The Best Current Gen Games You Need To Play
We’re rapidly approaching the new generation of consoles, with PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X both scheduled for to-be-announced fall release dates. That means lots of gamers are sure to be flocking to the latest hardware. Before you do, though, we have a few recommendations.
These are the games the GameSpot staff has determined you should play before moving on to next-gen. Many are trend-setters, such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Apex Legends. Others are the start of franchises that we expect to last well into the future, and some are just so great you shouldn’t miss out.
It’s crazy to think about the output from this past generation from the industry’s most well-known studios and newest talents in only seven years. With so many great games, you owe it to yourself to check these out to ensure you’re well aware of how much gaming has grown this past generation, so you can dive into the next-generation, fully ready to embrace the latest innovations.
If you’re more curious about what there is to look forward to playing on next-generation hardware, then be sure to check out our comprehensive articles detailing all the biggest confirmed PS5 games and Xbox Series X games. Otherwise, you can look at our personal desires for the future consoles in our PS5 wishlist and Xbox Series X wishlist.
Apex Legends | Xbox One, PS4, PC
The battle royale genre was born and took the world by storm in this current console generation, with thousands of players flocking to games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and Call of Duty: Warzone. But Apex Legends is my favorite take on a battle royale, and it’s not just because it implements Titanfall 2’s tight movement and shooter mechanics–though admittedly, that’s a major part of it.
No, I love Apex Legends because of the strides it makes in episodic storytelling. In the previous console generation, we got episodic games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Life is Strange. But these games are more like Netflix binge sessions–you can go back and play through these game’s episodes in one sitting over and over again. They don’t emulate what it was once like to watch live television where once something aired, that was it.
Apex Legends isn’t quite there yet either, but it’s pretty close. And that makes it–in my mind anyway–one of the first genuinely episodic games. With the start of Season 5: Fortune’s Favor, the maps and interactions between characters adjust at a nearly weekly pace, matching the new chapters of story that unlock every seven days in Apex Legends’ Quest mode.
As a brief example, In Season 5, there was a moment when Crypto and Wattson were a bit overly friendly; it seemed like a little crush was forming. Then, a new Quest chapter revealed Crypto as a traitor to the legends, who seemingly endangered Wattson’s life. Weeks later, it was revealed that Caustic was the actual traitor who set up Crypto because he didn’t like that the hacker was getting chummy with Wattson, who the toxic trapper had begun to take under his wing as a daughter following her father’s death.
All of this was reflected in-game. Crypto and Wattson were cordial one week, friendly the next, and then Wattson was silent and distant whenever Crypto tried to talk to her. When Caustic was outed as the traitor weeks later, Crypto and Caustic’s dialogue became confrontational. Now, in Season 6, all three characters barely speak to one another. Try playing with all three in one squad–it’s super awkward. And if you happened to take a break from playing Apex Legends during the month that this all transpired, you have no idea why those three are on such bad terms. Because all those story chapters that saw this drama go down? They’re gone. You just had to be there.
I find this to be a fascinating way to tell a story–using the logistics of a games-as-a-service title to transform your evolving battle royale game into an episodic, narrative-driven game. There’s nothing quite like Apex Legends, and it’s worth checking out for no other reason than to be on the lookout for how this style of storytelling in a video game might evolve going into the next generation. — Jordan Ramée
Bloodborne | PS4
Hidetaka Miyazaki is, without a doubt, one of the greatest and most influential game designers of modern times. After he took over the troubled development of Demon’s Souls and transformed it into something fresh and original, his next masterpiece, Dark Souls, would shape the gaming landscape.
And, after tackling a dark fantasy, Miyazaki set his sights on something new with the hauntingly beautiful gothic world of Bloodborne. In a gaming landscape dominated by known IPs, it was a bold move to tackle something entirely original, and a move I greatly appreciated.
When I first got my hands on the game, it felt like an early Christmas, and I was completely and utterly engrossed in my experience within the city of Yharnam. It’s one of those games you can’t put down, no matter how difficult the game can get, which is part of the charm I love so much about Miyazaki’s games. His focus is on giving players a sense of accomplishment, and in order to do so, he has players fight relentless and challenging enemies, who will slam you into the ground. But, if you climb that metaphorical mountain and conquer the foe, it’s a rewarding feeling most modern games can’t capture.
Bloodborne is Fromsoftware at their absolute best, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how detailed the world is and how much the level design excels. The gothic architecture of Yharnam is beautiful to behold as the day turns to night, and while it’s not a town you’d necessarily want to live in, it’s certainly one you can appreciate. Beyond that, Miyazaki is an absolute master at world and level design – which he has even stated are some of his favorite parts in creating a game. Yharnam feels vibrant thanks to this, with a strong focus on both horizontal and vertical level design, with the town’s paths intertwining and twisting in interesting ways, with it mostly all connecting unto itself.
With a fascinating and puzzling lore, and half of the story somehow never revealed in this era of the internet and modern marketing, trust me when I say this is something you should go into blind.
