It feels like I say this every year with even greater emphasis each time, but there’s been a better time to be a gamer. There are more AAA games on the market than ever before with some serious classic dropping over the last twelve months and arguably just as many controversies surrounding publishers who just keep trying to push the buttons of gamers with some questionable monetisation practices.
Away from that, however, “smaller” titles have been killing it. While the headline grabbers tend to push the envelope from a technical standpoint with increasingly bigger budgets, smaller scale fare succeeds in doing the simple things correctly while also introducing new and interesting quirks.
However, not all of the underrated games of 2017 you’ll find below are what you would call indie. Whether it’s down to them not necessarily being marketed as well as they should have been or falling into congested release windows, some huge games haven’t reached the audiences they deserve over the past year, or just not received as many plaudits as they should have.
Any games that you think should have added to the list? Let us know in the comments down below.
Developer: Tribute Games Publisher: Tribute Games Platform(s): XB1, PS4, PC
It took me a little while to discover Flinthook, but what an infuriatingly addictive little gem it turned out to be. A roguelike with heavy emphasis on dying over and over until you die less frequently, Flinthook’s charming art style makes it easy to forgive just how unforgiving it is, as well as giving the player a sincere sense of achievement once an obstacle is finally overcome.
Flinthook’s big hook (heh) compared to some of its peers is the use of a grappling hook to allow the player to get around the many dangerous rooms on pirate ships, which the protagonist must battle their way through to eventually fight a bounty. It’s not perfect (the environments are perhaps too deadly compared to the actual things attacking you), but Flinthook is a wonderful timesink that’s hard to resist. Also, that soundtrack.
Developer: Housemarque Publisher: Housemarque Platform(s): PS4, PC
If this is one of the last arcade games Housemarque release, it’s a fitting way for them to stamp their mark as one of the best developers at what they (used to) do. It’s a damn shame, too, because Nex Machina isn’t just one of the most impressive titles in their also hugely impressive catalogue, but also one of the year’s greatest.
Utterly breathless, Nex Machina is a top-down twin-stick shooter that will transform you from a bewildered player to a killing machine with delusions of being an arcade cabinet hero from the eighties. Backed by a sublimely crafted soundtrack and a lot more content than meets the eye, Nex Machina is one game from 2017 that any retro fans shouldn’t dare miss out on.
Rise & Shine
Developer: Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team Publisher: Adult Swim Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
I praised Rise & Shine on release back in January, going on to give it one of my highest review scores ever. I think I may have been a bit of an outlier; overall reception to the side-scrolling shooter from the word count boosting Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team has been somewhat mixed.
Rise & Shine won’t be for everyone, and neither is it without flaws. Its short length and absolutely crippling difficulty spikes are drawbacks, but as a love letter to gaming with a beautiful style and unique combat, it’s really worth at least trying out.
“That being said, when the gameplay is this good, the visuals this damn captivating, and its identity this unique while also being respectful of its inspirations, I would find it hard not to recommend Rise & Shine to anyone looking for something to kick off a new gaming year with.”
Developer: Alientrap Games Publisher: Alientrap Games Platform(s): PC, PS4
2017 has been a great year for roguelikes; Cryptark is another example of just that. It’s not a revolutionary game, but its unique premise –invading ships on behalf of a shady organisation for money– creates some really interesting scenarios, such as having to disable the ship’s security before taking away its core.
Compared to its peers, however, Cryptark doesn’t want you gently ease yourself into what it’s about. Finances are finite, so if you keep dying over and over without a reward, you’re going to have an uphill battle on your hands. If you’re after a neat sci-fi indie title with some lovely twin-stick combat and a quirky personality, Cryptark could be right up your alley.
“A superb roguelike with a somewhat unique style and feel to it, recommended for the slightly more tactically-minded minded players compared to the likes of Spelunky and Rogue Legacy.”
Styx: Shards of Darkness
Developer: Cyanide Publisher: Focus Home Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
Stealth games have been having a bit of a comeback over the last couple of years. As much as people may wax lyrical about the likes of Dishonored and Hitman, there’s one far less mainstream title worth checking out that harkens back to some of the classics.
Shards of Darkness, the follow-up to Master of Shadows, doesn’t drastically change things up from its predecessor. Instead, it’s more of a refinement with some tighter controls and a better story. Styx, the abrasive goblin protagonist, has a polarising personality, but if you like your main characters to be deeply unlikeable dickheads, he could find a place in your heart.
“Fans of the original should adore this follow-up that acts as an antithesis to Assassin’s Creed et al, but newcomers may also be in for a nice surprise. It’s been released in an inopportune window with massive AAA games still giving players dozen of hours of playtime, but this isn’t a game you should allow to disappear into the shadows. Styx would probably call you a pussy anyway.”
Probably the highest profile entry on this list, Arkane’s Prey didn’t exactly set the world alight when it was released and to deny its flaws would be totally myopic. The combat is flimsy, the controls are sometimes awkward, and the story takes a long time to hit its stride, but in terms of tone, aesthetic, and atmosphere, Prey is one of the year’s most appealing games.
