Uncharted 4 is more than masterful, bearing the hallmarks of a true system seller. What struck me most as an ardent fans of the series is how much it breaks away from the original blueprint yet manages to amaze on every level. Where many studios step safely from one sequel and into the next, Naughty Dog has taken a gigantic leap, proving yet again they're the best in the business.
The Last of Us Part II is a remorseless epic delivering in its masterful storytelling, nail-biting gameplay and unrivalled production values. Naughty Dog have truly surpassed themselves yet again, crafting a heartfelt sequel that will leave you gasping as they continue to raise the bar for the video game industry. It's yet another must-buy for PlayStation 4 owners, supercharging Sony's unstoppable stable of exclusives.
Shadow of Mordor is without doubt the best Middle-earth game available on consoles. Though not entirely original (then again, what is nowadays?) all of the elements which it borrows flow in sync with Monolith's intuitive Nemesis system, creating something both immensely fun and replayable. That's not to say the game doesn't start to lose steam, especially once you've hit the thirty-hour mark, long after you've finished the story and explored the world. Still, when you eventually come to that milestone you will undoubtedly have had your fill.
Guitar Hero Live is exactly what the franchise needed after its five-year hiatus, and I'd go as far to say it's what the whole genre needed. Although naysayers will lament the lack of more instruments or complain about the non-permanence of extra songs, for many, Live will become the quintessential party game and is already set to be a permanent fixture in my sitting room.
For multiplayer aficionados, Overwatch is essential. It's the kind of game worth sacrificing entire evenings to play and the kind of game you won't be able to stop thinking about, even when you're away. Although the lack of a singleplayer component will deter some, there's more than enough mileage to be had from twelve maps and 21 heroes available.
The constant churn of daily activities may prove thankless and repetitive for those impatient and unwilling to immerse themselves, but if you surrender yourself to Stardew Valley and dig deeper beneath the surface you'll find one of the best, most impactful games you play this year, homage or not.
As far as remakes go, you can't get any better than this. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is exactly how fans envisioned it – an unadulterated celebration of a PlayStation pioneer. With such a weight on their shoulders, Vicarious Visions have pulled it off with such diligence, infused with a streak of their own creativity. Then there's Naughty Dog original efforts, of course. Even those only acquainted with Uncharted and The Last of Us can appreciate how the studio first made its name, and the journey from Crash Bandicoot to Warped is one of continued innovation. Some two decades later, it's great to see that some things never change.
Forget Nathan Drake and Chloe Fraser, if you managed to bag The Lost Legacy as part of Uncharted 4's season pass then you're the real thief here. There's a staggering wealth of content to explore, the quality of which is easily on par with A Thief's End. The stakes may not be as high, but it's impossible not build a connection with Chloe and Nadine or revel in the set piece action and story surprises. As far as standalone expansions go, they don't get more epic than this.
Firewall: Zero Hour is essential for PlayStation VR owners. Despite this being First Contact's debut game, it flawlessly executes on what the studio set out to do: to create PSVR's first must-have multiplayer shooter. It may even sway some of those yet to purchase one of Sony's high-tech headsets.
First there was the N. Sane Trilogy and now there's Nitro-Fuelled. Activision's Crash Team Racing rebirth is more than a quick cash grab – Beenox has modernised an all-time classic with such evident passion, making this the best kart racing game we've seen on PlayStation or Xbox for many, many years.
Taking Media Molecule's creative ethos to new heights, Dreams is a PlayStation essential. Booting the game up each time and having no idea what awaits is an intoxicating feeling. A remedy, forcing me from the rut of my predictable gaming habits to explore an inner creativity I'm often too lazy or wound up to let free.
An unforgiving, unrelenting classic reborn for a new generation, Demon's Souls is no more accessible now than it was back in 2010 (though the frame rate is much better). If you've ever been the slightest bit curious about the Souls series then you can revisit ground zero in all its glory, making for one of the best PlayStation launch titles of all time.
It feels immensely satisfying to be sat here in 2021, eons after playing Super Stardust HD on PS3, and see just how far Housemarque has come. Offering a visual bullet hell spectacle, a showcase for the DualSense controller and a rewarding sci-fi narrative woven around the roguelike loop, we can say with unflinching confidence that Returnal is the PS5's best game to date.
The stars have aligned for Call of Duty: Vanguard. For the first time, this truly feels like a full package without any caveats. Sure, some parts are naturally stronger than others but there isn't a weak link in sight. After back to back triumphs, Call of Duty is now on a killstreak.
After countless epic sieges, splintered shields, and gnarly executions, For Honor has firmly cemented itself as one of the best multiplayer games we've ever played. It's unlike anything else out there, weaving together a unique combat system while cherry picking the best parts of being a live service game.
Kratos has come a long way since first flinging himself into the Aegean all those years ago. God of War, as a series, has come a long way too, pushing the boundaries of hack and slash action to their goar-soaked limits, then breaking free of a years-long slumber to become one of the biggest names in modern gaming. As our own winter approaches, God of War Ragnarok makes for the perfect adventure to lose yourself in.