Release drought? No problem! These are the best games of the year so far

By Staff, Monday, 19 June 2017 08:37 GMT

resident evil 7

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

After spending pretty much the entire history of the franchise wandering about without the slightest clue as to what it was doing, Capcom all of a sudden got its shit together and produced Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Just look at those reviews; Resi’s back, babes.

Effectively combining new school first-person horror trappings (think Amnesia: The Dark Descent, P.T.) with a bunch of series standbys like loot management and coloured herbs, Resident Evil 7 is that rare sort of reboot that manages to be both faithful and familiar. It’s a hell of an achievement: genuinely scary, extremely slick, and just generous enough with story and mysteries to keep you pushing through the pain of the boss fights (oh, what’s this? is it a Resident Evil 7 guide and walkthrough? Gosh).

Although all versions are good, solid builds, if you’re onboard VR it’s worthwhile picking up a PS4 copy of Resident Evil 7 and strapping yourself in – although we’re dreading the first report of someone actually dying while playing a VR horror game.

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Yakuza 0

The darling of social media in the weeks following its late January release, Yakuza 0 follows the grand traditions of the series in combining a gritty gangster drama with lashings of absurdity; it manages both heartfelt, knowledgable engagement with its serious subject matter and a rampant, camp playfulness that gels beautifully with the over the top goings on of the criminal underworld.

Always a cult favourite, the series has really benefited from the arrival of the social era – Yakuza 0 and its infamous chicken brought about a reprint of the first four games as everybody rushed out to devour as much of this team’s oeuvre as they could get their hands on.

Yakuza 0 is a prequel story and the next western release, Yakuza Kiwami (releasing in August), is a retelling of the first game – so there’s never been a better time to get onboard. Take a punt on the Yakuza series before it goes big and you have to pretend you know what everyone’s tweeting about.

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Hitman

No shut up, it absolutely does count, because it only arrived on disc this year and if you haven’t played it yet then you were probably one of those people who complained about the episodic release. Turns out Hitman worked marvellously in small, slow bites seasoned with the spice regular limited time events – but if you insist, pick it up all at once now the dust has settled. (Individual episodes won’t be available for much longer if you just want to dip a toe.)

Hitman has always been a good time but it was just a little bit too hardcore for general acclaim. After swinging too far in the opposite direction with the more mainstream Absolution, IO Interactive got back on track with an absolutely smashing stealth sandbox. Limited only by your skill, imagination and knowledge of the level and gameplay systems, you’re encouraged to play with the mechanics rather than shouted through a series of waypoints. The freedom can be daunting, but makes for incredible tension.

IO Interactive has gone indie and secured the rights to Hitman, which means Square Enix escapes our wrath for the moment and a second season of murders looks pretty certain. Get the first lot under your belt so you can pretend you’ve been here all along.

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Nioh

Seven years in the making, Nioh owes more than a little to From Software’s Souls family – but to write it off as a clone would be a mistake.

For one thing, Nioh is a product of Team Ninja – the studio responsible for Ninja Gaiden. Far more than the Souls games, it demands action gameplay skills; the mess of stats and elemental attributes will only get you so far, and then you’re going to have to learn how to twitch. That said, the pure reflex Souls players are going to hit walls too, as Nioh throws a number of curve balls that seem almost targeted at FromSoft veterans. (Did someone write a Nioh guide to help you through this difficult time? Oh, it looks like they did.)

Sony published this PS4 exclusive because Koei Tecmo took one look at this hot ticket and knew it deserved a serious push. It got it, too, and Nioh was one of the most played and talked about games of early 2017. Don’t sleep on it.

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Horizon Zero Dawn

A love letter to The Witcher 3 which CD Projekt accepted with blushing cheers, Guerrilla’s Horizon Zero Dawn is a gloriously beautiful game (with an excellent photo mode).

A satisfyingly deep combat system where knowledge is power and upgrades are treasures well worth chasing complements a beautifully communicated sci-fi narrative, backed up by a tidy gaggle of open world adventures that never stray into fatiguing kitchen sink territory. It certainly deserved its smashing reviews, and honestly our only complaint about this one is that we would have enjoyed more of it – and E3 2017 brought us word of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds dropping later this year.

