Pentiment is a true achievement of marrying story, style, and theme into a magical and cohesive whole. In lieu of 3D graphics that try too hard and still fail to represent an authentic-feeling world, Obsidian's artists opted for a more illustrative aesthetic to tell their gripping story of a murder in an abbey, a choice that resonates throughout the entire game. While it might not satisfy every player, especially those expecting a more traditional RPG or adventure experience, those who can immerse themselves in Pentiment's vision of 16th century Bavaria will find one of the best games of the year.
Even if you haven't played the first game in the series, Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is a great introduction to a certain type of strategy game, iterating on a now-familiar formula with a readable, predictable approach to combat and some fun innovations in character movement. It knows where to streamline without sacrificing depth, all while starring mascots that fans know and love. Its exploration elements might slow the pace a bit too much, but you won't mind too much thanks to the gorgeous art direction.
Scorn is a daring aesthetic experiment in virtual, interactive science fiction. Taking inspiration from the art of H.R. Giger and Zdzislaw Beksiński, developer Ebb Software seems hellbent on giving its players a surreal, nightmarish experience, and it mostly succeeds. While combat can feel like a secondary concern, Scorn's puzzles provide just enough challenge to keep the game from feeling like a "walking simulator." Really, though, the main attraction is Scorn's compelling world, a fully realized artistic vision that will haunt you for days after experiencing it.
Shovel Knight Dig isn't just a cash-in on the series' popularity. It's a game that stands on its own merits as a worthy prequel to the original. The titular hero's moveset translates perfectly to a more vertical orientation, and Nitrome's bite-sized level design makes full use of Yacht Club's well-established gameplay style. The 16-bit-style visuals and music are an absolute treat, especially for fans of the series, and the roguelike elements present a nice sense of progression and replayability. Shovel Knight Dig might not be the exact sequel that fans have been clamoring for, but it's the next best thing.
You Suck at Parking introduces a creative twist to the isometric racing genre where "stopping" is the entire point. Its campaign is surprisingly extensive, with enough new obstacles and traps introduced throughout to keep things interesting. Unfortunately (and surprisingly), it's the multiplayer that lets the game down by not offering enough variety or reasons to keep coming back, even with a season pass hanging over your head.
Sure, this might be the third time that Naughty Dog has released The Last of Us, but it's also the most fully realized version. The enhanced visuals and animation bring Joel and Ellie's story to life in a way that was previously unimaginable, and the gameplay still holds up, despite not totally catching up to Part II. Whether or not you want to pay to play the same story for a third time is up to you, but that won't change the fact that it's better than it's ever been.
Cult of the Lamb is two games in one. Part roguelike, part management sim, neither of the halves feel totally fleshed out on their own, and provide little challenge. Still, the synergy between the two halves is undeniably compelling, and the art style is infectiously adorable, giving you enough reason to play through one more in-game day, and then one more, until you've been awake for an entire out-of-game day, feeling totally brainwashed.
As Dusk Falls is exciting, beautiful, and heavy-handed. Its more streamlined approach to narrative gameplay and its less traditional art style create an immersive experience that engages with the player's imagination. That it can work both as a morally challenging single-player story and a party game for multiple players speaks to the confidence that its developers have. But its second half of the story undercuts some of the tension that its excellent first half builds, and a terrible cliffhanger might leave you feeling betrayed.
Sniper Elite 5 is the best game in the series so far. Its intricately designed levels, deep weapon customization system, and satisfying gameplay offer hours upon hours of entertaining ways to kill Nazis. After five games, the game's story and character development still feel too underdeveloped, making every mission blend together in an unending series of contextless kill cams and gravelly voiced one-liners, but if you don't care about any of that then you will still find a lot to enjoy.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong can be a compelling experience, especially for those who are already familiar with the World of Darkness. Its RPG mechanics lend depth to an otherwise standard narrative adventure, as long as you can grasp their meaning. But wonky gameplay balance and even wonkier facial animations, not to mention some of the more overwritten and under-earned emotional beats, can make falling in love with its vampires harder to swallow than a mouthful of blood.
