2023 is almost at an end, and boy, what a year. This has been arguably the best year we’ve ever seen in video games. That means there is a deluge of titles for you to dig through, but never fear. The GamingTrend crew has curated a rather long list of the absolute best; video games that are perfect for you or as gifts. Browse them below, read our reviews, and click the handy links to grab the ones that grab you. Happy holidays!
The Game of the Year contenders
Baldur’s Gate 3 [PS/PC]:
David Flynn – Baldur’s Gate 3 is an impossible video game. Its level of scope and detail simply should not be able to exist in this day and age, and yet here we are. The game is literally just a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with everything that entails. You can go save the world, sure, but you can also get to know the locals, rob them blind, get turned into a wheel of cheese, sneak into a robot factory, pilot a submarine, and kiss your vampire boyfriend. And all of that is just in Act 3.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom [SWITCH]:
David Flynn – While this title didn’t wow me as much as Breath of the Wild did back in 2017, I can see the case for why The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is even better than that seminal game. It reused the same Hyrule as a base, but feels completely different thanks to a ton of changes and your new abilities like Ultrahand. Creating vehicles or structures to solve puzzles or just get around easier is a magical experience, and there’s really nothing else like it.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 [PS]:
David Burdette – Who am I? You sure you wanna know? I’m one of the best superhero games you’ll ever play. Haha, had to go with a fun Raimi Spidey joke, but it’s all true. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 injects one of the best superhero stories you’ll ever hear into a gorgeous open-world featuring incredible combat and traversal. It’s easy to get lost in New York, whether you’re tackling a main mission, stopping a crime, or just swinging around the Big Apple.
Super Mario Wonder [SWITCH]:
Jack Zustiak – Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a Mario game, so you probably don’t need me to tell you that it’s good. That won’t stop me. Wonder is good, for all of the same reasons Mario tends to be good – the surprises, the constant assault of new ideas, and Nintendo’s tried-and-true game design sense. Wonder adds an extra dash of “wonder” on top, turning every surprise into a dramatic event. From singing flowers to floating with hippos in space, Wonder encapsulates everything you go to Mario for and lets it loose in the biggest ways possible.
Alan Wake 2 [XB/PS/PC]:
David Burdette – I still can’t believe that thirteen years later, Remedy finally got to make this game. Even more insane, they crafted an amazing dual narrative that is equal parts weird and mind blowing. This is backed by an incredible atmosphere that leaves you tense, timidly moving forward and towards the Taken muttering around the corner. Only Remedy could make this, and you won’t play anything like Alan Wake 2 this year… or even possibly until Alan Wake 3.
David Burdette – Starfield is up there with Mass Effect in the premiere sci-fi and exploration genre. It takes the familiar Bethesda formula and throws a grav drive on it, taking you on a journey you’ll want to continue on for hours and hours. With a killer soundtrack and fantastic dialogue between both friend, acquaintance, and foe, you’ll be hard pressed to go on a better space odyssey this year.
Final Fantasy XVI [PS]:
David Flynn – If you want Devil May Cry crossed with a dark fantasy game, this is it. Final Fantasy XVI is a complete reinvention of the series, though with familiar names, characters, spells, and more. Play as Clive, blessed by the Dominant of Phoenix, as you and a rag tag group try to save the world from slavery, defeat enemies with as much style as possible, and of course eventually kill a god.
Diablo IV [XB/PS/PC]:
Anthony Shelton – Diablo IV roared back in its own twisted, unhinged way. Taking its dungeon crawling roots and blowing them up into a gargantuan MMO feel without making it feel crowded or without sacrificing what has made Diablo feel good in the past has been an excellent choice for the franchise. The choice has also set it up to have a stronger start to its lifespan compared to Diablo III. Diablo IV is, without question, an excellent way to spend time with friends, and very much an interesting way to spend time tinkering with builds, and facing off against massive bosses. Hell has never felt so good.
Street Fighter 6 [XB/PS/PC]:
Jack Zustiak – Fighting games can engage you like no other genre, and Street Fighter 6 demonstrates their best qualities. The battle mechanics creatively blend ideas from throughout Street Fighter history to create a fresh spin on the tried-and-true fundamentals these games are built upon. Surprisingly extensive additions like the World Tour story mode and Battle Hub online lobbies further extend the appeal into exciting new arenas. New fighting game releases rarely if ever start on such solid footing. No matter what you enjoy about fighting games, Street Fighter 6 puts up a fight worth getting invested in.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor [XB/PS/PC]:
David Burdette – It’s never easy to build a sequel, especially when you both have to live up to the legacy of one of the greatest sci-fi franchises in existence and continue to build on an incredible first outing. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor manages both of those things, expanding on the greatness of the Star Wars name and improving on nearly every aspect of Fallen Order. Survivor is breathtaking both visually and narratively, and the combat is exhilarating, with several stunning set pieces. The Force is strong with this one.