Bloodborne is easily one of my favorite games of the decade, and certainly of this console generation. It’s unclear when or if it would get a remake, so I cannot recommend any stronger that you try out this game if you have a PS4. — Dave Klein
Call Of Duty: Warzone | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Call of Duty is nothing new, but the franchise revved up to a new level in 2020 when Activision released a free-to-play standalone battle royale game called Warzone. Using the foundation of Modern Warfare, Warzone delivered something fans have been wanting for years–a free Call of Duty multiplayer game–and it’s really good.
This was not a simple cash-in on the uber-popular battle royale genre. Warzone is a legitimately excellent battle royale game near-constantly refreshed with new seasons, different playlists, and in-universe narrative that connects to other parts of the Call of Duty franchise, notably with its Black Ops Cold War tie-ins.
I have tried and abandoned numerous other battle royale games before this, but Warzone hooked me the most due in part to its excellent controls, blockbuster action movie-like ”I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened’ sequences, and an innovative system in the Gulag that eases some of the frustration that can come with battle royale games. With Warzone being a free-to-play game, shooter fans owe it to themselves to give it a shot. — Eddie Makuch
Death Stranding | PS4, PC
One of my favorite things about Death Stranding is that nobody really knew what the game was until it launched and we could figure that out for ourselves. For years, we were teased with surreal trailers of nude Norman Reedus clutching a baby, ghost-like figures of dark matter haunting desolate landscapes, and photos on Twitter of Hideo Kojima hanging out with his cast of cool actors. What did we get in the end? I’m still not entirely sure, but I was utterly engrossed by the bizarre and brutal world Kojima and team dreamt up for us.
After a messy split with Konami, all eyes were on Kojima for his first new project after decades of tactical espionage action, and I think the result solidified him as one of the all-time great video game designers of our time. Video games without Kojima would be like TV without Lynch. Creative minds who challenge our expectations of the media we love are a driving force for new ways to play and enjoy games, and I believe this generation greatly benefited from Death Stranding’s dystopian delivery simulator.
Beyond Beached Things and Bridge Babies, I found comfort in rebuilding America’s Chiral Network, a sort of other-worldy internet. Traversing tricky terrain before laying down roads and shelters not just to make your own journey easier, but that of your fellow online players too, whose echoes and footsteps filled a lonely world with life, creates a satisfying feedback loop. If you had told me one of my favourite games this generation would be about walking across crags and trails while keeping a stack of boxes balanced on my back and simultaneously soothing a baby, I wouldn’t believe you. But here we are. — Will Potter
Destiny 2 | PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia
A caveat before we get too far into this: Destiny 2 will be available on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. It’ll be on Stadia, PC, and Xbox Game Pass. You are in no danger of losing the ability to play Destiny 2.
However, come fall, it will definitely be a different Destiny 2. And if you haven’t gotten into the game yet, you’ve got a scant bit of time left to do so before it changes drastically and some of its cooler content goes into “the vault”–when it’ll come back out is anybody’s guess.
Right now, Destiny 2 represents one of the best live games and casual MMOs out there, although it’s been going through a bit of a rough patch at late. Still, despite a dud season or two since the release of the mostly pretty great Shadowkeep expansion, Destiny 2 remains a quality shooter with a whole lot of content to get lost in. November marks the release of its next big expansion, Beyond Light, and it’s set to introduce a whole bunch of new stuff into the game. At the same time, a bunch of content from the first year of Destiny 2, including the first five raids, will be shelved to make room for the new stuff. If you haven’t tried Destiny 2 yet, or if you never had a chance to work your way through the Leviathan, the Scourge of the Past, or the Crown of Sorrows raids, now’s your opportunity.
It’s worth making the time, too. Though the raids are old, they remain excellent–raids have long been the absolute pinnacle of Destiny content, requiring high degrees of teamwork and communication, where a group of six players works together to overcome what seem like insurmountable odds. Rises in the Power caps have lessened the raids’ difficulty, but they’re still inventive, imaginative, weird, and extremely fun.
Bungie knows how to make good shooters, and even if you’re not a fan of the MMO approach of Destiny 2, you should still treat yourself to its best ideas. Grab a few friends, learn the ropes, watch a video guide or two, and jump into some raids before they vanish. — Phil Hornshaw
Final Fantasy VII Remake | PS4
I’ll be honest here: While I loved FFVII when it first came out–I played it in 5th grade, lost my memory card right before I was about to beat the game, and hadn’t played it since up until about a year before FFVII: Remake came out. So, while I am nostalgic about FFVII, I really didn’t remember it all that well. So when FFVII: Remake was announced to have a different combat system and story elements to the original game, I was a little concerned, but not particularly angry or upset, and hoped for the best. And I’m happy to say; the best is what we got.
The game takes the opening segment of the original FFVII, fully contained to the city of Midgar, and makes a full game out of it. Midgar is wonderfully expanded, feeling even more alive and vibrant in this remake. It’s bustling with people living in the various slums, all dealing with their own concerns, and it made me genuinely care about the city I was trying to protect.
