Before we get to the list, don’t miss this year’s Ars Technica Charity Drive sweepstakes. You can win one of nearly 100 prizes, including limited edition game collectibles, while helping a good cause at the same time. Entries must be submitted by January 4. Thank you in advance for your donation!
In recent years, it has become a cliché for us to say how hard it is to narrow down an entire year of video games to a list of the 20 best titles that everyone should play. That said, I’d still argue that 2017 was more ridiculously packed with quality releases than pretty much every year in the past decade. While single player adventures dominated our rankings this year, the full list includes everything from traditional shooters and throwback platformers to indie puzzles and storytelling, plus a few VR experiences for good measure.
Without further ado, our favorite games of 2017 are…
Studio MDHR, Xbox One/Windows
Rated purely for its gameplay, cup is perhaps too much of a return to the 8-bit era. The game’s virtually uninterrupted series of boss battles progress in its own basic pattern every time, and cup artificially extends its length through a relentless difficulty. Even in “easy” mode, this is the kind of game that probably only appeals to a certain kind of reflex-focused gaming masochist who likes to toss with controllers.
But cup still claws almost exclusively for its presentation on this year’s must-play list. The full-screen, hand-drawn bosses look like they’ve been taken straight out of a 1930s cartoon, with expressive and lifelike animations never seen before in a video game. Also, the music and sound effects capture the old-fashioned feel of early animated shorts in a way that seems like it shouldn’t be interactive.
Even if you’re not in the mood for a hard hitting, run-and-jump-and-shoot boss rush experience, you owe it to yourself to watch a video of cup is played well. Your youthful self will appreciate its artistry and technical wizardry if nothing else.
19. Statik: Institute for Retention
Tarsier Studios, PSVR
Despite all the pros and cons of virtual reality, one of its strongest qualities is its ability to make you feel trapped in a virtual world. You can’t look at your friend sitting next to you on the couch or pull out your phone for a quick Twitter break. It is only you and the fictional world that encompasses your senses in all directions.
Statistics leans on this feeling by literally locking you in a chair in a sterile lab with a hazy scientist guiding you through ill-defined tasks. With your hands trapped in a puzzle box, you’ll have to play with every single button on the PS4 controller to find out what’s possible in each unique box, then carefully observe your surroundings to find out what’s expected of you.
The puzzles themselves can be remarkably clever and are never so stupid that the solution feels unreasonable once found. More than that, however, Statistics does a great job of creating an eerie, horror-like atmosphere without relying on jumpscares, grotesque imagery, or dim light. In VR, the scariest thing of all can be to be stuck with only your own brain to rely on.
Tequila Works, PC/PS4/Xbox One/Switch
If you had high hopes for that Rhymes would emerge as a new face in the Zelda-esque genre – thanks to its childish hero and its animal friends – you may have been disappointed to learn that it landed a little more firmly in the “walking simulator” camp. But as an entry into genres that Team Ico and Thatgamecompany have long entered, Rhymes launched with a surprising number of new game design ideas.
The game’s greatest strength is how it guides players both visually and emotionally through a vague yet powerful story. It’s easily one of the most beautiful games released in 2017, despite the limited, simple geometry built for the latest generation of game consoles. Just a reminder, folks: you don’t need more pixels, more HDR, or more tricks to build a game world worth nipping at.
Rhymes succeeds where last year’s abstract, strange Abzû failed to understand how to give weight to interactive moments. In Rhymesplayers are given serious freedom of choice in a beautiful, confusing universe, and the game’s successful tug-of-war between progress and loss is a serious milestone in the game’s design.
17. Night in the forest
Infinite Autumn/Finja, Windows/Mac/Linux/PS4/Xbox One/iOS/Android
I don’t know if you looked at the outside world in 2017, but it’s not beautiful. Night in the forest gives two messages that many people have been to attempt to get over it for a while: things have been ugly for much, much longer than a year, and going out with your friends helps ease the pain.
High school dropout Mae (who, like everyone else in the game, is a talking 2D animal) returns home to find her Rust Belt town in economic decline. It’s been like that for years, of course, but distance has given her some perspective and a strong need to reconnect with friends. Enter the gang in the middle of Night in the forest: Bea, Gregg, Angus and the Simpsonslike cast of strange balls circling around them. Together they commit crimes. Together they solve mysteries. Together they try to combat the everyday sadness that affects us all at some point by simply being in each other’s company.
Things get a small weirder than that, but the weird stuff isn’t the real focus. Night in the forest is a low-key adventure game that focuses on characters, not puzzles or big adventures. It’s just the kind of thing to sit down and chill out after a hard day of tracking every new disaster on social media. It might even remind you that you have a few friends of your own who help you get through the day.
16. Lot 2
Bungie / Activision, PS4/XB1/PC
declare Lot 2 one of the better games of the year isn’t hard to do, at least within the vacuum of how much fun you can reap from a few months of playing. D2The planet selection, primary quests, and “grind after you beat the game” secondary content all expand on the original game’s promise to be fun even when you return to previously mined lands. There’s more plot, more upcoming battles, more scale and depth, and more writing that actually kind of makes sense. But the months since the primary game’s launch have been woefully slow and stagnant. More than 10 weeks went by without a single major “quality of life” patch for how the game works. Lot 2The blunder of the first few weeks only lasted so long before players had questions. The new game has been built from the ground up to allow for faster, more frequent updates to keep the game fresh, right? So how could? Lot 2 not putting his money in the right place so quickly? Why did we run into a wall of boring weapons and boring rewards, even as the game’s super-hard Raid content came to the fore?
All this reduced Lot 2 quite a bit on Ars’ year-end list. The final position is an acknowledgment of the fun mapped out thus far, along with a huge, eyebrow-raising question of how Bungie was able to screw up this honeymoon stage twice.