It was really tempting to put Zelda here. Really, really tempting. It is, after all, an absolutely sensational video game. Forgive us, for one second, for writing about a game other than the one we're actually writing about, but there is method in the madness.
By any measure, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild would be an excellent choice for game of the year. It's got everything you need; all the right ingredients. And the chef, in this case, is the best of the best, the most celebrated and illustrious development house of them all. It's a long-running and storied franchise full of superlative, innovative action-adventures, and The Breath of the Wild was the best of the bunch. Refined mechanics rolled out over sculpted landscapes and every blade of grass felt like it had a place in that world. We've seen it all before, it's just never been this good. Still... it's also just another Zelda and as it turned out in the editorial popular vote it wasn't enough.
Where Zelda felt like the perfection of the past, Guerrilla Games' open-world epic felt more like the future. For starters, we've never played a console game as stunning as this one. The studio has long grafted on the Killzone series, releasing almost-brilliant shooters that just lacked that killer iteration that every top-tier franchise needs. It turns out that they were simply working in the wrong genre.
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By leaving behind the corridors of Killzone and embracing the open world of Horizon, Guerrilla Games has truly found itself, delivering one of the finest first-party exclusives of the PlayStation 4 era. It has come in a year overflowing with excellence, landing alongside the aforementioned Zelda and Mario returns, the resplendent Cuphead, the outrageous Wolfenstein II, the style and swagger of Persona 5, and the depth and detail of Divinity. It has been a good year. The best year, you might say. Of those games listed and maybe a couple more, any one of them could have been crowned game of the year.
Horizon: Zero Dawn stands shoulder-to-shoulder with every game we've mentioned so far, but of all those games we think it stands as the game of the year. Aloy is a strong and powerful woman, and Guerrilla treats her character with the delicate and thoughtful respect that allows her to shine. They pull off a brilliant balancing act; Aloy's gender is at once intrinsically important to the experience and absolutely irrelevant at the same time. She is a brilliant character, a true great up there with the best the medium has ever had to offer.
Aloy leads from the front in every respect, carrying the weight of the game on her shoulders with ease. It certainly helps that everything in Horizon is exquisitely done, from the overall design, the interlocking systems, the artistry in the world and creatures you meet, and the writing of the characters and lore. Everything is first-rate.
Of all our favourite games of 2017, only Wolfenstein II and What Remains of Edith Finch have anywhere near as much to say as Horizon: Zero Dawn. In the telling of this enthralling sci-fi tale, the studio has explored significant issues that epitomise the age we live in, and the clash between technology and nature is chief among them. It carries a strong and powerful message between all the arrows fired and robots tamed. These futuristic creatures, animal-like but born of steel, are beautifully designed and expertly brought to life, and the landscape that houses them is also nothing short of stunning. From the animators to the artists, the musicians to the actors, every aspect of the project has been realised to a high standard. Like so many games these days, we've even seen gradual increases over time post-release, and after venturing into The Frozen Wilds most recently, it's clear that Horizon is one of the best-looking titles you can play.
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Great design and engaging lore are supported by some excellent gameplay and progression mechanics, with plenty of systems combining with fantastic effect out in the open world. There's enough tactical depth to give the player authorship over any given encounter, and thanks to some deep customisation options you can train Aloy to support your play-style. There's so much to do beyond the main adventure, and through the people you meet and help along the way you're exposed to an engaging world with plenty to do. Guerrilla has stories to tell you, you've just got to look for them.
And look you will. There's well over 50 hours of top entertainment to be had, easily. More if you obsess over every sob story that you happen to hear. Between saving the world, there are plenty of lost family heirlooms to retrieve or local disputes to resolve, and Aloy's own witty commentary on these side missions displays Guerilla's keen eye for observing the human condition so perfectly.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a stunning achievement. It looks incredible and plays like a dream, and amongst all the action and adventure we're told a brilliant story. And then there's Aloy, who brings it all together, and through her strength and charm, takes us on an utterly unique journey that challenges and entertains. Lots of games have blown us away this past twelve months, and 2017 has truly been a golden year. You could just as easily pick Zelda or indeed any of the other games we mentioned before, but none would so brilliantly symbolise this modern age with such effortless artistry. We've been treated to some brilliant games, but it's Horizon: Zero Dawn that we think stands as the game for 2017.