Persona 3 Reload is a treat for not only fans of the 2000s classic, but newcomers as well. ATLUS does an excellent job at preserving everything that made the original game special while modernizing it for those that may be experiencing it for the first time. It’s JRPG excellence at every turn, and one I’ll be sinking many hours into between now and the release of the next mainline Persona game.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown shows that this long-running franchise still has plenty of life left in it. The main narrative is sharp, with interesting twists and reveals about the universe at large. It’s only surpassed by the combat, which challenged me in all the right ways.
CS2 also proves that despite their reluctance to do so, Valve still has all the chops whenever they choose to put their game developer hat on. Nearly all of the changes in Counter-Strike 2 meaningfully enhance the experience without compromising what made the game special in the first place. With the foundation set for another multi-year run, I’m excited to see how Valve and the community evolve Counter-Strike 2.
I went into Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 expecting it to be one of my favorite games this year and still walked away impressed by what the developer was able to pull off. Both story and gameplay have taken large steps forward, and I’m fully convinced that there is no studio that could make Spider-Man games better than Insomniac Games. It’s a massive win for the Insomniac, for PlayStation Studios, and for longtime fans of Spider-Man.
Payday 3 gets most of the important stuff right: the heists offer a nice variety and encourage players to experiment with different systems and mechanics. Customization is deep and will keep players on the hook for dozens and dozens of hours. But it’s hard to overstate the blunder that is the online foundation that this game was built on. It makes Payday 3 needlessly frustrating and was the cause of one of the most severe online game outages I’ve seen in a long time. Payday 2 was a game that grew into a co-op masterpiece in the years following its release, so I’m confident that Payday 3 will only improve as time goes on.
Madden NFL 24 also carries over a handful of bugs and visual glitches that were present not only last Madden, but the game that came before it. Bugs like the one where both teams appear frozen on the field during the cinematic view between plays, or where the camera isn’t showing the players despite them being at the line of scrimmage. It feels like such a slap in the face to the player and makes a strong argument that this franchise is long overdue for a reckoning. The real Madden heads out there will likely find Madden NFL 24 tolerable, but as a die-hard football fan, it sucks that we’re still doomed to this annual mediocrity.
Starfield is more than a welcome addition to Bethesda’s family of RPG franchises, it feels like the start of a new era for the studio. Not only is it the developer’s most technically impressive game, but it also delivers a worthwhile narrative that takes some major swings and establishes a sprawling mythos. It has some blemishes here and there, but Starfield proves to be an awesome sci-fi adventure.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a splendid new entry in the asymmetrical multiplayer family. Its recreation of the characters and locations from the 1974 movie is deeply impressive, as it’s abundantly clear that authenticity was a top priority during development. It helps to enhance the exhilarating gameplay, though I do worry about its approachability given the deep systems and mechanics. Regardless, it’s one that I look forward to playing both casually and competitively with friends whenever I want a good scare.
Venba beautifully depicts the struggle of the first-generation immigrant experience — fighting to give your family better opportunities while holding true to your roots. It’s a golden example of how games can give players an authentic peek into underrepresented cultures when the right people are in charge. With the game being beatable in a sleek two hours, it’s impossible not to give Venba an incredibly high recommendation.
Dave the Diver combines two excellent gameplay elements, but still feels like more than the sum of its parts. Deep sea diving and sushi restaurant management are equally enjoyable and complex, making for a supremely addicting gameplay loop. Not only is it the surprise hit of the summer, but it’s one we’ll be having a discussion about when it’s time to look back on 2023’s best games.
I knew the writing was on the wall when Everybody 1-2 Switch! was announced in the same month that it was released, with little fanfare from Nintendo. Everybody 1-2 Switch! is fun in the same way that watching a bad movie is fun. If you’ve got some good friends together and everyone’s in a silly mood, you might have a good time throwing on Everybody 1-2 Switch and having a laugh at the absurdity of it all. But after about 20 minutes of this, most sensible people will ask you to close the game and launch Mario Kart, Mario Party, or even Switch Sports before they sink more of their precious time into Everybody 1-2 Switch!
Crime O’Clock is an enjoyable throwback to hidden object games, with modern visual and mechanical design elements that eliminate the frustrations of the genre. Its art style and level of detail make each level a visual treat in addition to a challenging puzzle. I look forward to seeing if Bad Seed is able to expand on the experience with additional levels and puzzles down the road.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Lord of the Rings fans will appreciate a lot of what Gollum is offering. It’s genuinely cool seeing such a fascinating side character step into the protagonist role in a story that further expands on a universe teeming with secrets to discover. It’s a bummer that there isn’t much else to write home about. A dull gameplay experience and technical hiccups make The Lord of the Rings: Gollum just as much of a polarizing experience as its main character.
Bread & Fred has solid platforming mechanics, and the introduction of the rope opens the door to brand-new frustrations and gameplay elements. It succeeds greatly at producing a co-op experience that’ll either have you at the throats of your friends and loved ones, or laughing uncontrollably, even if it feels like there isn’t much more substance beneath the surface.
Mr. Sun’s Hatbox is charming and funny as hell. As silly as it is, the game is quite clever in the way it melds systems together, constantly introducing something new to juggle or consider when planning a mission or expanding your base. Its roguelite elements raise the stakes of every heist and make every success feel all the sweeter. While some balancing issues led to early frustrations, Mr. Suns’s Hatbox is an impressive little package.
Bytten Studio puts all of its creativity on display in Cassette Beasts. Not only does its sizeable roster of Monsters include some really fun and unique designs, but the thoughtful approach to combat and clever music element really set it apart from most Pokemon-likes. Although the characters weren’t as intriguing as I’d like in an RPG, just about everything else was enough to make up for it. Cassette Beasts is sure to be one of this year’s indie darlings.
Minecraft Legends is definitely one of the better Minecraft spin-offs to be released under Mojang and Microsoft. The teams at Blackbird and Mojang deftly take the memorable aspects of Minecraft and make them work in a brand-new genre. The strategy elements run deep, and the Campaign features enough variety that no two players will have an identical experience. Minecraft Legends’ biggest sin is that its open world and crafting elements – two signature traits of the source material – are unremarkable. Luckily, it delivers on everything else it’s trying to do.
Tron: Identity weaves an interesting detective story that expands the franchise mythos. While those invested in the lore will enjoy diving deeper into this universe, newcomers would have benefitted from a bit more exposition. Despite that, Tron: Identity’s branching story, puzzles, and visuals make it quite an enjoyable visual novel.
MLB The Show 23 is another solid addition in what is the best annual sports sim franchise. San Diego Studio continues to show a deep knowledge and understanding of baseball and the culture surrounding it. The addition of The Negro Leagues is a massive improvement to the overall product, and the ability to scan your face into Road to the Show is a fun new feature as well. Outside of some minor league woes, MLB The Show is another grand slam.
The Last Worker is an underdog story that feels incredibly timely, even more so now than it did a year ago when I first played the game at PAX East. Its themes of corporate corruption and commentary on capitalism are quite sharp, and the game manages to convey all of this without coming off as overly depressing or heavy-handed. Despite some iffy movements on controller, The Last Worker is sure to be one of the year’s best narratives.