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2017 Action Game Of The Year Awards

by Matt Miller on Jan 05, 2018 at 12:09 PM

The best action games get our hearts beating, inspire us to see what’s over the next hill, and thrill us with intense moments of traversal, combat, and discovery. Check out our selections for the greatest that 2017 had to offer in the action genre. 

Best Story: Horizon Zero Dawn

For hours, Horizon keeps the story focus small and contained, focusing on interpersonal dramas and the coming-of-age tale of its central hero. When the big beats finally hit in the latter half of the game, they reignite excitement in the player with tales of a long-forgotten fall of humanity, and the strange machines that rose up to occupy the world. Horizon’s fascinating slow-drip of new storytelling eventually turns into a deluge, and the depth and tragedy of the tale is magnificent.

Best Setting: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Assassin’s Creed has always looked to history to inspire its game worlds, but the developers have never cast the net so far back as they did with Origins. Ancient Egypt is redrawn with a historian’s acumen and an artist’s eye, bringing the Nile Delta to life and firing up the imagination. Through a focus on actual historical culture and religion, the lands of Assassin’s Creed Origins feel genuine and vast in scope, letting us get lost in the fantasy of living thousands of years in the past.  

Best Character: Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn)

Horizon is a game of unbelievable sites, like giant robotic dinosaurs and the famous landmarks of Colorado and Utah as they will appear hundreds years after falling into ruin. The story’s lead character grounds that over-the-top world-building. Aloy is down-to-earth, heroic, and wise beyond her years, and simultaneously fights and hunts with skill and tenacity. In both small personal conversations and world-shaping moments, she proves her worth, and earns her spot as one of 2017’s most compelling video game heroes. 

Next Page: Which action game had the best combat? And what about handheld action games?

Best Combat: Middle-earth: Shadow of War

Building on the rhythm and counter-based battle systems of games like the original Assassin’s Creed, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and its own predecessor, Shadow of War offers an engaging and acrobatic system of dodges, strikes, and parries. But it’s as the game’s gigantic skill system slowly unfolds that the real depth appears, as dozens of new moves and options flesh out your arsenal. Integrating summoned beasts, supernatural wraith powers, and brutal melee finishers, Shadow of War offers up a symphony of destructive capability, and one of the most potent power fantasies of 2017.

Best Handheld: Metroid: Samus Returns

For years, the second Metroid game lived in relative obscurity compared to its more famous console cousins. MercurySteam and Nintendo aimed to change all that in 2017, answering fan demand and finally releasing a 2D Metroid game. The remake and reimagining of Metroid II went significantly further than many fans had expected, totally redesigning major aspects of the game, effectively giving us a new entry in the venerated series only loosely based on the original. For 3DS owners, it was another strong entry for the portable platform, and a dream come true for many franchise fans. Here’s hoping Nintendo got the message, and won’t wait so long next time before giving us another Metroid.

Best Graphics: Uncharted: Lost Legacy

It’s almost a given that Naughty Dog is going to over-deliver on the integration of art, animation, and technical execution. But each time, it doesn’t impress us any less. Lost Legacy proves the Uncharted franchise has strength even without its traditional lead, Nathan Drake. That’s thanks in large part to the breathtaking visuals, which revealed stunning views of modern-day India juxtaposed against striking ancient ruins. Like so many Naughty Dog games, it’s easy to take a break from the action, rotate the camera, and simply marvel at the vistas on display.

Next Page: How did the action genre fare in VR? And what was 2017's greatest overall action game?

Best VR Action: Resident Evil 7

Virtual reality has struggled to find purchase with big mainstream games, often offering a compromised or lesser experience while wearing the headset. Not so with Resident Evil 7, which arguably offers its scariest and most immersive version in VR. Smart movement controls, detailed graphics, and mesmerizing sound design all helped the VR version of the game shine. Players pulled off their headsets shaking with terror and disturbed by the authenticity of the experience, and in a first-person horror game, what more could you ask for?

Best Indie Action Game: Nex Machina 

Mixing taut action shooting with manic score-chasing speed, Housemarque once again wows with its eye for the arcade experience. Nex Machina is a rich and challenging playthrough the very first time you try it. However, like the best arcade games, Nex Machina has tremendous depth that appears upon repeat plays. As the difficulty rises, the player’s skill rises to meet it, demanding twitch reflexes, careful observation, and muscle memory to succeed. 

Best Bosses: Cuphead

Whether played alone or with a friend at your side, Cuphead takes you from one great boss to the next. Inspired by the classic cartoons of the 1930s, each zany character you fight is more challenging than the last. Memorization and quick thumb skills are the only way to make progress, but even as you curse at the difficulty, you can’t help but love the artistry. 

Best Remastered Action Game: Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

Faithful to a fault, the remake of the original Crash Bandicoot games offers the definitive versions of these beloved PlayStation classics. Originally designed during a different era in platforming and action gameplay, the levels are difficult, the jumps demand perfect timing, and the slapstick humor is over the top. Rather than reinvent something that was an artifact of its times, this extremely careful rework preserves almost everything about the original, but in a snazzy, graphically enhanced package. 

Best Action Game: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The video game world has no shortage of open-world experiences on offer in recent years, but Nintendo proved that there are still some tricks we haven’t seen yet. By giving control and power to players to shape the adventure, Breath of the Wild feels creative, freeform, and emergent in its gameplay. While paying homage to the Zelda adventures of the past, this new adventure strikes out on its own, and redefines core systems like weapons, dungeon design, and progression, all while letting players go anywhere they want at any moment. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a triumph of discovery, exploration, and tense battles, and proves the classic series can still surprise us.