While I’ve personally found Square Enix’s writing to be a little uneven as of late, and not as strong as its golden era when the company was just “Square Soft,” the FFVII: Remake stands out as having even better writing than the original game. It takes all of its main characters–Cloud, Tifa, Barret, and Aerith–and fully fleshes them out, making them feel far more like real people than the original game ever did, with real emotions and realistic actions.
The game’s music, utilizing Nobuo Uematsu’s original score, orchestrating it and remixing it, makes the game feel like the perfect merger of retro and modern gaming, with his memorable themes still standing out. The battle system, once you get used to it, is an absolute blast. It’s an exciting merger of turn-based combat and action RPG, and entirely unique to the game.
Final Fantasy VII was an instant classic when it came out and still stands as many people’s favorite of all time. The FFVII Remake takes the beginning of that and somehow manages to make it better, outside of a few minor pacing issues. More parts are in the works, and with how excellent the first part was, this is something you’re going to want to be on top of for when part 2 comes out. — Dave Klein
Ghost of Tsushima | PS4
Want a game that’s easy to learn and beautiful enough to get lost in? Play Ghost of Tsushima.
Set in 13th-century Japan, the story follows a samurai willing to go to any lengths to protect his home from a Mongol invasion. It’s a straightforward open-world game that has a satisfying combat system and even more satisfying combat sounds. Ghost of Tsushima is relatively easy to pick up and isn’t as punishingly difficult as other games out there like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice or Nioh. It’s got more flexibility in combat options, allowing for more customization in play style, whether that favors stealth or head-on showdowns.
If you have a huge TV or monitor, there’s no question that this game is a feast for the eyeballs. Large swathes of the map are in permanent states of autumn, crimson leaves perpetually drifting in the wind. Some areas are forever coated in thick blankets of pristine snow, others basking in an eternal springtime. There’s also the option of a Kurosawa mode, a black-and-white filter with cinematic bars, as an homage to the famed samurai film director. But with a world so richly detailed and lush, it’s hard to ignore the near-vibrating colors.
The real stunner of the game is how much attention to detail the team at Sucker Punch put in. Navigation mechanics are based on nature, intertwined with the dominant Shinto religion at the time. Whether it’s a hot spring or a tree on a mountain, there’s a reverence for nature that echoes throughout the game. There’s a zen-like effect that happens when letting go and riding your horse through rolling rice fields, a perfect reprieve in between bloody and tense battles.
Plus, you can pet foxes. Also samurai outfits. So many good outfits. — Ashley Oh
GTA Online | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Grand Theft Auto V and its multiplayer mode, Grand Theft Auto Online, have been around for years now. They’ve already made the console transition once, having been originally released for Xbox 360 and PS3. But even on current-gen hardware, GTA Online is not the experience it could be. And that’s exactly why you should play it now.
GTA Online certainly has its faults, and aggressive players can make for an unpleasant experience. But teaming up with a group of friends for some Los Santos shenanigans can be a great time, but the online heists are particularly transcendent. Having a group of players cooperating in real-time on individual objectives that all coalesce in the end remains tremendously fun. Years later, I can still vividly remember the thrill of trying to avoid having my plane shot down while my friends facilitated a prison break. Landing on a dangerous airstrip, picking them up, and taking off in a rush to avoid–all while we were tensed up and screaming on the edge of our seats–is as much fun as I’ve ever had in a multiplayer game.
But as I said, GTA Online is not perfect, and a lot of that comes down to hardware. Load times can be painfully long, and with occasional disconnects, it drags down the entire experience. Improved load times are something that have been touted time and again for PS5 and Xbox Series X, and that’s precisely why I think it’s worth spending some time with GTA Online now–so you can more fully appreciate just what the next-gen hardware brings to the table. We’ll be getting native versions of GTA V on both systems, and it’s hard to imagine that Rockstar won’t allow you to carry over your progress. So spend some time trying to have a fun experience now, and then circle back to see just how much of a difference those fancy SSDs can make. — Chris Pereira
Hollow Knight | PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Mac
I missed out on Hollow Knight when it first came out in 2017. Despite hearing great things about the game, I wanted to wait until it was ported onto the Nintendo Switch–which it finally was in 2018. While I didn’t play the game on its initial release, I am so glad that I finally did.
Hollow Knight is easily one of the best Metroidvania style games I’ve ever played, contending with the likes of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid for best game of this genre. It opens up its exploration, with plenty to explore without the need for special abilities. The game has clear influences from Dark Souls in the way death is handled, and the combat of the game–while absolutely brutal at times–is some of the tightest platforming combat I’ve played in any Metroidvania game. The music and art are stunning, and the game’s soundtrack is something I listen to when I go on walks at night because it stands on its own. Similar to Dark Souls, the game also has dark and intriguing lore packed within its minor dialogue bits, items, and visual context clues, which I enjoy puzzling together.