Resident Evil 4 [XB/PS/PC]:
Henry Viola – The original Resident Evil 4 is arguably the best RE game Capcom has ever made, and it’s astonishing that they were able to top that with the remake. This well crafted survival horror experience puts you in the shoes of Leon S. Kennedy once again to save the president’s daughter against the Los Iluminados. What you get is a gaming masterpiece that treads the fine line between action and horror.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon [XB/PS/PC]:
Jack Zustiak – Armored Core VI gets to the point. You’ve got a mech and you’ve got a job to do, so do it! Mission after mission you blast through enemies with your only reprieve being some time spent tuning your machine. The difficulty jumps between challenging bosses and cakewalk decimation of your foes on a dime, yet both extremes are satisfying. I’d say it’s no-nonsense, but truthfully it is nonsense of the best kind.
Hogwarts Legacy [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Ron Burke – Videogames are all about creating magic, and nowhere is magic more magical than at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We were absolutely blown away by just how complete and amazing a world developer Avalanche Software brought for us when this game was released. More than a simple movie tie-in, this was the Wizarding World brought to life in a way unlike any other. There are a lot of heavy hitters on this list, but don’t miss out on this one. It’s magical in all the best ways.
A-Tier Must Haves
Lies of P [XB/PS/PC]:
Abdul Saad – Lies of P is an excellent action RPG that stands above several titles this year among the upper echelon of Soulslikes. While several elements of the game are almost too derivative of the Souls series, all of those elements are still expertly crafted in a way that presents players with an unforgettable gameplay and narrative experience that is as entertaining as it is challenging.
Assassin’s Creed Mirage [XB/PS/PC]:
Henry Viola – Mirage is a throwback to old school Assassin’s Creed titles with an emphasis back on stealthy gameplay. Long time fans are sure to rejoice with the more consolidated map and a return to freestyle parkouring through the beautiful city of Baghdad. Despite some jankiness to movement and combat, AC Mirage is another solid entry in the overall franchise that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Forza Motorsport (2023) [XB/PC]:
Cassie Peterson – Forza Motorsport ushers in a new era for the beloved racing franchise. This is the easiest Forza to get into and it performs at such a high level, you may forget it’s just a game. There’s nothing standing between you and the racetrack. The game looks and feels absolutely amazing, with unmatched visual fidelity and performance. I’ve been hopping into quite a few racing games in the last couple years, and this one stands out well above the rest.
Mortal Kombat 1 [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Jack Zustiak – No other fighting game on the market feels like Mortal Kombat. Depending on your preferences, that can be a good or a bad thing, but I appreciate MK’s longstanding commitment to being itself. While this latest reboot sticks closer to what works than you might expect, that allows it to pinpoint all of the series’ strongest aspects. Plus Reptile is in this one, and he’s pretty kool to boot, so what else do you really need?
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty [XB/PS/PC]:
Abdul Saad – Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is another Koei Tecmo action RPG that offers players exactly what they seek in a Souls-like. What it lacks in narrative depth, it makes up for it with lots of intricately crafted levels, engaging and challenging battles, and a great character customization system that keeps you hooked to the last fight.
Remnant II [XB/PS/PC]:
Henry Viola – If you’re looking for the best cooperative Souls-like in the market, look no further because Remnant II hits the spot. Gunfire Games’ hit sequel to Remnant: From the Ashes is packed with a ton of procedural content, loot, and customization for you and two of your friends. What’s even better is that the newest DLC Awakened King just came out, so what are you waiting for?
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened [XB/PS/PC]:
David Burdette – There are a lot of ways to do a remake, and Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened does it in a great way. Taking the basic building blocks from your nearly fifteen year old PC game and rebuilding it in your new-generation style is incredible. All that and adding even more to the story and formula? Big win from Frogwares.
Atomic Heart [XB/PS/PC]:
David Burdette – Atomic Heart is absolutely wild. The story is over-the-top, the combat is chaotic, and the upgrade unit is horny. Yes, I said horny in a holiday guide. Also, Atomic Heart is super campy and fun. I may still be longing for the day when Bioshock 4 comes around, but Atomic Heart helped me stave off the hunger for a little bit longer.
RoboCop: Rogue City [XB/PS/PC]:
David Burdette – I really hoped Rogue City would build upon the things Teyon did in Terminator: Resistance, especially since that outing seemed a little stuck in the past. To my delight, RoboCop is an awesome and bombastic entry that gives players much more than expected. Intricate dialogue meshed with over the top violence in a gorgeous Unreal 5 world makes for a romp worth grabbing.
Immortals of Aveum [XB/PS/PC]:
Cassie Peterson – Immortals of Aveum is a bright and ambitious title that lays a solid foundation for Ascendant Studios’ future in the industry. The gameplay is solid, the world is beautiful, and I feel compelled to return to continue exploring. Immortals brings a fresh take to first-person shooters as well as continuing to grow the magic shooter genre that started with games like Ghostwire: Tokyo and Forspoken.
