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Game of the year campaign ends with writer's choice of 'Horizon: Zero Dawn'

The holidays are here  and with them, the game of the year campaign has come to a conclusion.

This past year proved to be an amazing year for high quality titles across a breadth of hardware. Open world experiences dominated  as usual lately  and multiplayer continued to push itself to the forefront of the consumer-facing business. Single-player titles continued to slowly fade away, despite some valiant efforts. 

While Nintendo and Sony brought out the heavy hitters to push their hardware, Microsoft did the opposite by letting the Xbox One X push what software was already available. Nintendo could arguably have the best first party lineup this year with megahits "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" and "Super Mario Odyssey"  all three which could be considered the seminal games of their time. But even with the chances that Nintendo took with "Zelda" and "Mario", they were still games in long-running franchises that are a little long in the tooth. 

Sony, however, gave one of its premier developers an unlimited budget and creative freedom to conceive, develop and release what I consider to be the 2017 game of the year, "Horizon: Zero Dawn." 

Guerilla Games, best known for the technically impressive, albeit creatively bankrupt "Killzone" series somehow took the generic post-apocalyptic setting of future earth and turned it on its head with the best 40-hour gameplay, story and presentation package released not just this year, but in the past several years. Everything, from the graphics  which look phenomenal on the PlayStation 4 Pro and an UHD television with HDR  to the varied environments to the soundtrack elevate the experience over everything else this year.

Instead of sticking with a bald, 30-something male protagonist, Guerilla stepped out of the box with Aloy  a fiercely independent warrior struggling to gain her honor and protect her tribe in a future when humans live in the shadows of dangerous robots that have taken the form of animals. The bright white steel plating of the machine creatures contrasts amazingly against the green forests that have reclaimed what remains of the old civilization and the desert scapes of the desolated world. Few games capture the same exhilaration of seeing the Stormbird fly overhead for the first time or when staring down a Thunderjaw  a tyrannosaurs-like machine. These encounters are even more special because the game gives the player so many different ways to take down each beast  which can often feel like a multi-stage boss battle from any other game. The variety of combat is, at times, overwhelming. The game features multiple weapon types  each with their own individual variances  that can make fights much, much easier or more difficult, depending on what element is selected. 

"Horizon's" main drawback wasn't its design  an amazing feat, considering most open-world games never take advantage of their structure  but rather its combat against humans. Aloy's bow and her ranged weapon attacks feel effectively vicious and powerful. But her melee attacks, which is most often needed when fighting other humans, are poor with no real impact.

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