If you’re crying out for a new System Shock, Arkane’s subtle homages to its inspirations will keep you enraptured throughout potentially dozens of hours of strife aboard Talos I. A nightmare is yours to suffer through almost any way you see fit, so don’t sleep on this if you’re someone who’s crying out for more expansive single-player games. As another incentive, it’s dirt cheap almost everywhere now.
“Prey mixes BioShock with Dishonored and a dash of System Shock – the result is an engrossing setting with palpable tension, tons of reasons to explore and a compelling narrative that takes a couple surprising turns.”
Developer: SEGA Publisher: SEGA Platform(s): PS4, PS3
I’ll be honest with you: I have owned Yakuza 0 since July and haven’t made much of a dent in it yet – it’s barely even started opening Kamurocho up to me yet. But I can already tell that it’s something special, particularly because my colleague Nick doesn’t shut up about it.
If you’re tired of open-worlds with nothing to do in them, Yakuza 0, a game which sees you singing karaoke and punching idiots in the head in the same five minutes, might be the perfect antidote. It released in January –hardly peak gaming season– so if you missed out on it at the start of the year, pick it up at the year’s end instead and get lost in this dense and inviting game for dozens of hours.
Hand of Fate 2
Developer: Defiant Development Publisher: Defiant Development Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
A sequel to a game which itself was pretty underrated when it came out back in 2015, Hand of Fate 2 from Defiant Development is more of the good stuff for fans of the predecessor. The strange hybrid of collecting cards and action shouldn’t work, but it somehow does and even better than before.
The changes aren’t wholesale with Hand of Fate 2 – it’s more a case of polishing and building upon what came before it. It’s just bigger and arguably better, which may not persuade those who didn’t love the first game, but if you’re after something that isn’t like anything else out there, Hand of Fate 2 could certainly scratch an itch.
“The Dealer has returned for the second iteration of his card game, making Hand of Fate 2 a much more well-rounded and enjoyable experience. Though it’s not perfect, and the element of chance won’t be to everyone’s taste, Hand of Fate 2 is worth checking out for anyone with an interest in fantasy RPG’s.”
Before Yooka-Laylee came along and wrapped twentysomethings everywhere up in warm, nostalgic feelings, Poi brought its throwback charms to PC. Coming across like a loving homage to Super Mario 64, Poi was irresistibly old-school in almost every regard, asking players to collect items until family members staged an intervention for a hoarding problem.
Poi is a labour of love, a platformer that doffs its cap at those that laid its foundations. Younger gamers may not necessarily fall head over heels in love with it, but if you have a propensity to throw money at anything that looks even remotely retro on Kickstarter, Poi could be the finished product ready and waiting for you to discover it. It recently had console ports, so no excuses.
The traditional rhythm game had has its day, so why not shoot some aliens while you grind along to some dirty bass instead? Aaero shouldn’t work and be so appealing to people who don’t like EDM, but even if you’re the staunchest hater of the genre there is, it’s hard to deny that it’s wonderfully married to a retro shooter with Mad Fellows’ effort from earlier in the year.
Aaero’s main gameplay loop revolves around “grinding” along rails to match basslines of tracks before asking you to fend off other spaceships. Bonus points are rewarded for keep everything within the beat of the music, so there’s a lot to work through here for perfectionists. It might be a little light on content, but even if you only play it for a few hours, Aaero is a wonderfully refreshing game all the same.
“If you like dubstep, you’re going to love Aaero. If you don’t like dubstep, you’re probably still going to love Aaero. It’s simply one of the best rhythm games on the market right now, bucketloads of dub or not.”
Developer: Motion Twin Publisher: Motion Twin Platform(s): PC
It might be getting obvious to you now that a lot of roguelike and Metroidvania-esque games are making up this list. Dead Cells is another one, though it might be the best of the lot and it isn’t even out of Early Access – that’s just how damn good it is.
Procedurally generated dungeons and all kinds of increasingly difficult foes await you in Dead Cells, so don’t come unprepared or at all if you aren’t prepared to die plenty of times before you can feel somewhat competent. Featuring tight combat and a difficulty level that’s incredibly challenging but never totally unfair, Dead Cells is coming along very nicely ahead of an expected full release sometime next year, so get aboard to see what other magic Motion Twin can squeeze into the game before then.
Developer: Team Shifty Publisher: tinyBuild Platform(s): PS4, XB1, Switch, PC, Mac
Looking like the murderous lovechild of Dishonored and Hotline Miami, Mr Shifty is a top down action game with plenty to offer those who like to grit their teeth to victory. It’s unrelenting as you gradually make your way up a tower filled with bad sorts who want to kill you, kind of like The Raid if it was a somewhat ludicrous video game.