Dead Space Remake [XB/PS/PC]:
Henry Viola – Now this was a remake done right, down to the very last drop. Dead Space Remake sets the gold standard for future remakes and continues to be one of the best survival horror experiences out there. The tense atmosphere and immaculate visuals combined with the visceral combat and demented monsters are just a few of the reasons that make this the masterpiece that it is.
Henry Viola – Eternights is what you get when a small indie studio pours their passion and love into their debut project. This dating sim dungeon crawler hybrid is guaranteed to keep you warm and snuggly for the holiday season. Expect to go on dates, fight nasty ghouls, and maybe even fall in love!
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name [XB/PS/PC]:
Ron Burke – Once a legendary yakuza, Kazuma Kiryu faked his own death and abandoned his name for the sake of protecting his family. Kiryu embarks on a fantastic interlude to the upcoming Infinite Wealth, embracing all of the bizarre and addicting side activities you’ve come to expect from the series.
Ghostrunner 2 [XB/PS/PC]:
Ben Lombardo – Another amazing game from developer One More Level, Ghostrunner 2 follows up from the previous title in a serious way. Although the story might be average, the overall experience is nothing short of incredible. It’s a speedrunner’s dream, and offers some of the most rewarding experiences on offer in 2023. This one is truly addictive, so expect to lose more than a few hours while you’re sliding, running, hacking and slashing everything that breathes!
Marvel’s Midnight Suns [XB/PS/PC]:
David Burdette – While this one’s technically from last year, you may have missed it in the holiday rush. That’s a real shame, because it’s a surprisingly deep deck builder with a lot to like about it! There’s a great narrative behind all of that, along with a calm gameplay loop you can engage with for hours without realizing it. With a ton of amazing heroes and an epic season pass of content, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is well worth the buy for the superhero or strategy gamer.
Family Fun & The Switch
Detective Pikachu Returns [SWITCH]:
Cassie Peterson – Detective Pikachu Returns is a heartwarming follow-up to the first game. It picks up two years after Detective Pikachu with a brand new mystery to solve and Pokémon to team up with. Gameplay is simple and easy to get into and I had a ton of fun. The overall experience is worth it for fans of the first game, and the movie, and for Pokémon fans in general, and especially for those aspiring detectives.
Pikmin 4 [SWITCH]:
David Flynn – Even after waiting almost a decade for Pikmin 4, all that time feels worth it for just how incredible the game we got is. Longer than all previous games combined, Pikmin 4 puts your Dandori skills to the test using a new, lower camera angle, the return of caves, and massive areas to explore. We may still be trying to figure out the series timeline after this, but this is an incredibly fun game you don’t want to miss.
Fire Emblem Engage [SWITCH]:
Adam Moreno – Taking things that made people fall in love with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, then mixing in old school Fire Emblem components creates: ENGAGE. This journey has characters full of heart and soul as they fight together to save the world. Meet new allies as well as reconnect with some of the Fire Emblem royalty such as Marth, Corrin, Roy, and more! Adventure awaits!
Disney Illusion Island [SWITCH]:
David Burdette – It’s hard to get more whimsical than Mickey Mouse, and Disney Illusion Island leans heavily into that for the best result possible. Sporting fantastic platforming and a stellar soundtrack, along with outstanding visuals, Dlala Studios crafted a magical chapter in the long history of Mickey and friends. It’s great for family and friends, so this is an awesome choice for local co-op.
Sonic Superstars [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
David Flynn – Sonic Superstars may be weirdly divisive, but I fall on the side of greatly enjoying it. It gives Mario Wonder a run for its money in sheer creativity bursting from every single level. If you like classic Sonic, SEGA picks up right where they left off.
Metroid Prime Remastered [SWITCH]:
David Flynn – Did you also forget this came out this year? Metroid Prime Remastered was shadow dropped after a Nintendo Direct and started the year off extremely strong. While I had played the original on Wii, this was the first time I actually enjoyed playing it thanks to the modern controls as well as the massively upgraded visuals. This GameCube game somehow remains one of the best looking games on Switch, keeping a steady 60 fps at all times through what I can only assume is black magic.
Crash Team Rumble [XB/PS]:
David Flynn – Crash Team Rumble is shockingly fun, especially with a group of friends. It’s fair to say no one expected (or wanted) a MOBA, but Rumble pulls it off in an addicting and classically Bandicoot way. It’s wacky and fun, provided you’re not raging at your teammates.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
David Flynn – If you’re looking for a Smash Bros. alternative or just something to shake up game night, look no further. Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 is a very solid platform fighter with just the right amount of jank to crank up the hilarity. Battle your friends as iconic characters or go through the addicting rogue-lite single player mode. This probably won’t be showing up at EVO anytime soon, but it’s still a great time.
