdrops perfectly capture the visual fidelity of the era, accompanied by a wonderfully jazzy score that’ll put a swing in anyone’s step. What’s less all-inclusive is the sheer difficulty of this 2D platforming shooter, as the game is largely composed of increasingly demanding boss fights that require fast reflexes, proficient pattern recognition, and above all, patience. For anyone willing to take on such a challenge, you’ll be dazzled by Cuphead’s old-school delights in both form and function. And if you’re struggling to make progress, just remember: with enough practice, you can do it! Lucas Sullivan

Game of the Month – Sept. (Winner): Destiny 2

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Format(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

Forget the early, cynical appraisals of a ‘Destiny 1.5’. Destiny 2 is one of the most drastically, insightfully, and generously upgraded sequels in recent memory. Immediately making the first game look like a set of prototypes in comparison to its richer, deeper, entirely broader, narrative-soaked open-world,  Destiny 2 delivers a true, story-driven FPS-RPG experience, melded with the kind of campaign highs we haven’t seen since Bungie’s Halo days. That it does all of this simply as the introduction to months and years-worth of streamlined, focused, and entirely more friendly character progression, gameplay exploration, and tightly refined PvP in the reimagined and reborn Crucible is frankly ridiculous. David Houghton

 Game of the Month – Aug. (Runner-up): Absolver

Format(s): PS4, PC

Absolver is at once familiar and foreign. Its combat is tightly controlled, fluid, and responsive, but it’s not like any fighting game you’ve ever played before. It’s structured to utilize many elements of the Dark Souls framework, but it’s not a traditional RPG: here, flaming swords are replaced by jabs and kicks. It’s a game that’s just comfortable enough to feel approachable, but challenging and new enough to feel exciting and fresh. The initial journey may be short, but the more you let yourself become lost within its depths, the more you engage with this game and its players, the stronger you’ll become – and most importantly, the more fun you’ll have. Sam Prell

Game of the Month – Aug. (Winner): LawBreakers

Format(s): PS4, PC

Layered with depth, but instantly accessible. Fast and kinetic, yet deliberate and intelligent. A shooter with the flowing, creative systems of a fighting game, packing the uninhibited creative freedom of indie design with the cast-iron polish of a AAA release. LawBreakers is all of these things, as inventive and empowering in its wildly eclectic gameplay design as it is puristic and gratifying in the strength of its core action. And most crucially, it’s a game that always, always just feels good to play, on a moment-to-moment level, whatever you’re doing. High-flying, blade-swinging, hook-grappling Assassin, or armor-buffing, charge-sprinting, shield-throwing Juggernaut. Hefty, rocket-jumping, aerial showboat Titan, or precise, tricksy, headshotting Gunslinger. Whoever you play in LawBreakers, you’re going to have a hoot, and the scope for fun will only get bigger and better with each and every match. David Houghton

Game of the Month – July (Runner-up): Final Fantasy 14: Stormblood

Format(s): PS4, PC

Final Fantasy 14: Stormblood is a bit of a conundrum. This expansion is highly accessible thanks to a new storyline worthy of becoming its own full-fledged FF game, yet it’s also a bit of a grind-fest that only reveals its most precious treasures to the extremely committed. You know how they say ‘it’s not the destination, it’s the journey’? That’s not the case here. Stormblood’s fresh story, lands, and classes are all pure joy once you’ve got them in your pocket. It’s the process of reaching them that might test your patience. Sam Prell

Game of the Month – July (Winner): Splatoon 2

Format(s): Switch

If you didn’t like the first Splatoon, there probably isn’t enough new stuff in Splatoon 2 to change your mind. But anyone who can appreciate spreading a thin coat of color-coded ink over everything will find bounteous fun in this Switch-exclusive sequel. The main online multiplayer modes feel as good as ever, thanks to a larger selection of maps, weapons, and fashion choices. Meanwhile, the single-player campaign puts your ink-flinging prowess to the test with ingenious new uses and cleverly bridges the narrative gap – yes, Splatoon has a narrative – between both games. And when it’s actually playable online (weird Nintendo choices never go out of style), Salmon Run is a challenging, rewarding, and fun co-op adventure. Just thinking about Splatoon 2’s day-glo collision of Japanese street fashion, Super Soakers, and weird seafood puns makes me happy. Connor Sheridan

Game of the Month – June (Runner-up): Wipeout Omega Collection

Format(s): PS4

You know a racing game is good when it causes you enter a kind of trance, demanding that you intensely focus despite the extreme speeds and opposing racers. The high-tech hovercraft racing of Wipeout Omega Collection has that spellbinding power in spades, packaging Wipeout HD, Wipeout HD Fury, and Wipeout 2048 together with a massive visual upgrade (including gorgeous HDR lighting effects) that all clocks in at a steady 60fps in 4K on PS4 Pro – the perfect showcase for the system’s extra oomph. If you’ve got a penchant for futuristic racing games, hitting consecutive boost pads and mastering well-crafted tracks to shave seconds off your best time, this Wipeout three-in-one won’t steer you wrong. Lucas Sullivan