Easy to miss in all the Switch excitement of the following week, Horizon Zero Dawn is lining up to be a key PlayStation franchise. Get in on the ground floor.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It’s still light on big releases but the Switch has proved it’s here to stay; the no fuss transformation from home console to portable to party machine is way better than we would have believed. And then, of course, there’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – a system seller if we ever saw on, despite also releasing on Wii U.

If you have any interest in The Legend of Zelda, if you like open world RPGs at all, or if you just want to lust after sexy sharks, you owe it to yourself to give this one a go. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best-reviewed games ever, and we can assure you – that’s not nostalgia talking. It lives up to the hype.

With absolute freedom to go wherever you want, a zillion collectibles and a difficulty level much higher than Nintendo’s family-friendly reputation suggests, Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an easy game to get lost in (plug plug Zelda: Breath of the Wild guide and walkthrough plug plug). Happily, this version of Hyrule is one you won’t want to escape any time soon.

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Ghost Recon: Wildlands

As of the April NPD, good old Ghost Recon: Wildlands was the bestselling game of the year in the US. It’s done so well that Ubisoft felt moved to mention to investors that it now has 44 million players across the Tom Clancy range.

Having reviewed strongly, Wildlands went on to dominate sales charts, perhaps by virtue of being the only big “real world” open world action release since Watch Dogs 2. Building on this early appeal, DLC and seasonal events keep players coming back even in a year crowded with time-eating releases.

Sparking a diplomatic incident between France and Bolivia probably didn’t hurt its brand awareness, either. If you’re sick of GTA Online and want something to suck up a couple of dozen hours while you piss about with your mates ticking off those compulsive Ubisoft content checklists, well, you’re well and truly covered.

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Nier Automata

Here’s the story: there’s this guy called Yoko Taro. He made a bunch of games that were kind of hard to get into, because the action was a bit rubbish or the execution wasn’t quite there or (in the case of Drakengard 3) his heart just wasn’t in it. Those few who managed to look past all this had their minds gently blown, over and over again.

Square Enix, apparently forgetting the ruthless business tactics it has displayed with regards to its western studios, keeps on funding these games regardless, and the good news is this time it worked: teaming Taro up with Platinum Games gave us Nier Automata, and finally you too can experience the delight of being kicked in the guts till you fall down by the intricately layered storytelling previously locked away behind unfriendly barriers.

We hate talking about Nier Automata because so much of what it does well works much, much better if you’re not waiting for it to happen. Look, just play it – it’s a fun action game (turn the difficulty down! Turn the difficulty up! Leave it in the middle! They’re all great) that takes you on a pleasant enough journey – before taking you on another one. And another one. And then, if you sit down and think about it, takes you on one more inside your own head, which may leave you dazed and aroused. This is perfectly normal and precisely what you paid for.

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PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

The latest early access darling, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds grew out of the modding scene in the same way DayZ did and became an overnight phenomenon.

The basic setup is this: you and a bunch of other wowsers are flown into an island dotted with random vehicle, weapon and equipment spawns. You choose when to bail out of the plane and parachute gently to your desired location, and then you’re on your own – well, hopefully. See, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is player versus player at its purest, and from the moment you touch ground you’re embroiled in an all-out war with everyone else. (You may want these PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds tips.)

There’s no enemy quite like another human player, and the risk-reward play at the heart of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is as much about psychology as it is about twitch skills. A stream of updates keeps things fresh (and ever-improving), and even when you spend most of the round sweating in a bush only to be sniped as soon as you poke your head out, it’s really hard to resist the lure of one more try.

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Dark Souls 3: The Fire Fades

You do not have to be good at action video games to enjoy From Software’s RPGs. All that talk about “git gud” and twitch reflex is a distraction from what makes things really fun: the mystery of picking your way through a game that refuses to explain itself to you, and the satisfaction when you sort it out. But just like the western gamers who understood and enjoyed the RPGs that baffled Japanese gamers with their poor or missing translations, you can still have a good time even if you accept a helping hand and cheese the whole thing.