Wild Card Football [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Adam Moreno – Do you like NFL Football? Do you remember NFL the Street era? Well, Wild Card Football brings in the faces of the NFL like Patrick Mahomes and Tua Tagovailoa and brings them into a fun world where backyard football meets a strategy card game. Each down could be the one that springs Justin Jefferson flying down the field while the CB’s have turtle speed. This game is fun by yourself, but really shines in the online versus mode and especially with friends.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp [SWITCH]:
Cassie Peterson – Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp is a wonderful recreation of a long-neglected classic. The games pull you right in with smooth and satisfying gameplay, a catchy art style, and tons of fun features for many added hours of play. Now the question is, when will we get the rest of the Advance Wars reboots?
We Love Katamari REROLL + Royal Reverie [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Henry Viola – Bandai Namco might not have created a new entry in the Katamari franchise, but REROLL + Royal Reverie fills in that void for now. This remaster of We Love Katamari remains one of the most addictive and quirky games I’ve ever played in my entire life, and the brand new content in Royal Reverie is refreshing as well. If you’re looking for something goofy with a wacky soundtrack, then give this game a chance!
Octopath Traveler II [PS/PC/SWITCH]:
David Flynn – Octopath Traveler II manages to surpass the original in every way. With a more fleshed out world, more interesting characters, and some fantastic tweaks to combat this probably would have been a GotY contender in just about any other year. Still, don’t overlook this one as it’s a fantastic throwback to JRPGs of old.
Lego 2K Drive [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Henry Viola – Let your imagination run wild because Lego 2K Drive is filled with boundless bricks and wonders. Despite some glaring microtransactions, this extraordinary racing adventure is filled with delightful characters, and captivating visuals for both adults and children alike!
MLB The Show 23 [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Noah Rigsby – Sports titles with yearly entries can be tiresome and hard to determine if it’s worth picking up. Thankfully MLB The Show 23 breaks the mold with impressive visual upgrades, impactful additions to Diamond Dynasty, and a brilliantly executed storyline about the Negro Leagues. Whether you’re a fan of America’s pastime or someone looking to get into the sport, 2023’s MLB The Show is worth checking out.
David Burdette – Sometimes you want to just relax as you play a video game, and Tchia offers that. While there is complexity to some of the gameplay, this sweet island story is cutesy and charming in all the best ways. Weaving an open-world based off of the real life location of New Caledonia and tales from the past works wonderfully, leaving you all warm inside. There are also a lot of great approachability settings, so playing with the kids is simple to do!
Kirby Return to Dream Land Deluxe [SWITCH]:
Jack Zustiak – Given his ability to copy his enemy’s powers, Kirby rarely stays exactly the same. Return to Dream Land Deluxe gives him some much appreciated time to look back and reflect. It is a return to a return, chock-full of everything that makes Kirby who he is, from a classic platforming adventure to a wide variety of side modes and mini games. This may be the single most concentrated dose of Kirby available on the market…so take only as prescribed!
Hi-Fi Rush [XB/PC]:
David Flynn – If you ask me, Hi-Fi Rush is easily the best game this year. That’s a tough order in a year stuffed with once in a generation titles, but somehow Xbox started off so strong nothing else could top this rhythm action game. Bash enemies to the beat using a scrap metal guitar to get that coveted S rank in each stage. With tons of accessibility options, just about anyone can get in the band, and even more content was added after our review including a rogue-like mode and even an arena maxing out at 200 BPM. With two soundtracks contending for the best songs in the game, Hi-Fi Rush is an ear worm in more ways than one.
Sea of Stars [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
David Flynn – Sea of Stars is a fantastic throwback to JRPGs of old like Super Mario RPG, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy. This prequel to The Messenger sees two Solstice Warriors and best boy Garl travel across the world to defeat an otherworldly evil. The story may not have much substance, but the unique combat system complete with timed hits will keep you engaged the whole way through.
The Expanse: A Telltale Series [XB/PS/PC]:
Corvo Rohwer – Telltale is finally back with their signature take on the player-choice driven adventure genre. The Expanse is a prequel to the show, following Camina Drummer’s time aboard the Artemis. After uncovering mysterious coordinates that lead to a treacherous score, it falls on Drummer to shape the fate of her crew and change the future of the belt. While the gameplay itself may be a bit simple, the narrative and characters are compelling enough to keep you locked in.
A Space For The Unbound [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Corvo Rohwer – Rural Indonesia comes to life in a beautiful pixel landscape, brimming with color and life. You play as Atma, a high schooler who is helping his girlfriend Raya as she develops and learns to control the unusual power to change reality. A Space For The Unbound is filled with tender moments of love and joy interspersed throughout its dreamlike and darkly supernatural setting of a small town at the center of the end of the world.
Cassie Peterson – Viewfinder is a beautiful and heartfelt journey that challenges the player in different ways. Perspective means everything in this game, and the challenges you face will give you a whole different view on puzzle solving games. Each puzzle is interesting and never feels repetitive or overly complicated. This game is a ton of fun, I can’t recommend it enough! #JusticeForCait
Amnesia: The Bunker [XB/PS/PC]:
Cassie Peterson – Amnesia: The Bunker is a truly terrifying experience that will keep you on the edge of your seat and your sanity. In The Bunker, you play as Henri Clement, a French soldier who is trying to escape the horrors of a bunker along the Western Front during WWI. You’re armed with a revolver and a mechanical dynamo flashlight as you explore the bunker to uncover the evil that lurks within. The overall experience is thrilling amidst all the horror, leaving me (almost) craving more. Almost.