Trek to Yomi is one of the most visually striking games to launch in a while, delivering on the promise that a samurai game can truly capture the look and feel of classic Japanese cinema. Unfortunately, good looks can only get you so far, as the gameplay and story don't quite live up to the standards set by its art direction. But if you are in the mood for a samurai game, you could do worse than Trek to Yomi.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land does pretty much everything it needs to as the pink puffball's first 3D adventure. Clever level design and the appropriately named Mouthful Mode show that Kirby's floating, sucking ways can work in a 3D space. Forgotten Land might not reach the highest heights of Nintendo's other first-party adventures, but it definitely shows that Kirby can hold his own in a three-dimensional arena.
The best and worst thing about Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is that it feels like another Borderlands game. The shooter gameplay is as tight and responsive as ever, the weapons are fun to use, and the writing is a marked improvement over Borderlands 3. The characters are once again at the center of the game's comedy, and the performances are great (when the actors are actually committing to their roles). But, because this is more Borderlands, a lot of the same annoyances with the series persist, especially when it comes to inventory management and the sheer amount of meaningless loot. Really, Wonderlands' worst offense is that it can't get over the series' legacy of looting and shooting, and misses the opportunity to take real inspiration from the tabletop worlds that it parodies.
Martha is Dead starts off strong, with an intriguing story amid a tumultuous backdrop, and a main gameplay mechanic with a ton of room to evolve. Unfortunately, the game squanders every opportunity it has to develop its story or gameplay in interesting ways, instead relying on overplayed tropes and unnecessary mechanics. While Martha is Dead's disturbing imagery might not deserve censorship, its creators betray the trust that it asks of its players, ultimately delivering a shallow experience that does more harm than good.
Dying Light 2 Stay Human’s enhanced parkour and intricate level design make for some of the most fun you can have moving through a video game world, and the hand-to-hand combat is simple but effective. Most impressive is the sense of scale and gravity that makes leaping between rooftops feel so death-defying. Unfortunately, its story wallows in post-apocalyptic clichés and misanthropy, and its choice-based narrative often drops its most interesting plot threads.
Rainbow Six Extraction takes Siege's best parts-its characters and its gunplay-and successfully adapts them to a cooperative experience, but repetitive level design and an uneven progression system make the game feel more boring than it has any right to be. Extraction had all the elements it needed to be a great co-op "zombie" game, including an exact blueprint in Outbreak, but Ubisoft's obsession with keeping players grinding forever won out, making Extraction feel like more of an obligation than an escape.
Halo Infinite handles the burden of the franchise's long history gracefully. At times, as with the campaign's story, it can feel like developer 343 Industries is weighed down by Master Chief's Mjolnir armor. But Infinite's bolder design choices, like its open-world environment and Grappleshot, make it feel exciting and new. The multiplayer might play it a little safe to appease longtime fans, but if the worst thing you can say about it is that it feels like old-school Halo, then it's doing something right. It's Halo made for Halo fans, but there's enough novelty to keep it feeling fresh.
Battlefield 2042 brings the sandbox back to the series in bold and controversial ways. The new Specialist system might seem like sacrilege at first, but it opens up gameplay opportunities that weren't possible in previous titles. The massive, well-designed maps offer plenty of room for experimentation and emergent stories, and the modes are a blast. And that's just All-Out Warfare. Between that, Hazard Zone, and the expansive Battlefield Portal, Battlefield 2042 has something for everyone, without feeling like it's stretched too thin. It's a true evolution of the series, one that pushes back against a stagnation that threatened the series' future. It won't be for everyone, but for players who crave imagination and fun from their Battlefields, it will give them everything that they crave and more.
Call of Duty: Vanguard sometimes strains under the pressure of fulfilling its obligations to the all-consuming Warzone platform that the series has become. Vanguard's Gunsmith and Operators might dictate the game's World War II fiction in weird and hilarious ways, but it can still offer the same thrills you'd expect. Still, there's no denying that Vanguard feels like a watered down entry for the franchise, which is now more motivated by microtransactions than by telling a compelling World War II narrative.
Hell Let Loose is one of the most unique and fulfilling first-person shooter experiences that a console player can have. Its deep strategy metagame and intricate mechanics can be intimidating to new players, but if you stick with it and give it the time it needs, Hell Let Loose will reward you with emergent and unforgettable moments.