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Best Overall: The Last of Us Remastered at Amazon
"Takes the post-zombie-apocalypse trope and treats it to a fresh perspective."
Best Point-and-Click Adventure: The Walking Dead at Amazon
"Zombies merely serve as a backdrop to the very real human drama unfolding onscreen."
Best Western: Red Dead Redemption 2 at Amazon
"Set in the American West and Southwest, its sprawling fictional world lets you roam free, getting into whatever trouble you like."
Best Sci-Fi: Horizon Zero Dawn at Amazon
"Lauded for its setting, visuals, and well-written story, it earned a nomination for Game of the Year."
Best Coming-of-Age: Life is Strange at Amazon
"Over the course of the five episodes, you will come to face with a variety of complicated decisions."
Best Indie: Night in the Woods at Amazon
"Has a quirky and colorful art style that belies the truly creepy and strange story which engrosses the main cast of characters."
Best Action RPG: NieR: Automata at Amazon
"You take the shape of one of three human-made androids, switching off between stories as you progress."
Best Tactics: Fire Emblem at Amazon
"Players take on the role of an individual character during plot sequences and manipulate military units during combat."
Best Adventure: Uncharted 4 at Amazon
"Sees the return of Nathan Drake, an Indiana Jones-meets-Lara-Croft-style character, as he delves into yet another journey to uncover priceless artifacts and treasure."
Best Graphic Adventure: What Remains of Edith Finch at Amazon
"Finch, the last of her family name, is seeking to find out the truth about a curse that was cast on her family."
Courtesy of Amazon
The Last of Us was originally released for the PS3 in June 2013, when it quickly became a fan favorite. Famously, it takes the post-zombie-apocalypse trope and treats it to a fresh perspective, focusing more on rebuilding for the future and human interaction than gunning down hordes of undead. Gameplay in The Last of Us is a healthy mix of tactical stealth and head-on combat. For instance, you can use "listen mode" to locate enemies you'd rather avoid or easy targets to quietly kill.
You play as the unkempt and exhausted Joel, who has been navigating the new cultural landscape for the better part of twenty years. Along with side characters you meet along the way, you'll spend most of your time escorting Ellie across the treacherous landscapes in order to reach a safe zone. No spoilers, but the story is heavily laden with sadness and emotional hooks that make you never want to put it down. That sadness, however, is tempered with plenty of hope and humanizing moments for even the most despicable characters, painting a bleak yet optimistic picture of what comes after the end of the world.
Much like The Last of Us, in The Walking Dead, zombies merely serve as a backdrop to the very real human drama unfolding onscreen. Season One follows Lee Everett and a large supporting cast of characters as they work to piece together how the zombie apocalypse had started and where pockets of civilization may remain. The remaining three seasons center around Clementine as she learns to survive in a world where no one can be trusted, much less be relied on for help.
The overarching theme of The Walking Dead series is one of sacrifice. Every character you encounter brings with them weighty choices and story threads. And with no clear right or wrong answers, you're forced to consider every outcome, ultimately choosing the one with the least collateral damage. Giving one person life-saving medicine, for example, might mean losing someone else later; sharing food rations may mean starvation for one person or the whole group.
If you’re looking for an engaging narrative, and maybe even a good cry, The Walking Dead is not only Telltale Games' swan song, it's an uncontested masterpiece. And the Definitive Edition comes with every episode.
Red Dead Redemption 2, a prequel to the first game, follows the story of Arthur Morgan as he navigates the decline of the romantic Wild West, choosing between loyalty to his outlaw gang and doing right by his personal moral code. Set in the American West and Southwest, its sprawling fictional world lets you roam free, getting into whatever trouble you like. Unholster your weapon to engage in gunfights with rival gangs and roving bandits. Investigate crimes committed by others. Take on fetch quests. Fend off animal attacks.
The overarching plot has Morgan butt heads with government agents, oil magnates, and other outlaws while more granular story beats offer a wonderful portrayal of the Wild West’s decline as Americans push for territorial expansion. Settlers are forced into new and unfamiliar roles. Some even resort to living life outside the law. Red Dead Redemption 2 scatters plenty of stories around its vast, open world, which you can find and weave together as you navigate the main 50-hour campaign.
Killzone developer Guerrilla Games released Horizon Zero Dawn in early 2017. Lauded for its setting, visuals, and well-written story, it earned a nomination for Game of the Year. Horizon is set 1000 years in the future, where humanity is portrayed as scattered, sparse, and tribal. You play as tribal outcast Aloy as she explores the vast open world and gathers information on her mysterious origins as well as humanity as a whole.
Along the way, Aloy encounters robotic animals — which you can hunt for parts and upgrades — in addition to other tribes and fanatical cultists. The story of Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t a typical post-apocalyptic tale either. Guerrilla Games brought on anthropologists to help create an authentic collapse and rebuilding of humanity, lending credence to the setting and interactions between characters.