I honestly haven’t been this excited to recommend a Metroidvania game to anyone in over a decade. And while Koji Igarashi (Better known as Iga) of Castlevania fame released his own indie Metroidvania title, Bloodstained, in 2018, it felt like the same game I’d been playing on handhelds for years and years on end. Meanwhile, Hollow Knight stands out as something fresh and unique within the genre and somehow manages to trump one of the genre’s pioneers. — Dave Klein
Horizon Zero Dawn | PS4, PC
Horizon Zero Dawn had a lot to prove. Sporting a remarkably generic title, it was a third-person action adventure from a studio that had a track record of producing first-person shooters. The post-apocalyptic story of society reverting to a Bronze Age-like spot on the civilization dev chart seemed bog standard despite Guerrilla’s promotional insistence that a central mystery sat at the heart of the story. I had presumed it would be a decent mid-tier action game, but the actual result subverted and surpassed all of my expectations to become one of my favorite new franchises.
The gameplay had the confidence of a studio that had been making third-person action games for years. The various upgrade systems meshed with the hunt of mechanized beasts so well that each moment felt rewarding. Laying traps and using your arsenal against enemy camps was equally satisfying. Exploring the vast open world and solving the environmental puzzles that granted access to a Tallneck radar ping was a delight. The systems just sang beautifully together, interlocking and richly weaving together.
Most surprisingly, though, the story was thoughtful and engaging and, yes, mysterious. While the secret behind Aloy’s identity was expected, the larger mystery surrounding both what had happened to the world and why it ended up in the state it did was far more intriguing in how it slowly unfolded over the course of hours in tiny pieces. While it shared some traits in common with a typical robot apocalypse story, this one wasn’t a matter of AI reaching some hyper-logical conclusions about the scourge of humanity. Instead it was a combination of human ambition, greed, and simple, tragically understandable oversight. By the time you reached the revelation of what “Zero Dawn” actually meant, it was gutting. But even then, it delivered a message of optimism, hope, and faith in the power of science as guided by empathy and humanity. It’s an unforgettable experience and I can’t wait to see it continue into the next generation and beyond. — Steve Watts
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is one of the best stealth-action games ever made. Whatever your background is with games auteur Hideo Kojima, it cannot be denied the quality on display across its world and mechanics. This is a playground brimming with emergent opportunities to explore, infiltrate strongholds, sabotage vehicle patrols, or muck about with the complex enemy-AI using the arsenal of weapons and gadgets available.
As a longtime fan of the series, however, I can easily see why anyone would immediately object to MGS5’s presence in this feature. You might ask: “But what about the tumultuous drama of its development, or even the seemingly unfinished state of its story?” These elements are blatant, and, unfortunately, do hinder the game where it matters. But after spending five years trying to come to terms with all that, sometimes even justifying the artistic integrity of its imperfections, I always come back around. The fantastic time I had simply playing MGS5 always colors my memories of experiencing this ambitious, yet narratively incomplete series finale first and foremost.
Spending dozens of hours tackling a multitude of missions made the intrigue from its piecemeal plot, at least, feel worthwhile; it led me on in that classic Kojima fashion, never letting me go. But instead of an onslaught of cutscenes grabbing my attention with top-notch cinematography and captivating melodrama, it was the time I spent digging deep into its systems that pulled me through. I’d take a whole day alone goofing around with the cardboard box, using it as a decoy to fool with enemies or sliding down the desert hills of Afghanistan. Other times, I’d commit weeks to mastering ghost-runs through every mission, restarting hundreds of times until I perfected my approach. Recounting these moments is already enough to compel me to reinstall even as I write this.
There hasn’t been anything quite like MGS5 since it was released. Every year, I cross my fingers for the day someone finally steps up to the plate to make something that rivals the mechanics and structure of this stealth-action masterpiece. Maybe I should stop waiting and settle on the fact that it’s an experience unique unto itself. I’d say that alone makes MGS5 a game you need to play before moving onto the next generation. — Matt Espineli
Nier: Automata | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Eccentric game director Yoko Taro hasn’t always found himself in the spotlight. His past games, including the original Nier and the Drakengard series, told dark and existential stories but often failed to deliver in moment-to-moment gameplay. As such, they attracted relatively small–but extremely loyal–audiences. For Nier: Automata, Taro finally found the perfect development partner in Platinum Games, and delivered combat that could stand on equal ground with its storytelling and bring an entirely new audience into his mind.
Third-person hack-and-slack action and shoot-’em-up battles blend together and give way to giant aerial fights and even text adventure segments. None of it feels out of place, either, serving a narrative that grows increasingly bleaker as we learn about a largely fruitless conflict between aliens and humanity in a proxy war. The human-like androids and primitive machines no longer seem to even know why they are fighting: just that they must fight.
Much of Nier: Automata’s brilliance comes from its structure, which necessitates multiple “play-throughs” in order to see the final ending. In actuality, there is little truly repeated content, as restarting the game for Route B means exploring the story from a new perspective and gaining important context on the enemies you’ve been fighting. It all leads to a thrilling conclusion that cemented it as my favorite video game of all time.
