Horizon: Zero Dawn
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game that was preceded by an incredible amount of hype and staggeringly high expectations. That type of anticipation has often spelled disaster for other games that struggled to live up to their height—we’re looking at you, No Man’s Sky. Horizon: Zero Dawn, on the other hand, proved to be everything gamers expected and then some. Guerrilla Games presented an incredibly dynamic action RPG that unfolds in a gorgeously-crafted massive open world. A variety of different types of machines, weapons, and environments keep combat interesting and exploring these sprawling lands is both rewarding and entertaining. Even if, in some alternate universe, Horizon: Zero Dawn didn’t offer dynamic combat or jaw-dropping visuals, the main story alone is captivating enough to keep you pressing forward.
While the game’s formula itself isn’t new, Horizon: Zero Dawn still feels unique and fresh. Perhaps it’s the game’s unusual take on a post apocalyptic world. Maybe it’s the game’s clever, insightful nods to our current political and social landscape. Whatever it is, Horizon: Zero Dawn is simply enchanting and it certainly gave us a strong start to the year.
NieR: Automata is nothing short of a masterpiece and has already been discussed as a frontrunner to nab Game of the Year. PlatinumGames manages to happily marry the best of multiple genres in one game that reminds us that some sequels actually can be better than their original counterpart. A stunning environment that is both desolate and somehow downright gorgeous at the same time easily transports gamers and leaves you feeling completely immersed in the post apocalyptic setting. The game presents a certain amount of unpredictability that is particularly special, but feels truly authentic to its world. It’s just as wacky as you would expect it to be and also just as captivating. It’s incredibly hard to find anything that NieR doesn’t get right. Boss battles are exciting. The soundtrack is a masterpiece of its own. The story is emotional and captivating. The gameplay is smooth and comfortable but still allows for the right amount of technical challenge. NieR: Automata isn’t the perfect game, but it certainly comes pretty close.
Gravity Rush 2
The Gravity Rush series is a relatively niche franchise overall but if these gravity altering mechanics are your cup of tea, you’ll be pretty pleased with the game’s second title. Gravity Rush 2 successfully brings back the magic of the first game while improving its gameplay—except for an incredibly pesky camera. The main story is entertaining enough but not necessarily as captivating as many gamers would have hoped. To be fair, the character development explored throughout Gravity Rush 2 is intriguing and certainly makes you build a connection with Kat’s universe that may not have been achieved in the first game. Outside of this, the story has a slow start and the narrative overall presents a few missteps. What the game lacks in its main story, however, it makes up for with some incredibly well-constructed side missions, exciting combat, a compelling art style and great music.
Where the first Gravity Rush game felt like a spectacle mostly because of Kat’s unique abilities, the second game uses those abilities as a catalyst to create a truly compelling game. It’s the first time that Kat seems to stand out as a great protagonist and an interesting modern day hero.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Resident Evil 7 marked an incredibly strong return of the long standing series. Previous games seemed to bid farewell to the game’s horror survival genre in an effort to vamp up its action and combat. While that may make for a great action adventure feel, lovers of the horror genre were left feeling…. well…. unafraid. Resident Evil 7 changed that. This time around it’s less about coming around the corner and dominating foes and more about making strategic decisions all while trying not to pee on yourself. That’s always the way Resident Evil was meant to be.
The game excels at creating an atmosphere that plays on your deepest fears and has you terrified to even consider opening any door in the decrepit house. Some of the tropes are certainly overused and seem a bit predictable, but Resident Evil 7 is all about presentation. These days, it’s hard to discover anything that hasn’t been done before in the horror genre. Resident Evil 7 features your usual eerie dolls, disembodied noises, undead foes and unidentifiable slimy substances. How it deals with unveiling all of these things to you in a way that slowly allows suspense to build before slapping you in the face with one of your worst fears, however, is what makes the game feel delightfully terrifying.
Yakuza 0 was released back in 2015 for gamers in Japan but it finally made its way to The States this March. It’s hard to fill a game with this much violence and sheer silliness and still have it be a huge success. Fortunately, the Yakuza series has mastered this formula. Yakuza 0 serves as a prequel to the Yakuza series but has clearly learned a lot from both the successes and failures of predecessors. The Yakuza series tends to fly a bit under the radar in the U.S. at times, but it’s a franchise that is worthy of its fair share of praise. It’s environment has a stunning amount of character and ambiance. Gameplay is dynamic and can easily suck you in for hours without feeling monotonous or too repetitive. Simply put, Yakuza 0 is a compelling prequel that successfully bares the burden to laying a foundation to an already incredibly complex narrative.
Some gamers have written Nioh off as nothing more than a Dark Souls copy but that seems rather unfair. While it’s clear to see that Nioh certainly owes a lot of its inspiration to the Dark Souls series, the game still has some major successes of its own. Dark Souls certainly laid the foundation here for Nioh but Team Ninja has presented more than just a random Dark Souls copy cat. At first glance, Nioh seemed like it would be an average game at best and a slow start to the story certainly seemed like it would confirm that lackluster first impression. Once you spend a few solid hours with the game, however, you realize that there is quite a bit to be praised. Nioh’s environments serve as wonderful hosts to some pretty engaging and technically impressive combat. In this respect it seems to pull quite a bit of its inspiration from the likes of Bloodborne but manages to build upon that combat system by adding some of its own unique flair.
Nioh does more than just offer stellar battles, though. Deep exploration of this world is absolutely necessary but it doesn’t feel like a chore. Exploring Nioh’s world is incredibly rewarding and you would have likely found yourself doing it even if it weren’t such a key element of the game. There are certainly areas where Nioh seems to try too hard and ultimately ends up selling out on itself. Mystical samurais with X-Men-like powers just don’t seem to fit well with the universe Nioh has created. With so much compelling content to stumble upon elsewhere in this game, however, the oddity of a few bland foes won’t be nearly enough to ruin your experience. Overall, Nioh is an impressive title that certainly stands on its own two feet—even if Dark Souls may have bought the shoes.
Toukiden 2 is a surprisingly impressive and somewhat daring addition to the Toukiden series. Toukiden 2 received a lot of praise for daring to change up its gameplay with an open world. The game takes place two years after the events of Toukiden Kiwami and feels very similar in both style and combat. Familiar elements of the series make a return—oni, mitama, the weapon classes, a central village that essentially serves as headquarters—but new elements also make Toukiden 2 feel a bit refreshing. The biggest change is the new open world format that does away with some of the more dated elements that hunting games often cling on to. The change certainly comes with its missed moments and the Toukiden series continues to struggle with crafting a compelling main narrative. With all that being said, however, the final product is still solid. If you’re looking for an entertaining way to hack and slash through monsters, Toukiden 2 is certainly the way to go.
Night in the Woods
Frankly, the world needed a beautiful side scrolling narrative game that served as a reminder that it doesn’t always take a massive open world to make a great game. Night in the Woods has a beautiful art style that stands out among other modern titles. While gameplay here is rather limited, the story’s art direction and overall narrative will easily win you over. This crowd-funded masterpiece combines simple interactions with a wide variety of mini games to create a surprisingly entertaining experience. Meanwhile, the game also allows gamers to explore themes that are insightful and rather emotional. Sure, it features moments of comedic gold as well but those hilarious moments are all but necessary to help balance out some of the darker notes.
Infinite Fall created a unique title that is a lot of fun to play, but also manages to be a lot more than just a good time. It’s also as profound as it gets. The game boldly tackles the struggles of middle-class citizens, troubled youth, depression and so much more.