It’s kind of hard not to feel a touch of doom and gloom at the moment, isn’t it? Everywhere you look something is falling apart of its own accord or being manipulated to do so.
It’s like someone’s let loose a Tinkerbell of despair and she’s taken to sprinkling her miserable magic over almost everything. You can fly? No, but you can cry.
Love that actor? Sorry, he’s a relentless predator. Dared to add avocado to your brunch? Well, that’s your flat deposit gone. Feeling an ounce of positivity? Turn your attention to the Shakespearean tragedy currently taking place on the world stage.
It’s no surprise, then, that when January 2017 trundled around there was no cynicism spared when it came to thinking about the year ahead in gaming.
A trying time
There were, initially, familiar things that we actually felt safe enough to get excited about like Mass Effect and Star Wars Battlefront 2. But, well, we needed them to be good so much that we placed them on pedestals high enough to lose sight of what they were ever realistically going to be. It just made it so much worse when we had to tear them down and bandage our hurt with prickly words on social media.
Then there was the return of Nintendo, rising from the ashes of the Wii U like an ungainly phoenix. It had a new console coming but the company’s messaging was unclear and it probably wasn’t going to have a great library anyway. One launch title? Please. VR? Don’t expect to hear much more from that this year. Wouldn’t bother getting excited about that game, either, it’s only going to be delayed.
And yet, strange things began to happen. An old 'Switch-eroo', if you like, of fortunes and expectations...
Tales of the unexpected
Yes, it’s easy to look at the bad points. But that’s why this year at TechRadar we’d like to cast a twinkling eye over the most positive moments for gaming in 2017 because there were a great many of them.
It really has been a fantastic year for games in so many ways but some of the best moments have been the unexpected surprises.
Aging franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Persona, Sonic, Wolfenstein and Resident Evil returned reinvigorated and we fell in love with them all over again.
Hopes weren’t high for Mario & Rabbids Kingdom Battle after it was revealed at E3 but it ended up being utterly charming. Games like Nier: Automata, Cuphead, Horizon: Zero Dawn, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice proved that you don’t have to be in the mainstream with a huge pre-existing fanbase to achieve commercial success. There’s still room for new faces in gaming.
Hell, in less than a year PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds went from a Steam Early Access launch to selling more than 20 million copies and an exclusive deal with Microsoft. If we have one more conversation about a chicken dinner that doesn't end in some real-life gravy and mashed potatoes we're going to start a battle royale of our own.
More than ever we’re seeing players have a say in how their games are made thanks to pre-release programs and constantly evolving online worlds. This is for good and bad, of course – some players are more vociferous in having their say than others. But it does mean if a game is released in a less-than-ideal state it doesn’t mean the end. No Man's Sky has pulled it back this year after all. Kind of.
The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles have reached the four year generational peak and we’re seeing some incredible multiplatform releases as a result.
The future for home consoles is beginning to blossom in an inviting way as Sony and Microsoft lay stepping stones into the 4K future rather than pulling the rug of the present out from under us.
Now that the PS4 Pro and the long-awaited Xbox One X are on the market together we have even more justification for that expensive new 4K TV purchase. These new mid-generation releases haven’t changed the games being released in a particularly big way though – with cross-platform sales vital for third party publishers, and Microsoft and Sony both mandating backwards compatibility for the baseline PS4 and Xbox One consoles, developers haven't been given much leeway as to harnessing the specific advantages unique to each new machine.
Still, at least it means that we all get to enjoy many of the same games for the most part whether a PlayStation or Xbox fan, and with comparable visual and performance quality, too.
When it comes to console advances, slow and steady changes that don’t force us to start our game collection from scratch are more welcome. As much as anything, 2017 was a year of greater player consideration and choice in gaming.
The true gamechanger, though? As we've already hinted, that’s probably the Nintendo Switch.
After the sad tale of the Wii U, Nintendo proved that it’s still a console manufacturing force to be reckoned with when it released the unique and accessible Switch in March.
Things didn’t look great for the console in the run up to its release – the online infrastructure wasn’t complete (okay it still isn't); Nintendo appeared to be continuing its long held tradition of being its own worst enemy and repeating many of the mistakes it made with the Wii U; and it only had one launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and even that was also going to be available as the Wii U's swan song.
Yet here we are at the end of 2017 and more than 10 million Switch consoles have been sold. We’re pretty sure that if Sony or Microsoft had gone around a console release the way Nintendo did with the Switch the outcome would have been nowhere near the same. There would have been boycotts, petitions, some grovelling. A small fire at best, defenestration at worst.
But the Switch is a console that’s remarkably easy to love because it does what it set out to do so well. It does kind of seem at this point that every time Nintendo falls, it lands on a bouncy castle of success. Handy in those aforementioned instances of defenestration.
Its single launch title has taken the best game crown at various industry awards and it seems like no developer can announce a new game without being asked if it’ll come to the Switch. You can see in their faces they're tired of it. We've dubbed it the Switch Twitch.
With a varied year-one launch library, book-ended by Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, we’re looking at one of the most diverse game lineups a Nintendo console has had in a long time.
There are strong indications that Nintendo finally understands its audience – how to appeal to our playful inner-child without making us feel, well, childish. Nintendo's newest games have reached a new level of maturity that doesn't utilize excessive violence or shock tactics.
Yes, there was the memorable day when Mario unleashed his nipples in a beachfront display the likes of which hasn't been seen since Baywatch but that's about as risque as it got. And that’s leaving us feeling positive about what’s coming from Nintendo in 2018. As long as Tom Nook keeps that knitted vest top where it belongs we'll continue to feel that way.
Between the stellar hardware and an incredible variety of games we think 2017 has set good precedent for an excellent 2018. Such good precedent, in fact, we’re probably still going to be working through our must-play 2017 titles for the first half of 2018.
Which we'll be pretty thankful for if the next year proves to be a massive disappointment instead – hey, it's hard to predict these things and our cynicism was gasping for air.
- These are our picks of the best PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch games from this year and past years