I talk about Nier: Automata constantly, and I was fairly sure it was my favorite game ever as soon as I finished playing it. Secretly a celebration of optimism in a universe that practically begs its citizens to embrace nihilism and crawl into a hole, it may seem obtuse at first glance, but Taro’s writing is focused and strong enough to keep even the auteur’s newcomers engaged. And if that doesn’t make you continue playing, the incredible soundtrack from composer Keiichi Okabe will. — Gabe Gurwin
Outer Wilds | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Outer Wilds may not have ground-breaking graphics or a huge open world to get lost in, but the 2019 indie game innovated in a different way: by crafting a truly unique and unforgettable story that slowly comes together in a non-linear fashion as you explore its world.
Outer Wilds (not to be confused with last year’s The Outer Worlds) is a narrative-driven space-exploration game that starts on the planet of Timber Hearth, where you’re the latest recruit in a program called Outer Wilds Ventures. Your task is simple: Explore the solar system and uncover its secrets. Unlike previous recruits, you’re armed with a new tool that allows you to translate ancient text left behind by the Nomai, a mysterious civilization that once inhabited but has since disappeared from the solar system.
And… that’s it. In Outer Wilds, there are no weapons, no armor upgrades, no skill trees to unlock. You set out in your spaceship alone, with only your spacesuit and a few simple tools to aid your exploration. This journey won’t be easy, however–soon after your inaugural trip into space begins, you’ll encounter the phenomenon at the heart of Outer Wilds’ mystery: a time loop that resets every 22 minutes, putting you back at your starting point on Timber Hearth.
In Outer Wilds, the currency is knowledge, and it’s what propels you forward on every run, driving you to explore that hidden ruin you read about or pursue that mysterious signal you detected. Unlike some games where you’re meant to “discover” a clue at a certain time or place, Outer Wilds truly throws you out into the dark, leaving your journey entirely up to you. It’s a bold choice and one that could easily turn you off if you’re the type to prefer a guided, linear story. But despite its open-ended beginning, Outer Wilds does tie all of its loose ends together remarkably, building to an unbelievably satisfying and emotional conclusion that will have you questioning your own place in the universe.
Despite its indie status and inception as a student project, Outer Wilds was met with widespread acclaim when it released last year, and it’s sure to have a long-lasting impact on future narrative-driven games, having offered new possibilities for how a story can be told. — Jenae Sitzes
Persona 5 Royal | PS4
Persona 5 Royal is a chonk of a game, but it’s one of the most richly engrossing chonks you’ll ever see. An expanded and improved version of Persona 5, P5R’s daunting minimum of 130+ gameplay hours may deter newcomers, so only the brave are rewarded. Once the story kicks into gear, the hours slip by effortlessly. Persona 5 Royal deftly weaves intricate psychological metaphors into a heartening story about friendship and self-worth, all along the backdrop of a flashy dungeon crawler. It’s a stylish and vicarious romp of justice across Tokyo and inner mind palaces.
A ragtag group of Japanese high-schoolers call themselves “The Phantom Thieves,” dubbed for their ability to “steal hearts” (the game’s way of saying they can alter human cognitions), while meting out justice and forcing their abusers to confess and feel remorse for what they’ve done. Each character has a deep personal struggle that draws them to the group. Getting an abusive gym teacher to publicly confess his crimes, for example, is just the tip of the iceberg.
The game isn’t all emotional and heavy stuff though— it’s also a cool way to get to know different parts of Tokyo without actually going there. As you develop stronger social links with confidants, you’ll find yourself wondering where to take certain friends on mini-dates. There’s also a talking cat who travels in your bag, gives sassy advice from inside your classroom desk, and fights in dungeons with you. What exactly is not to like?
Everything about Persona 5 Royal oozes aesthetic, from its menus to its animations, and its catchy tunes never seem to bore. I always find myself bopping along to the music during each battle, no matter how many I’ve gone through in a day. It may sound weird that playing as a Japanese high school student was probably one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a while. But it’s also true. Do yourself a favor and play this game. — Ashley Oh
Quantum Break | Xbox One, PC
There is possibly not a game that exists that’s more quintessentially “this generation” than Quantum Break. Originally announced before the launch of the Xbox One, Remedy’s time travel action game was part of Microsoft’s grand design to release a game console that melded playing games with watching TV. Quantum Break was a centerpiece of that enterprise–a video game that would weave in and out of an Xbox-exclusive TV show. (The other big idea was a huge slate of Halo transmedia content, including a Steven Spielberg TV show that still has yet to materialize, although some of the other stuff did.) The massive project wound up recruiting some pretty big names for its game-and-show cast, including Shawn Ashmore (The Following, X-Men), Lance Reddick (The Wire, John Wick). The whole package sounded like a pretty interesting and exciting new frontier for Microsoft’s TV initiative.
Of course, that whole TV-meets-gaming thing did not really, uh, happen. Microsoft’s big TV plans deflated over the years and when Quantum Break eventually came out, it was a weird hybrid that smashed TV show episodes into the seams of its standard action game plot. There was a lot of criticisms for Quantum Break’s approach to story, but it’s a fascinating snapshot of a moment in the early period of this generation–one in which all the promises of the console launch were abandoned, and Remedy was forced to salvage what it could from a console maker’s big ideas.
