In a year that’s been packed full of incredible games, Alan Wake II is yet another strong contender for Game of the Year and is an experience that’s not to be missed, whether you’ve played the original game or not. It fully delivers on the promise of what Remedy has been building towards for decades, and sets a new high bar for what games can and should be. If horror isn’t necessarily your thing, turn the difficulty down to “Story” mode and get in there anyway; it’s an amazing game that will take you on a ride you will never forget, and I’m willing to bet it’ll make a Remedy fan out of nearly anybody who plays it. This is a truly special, genre defining, studio defining game that only comes along once in a very long while. I cannot overstate just how good this game is; whether you are a longtime fan, or if this is your initiation into the universe of Alan Wake, this is an absolute must play game that will leave you thinking about it long after you reach the ending credits. Alan Wake II is Remedy’s masterpiece, and it is glorious to behold.
Sea of Stars is a delightful love letter to classic 16-bit era JRPGs. It's an easy recommendation as a fun romp with approachable mechanics, and whether you were raised playing the classics like or you're just excited for a new RPG, it is absolutely worth diving into.
Remnant II is a deeply imaginative, incredibly well designed game that will excite and thrill you repeatedly. It’s incredible to play with friends, and it’s an adventure unlike almost anything else I’ve ever seen, except for Remnant: From the Ashes. Remnant II builds on the template set out by its predecessor and pushes it to amazing new heights, and it is everything you could ask from a sequel and so much more.
Where RE2 and RE3 laid the groundwork for re-envisioning what classic games in this franchise (or any other) could be, Resident Evil 4 pushes all of that to new heights to create something that is simultaneously incredibly faithful to the original material, but updated in every meaningful way possible. This is the ultimate, hands-down, best version of the game you can possibly play. It’s a phenomenal achievement and it’s truthfully hard to imagine how CAPCOM could top themselves beyond this aside from whatever RE9 ends up being. I cannot recommend this game strongly enough. The hype is real, you should buy into it, and let it get its filthy meat hooks into you. There’s never been a better time to play Resident Evil 4, nor a better way to play.
If you played and enjoyed Monster Hunter Rise, Sunbreak is an easy recommendation that further expands upon and deepens the base game in meaningful ways. There’s loads of content on offer here that will keep you busy for at least 30 hours (and well beyond that if you’re the type of player who wants to pursue weapon and gear upgrades). Sunbreak delivers in every way and is an absolute delight to play, and it’s a must-own for fans of Monster Hunter Rise who are looking for the next chapter in their journey.
On the whole, I had a really great time with Return to Monkey Island. I think it hits a lot of the right notes fairly consistently, and while it does feel very familiar, there are enough surprises to keep things interesting and rewarding as you stick through the game and see it to completion. What it doesn’t do (and I don’t think it’s trying to), is recapture that feeling of playing the original games for the first time. It’s a great vehicle for getting yourself back into the headspace of those games and immersing yourself in the lore again, but for everything that’s familiar, there is a lot that’s different, for better or worse. And, it’s also still an adventure game, which these days is something you need to be in the mood to play. Having grown up playing them, I’m nearly always up for this, but it’s just a different pace and feel from so much of what else we play nowadays. You can feel Return to Monkey Island trying to find its place in the current landscape, and in many ways I think the game is a success. It’s true what they say, you can’t go home again. Return to Monkey Island knows that, and it’s there to help you embrace that fact.
Stray is a serious vibe from start to finish, and it’s not interested in being a loud, in your face blockbuster type of game. It is paced exactly as you want it to be; it’s often quiet, sometimes contemplative, occasionally meandering (as in carefree, not distracted), but never dull. It’s an adventure, and there is purpose to it, but more than anything Stray wants you to just be there and experience what it has to offer. Frankly, this might be too laid back for some; there certainly isn’t high drama to be found, or even massive stakes to compel you forward, and while you can blitz through it quickly, in doing so you’d miss a lot. Stray offers something for curious at heart, an exploratory adventure with lots of joy to be had, and to get the most out of it you’ve really got to take it at a cat’s pace.
Small issues aside, Trek to Yomi is a lovingly crafted homage to the greats of Japanese cinema, taking the elements so loved by fans of the genre and stretching the limits of what was possible in it through the use of video games as a medium. It is one of the most visually striking games I have played in years, with a beautiful soundtrack and combat that becomes robust over time and is just challenging enough to stay fun and rewarding throughout. The feeling of realizing you’re capable of cutting your way through ten enemies on one screen when just an hour ago you were struggling against dealing with two-to-three at a time is both energizing and empowering, and the momentum from this propels you ever forward through to the game’s satisfying conclusion. Trek to Yomi is a great action game that weighs in at a near perfect length, and in my book it’s one of this year’s must plays.