Jackson Lustberg – GYLT is a charming adventure horror game that balances its borderline Pixar graphics with some pretty good body horror. Play as Sally, a young girl on a mission to find her missing cousin Emily, and uncover the secrets of an old mining town. Armed only with a flashlight, it’s up to you to face your fears and survive. The haunting atmosphere and cold winter setting are perfect for some holiday scares.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Jack Zustiak – As may guess from the title, Ghost Trick involves ghosts, but that’s a trick. Ghost Trick is really a game about life. In this game, you interact with everyday objects in the world around you to solve mysteries. As you play, you’ll discover answers to the narrative as well as the life you may be missing. From surprisingly chatty animals to inanimate objects, everything in Ghost Trick plays a role in making life a little more interesting. Ghost Trick’s careful reframing of the mundane through its creative game mechanics makes it required playing in my book!
Jack Zustiak – Despite whatever you may think about humanity as a whole, Humanity proves very likable. It looks like a puzzle game, walks like a puzzle game, and barks like a puzzle game, but it’s a lot more than that. The nature of Humanity evolves the further you progress, keeping you on your toes much in the same way those pesky actual humans do.
Bramble: The Mountain King [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Corvo Rohwer – Two siblings, Olle and Lillemor, sneak out into the woods to find adventure. While the woods by day are calm and tranquil, the bramble lurks beneath the moss for night to come. As Lillemor is captured by a troll, Olle begins on a journey on his own to rescue her. This game feels like a storybook sprung to life with hauntingly gorgeous backdrops, and brings not just the beauty, but the beast as well. Nordic folklore courses through the veins of Bramble: The Mountain King, expressed thoroughly in its menagerie of beasts and otherworldly beings that Olle must face to save his sister.
EVERSPACE 2 [XB/PS/PC]:
Ron Burke – Everspace 2 did the impossible, taking every element of its predecessor and upgrading it so far that it can scarcely be compared to what came before. Coupled with a soundtrack that’s still bouncing in my head as the year comes to an end.
Minecraft Legends [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Cassie Peterson – Minecraft Legends combines light Minecraft elements with action-strategy gameplay. The game feels more geared towards a younger audience, which is reflected in its simplified mechanics and overall atmosphere. However, there is plenty to enjoy here for players of all ages, especially for those who are looking for a little more Minecraft love.
Vernal Edge [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
David Flynn – Vernal Edge takes the style and intricate combat of Devil May Cry and puts it in a 2D metroidvania. If that hasn’t already sold you on the game, I don’t know what will. Maybe the gorgeous pixel art, the retro 3D overworld, or the customizable skills? It’s an absolute blast with tons of optional things to discover, tough bosses, and some great platforming.
SEASON: a letter to the future [PS/PC]:
Abdul Saad – SEASON: a letter to the future is a beautiful indie game that offers players an intriguing world with a unique and interesting history and story to tell, endearing characters to meet, puzzles to solve, pictures to take, and mysteries to uncover. And on top of it all, the decisions you’ve made along your journey will decide how it ends. The beautiful combination of the game’s picturesque and vibrant visual aesthetic and its gameplay elements make SEASON a game indie lovers shouldn’t miss.
Slay the Princess [PC]:
David Flynn – Slay the Princess is easily one of my favorite games this year. I’m not even a horror fan, but it’s fascinating, branching storylines and heartfelt story had me instantly fall in love. The monochrome art is absolutely gorgeous, and the writing and acting are both impeccable. You may have missed this title in the AAA storm, but it’s well worth going back to Slay the Princess.
Get it on Steam (or Epic or GOG or UbiConnect or EA Play… etc)
Jackson Lustberg – DOOMBLADE is an action-packed Metroidvania that excels at high-momentum action. You play as Gloom the gloomling, a pathetic little goblin creature who befriends an ancient sword that pulsates with dark energies, what could go wrong? Together you will team up to fight those who have wronged you, dashing from enemy to enemy, leaving destruction in your wake, and getting revenge to one of the sickest metal soundtracks to bless your ears.
Jackson Lustberg – Eldrich horror requires certain levels of nuance, and Dredge pulls it off exceptionally well. Spend your time fishing, exploring the vast oceanic world, getting immersed in quality nautical ambiance, and shuttering at what lurks beneath. You’ll get to upgrade your ship from a banged-up dingy to a sea-worthy vessel, meeting plenty of interesting characters along the way. Beware, not everything is as it seems.