It’s available on plenty of platforms, but for optimum portable carnage, pick up Mr. Shifty on the Switch for some murder while you’re on the bus or some relaxing elevator music while you’re sat on the toilet. Teleport your way towards this as soon as you can if you haven’t already.
“Mr Shifty is a very fun, fast-paced game with several hours of playtime in the first playthrough. It has a high replayability factor, with each level being selectable from the menu, letting you try to play each level faster than the previous time, with less deaths, until you manage a perfect run.”
Developer: Beast Cartel Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform(s): PC
2017 has been the year of the old-school FPS game. Strafe offered a loving look back at the shooter days of yore with mixed results and Dusk showed plenty of promise with an episodic approach, but it was the extremely polygonal and violent High Hell that was the best of the bunch.
Compellingly frantic and a little bit weird, High Hell is not for the faint of heart; some reviews have even compared it favourably to Hotline Miami from a first-person perspective. While the ride may be brief, it’s a wild and wholly entertaining one nonetheless. Plus, it’s the only game from this year that lets you clumsily plaster a JPEG onto the heads of your foes.
“Short but sweet, High Hell could benefit from a bit more variety in player abilities and weapons, but nonetheless makes the most of what it has to create a chaotic, challenging and gratifying few hours of vulgar, hilarious mayhem.”
You are your own worst enemy in Echo. Not in a figurative sense, as if it’s a game along the same lines as Hellblade, but rather that you are being stalked yourself, or rather murderous clones of yourself. If that sounds confusing, it’s all wrapped up in a novel storyline that rationalises it well, backed up by some gorgeous settings.
Primarily a stealth game, Echo’s crown jewel is its adaptive AI. If an “echo” of yourself witnesses you do something while the lights are on, it will be able to do just that in the next loop. So, for instance, if you shoot your way past them in one loop, your next loop is going to be even more dangerous. There’s plenty of trial and error involved in Echo, but when you can teach clones of yourself to play a symphony, you know you have something special.
“Still, the main appeal of ECHO lies in its captivating gameplay, which was more than enough to see me past any quibbles I might have had. Ultra Ultra have quietly released one of the most innovative games of 2017 and one that routinely surprises and delights – I can’t wait to see where they go from here.”
Developer: The Farm 51 Publisher: Bandai Namco Platform(s): PS4, XB1, PC
Get Even is weird. It’s a stealth shooter that has some unique gameplay quirks that don’t always mesh together perfectly, but the developers at The Farm 51 have to be applauded for trying different things. If you can overlook some of its less coherent design choices, Get Even might just be the most underrated FPS game of 2017.
A revenge tale with some surprisingly emotional beats, Get Even is buoyed by some fantastic storytelling and novel gadgets that change the gameplay for the better. It doesn’t hold a candle to some of its bigger peers from a technical standpoint, but Get Even has enough of its own ideas to make it worth seeking out, especially at a comparatively low price.
“Despite some significant deficiencies in the gameplay department, Get Even more than makes up for dull shooting and inconsistent, frustrating stealth with a well-told, genuinely emotional and thought-provoking take on the “enter memories/dreams” concept.”
Developer: ROCKFISH Games Publisher: ROCKFISH Games Platform(s): PC, XB1
One of the year’s Early Access success stories, Everspace puts you in the cockpit of a spaceship and –you guessed it– is a roguelike. As with so many similar games of its ilk, death is a part of the learning and evolving process, so embrace Everspace’s approach and find yourself wrapped up in one of 2017’s best sci-fi games.
You make your own stories in Everspace as you traverse your way through the universe and pick up more loot than you know what to do with. While it does have a story, it’s rather light on the ground – if you wanted a more focused version of something like Elite Dangerous, Everspace could be the game to provide just that.
“Everspace’s rewarding and beautifully presented playground is further bolstered by engrossing background lore and a dedication to keeping its rogue-like elements entrenched within the game’s universe, resulting in perhaps the least-meta game of its kind I’ve ever played. What it lacks in content variety and originality where story is concerned, is made up for by its sheer ability to keep me going for hours – “just one more run.”
Developer: Overhype Studios Publisher: Overhype Studios Platform: PC
Another game for those who like to weave their own stories within games, Battle Brothers is not dissimilar to XCOM 2 in the way you get absolutely engulfed in the lives of the little people you control. It’s a turn-based strategy game set in medieval times with a world that’s full of the undead and orcs. It’s a little bit out there, but plenty of amazing games are.
Command a squad of mercenaries to glory against randomly generated foes and scenarios, all the while building your team up to be a lethal force. You can really get lost inside Battle Brothers, so if you have an addictive personality, you might want to steer clear of this one for your health.
“Battle Brothers is a phenomenal indie game, and despite some minor grindy tids and tads, as well as potentially frustrating randomness, it’s a platform for vast quantities of self-made stories, both cheerful and devastating. Those that revel in the brutal, merciless genre will find a fantastic fantasy setting to devote time to, smashing and slashing across ne’er-do-wells, wild Greenskins and chaotic undead.”