Apart from that, Quantum Break is, to me, was somewhat unfairly maligned. It’s a big, beautiful game with some fun combat and an intricate, intelligent time travel story–plus it’s well-acted and plain weird at times. It also feels like a prototype for Control (one of our favorite games of 2019), a better-realized version of many of Quantum Break’s ideas. If you want to understand a lasting piece of the Xbox One’s early TV/game hybrid approach before the console’s big pivot, then you should absolutely play Quantum break. — Phil Hornshaw
Rare Replay | Xbox One
While Sony is positioning the PS5 as a clear generational leap forward from the PS4, Microsoft is blurring the lines between console generations with Xbox Series X and its extensive backwards-compatible library. It only seems fitting, then, that Xbox owners pick up a copy of Rare Replay–a wonderful compilation of classic games from generations past–before Microsoft’s next-gen system arrives.
And what a compilation it is. Rare is one of the oldest and most esteemed studios in the video game industry, and its long history is lovingly encapsulated in Rare Replay. The package collates 30 years’ worth of the developer’s most well-known and important releases, complementing them with a generous amount of developer commentary videos, unseen design documents, and other behind-the-curtain glimpses at their development. It’s a veritable smorgasbord.
Of course, the real jewels of the collection are the games themselves–30 in total, plucked from Rare’s three-decade career. Not all of them are brilliant, and there are some obvious omissions due to licensing issues; we’ll likely never see Donkey Kong Country, the game that put Rare on the proverbial map, or its follow-ups on an Xbox system (although it did recently arrive on Switch). Even so, nearly all of Rare’s most beloved games are present and accounted for here, from early hits like Jetpac and Battletoads to seminal releases like Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark. I can’t think of a better way to prepare for Rare’s next-generation epic, Everwild, than by revisiting the studio’s history and seeing just how much it–and the industry as a whole–has evolved over the years. — Kevin Knezevic
Red Dead Redemption 2 | PS4, XBox One, PC, Stadia
Growing up loving the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western trilogy, I’ve always had an affinity for the western genre. However, it’s rare for a game to truly tap into it, and none have done it better than Red Dead Redemption 2.
Admittedly, Red Dead Redemption 2’s core gameplay is a little outdated, and the controls can be extremely frustrating, with far too steep of a learning curve to them. However, if you’re able to get past that hurdle, what you’ll find is a gorgeous game and the best Western to date, with a story and characters that rival any Western film.
The open world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is truly stunning and while sometimes barren, I found it to be relaxing to ride my horse around exploring the various paths and see what I could find. While the controls are frustrating, it does service the large variety of activities you can perform, which includes gun fights, stealing from stores and acting like a true outlaw, riding your horse, and even lassoing and hogtying people to the back of your horse.
But what truly stands out about the game is in its characters and story. It’s rare for me to praise a game’s storytelling unless it’s done in a way only a video game can do. “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” and “Dark Souls” are excellent examples of these, with them utilizing the medium of video games to convey their story in different ways. However, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a fairly straight forward story that could honestly be told as an HBO style show. And it is so fantastic. Arthur Morgan is quite possibly the best antihero ever written in gaming history, and Dutch van der Linde a complex character whose actions are understandable within his character writing.
While I love the world of the game, I specifically recommend it to anyone for it’s truly wonderful story, and some of the best written characters gaming has to offer. — Dave Klein
Resident Evil 7 | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Even though I longed for the Resident Evil series to return to its survival horror roots after years of being an action-horror blockbuster franchise, there was something incredibly unsettling about Resident Evil 7’s premise. Not only did a new first-person perspective offer a more intimate and terrifying experience, but you also played one of the most vulnerable protagonists in a Resident Evil game. Unlike the trained offers of S.T.A.R.S., Ethan was an every-man. Horrified and in over his head, the best thing he could scrounge up during his early attempts at escape was a pocket knife. This stripped-down approach made the prospect of fighting off mutated monsters and the unrelenting Baker family all the more terrifying.
Resident Evil 7 is a fantastic game that not only because it sticks so incredibly close to the trappings of its early predecessors, but because it does a remarkable job of showing growth in Ethan’s ordeal. Resident Evil games have always been about the escalation of horror, and seeing Ethan scramble to find a gun, and then eventually rising to the occasion to face the enemies populating the abandoned swamp in a remote Louisiana was a satisfying turn. It’s an unrelenting game, and when you stick with it long enough, you get to see the Resident Evil series reach some remarkable highs with its return to survival horror.
Playing RE7 was such an incredible experience on that first run, and it’s something I’ll look back on fondly in the years to come. Even though the series went back to third-person with the stellar remake of RE2–and to a lesser extent RE3–I’m very happy to see that Resident Evil VIII: Village (and yes, I’m specifically referring to it as this name) follow its direct predecessor’s example. I really enjoyed playing through RE7, and with the move to next-gen, it might be time to give the game another visit, especially with the incredibly well-received VR mode. There isn’t an RE game quite like it, and it really deserves all the success it found with such a bold gamble. If you admire the survival horror franchise and haven’t played this particular entry, do yourself a favor and give it a shot. — Alessandro Fillari
Rocket League | Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
There’s a brilliance to how Rocket League’s gameplay naturally curates complexity from simplicity. The game is incredibly approachable in how easy it is to understand, but the skill ceiling for the game is ridiculously high, allowing players who want that extra challenge to find it. I can’t explain how it works, other than that it makes me say, “Okay, just one more match,” for the 20th time in a row when it’s 3 AM, and I definitely have work the next day.