Contraband Police [PC]:
Jackson Lustberg – Contraband Police is an FPS deduction game that puts you in the authoritarian boots of a border guard in the fictional communist country of Acaristan. Your job is to search cars and their cargo, make sure that the drivers are who they say they are, and fend off attacks by gangs on your upgradable outpost. You’ll also go out on missions, each of which culminates in a decision to support the Acaristan Government or the Blood Fist Rebellion.
Pharaoh: A New Era [PC]:
John Farrell – Pharoah has remained one of the best city building game of all time since its release in 1999. Its depth, ease of entry, clarity, interface, music, and sound design, not to mention its educational potential for Egyptian culture, kept it as a landmark all these years. A New Era keeps the missions and mechanics faithful while updating the graphics, user interface, and music. Pharaoh is sure to keep your goals, risks, and tools clearly visible. It introduces mechanics slowly, crescendoing into a game of balancing economies between cities, waging warfare, supporting your religion, public health, and more while never feeling impossible. Despite some bugs that definitely didn’t originate in Pharoah: 1999, A New Era more than makes up for its price of $22.99.
The Pale Beyond [PC]:
David Flynn – The Pale Beyond is a brutal survival management sim. As the unwitting captain of a doomed expedition, you need to guide your crew through a year stranded on the ice. Will you prioritize your mission, or the people who brought you this far? While very stressful, this is an incredibly memorable game with a vast cast of great characters. Yet another shining star this year, don’t forget to check out this indie darling.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores [PS/PC]:
David Burdette – Bigger isn’t always better, but that’s not the case in Burning Shores. Aloy not only takes on a new space, but one of the biggest boss creatures in the series thanks to the PS5’s abilities. Behind all of it is the fantastic gameplay you’ll remember fondly, and with the game coming to PC early next year, it’ll be great seeing more people travel to the Forbidden West, with a short vacation to the Burning Shores.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty [XB/PS/PC]:
David Flynn – Phantom Liberty is easily one of the best game expansions I’ve ever played. There’s a lavish amount of detail and love poured into Dogtown on top of coming with a full rework of the game’s mechanics. Cyberpunk 2077 is now the game we all thought it would be before its disastrous launch, and this spy thriller is the absolute pinnacle of the game.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed [SWITCH]:
David Flynn – Future Redeemed is the finale to the Claus Saga we’ve all been waiting for. It has tons of fanservice referencing the first two games along with telling its own, unique story. The base game’s battle system has been trimmed and refined, still giving you a vast amount of build diversity with characters that fit more neatly into their roles. I hate to sound like a broken record, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed is also one of the best expansions I have ever played.
Best of the Rest!
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III [XB/PS/PC]:
David Burdette – It’s not perfect, but with some of the most fun you’ll have online, Call of Duty is a staple of the holiday season. I wouldn’t recommend the campaign, but bringing the arcade feel back to COD in the multiplayer is what the doctor ordered. That, and a Zombies mode mixed with DMZ that is just a good time. Shooting guns with friends on a Friday night with Doritos and Monster Energy is back, peeps.
David Flynn – Despite what you may have heard, Forspoken is a fantastic game. Its movement and combat are nothing like I’ve played before or since, and while the story is fairly typical Frey ends up as a very likable character. Forspoken doesn’t deserve the hate it’s gotten, and is well worth giving another shot.
One Piece Odyssey [XB/PS/PC]:
Noah Rigsby – Are you curious as to what makes One Piece such an iconic and legendary manga/anime series but don’t want to invest in watching over 1,000 episodes? One Piece Odyssey brings the lovable Straw Hat crew to life in a video game format that works in all the right ways. Blending newcomer accessibility, fun combat, and an engrossing storyline, One Piece Odyssey brings a smile and laugh to everyone who plays.
Fort Solis [XB/PS/PC]:
Mark Julian – Fort Solis is an immersive sci fi thriller walking simulator that delivers a heart pounding story with stunning visuals and fantastic sound design. With realistic visuals and a subtle creepiness throughout the abandoned science outpost you are investigating, Fort Solis will keep you on your toes and your eyes glued to the screen. Stellar performances by Roger Clark and Julia Appleton round out the experience and make the game feel like a movie where you control the main character.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie [PS/PC/SWITCH]:
Henry Viola – This is a no brainer must play if you’ve played all the previous games in the Crossbell and Cold Steel story arcs. Trails into Reverie ties up any loose ends and brings an Endgame level of characters together for a grand finale. The in-depth turn based combat is sure to have you theory crafting and strategizing for endless hours. However, the game makes very little effort to catch you up on its narrative, so I can see this be a purchase for the die hard fans only.
Deliver Us Mars [XB/PS/PC]:
Corvo Rohwer – Set ten years after the events of Deliver us the Moon, we follow Kathy Johanson and the Zephyr crew on a perilous mission to recover the stolen colony ships sequestered on Martian soil. While traversal and exploration make up the bulk of gameplay, Deliver Us Mars also focuses heavily into narrative moments with Kathy, her family and her squadmates. With climbing axes in hand, you’ll traverse unknown territory and grapple with your squad as you shape the future of both Earth and Mars.
