Watch Dogs: Legion pushes through Ubisoft's generally noncommittal attitude towards storytelling and exploiting current events to create something that feels like a genuine shift, or at least the prototype of that shift. It might be a sloppy game in many regards, but Legion offers a novel way to experience an open world, with its interconnected NPCs and the introduction of permadeath to the genre.
Mafia: Definitive Edition is the best of both worlds. Its updated graphics bring Lost Heaven and its inhabitants to life without burdening them with modern game design elements. While the characters themselves haven't aged as well, Mafia: Definitive Edition, though based on a game that's nearly 20 years old, feels more refreshing than most open-world games.
Spelunky 2 rests on the laurels of its predecessor, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It still retains all of the gameplay mechanics and level design that made the original such a satisfying experience. But as a sequel, Spelunky 2 feels a little too scared to expand its horizons. For a game that's all about taking risks, Spelunky 2 is surprisingly risk-averse.
Tell Me Why might be smaller in scope and less mechanically complex than Dontnod's Life is Strange series, but it's just as emotionally impactful. It's a compelling story with relatable, complex characters, and yet another example of Dontnod's unbeaten ability to make players feel something, anything, in a medium that's increasingly more mind-numbing.
Carrion doesn't just flip the horror script—it's the ultimate power fantasy, packed into a tight, uncompromising space. It might utilize some video game tropes, but it doesn't seem too concerned with accepted video game values. It's a 2D side-scroller without platforming, an action game where you dictate the action. The Doom Slayer might talk a big game about ripping and tearing, but Carrion's meatball monster puts its money where its many mouths are.
Maneater constantly blurs the line between sadistic mass murder simulator and clever satire, while also managing to be as fun as any human-based open-world game. Chris Parnell's narration can get a little repetitive, as can the missions, and the camera could use a little work, but it's all a matter of context. It's a wild reversal of ego, an experience that is both completely freeing and oppressive at the same time. Stare into the dead eyes of the shark, and the shark stares into you.
As long as Doom Eternal didn't stray too far from its predecessor, it was going to be a good game. But id Software comes surprisingly close to muddying everything with new mechanics. The flamethrower and rechargeable chainsaw give you more options during battle, but they can also feel like unnecessary additions. Still, a deeper lore, a banging soundtrack, and plenty of demons to gib leave Doom Eternal in a happy place—relatively speaking.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps does everything that a good sequel is supposed to do. It refines The Blind Forest's mechanics, expands on the world, and throws in a whole bunch of new moves and concepts. But in an era that's rich with "emotional platformers," Will of the Wisps doesn't do anything to make itself stand out. It's a fine, if not forgettable, experience.
If not for its uninspired design and lack of effort in the storytelling, One Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows might have actually been a good game. Oddly for a fighting game, it focuses almost entirely on its single-player, often to its detriment. But if you can look past the repetitive structure and the uneven pacing, there's actually some fun combat to be found, and its multiplayer meta is surprisingly addictive.
Journey to the Savage Planet's greatest quality is that it respects its players. Perfectly paced, genuinely charming, and rewardingly explorable, developer Typhoon Studios' debut is a love letter to thoughtful game design and the ancient art of fun over function. If you grew up loving 3D platformers and games with worlds that felt bigger than they actually were, Journey to the Savage Planet will make you feel like you're coming home.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has its heart in the right place, delivering that Star Wars fantasy that is sure to please fans of the franchise. But putting aside the lightsabers and Wookiees, Fallen Order is too often unsuccessful in implementing ideas from better games, and ends up seeming like a pale imitation in comparison.
Luigi's Mansion 3 is the biggest and best entry in a befuddling franchise, and a game that really makes a case for everyone's favorite second fiddle to get more spin-off adventures. Developer Next Level Games has expanded on the Poltergust's abilities in meaningful ways, adding more variety to the action and puzzles alike. Gooigi might seem a little shoehorned, but it's a great excuse for cooperative multiplayer on a system built for it. A few minor annoyances aside, Luigi's Mansion 3 is a strange, charming, and generous sequel.
Looting for better gear is a trend that's taken over gaming, but it's never seemed as unnecessary and as cynical as it does in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Turning the game into an amalgamation of Wildlands and The Division, Breakpoint's gear system ruins any immersion you may have felt in pretending to be an elite spec ops soldier. If that was the game's only issue, it might have still been salvageable, but its predictable story, graphical infidelity, and obnoxious open world make this a failed experiment at marrying two or three different properties from the same publisher.
Borderlands 3 has finally arrived, seven years after the last numbered game in the series. But in that time, while most of us were growing older and wiser, Borderlands has doubled-down on its most prefrontal cortex obsessions. There's more loot than ever, and it's more individualized, but there's very little room for other areas of growth, like in story or character. As busy as Borderlands 3 can feel, and as much as this game expands the universe, you'll still feel like all you're doing is keeping your nose on the ground, sniffing out shiny, colorful guns.
The remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is stuck between two places—the past and the present. Chances are that you've already made up your mind about whether or not to play it. It's a classic Zelda game given a second chance with a striking visual language and evocative, haunting musical reinterpretations. Making the jump from the Game Boy to the Switch means that you'll spend a lot less time changing items in the menu and much more time appreciating the meticulous clockwork of Koholint Island's challenges.
Gears 5 makes major strides in the series' approach to storytelling. This is the most heartfelt Delta Squad has ever been, and The Coalition backs up that emotion with genuine improvements to gameplay. While its new co-op mode, Escape, is generally underwhelming, Arcade mixes up the competitive meta enough to keep things interesting. All told, Gears 5 is more Gears, but it's also a bold statement for why this series is still relevant.
Control is Remedy at the height of its abilities. Finally, the studio's expert handling of tone and story is met with gameplay that's just as engaging and refined. As an experiment in nonlinear world design, Control doesn't just stick with tried-and-true waypoints and forests. Its Oldest House is a brutalist masterpiece, and the characters inhabiting it are just as unforgettable. All told, it's going to be one of the most memorable games of the year.