Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is one of the best Call of Duty games in years, with vibrant new gameplay additions and robust multiplayer offerings. Despite that, it still feels hampered by aspects of its approach and tone that would have better been left in Call of Duty's past.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity isn't The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2, but it's a great musou game with a lot of content for starved fans of Breath of the Wild. Even if you're a Zelda fan who can take or leave musou games, Age of Calamity is worth taking. However, occasional slowdown and frame drops, especially in handheld mode on the Switch Lite, make it clear the Switch is aging quickly.
The Demon's Souls is a gorgeous technical powerhouse. Fans may differ on stylistic aesthetic choices, but the core game remains the same challenging and precise experience. It's a perfect way to begin a new console generation for the core gaming set, and an all-time classic you will beg your friends to play.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla's vision of ninth-century England is a beautiful place to explore, populated with a great cast of characters who make up for the bland new protagonist, Eivor. Nevertheless, the tired overarching story of Templars and Assassins, and a design ethos that overstuffs the setting with side activities, add unnecessary bloat and distractions to the experience. Valhalla's a solid action-adventure game that does well to capture the turmoil of its historical era, but it's weighed down by the increasingly ponderous legacy of the series it represents.
Bugsnax sees Young Horses building on the strange sense of humor it developed with Octodad while embracing some familiar, less adventurous gameplay hooks at its core. I let out an involuntary "aw" when I saw my first Kwookie scuttling across the ground, but the real heart of Bugsnax is its cast of lovable Grumpuses. It has great characters, an entertaining story, and all the Bugsnak catching is just varied enough to keep the experience interesting to its end. All that talk about Bugsnax over the past few months wasn't misguided: it's a flavor-blasted joy.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a new frontier for the Yakuza series, and the life and crimes of the series feels right at home in this new setting. Ichiban is an instant addition to the pantheon of Yakuza legends, his party an endearing band of ruffians, with the combat doing just enough to make everything familiar feel new again. Where Yakuza goes from here is anyone's guess, but mechanical friction aside, this is a step in a fun and compelling new direction.
The early heroic career of Miles Morales gets some shine in this standalone soft sequel to Marvel's Spider-Man for PS4. Web swinging is still fantastic and the combat system expands with Miles' more varied powerset. And while you might have played most of this game before, Insomniac does an amazing job telling the story of its version of Miles. Rooted in his new home of Spanish Harlem, he's probably the most "friendly neighborhood" of any version of Spider-Man.
The new "Play As Anyone" system is as impressive as it sounds on paper, creating a host of intriguing characters if you choose to dive into their backgrounds. Crafting your own version of DedSec is a ton of fun, especially early on. The problem is the gameplay of Watch Dogs Legion is mostly the same as its predecessors and the missions are quite repetitive overall. It's not a step back for the series, but the hacking and stealth core of the series does need an overhaul.
NHL 21 tries to end the current generation on a high note, but legacy issues continue to hold it back. Its revamped Be a Pro mode is particularly disappointing, proving to be a disjointed, somewhat sloppy experience. It has its usual strengths, with online team play being a definite highlight, but longtime fans of the series will likely find this year's entry eminently skippable.
Making a sequel to one of the most acclaimed horror games in recent memory may be a tall order for some, but Frictional Games has done it with aplomb with Amnesia: Rebirth. Without straying far from the formula that made Amnesia: The Dark Descent so popular and feared in equal measure-the clever use of jump scares, immersive puzzles and the light-dark dichotomy-Rebirth has reinvigorated its brand of horror with a haunting narrative that's as moving as it is refreshing. Rebirth may still be a bit too much to bear for players who don't usually venture into horror, but it's a sequel that should please ardent fans and horror masochists alike.
FIFA 21 closes out a mixed generation with some key gameplay improvements, making for the fastest, most enjoyable experience in FIFA 15. Its modes are more mixed, with career mode being a particular sore point. Ultimately, FIFA 21 may not be the comprehensive update everyone wants, but it's enough to generate some positive momentum heading into the new console generation.
Star Wars: Squadrons is a slim but highly enjoyable revival of the classic LucasArts space sims. It's hampered by a limited number of maps, and its signature Fleet Battles are a bit of a drag, but its moment-to-moment combat is sheer delight. With a solid single-player campaign and above-average VR implementation, Star Wars: Squadrons is the multiplayer space combat game we've wanted since the days of X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter.
The Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection could stand a few more extras. Customizable controls would be great, as would sound options, design documents, or artwork. When you think about everything the original All-Stars offered-three graphically upgraded Mario games, plus a "lost" game-3D All-Stars is a bit lacking. That said, the games in Super Mario 3D All-Stars still hold up today. I'm surprised how fun Super Mario 64 still is, and Super Mario Galaxy remains one of the heroic plumber's best outings. As for Super Mario Sunshine, well, that's still up to personal taste.
Beat by beat, you've seen elements of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim's plot elsewhere before, but you've probably never played anything quite like it. How 13 Sentinels strings its complex narrative together is nothing short of astonishing. It operates like a great melodramatic sci-fi TV show, only reworked and shuffled into an interactive format, and it takes full advantage of it. And for that, even with weak RTS battles complementing it all, it's an easy recommendation.
Spelunky 2 is an outstanding sequel. Derek Yu, BlitWorks, and the rest of the team behind it have assembled a game that adds to what made Spelunky great without trending toward bloat or changing too much of the essentials. In some minor ways, the level randomization and art style don't feel quite up-to-par, but the overall package is polished, compelling, and brimming with secrets. As ever, players will die over and over in pursuit of a successful run or even just an ounce of progress, which is the way it's meant to be. I'm excited to see what others uncover as they pick themselves up again and again to venture deeper into Spelunky 2's depths.
Tell Me Why has been Dontnod operating on a reduced scope, with less characters and less time, and they've pulled it off. Tyler and Alyson have successfully been allowed to grow and function as developed characters before tackling difficult subject matter, and that's really helped the pair flourish as relatable characters. Despite a somewhat rushed conclusion and a final choice that rendered my past actions a little meaningless, Tell Me Why has been one of Dontnod's more pleasant adventures to experience.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is the perfect remake. It doesn't just recapture what made the series so beloved, but helps us fall in love with mastering combos and finding secret areas all over again. The one major downfall of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a relatively slight one: its multiplayer options are slim at launch. Even being a grinding, rolling advertisement for the sorts of brands you'd find at Zumiez, all the brands's non-stop presence is something undeniably Tony Hawk-and hell, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a cart waiting to check out at Zumiez now. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is an excellent remake with a rare power: the power to make skaters of us all.
If Marvel's Avengers was just the single-player story campaign, it would be amazing. There, Crystal Dynamics sells you on its version of the Avengers and introduces the charming and endearing Ms. Marvel to players everywhere. Combat has depth to it, and each hero truly feels distinct. Unfortunately, the endgame is where our heroes falter, with broken matchmaking, rough options in terms of progression, and endlessly reused environments and enemies. Surely, Marvel's Avengers will see improvements, but here at launch, the endgame needs a good deal of work.