The story unfolds as Aloy discovers caches of ancient lore in the ruins of our current society, piecing them together to paint a destructive, but understandable, picture of civilization’s fall.
DONTNOD Entertainment’s sophomore title and breakout hit, Life is Strange, was released in five parts, the first of which came out on January 30, 2015. In it, you assume the role of Maxine "Max" Caulfield, a high school student in the fictional region of Arcadia Bay, Oregon.
Caulfield is possessed with visions of impending doom during one of her high school classes, granting her the power to reverse time and setting off a chain of events that reunite her with her childhood friend, Chloe Price. The two then begin to investigate the disappearance of Chloe’s current best friend, Rachel Amber, and rebuild their once-strong friendship.
Over the course of the five episodes, you will come to face with a variety of complicated decisions. Some are obviously heavy and important, immediately affecting characters and the environment once enacted. Others are a lot more subtle in how they affect the world. The entire game leads up to some terrifying revelations and culminates in a spectacular finish that is heartbreaking, haunting, and beautiful.
Night in the Woods is a single-player, choice-based adventure game by animator/illustrator Scott Benson and story writer Bethany Hockenberry. The game has a quirky and colorful art style that belies the truly creepy and strange story which engrosses the main cast of characters. You play as Mae Borowski, a zoomorphic black cat, as she returns home from college to find her small hometown hit hard by the closing of the local coal mines. Mae and her friends soon get caught up investigating the mysterious disappearance of a few locals, including an acquaintance named Casey.
The game deals with Mae’s implied depersonalization disorder, themes of depression and general mental illness, and the decline of industrialized small towns in America. Night in the Woods is much more concerned with helping players to uncover the plot and lore of the town than it is with providing complex gameplay. That's not to say it isn’t engaging: You'll be faced with a number of choices that influence gameplay, ever-so-slightly, as well as Mae’s relationships with other characters and the end of the story.
Platinum Games, who blessed the world with Bayonetta, released NieR: Automata for Windows and Playstation 4 in 2017, porting it to Xbox One the following year. The sequel to NieR (2010), Automata explores themes of murderous human nature, nihilism, and emotional and mental trauma. The game is set in the year 11945 AD and focuses on tensions between human-made androids and robotic alien invaders.
You take the shape of one of three human-made androids, switching off between stories as you progress through the main chapters. Each section has multiple endings. So after finishing the first campaign, you can replay NieR: Automata either to pursue its countless narrative threads, or just the five "true" endings, A through E. Automata poses serious philosophical questions to players regarding humanity and consciousness as you interact with androids, cyborgs, and simple machines.
You're also treated to an innovative game mechanic during the end boss fight and credits, which allows you to leave messages for and assist other players at the expense of losing their save data.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the 13th in the Fire Emblem series and the seventh available outside of Japan. It’s a tactical role-playing game, meaning players take on the role of an individual character during plot sequences and manipulate military units during combat. In Three Houses, you are Byleth, a teacher at the Officer’s Academy who must choose to enroll in one of the Academy’s three houses (Golden Deer, Blue Lion, and Black Eagle) as you help students become master strategists.
As the narrative unfolds, Byleth finds themself wrapped up in a bitter civil war between the continent’s three main nations and governing church. Players must forge alliances and battle enemy forces to secure a peaceful future. The narrative and ending are affected by which house you choose to align with, and whether you decide to join the governing church. As a result, Fire Emblem is graced with ample replay value for those curious to see how different choices affect character relationships and national conflicts.
Uncharted has been a flagship PlayStation franchise since Drake's Fortune in 2007. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, the main series' fateful conclusion sees the return of Nathan Drake, an Indiana Jones-meets-Lara-Croft-style character, as he delves into yet another journey to uncover priceless artifacts and treasure.
Drake is joined by his brother Sam and former colleague Sully as they search the Central American jungle, Scottish Highlands, and a Caribbean island for the treasure of Thomas Tew, a 17th-century pirate. As you trek across the globe, gathering clues and information about your prize, you'll be confronted with familiar parkour and environmental puzzles.
Drake and Sam also run into an ex-financier, Rafe Adler, who is also searching for the treasure. Eventually, the plot turns into a dangerous game of cat and mouse as Drake races Adler to Tew’s treasure and utopian pirate settlement.
What Remains of Edith Finch is what most would consider a "bottle game," meaning it takes place in a single location. Don't get us wrong, this isn't a knock against the gameplay or narrative. Rather, it lends weight to the information you procure as you explore the childhood home of playable character Edith Finch.
Finch, the last of her family name, is seeking to find out the truth about a curse that was cast on her family and caused all but one of each generation to die in various, horrific ways. To piece together the clues, you will have to explore every bedroom and shared living space within the house. Each room is set up as a shrine to a family member and plays a cinematic sequence of their death.
All the evidence you obtain is expertly tied together with Edith’s narration and journal entries. The ending reveals a major twist that will shock players while bringing to light the extent of the Finch family curse.