This is our way of saying pick up Dark Souls 3: The Fire Fades even if you’ve tried Souls and disliked it or found it too hard. A sort of greatest hits compilation of the first two games and their DLC, it revisits sublime moments and themes while presenting the most fair and accessible version of Souls gameplay to date. It’s a fantastic jumping on point for those who’d love to explore the mysterious, dark and beautiful setting but have been put off by the much-exaggerated hardcore thing.

One day you’ll be standing in a bar or a mall or a convention centre and someone will say Dark Souls 3 burned a scar onto their soul and you will raise your eyes to meet theirs and say, perhaps, “Oceiros”, and before you know it you’ll be married, deliriously happy and pursuing your dream of opening the Uber of artisanal pizzas. When that happens, you’ll thank us.

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Persona 5

No game is perfect but judging by review scores the incredible Persona 5 is about as close as you’ll ever get. The best JRPG in a decade, it absolutely dunks on poor, old, confused Final Fantasy 15 by being slick as hell, united in a singular vision, and refusing to pander to western sensibilities.

This is a very Japanese game, and don’t take this the wrong way but unless you have lived immersed in Japanese culture for many years and play in the original language, much of the courage and impact of its political themes will go right over your head. Fortunately there’s enough universality to Persona 5 that it’s a hell of a good time anyway. We were delighted to see it at the top of the charts and see series creator Katsura Hashino go out on such a high note.

You’ll need a couple of hundred hours to appreciate Persona 5 fully (a strict streaming and Let’s Play policy means you must play it yourself) and it’s not a forgiving game, so do yourself a favour and take out Persona 5 test answers guide and Persona 5 confidante gift guide with you. Adolescent life is hard enough, innit.

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Outlast Trinity

No, they’re not subtle, but if you go in for shock horror hoping for nuance you’re inevitably going to be disappointing. Outlast Trinity gathers up both of Red Barrels’ excellent thrillers along with the Whistleblower expansion, giving you the complete experience in one horrible, terrifying package.

Unlike soft-horror survival action games, Outlast Trinity does not give you an arsenal of weapons and tell you you’re scared because you only have 20 bullets instead of 200; it plonks you down with nothing but your wits and then proceeds to scare you out of them with a combination of deeply creepy atmosphere, jump scares and nauseating gore.

Here’s a bit of an Outlast spoiler for you: nothing nice happens. Everything is horrible. Is this a selling point? Oh, yes.

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Prey

Before you dive into Prey, you need to know that it’s not really an FPS or a survival horror affair: it’s an RPG (or immersive sim, if you prefer) in the same vein as Deus Ex. Your choices and actions have immediate and important gameplay ramifications and you’ll sweat over every upgrade and crafting choice.

If you get stuck, turn the difficulty down and have at it; it’s worth a little indignity to keep on trekking through the sci-fi psychological thriller Prey slowly unwinds before you. This is one of those games that sticks with you and turns up on “best games ever” lists years down the track. Everyone will be pretending they played it. Make sure you really did.

Listen though: if you are going to go for it, stay away from the embarrassingly wonky PS4 build, which somehow just keeps getting worse. If you can manage it, the PC build of Prey is way better than either console. Bit of a turnaround for Arkane on the Dishonored 2 PC disaster there, but absolutely wonderful news for fans of a genre that has always been most welcome and at home among old-school PC gamers.

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Injustice 2

If you only pick up one fighter this year it had probably better be Injustice 2. Oh sure, Tekken 7 is an extremely solid fighter – but it’s also bloody light on content in a way we thought we were done with after that whole Street Fighter 5 launch disaster.

In absolute contrast, Injustice 2 is packed to the gills with stuff to do. It doesn’t feel like an eSports client; you’re not invited merely to be grist in the mills of pro players training for tournaments. You’re here to have a good time and get your money’s worth from a game that keeps being fun even if you don’t carry a fight stick off to LAN parties.

It also helps that it’s packed with DC favourites, obviously – Wonder Woman is an especial favourite right now – so it’s easy to get your pals playing with you. Everybody wants a bit of the DCU now that it has produced at least one recent movie that doesn’t make you ashamed to be seen in your Batman PJs.

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