Persona 3 Portable [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH]:
David Flynn – With the remake coming early next year, there’s not a lot of time left to experience Persona 3’s original story. Even so, Persona 3 Portable is well worth the time investment as it’s a refined edition of where modern Persona started. The remake also won’t include the female MC route, which is arguably the best version of an already fantastic game.
Park Beyond [XB/PS/PC]:
Ron Burke – What can I say? I’m a theme park junkie. Whether in real life or the virtual one, I can’t get enough of coasters, churros, and crowd control. Ok, maybe not the last one, but Park Beyond gives me a few things to play with that are completely new. “Impossifying” your rides takes them from good, to great, to absolutely nuts, all while embracing the best parts of any theme park builder out there.
Layers of Fear [XB/PS/PC]:
Henry Viola – Hands down the best looking horror game to date, thanks to the game being one of the first to be built entirely from Unreal Engine 5. Layers of Fear is the definitive edition of Bloober Team’s iconic games, as it includes both Layers of Fear 1 and 2, along with brand new content. The brilliant visual tricks and trippy environments are bound to give you the spook of a lifetime.
Aliens: Dark Descent [XB/PS/PC]:
Ron Burke – It’s hard to do an Aliens movie right, much less a game with extended gameplay elements, and still maintain the tension and fear that the titular monster brings. Aliens: Dark Descent makes fear the star of the show, throwing in survival horror and XCOM-like tactical combat in equal measure. We scored it a 90 at the time, but patches have polished this one to an even finer sheen. If you are a tactical or horror fan, pick this up. If you love both, pick it up fast!
F1 23 [XB/PS/PC]:
Cassie Peterson – EA SPORTS F1 23 continues the series’ legacy of being the definitive F1 racing experience for gamers. With the updates made to braking, accelerating, and cornering, as well as Precision Drive technology for controller players, the game plays smoother than ever and can easily be enjoyed by players of all skill and interest levels. Braking Point also makes a return with another drama-filled story.
Dead Island 2 [XB/PS/PC]:
Abdul Saad – Dead Island 2 was a highly anticipated title that was stuck in development hell but was finally released with impeccable quality this year against all the odds. The game provides bloody, explosive, and sometimes hilarious fun, especially when experiencing its bizarre story with friends. Some games don’t need grand narrative depth or a giant, intricate world to explore to have fun, and Dead Island 2 proves it. So, if you’re someone looking for mindless, epic fun alone or with some friends, then you won’t go wrong with Dead Island 2.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon [SWITCH]:
David Flynn – While Bayonetta 3 gets worse and worse the more I think about it, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is the opposite. This is a puzzle action game depicting how our favorite witch got her start. You control both Cereza and her demon companion, Cheshire, at the same time to defeat Fae and solve puzzles. The storybook aesthetic and successful integration of the demon slave mechanic makes for a game that will grab you and not let go until the credits roll. If you skipped this because it looked too juvenile, you might want to reconsider that decision.
Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 6 [XB/PS/PC]:
Cassie Peterson – Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 6 is a highly polished, excellent entry to the Monster Energy Supercross series that has me excited to keep coming back for more races. The updates to the game’s physics especially had me feeling like I was more in control of my riding experience than ever before. This was definitely a step up from last year’s entry.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! [XB/PS/PC]:
David Flynn – The samurai spinoff of the Like a Dragon series has finally come west in the form of a full remake. Ishin! follows Sakamoto Ryoma as he searches for his father’s killer by infiltrating an organization called the Shinsengumi. This historical adventure sees popular LaD take on the roles of exaggerated figures from Japan’s past. It’s an incredibly cool game that lets you live out your samurai dreams.
Wild Hearts [XB/PS/PC]:
Cassie Peterson – Wild Hearts brings a uniqueness to the monster hunting genre that keeps the experience feeling refreshing. The Karakuri and different weapon options are very fun to experiment with and present interesting combat opportunities. Overall, Wild Hearts capitalizes on what made monster hunting games so much fun in the first place while still giving fans of the genre a new reason to get excited and dive back into the fight.
Obligatory VR subtitle
David Burdette – The hardware that runs all of the amazing stuff below is nothing short of phenomenal. I’ve loved playing around with PSVR and the Meta Quest 2, but PSVR2 introduced me to what VR can do when you inject pure power into it. Shooting guns in Pavlov feels incredibly immersive, whacking blocks in Beat Saber seems real, and the flagship game of Horizon Call Of The Mountain puts you in that world. Featuring outstanding 4K, OLED panels for the display, foveated rendering, eye-tracking, and a 120hz refresh rate, you’ll find it hard to track down a better VR experience than PSVR2.
Horizon Call Of The Mountain [PSVR2]:
Ron Burke – When you launch a new hardware platform, you need a killer app to show it off. Something that showcases the raw potential of the system, and hints at what the future might hold. That’s precisely what Guerilla and Sony did to launch the PSVR2, and we were very impressed. Foveated rendering, higher resolution, blisteringly fast load times, and some envelope pushing VR lead to us giving the game a perfect score. It’s a shining example of not only what the PSVR2 can do, but also what a full budget and time can bring.