In a way, it’s for this very reason that Rocket League works as a sports game. It’s not just that it’s a game about playing soccer. It’s that it’s a game where the tutorial teaches you elementary basics, and from there, each player develops their own style. My roommate has trained incessantly in how to jump, accelerate, stop, flip, fly, turn, drift, and reverse when it comes to defending the goal. He’s an incredible goalie who’s taken all the aspects of Rocket League and applied them to become a better defender.
I know how to do everything he does. Still, I can’t do it like he does because I’ve trained myself in how to jump, accelerate, stop, flip, fly, turn, drift, and reverse when it comes to flying into the air, seeing where the defenders are positioned, and spiking the ball so that it goes into the opponent’s goal. My roommate and I have the same skills–the game taught us the same things–but we found what we were good at early on and how we play now is informed by that early decision, just like athletes. When I defend, I defend by trying to spike away an opponent’s shot, and that, in turn, makes me a sub-par goalie
Even players with the same skill set develop differently. A friend I sometimes play with is an excellent spiker like me, but he finds it easier to do so with short horizontal flights with his car upside down. I always spike by flying up to meet the ball at the climax of its arc, and I’m always right side up. Most sports games have you play as established athletes or allow you to create your ideal athlete, but regardless those stats ensure that you’re playing in a certain way depending on who you’re controlling. In Rocket League, there are no stats to customize. You’ll grow in your own way, and in that way, the game naturally rewards skill. You’re not getting good at mastering an athlete’s strengths and weakness; you’re the athlete that’s hitting the field to practice and find out what you’re good at and where you need to improve. And that’s why Rocket League is the best sports game of this console generation. — Jordan Ramée
Stardew Valley | PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch, Android, iOS
Stardew Valley may have started as a Harvest Moon clone, but in the five years since its initial release on PC, the farm simulator has carved out a space of its own, gaining a massive following and setting a new standard of quality for the genre. We’re already seeing its influence, with games like Littlewood, Ooblets, and the upcoming Garden Story mimicking its art style or gameplay. And despite its age, the game itself is still growing, with developer ConcernedApe continuing to release massive free content updates for the game that have added multiplayer modes along with new buildings, events, maps, and more.
Stardew Valley begins like many games of its genre: You arrive on a farm that’s in shambles, overgrown with rocks and weeds but brimming with promise. As the days pass, you clean up your farm and venture into town to meet your neighbors, many of whom are conveniently single and can eventually be courted and married. You grow and sell your crops, which change from season to season, and venture into the local mines for resources like stone and coal, obtaining a sword to defend yourself from the enemies within. The days pass quickly–roughly 12 real-time minutes for a full in-game day–so the gameplay loop is dangerously addictive. “Just one more day,” you’ll find yourself thinking quite often as the catchy morning music plays once more.
Similar to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, booting up Stardew Valley feels like coming home. Its gameplay is familiar and repetitive in a comforting way, and the new farm maps, spouse events, and addition of multiplayer have only added to its replayability. It’s fair to say Stardew Valley has truly perfected the farm simulator and should be at the top of anyone’s list who is looking for a cozy, wholesome game to get lost in. And as we move into the next generation of consoles, it’s safe to assume future games in the genre will all have a bit of Stardew in them. — Jenae Sitzes
Tetris Effect | PS4
Tetris truly is the Swiss watch of gaming, a puzzler so solidly conceived and elegantly simple that it has remained a playable, addictive classic for more than three decades. In a world of sequels, DLC, seasons, and battle passes, Tetris remains fundamentally the same game it was when it was released in 1984, a triumph of minimalist durability.
Trying to “update” a milestone in the gaming canon as foundational as Tetris is a bit like trying to add some modernist flair to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; if you can do it, you’re a genius, but the odds are not in your favor. But somehow, Tetris Effect actually did it. It achieved the impossible by not fussing with the game’s pristine mechanics, but by focusing instead on the visceral experience of the person playing.
I have played hundreds of hours of Tetris Effect, and I still can’t quite deconstruct the alchemy of its sound design, the way the individually-prescribed beeps and tones of flipping and placing tetrominoes seem to slot seamlessly into the underlying rhythm and melody of the level track, the way the level tracks themselves swell and recede hypnotically with the pace of the descending pieces. All of this is before we even get to Tetris Effect’s psychedelic visuals, which call to mind laptop screensavers designed by art school valedictorians from around the world.