A stunningly beautiful homage to the golden age of 16-bit gaming, featuring razor sharp mechanics, excellent world design, challenging combat, clever puzzles, and an incredible score. Dripping with charm, confidence, and polished to a mirror sheen, Tunic is an adventure that is not to be missed.
Windjammers 2 is a worthy successor to the original game that builds on its character and adds exciting new depth to its matches, all while paying respect to the source material without straying from its spirit and intent. There is a deep, challenging game here that is thrilling and exciting to play, and I think it’s got lots to offer for longtime fans and brand new ones alike. Windjammers 2 has a big legacy to live up to, and it does not disappoint in its delivery. Purists may disagree, but I think this is the best Windjammers has ever been, and in my book that’s reason enough to pick it up.
I have said for nearly a year now that Monster Hunter Rise is the Monster Hunter game to enter the series on. While that was previously true of World, World was still cumbersome for newcomers owing to a steep enough learning curve and some outdated systems that added unnecessary friction. Rise eschews all of that and the only friction left in the game’s design is the good stuff that adds challenge and depth to the experience. It’s an absolutely stellar game that is engaging, fun, and rewarding to play. If you have ever been wanting to get into Monster Hunter, this is easily the best way in, and it’s the best version of the game to boot.
Solar Ash is a fun, fresh adventure that’s perfect for players who love getting lost in strange new worlds and being rewarded for exploring their every nook and cranny. Its tale is engaging enough to keep you moving forward (and backward, and up and down and every which way), and the final reveal is both well earned and well executed. It might not be the best game you play this year, but diving into the Ultravoid to explore it’s vast impossibilities and unearth it’s deepest secrets is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
What we’re left with in Into The Pit is a really great set of ingredients. The art direction and visuals are excellent, the music is perfect, and the core mechanics are really well designed. It is absolutely fun to play, no question about it. However, due to a lack of variety and challenge, the magic quickly fades, and I found myself wondering what this game could have been rather than being able to fully enjoy what’s on offer. In many ways it feels like not-quite-final draft that needs more fleshing out, and ironically what Into The Pit needs most is more depth. It’s a great set of ideas on paper, it’s a good romp for a few hours at least, and I like a lot of what’s going on with it, but Into The Pit leaves just a little bit too much on the table for me to feel completely satisfied.
Alan Wake is a game that’s easy to get caught up in, featuring an atmosphere that’s rich and enticing, writing that is equally campy, charming, and exciting, and characters who are interesting and memorable, even in cases where they may be a little too directly related to their sources of inspiration. It truly is a thrilling experience, and while the game certainly still shows its age at times, it’s absolutely delightful to play through and this is easily the definitive way to do so.
Lost Judgment has so much going on in it, it’s kind of hard to paint a complete picture of what’s available. This is a full-fat experience, building on the promise of the first game and feeling like a much more well-realized iteration of the concept’s vision. In most ways, I think Lost Judgment is successful in proving it’s capable of carrying itself, though it has the double-edged fortune of both standing on the shoulders of last year’s epic Yakuza: Like a Dragon while also trying to escape its shadow. It’s a worthy follow-up that feels like it’s building up to something great, and while the narrative doesn’t conclude with quite the same impact as its forbear, it’s still a well-told story with depth, heart, and insight. The fact that the rest of the game is so rich and that the characters are so well written make Lost Judgment an easy recommendation, and its an adventure you won’t soon forget.
Regardless, TOEM is a delightfully cute adventure and it’s a great way to spend a few hours getting lost in an idealized, zero risk adventure. It’s a perfect palette cleanser between games or at the end of a session of otherwise more action packed titles, or just a great way to chill out for an hour or two. I’d wager it also makes a great introduction to gaming for younger kids, and has the makings of something families can enjoy together, which definitely earns bonus points if you’ve got kids, family members, or partners who like to help find things or solve puzzles without being the one in control. Don’t let the simplicity of TOEM fool you, though; it’s a rich and entertaining experience that’s worth dipping into.
Minor shortcomings aside, Psychonauts 2 is the rare sequel that succeeds in living up to the hype and delivering on the promise set up by its predecessor and many years of anticipation. It is such a treat to spend more time in this world, and I will still staunchly argue that Psychonauts is the best stuff Doublefine has ever created. I love that this exists, I love that a whole new generation of gamers are getting the chance to experience this magnificent world for the first time, and it is so refreshing to see a game with so much creativity get the time, attention, and budget it deserves. Psychonauts 2 is a heartfelt, joyous adventure that ups the ante in every way, and I think it’s a must play experience for anybody who loves a good adventure.