Game of the Month – June (Winner): Arms

Format(s): Switch

Arms does for fighting games what Splatoon did for shooters: it takes complex concepts, simplifies them without sacrificing depth for wider accessibility, and gives it all that level of polish we’ve come to expect from Nintendo. Pugilists compete in a series of over-the-shoulder battles, flinging their extendable arms toward their opponent in an attempt to whittle their health bar down. With a colorful cast of characters (each with their own special abilities to help turn the tide) and intuitive controls whether you’re playing with motion controls or using the buttons, Arms really is the fighting game for the Switch-owning masses. David Roberts

Game of the Month – May (Runner-up): Rime

Format(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch (coming soon)

Lost children trapped in beautiful environments have become something of a cliche in the indie games scene, but Rime wears the trope well. It wears everything well, really. From the word go, you’re swept up in this drop-dead gorgeous games’ wordless story, eagerly exploring every nook and cranny of the strange lands you find yourself in. You’ll assemble and activate strange robots, feed piglets to bypass their protective parents, shift the time of day to unlock hidden doors, and more. Rime even makes the obligatory water level a pleasant experience! The visuals, soundtrack, gameplay, and story all come together to form something that is, in a word, magical. Sam Prell

Game of the Month – May (Winner): Prey

Format(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

I’ve been a coffee cup. A roll of toilet paper. And after each transformation I’ve felt my humanity slipping away in the face of awesomely powerful Typhon abilities, hurling skittering Mimics across deserted hallways and getting my revenge on the Phantoms loping around Talos 1. Think of the main quest like a path that directs you to Prey’s stellar sidequests: Prey shines when you’re unlocking the essence of the staff who wandered around the space station. Being centered on ordinary fears and activities means they ground every experience you have with the Typhon, because for each one you kill, there’s always another body lying on the ground. This might sound morbid, but it’s actually a good thing that each one is named, so you realise the human cost of all the powers you’re now playing with. You’ll believe that for many people, Talos 1 used to be home, scattered with audio tapes and the remnants of daily life. Now it’s a battleground, and the more alien powers you use, the more you’re becoming just like the enemy. Zoe Delahunty-Light

Game of the Month – Apr. (Runner-up): Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

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Format(s): Switch

Take Nintendo’s prettiest, most polished racing game to date, bundle in all its sizable DLC offerings, then add in a few more characters and modes atop all the existing content. That’s Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in a red shell, and it’s an absolute must-buy for anyone who owns a Nintendo Switch. Being able to take Mario Kart 8 on the go is a treat, with the kind of accessible, pick-up-and-play multiplayer that the twin Joy-Cons were made for. Splatoon’s Inkling squid-kids are the standout picks from the newly updated roster, but the overhauled Battle mode is the best addition to the Deluxe package, with the chaotic kart combat of classic Balloon Battle or fresh modes like the cops-vs-robbers excitement of Renegade Roundup. Whether you’ve already earned a heap of trophies in the Wii U original or you’ve been holding out for this inevitable bundle, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a necessity for anyone with even the slightestaffinity for arcade racing. Lucas Sullivan

Game of the Month – Apr. (Winner): Persona 5

Format(s): PS4, PS3

Persona 5 is perhaps one of the most important pieces of pop fiction in the 21st century. It’s not a claim I make lightly, but its tale of millennials raging against a social machine rigged by shitty teachers, corrupt politicians, and dirty CEOs feels especially prescient these days, considering the current circumstances of the world. Its narrative weaves in and out of its simulation of modern day-to-day Japanese living and its deep and rewarding combat systems, where making friends and smashing demons are so inextricably linked that every single one of its mechanics exists together in perfect harmony. It’s also effortlessly cool, where even simple menu screens explode with pop art chic. Persona 5 is the rare 100+ hour game that feels like it doesn’t waste a moment of your time; a game where nearly every moment feels handcrafted and expertly placed. It’s not simply one of the best JRPGs ever made, it’s one of the best games ever made, full stop. David Roberts

Game of the Month – Mar. (Runner-up) – Nier: Automata

Format(s): PS4, PC

I never played the original Nier. Hell, before Nier: Automata, I’d never played any game designed or directed by Yoko Taro. And even when Automata was announced, my reaction was an unenthusiastic shrug. But now, I can’t stop thinking about it and the Drakengard series. Its gorgeous and distinctive character designs. Its smooth and satisfying combat that manages to make every fight a rush of adrenaline. Its strange, sometimes confusing storytelling that’s always poignant and emotionally resonant regardless. Every time I think I’m done or I’ve seen everything, a new surprise pops its head up. Nier: Automata was a pleasure that I didn’t see coming – but I’m so glad I gave it a shot. Its firmly imprinted itself onto my brain and it won’t soon be forgotten. Sam Prell