If you’ve gone through this whole console generation without playing this game, you owe it to yourself to go back and experience it. Tetris Effect is a game that answers the question: How do you improve upon a perfect game? You do it by improving the environment around the game, by giving the players who love it an exquisite cloister to tuck themselves away in and just play. — Eric Sams
Titanfall 2 | PC, PS4, Xbox One
The first Titanfall was a moderately successful Xbox-exclusive multiplayer game, even coming bundled with the system at one point. It had some creative ideas that showed an evolution of Respawn’s roots in the Call of Duty series–especially in its fluid movement and the larger-than-life Titan mecha suits–but it suffered from the lack of a proper story campaign.
Titanfall 2 course-corrected, and in the process delivered one of the most well-crafted and memorable single-player campaigns in a first-person shooter of the last several years. Rather than serving as a glorified power-up, your autonomous mech was the heart of the story. Respawn was able to invest more soul in a robot than many shooters manage with human characters. Traversal moves like wall-running were better served with impeccably crafted platforming stages, letting you bound from side to side and seamlessly transition into shooting setpieces. One stage in particular, Effect and Cause, recalled the innovative “kitchen sink” design approach of classic Half-Life games. And the multiplayer returned as strong as ever, to round out the package.
The future of Titanfall is uncertain, with most of the care and attention of the universe being poured instead into Respawn’s battle royale Apex Legends. The studio has hinted at more Titanfall to come, but whether or not we ever see another, this one is worth experiencing for yourself. — Steve Watts
What Remains Of Edith Finch | PS4, PC
Few games more perfectly marry their storytelling with interactivity than What Remains of Edith Finch. As the titular Edith, you explore the Finch family’s ancestral home, one that had humble beginnings but was expanded over the years in increasingly fantastical ways until it resembles something out of a Dr. Seuss or Roald Dahl story. Each room of the house is a time capsule dedicated to a member of the Finch family, all of whom have died tragically. Edith thinks the family might be cursed, and following the death of her mother, she heads back to the abandoned house to try to learn something by wandering its halls.
There’s a lot to learn from each family member’s past, and because each of those time capsule rooms represents a piece of them, you’ll play through the moments that led to each family member’s death in short vignettes. Some are sad, some tragic, some frightening, and some are even funny or whimsical, but they’re all twinged with grief for their circumstances tied to this seeminly cursed family.
All the vignettes are fascinating in their own right, and it’s interesting to explore the Finch house and uncover its secrets, but it’s the way the stories unfold that makes it a game you shouldn’t pass up. Each vignette has its own slightly different mechanics, matching the themes and the tone of the story as it unfolds. What Remains of Edith Finch feels like the rare video game that tells a story that could only exist as a video game. It’s a short, excellent game with a lot of variety, a heartfelt story, and deceptive simplicity that allows it to leap from genre to genre at a moment’s notice. Play it. — Phil Hornshaw
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt | Xbox One, PS4, PC
You can’t put together a list like this without talking about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. At the time, CD Projekt Red’s ambitious RPG was positioned to be one of the biggest games for the Xbox One and PS4, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how big it truly was.
Set in a mature fantasy world, The Witcher 3 spanned multiple dense regions brimming with characters, quests, and rich worldbuilding. Despite The Witcher 3’s unprecedented scale, there was still so much care put into the finer details. From the side-quests to the optional monster hunts, everything felt weighty and worthwhile thanks to the jaw-dropping presentation and sharp writing. Rarely, if ever, did straying off the beaten path feel like a waste of time. There was always something new to learn and explore.
What still impresses me to this day is how complex and well-thought- out the narrative is. There weren’t just good and bad decisions with obvious consequences. Instead, CD Projekt Red went a subtler route. Seemingly small decisions could have big repercussions, both good and bad. No matter what you did, you’d still second-guess yourself.
Even today, there aren’t many AAA games with the narrative depth and nuance we saw in The Witcher 3. More importantly, the quality is consistent throughout the entire adventure. And of course, Tthe Witcher 3 set the stage for CD Projekt Red’s next big RPG, Cyberpunk 2077. — Jake Dekker
Yakuza 0 | PS4, Xbox One, PC
Yakuza 0 affords a Grand Theft Auto-like freedom of violence while keeping an oddly innocent sense of humor intact. One moment you’ll be burning a guy’s face off with a bowl of hot ramen and the next, helping an embarrassed stranger buy a naughty magazine. There’s even a fighting style that’s basically breakdancing. The story follows a parallel between two ex-Yakuza members, Kazuma Kiryu and Majima Goro, with secret hearts of gold. Yakuza 0 excellently skates on the line between bloodthirst and over-the-top silliness.
It has all the typical mafia fixings at first: power plays, grudges, status. But it also lets you play with a UFO catcher, watch softcore VHS videos, and sing karaoke at a bar. A typical day might include eating an obscene amount of buffalo wings for breakfast, beating up some guys on the street with a hot plate, finding a kid’s lost video game, and taking steps to avenge my adoptive father. At night, I like to manage my hostess nightclub and make a ton of money that I don’t need. Then I go to the bar and get hammered on Hibiki whiskey, beat up more guys on the street—maybe this time with a bicycle—and wind down by ordering a disgusting amount of Korean barbecue.
This game absolutely rules. You should play this game. — Ashley Oh