Assassin’s Creed Nexus [QUEST]:
Ron Burke – After what seems like an eon of waiting, we finally have an Assassin’s Creed game in first person perspective. A full-featured product, Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR is a 15 hour VR adventure with everything you’ve come to expect from a mainline entry. If you have a Quest 3, this is your system seller.
Pavlov VR [PSVR2/PC VR]:
David Burdette – Ever wanted to play Counter Strike or Call of Duty in VR? This is the best way. Pavlov is amazing, and it’s easy to learn with natural feeling controls and systems. Everything is an extension of what you’re doing, and it makes the entire experience fun.
Pistol Whip [PSVR2/PSVR/PC VR/QUEST 2]:
David Burdette – While Beat Saber may be the most visible form of rhythm gaming in VR, Pistol Whip is right there in terms of fun. The songs are great, the movement is clean, and shooting bullets to the rhythm while dodging makes you feel like John Wick. It’s a great way to spend your time in VR, and a great workout to boot.
No Man’s Sky [XB/PS/PC/SWITCH/VR]:
David Burdette – Sure, it’s just No Man’s Sky in VR, but that’s impressive just in itself. This game is massive, and being able to immerse yourself in the many planets, reaching out to touch the flora and fauna, is amazing. Literally everything available in the release is there, with co-op, base-building, and the full story behind this comeback of a game.
Demeo [PSVR2/PC VR/QUEST]:
Ron Burke – Resolution Games has done a fantastic job of not only bringing a tabletop experience to virtual reality, but also doing it in a way that works well for multiplayer and single player alike. The power of the PSVR2 gives the game a visual boost, and cross-platform compatibility gives it a wider audience. As far as VR experience goes, there’s just nothing quite like this.
After the Fall [PSVR2/PC VR]:
David Burdette – If there is VR, you know you’re going to get some zombie killing in there. After the Fall is a lot of fun with a group, with different missions to tackle against the horde with a single intention between you- Survive. With plenty of weapons and cool mechanics that make this more than just a House of the Dead knock-off, After the Fall is a good pickup for PSVR2.
Tetris Effect: Connected [PSVR2/PSVR/PC VR]:
Ron Burke – I think everyone has played Tetris at this point, but I assure you that you’ve not played Tetris like this. Tetris Effect: Connected does exactly what the name suggests, coming up with a myriad of ways to connect you with other players, and not just on a leaderboard. While it’s not going to blow you away with hyper-realistic vistas or giant monsters, don’t pass this one up – it’s got a real charm to it that is downright relaxing.
Synth Riders: Remastered Edition [PSVR2/PSVR/PC VR/QUEST 2]:
Ron Burke – Synth Riders doesn’t just get playtime when it’s on my PSVR2, it also gets plenty of time on my car’s Spotify playlist. I also have it loaded locally on my phone. What I’m saying is that Synth Riders has a fantastic soundtrack. Couple that with some blood pumping gameplay and you’ve got a game that’s as fun to work out with as it is to play. Frankly, Beat Saber has gotten a little tired for me, but Synth Riders is still going strong.
The Last Clockwinder [PSVR2/PC VR/QUEST]:
David Burdette – Not all VR games have to have tons of action to them. The Last Clockwinder is a great narrative puzzler that will engage your brain. It’s not complex, but the immersive factor of it will keep you solving the mysteries behind this clocktower built into a tree.
Moss and Moss: Book II [PSVR2/PC VR/QUEST]:
Ron Burke – I put both of these together as once you play the first one, there’s no way you won’t want the second. Casting you in the adorable role of Quill, a sword-wielding mouse on a grand adventure, this game is easily one of the most cute games you’ll ever play. Delivered in an isometric perspective, the game is as much a puzzle game as an adventure, but also features a bit of combat to keep things spicy. The first one may have been entirely too short, but the sequel brings over 6 hours of gameplay that never wears out its welcome.
Creed: Rise to Glory – Championship Edition [PSVR2]:
Ron Burke – Adding in progression elements and cross-platform multiplayer, Creed: Rise to Glory – Championship Edition iterates on the game, bringing it to life on the PSVR2 in a whole new level of visual fidelity. Sure, everything outside the ring looks like it could use a glow-up, but there’s no doubt that everything inside the square is pure arcade boxing fun.
Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR [PSVR2/PC VR]:
Ron Burke – If you are old enough to have played the original in the arcade, you’ve got fond memories of the clicky-clack of the plastic specialized gun from the original. Operation Wolf Returns: First Mission VR may be a mouthful of a name, but it captures the run and gun of the original in a completely new way. It’s bite-sized, so you’ll want to catch it on sale, but it’s a fun way to introduce folks to VR without the fear of overly complex controls or nausea.
Have a great holiday season all!
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