Game of the Month – Mar. (Winner) – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Format(s): Switch, Wii U

You could totally disregard every plea to destroy Ganon and restore the Kingdom of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You could ignore the villagers and ancient elders and handsome fish-princes and just spend the entire game hang-gliding from one puzzle-filled mini-dungeon to the next. You could even dedicate an evening to discovering every different kind of status buff you can imbue into an omelet. Breath of the Wild rejoices in deconstructing every element of the Zelda series, disposing of anything that doesn’t enhance its broad yet remarkably unified sense of adventure. It was a massive risk for a series that could’ve kept coasting on old glories for years to come, and its payoff is one of the best games that Nintendo has ever created. Connor Sheridan

Game of the Month – Feb. (Runner-up) – For Honor

Format(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

Live by the sword, die by the sword, repeat with fervid excitement. For Honorhas perfected the art of weighty melee combat, pitting history’s most distinguished warriors – Knights, Vikings, and Samurai – against each other in large- and small-scale conflicts. Its team-based and one-on-one duels match the depth of a full-on fighting game, where mastering your favorite class and learning their best combos and matchups is essential to your PvP success. You might need a little while to come to grips with the somewhat overwhelming UI, gear system, and online metagame, but it’s all worth it when you’re savagely executing a foe you’ve handily slashed to ribbons. Competitive multiplayer is absolutely For Honor’s focus, but its single-player campaign boasts some awe-inspiring battles and actually tells a halfway decent story. If melee duels are your thing, be they honorable clashes or comically chaotic scraps, For Honor was made just for you. Lucas Sullivan

Game of the Month – Feb. (Winner) – Horizon: Zero Dawn

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Format(s): PS4

Somehow when I’m playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, I don’t mind getting ripped to shreds by a giant robotic crocodile. Its white scales shimmering in the sun, light glinting off the solar panels jutting out from its back, the fluid animation taken straight from nature documentaries – its careful, considered design is the perfect metaphor for Horizon’s impeccable world. Saturated with lore, quests, and (above all) robots, there’s plenty to keep you busy. Try your hand at some detective work using your Focus by taking Aloy into settlements, uncovering how humans are surprisingly familiar despite the time gap. If the sight of those mechanical animals gets your arrow-hand itching, timed hunting challenges await in the wilderness. There you can pick apart each machine using tactics you’ve learnt over your travels, turning the previously chaotic scramble for survival into a strategic dismemberment. A must-own for anyone with a PS4 and a strong incentive to buy the console, Horizon is gobsmackingly good. Buy it. Play it. Love it. Zoe Delahunty-Light

Game of the Month – Jan. (Runner-up) – Yakuza 0

Format(s): PS4

Like the economic boom of 1980s Japan, Yakuza 0 is absolutely overflowing with riches. It’s a massive game, filled with so many different things to see and do. Digital recreations of actual Japanese cities burst at the seams with crowds and gaudy neon lights. Citizens provide a variety of highly entertaining and completely off-the-wall side quests. Arcades provide emulated versions of Sega classics. Entire businesses can be managed to provide you with additional wealth. It’s also as strange as it is massive, wearing its cultural origins on its sleeve as a badge of pride, but at its heart lies a truly gripping and emotional crime drama that explores the origins of the series’ two most popular characters. If you’ve heard tales of Yakuza’s intoxicating brew of absurdist humor and melodrama and haven’t taken the plunge yet, there’s no better place to start than Yakuza 0. David Roberts

Game of the Month – Jan. (Winner) – Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

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Format(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

Even without that Resident Evil name attached, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a great game. Alone that should be recommendation enough. It’s a fantastic piece of gaming horror, with a perfect blend of gore and scares, troubling quiet and all the screaming. Not only does it use its first person perspective to great, claustrophobic effect, making every corner a nightmare-inducing ordeal, it’s a great change of pace tonally from the previous game’s over the top action – focusing instead on smaller spaces and a more intimate cast as you explore the Bakers’ house in search of your missing wife. With its less extravagant scale, it exudes character as you avoid Jack, Marguerite and Lucas’ unwanted attention and creep through rotting corridors. It still feels like Resident Evil as you juggle your inventory, or back away from hideous shuffling abominations, but modern films and games like PT have clearly made their mark on the series. It’s also amazing in PSVR if you can stomach it, using virtual reality to unleash a whole new kind of terror only the brave will see through to the end. Leon Hurley

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