Animal Crossing: New Horizons
The desert-island alternate-life game that’s spawned a thousand memes, Animal Crossing offers a cute, stress-free and eminently controllable little world to escape into. Compelling and full of character, it gives plenty of reasons to come back every day.
What we said: “Animal Crossing is everything I have been craving: it is gentle, soothing, social and creative […] If there was ever a perfect time for a game such as this, that time is now.”
The demon-slaying godfather of first-person shooters returns with another frenzied adrenaline rush of blood and bullets. The monsters are bigger than ever, the worlds are richer, but this is Doom through and through.
What we said: “Every design detail serves to propel the player forwards with as little friction as possible, with enough surprises and twists to prevent the formula becoming stale.”
Streets of Rage 4
Sega’s legendary scrolling brawler gets an unexpected reprise 25 years after its predecessor. Returning to the shadowy back alleys of Wood Oak City, our vigilante heroes must use a range of new weapons and combos in order to bludgeon waves of criminal goons.Advertisement
What we said: “As a joyous celebration of a style of game whose thrills are visceral, not cerebral, it’s a triumph.”
Half Life: Alyx
Fans waited over a decade for Half-Life 3, but what they got instead was this virtual reality-exclusive prequel, following resistance leader Alyx Vance at the beginning of her fight against the alien Combine. Tense, dark and thrilling, it’s the killer app VR gaming has been crying out for.
What we said: “Valve is a master at giving players games they didn’t know they wanted – Half-Life: Alyx is another example of that ability to surprise, delight and innovate.”
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
The sequel to indie platform adventure Ori and the Blind Forest is another enchanting quest through a rich, sylvan landscape filled with myth and magic. A gentle, melancholic alternative to the year’s big shooters and brawlers.
What we said: “There is extraordinary attention to detail – the entire world feels alive with excitement and danger. A bold and ambitious sequel.”
Guildford-based developer Media Molecule turned us all into platform game creators with its beautiful DIY puzzler LittleBigPlanet back in 2008 – now the same studio wants us all to build our own video game, movie or musical universes with this powerful and accessible creative package.
What we said: “As delightful as Dreams is as a toolkit, what is perhaps just as important is how it teaches, and Dreams is everything a good teacher should be: generous, forgiving, thorough.”
Final Fantasy VII Remake
One of the defining games of a generation returns, looking a heck of a lot better than it did in 1997. This remake proves that Final Fantasy VII’s story has stood the test of time. An epic tale to sink into.
What we said: “Remaking a universally acclaimed classic was always a fearful responsibility, but like its own sword-wielding heroes, Square Enix has risen to the challenge spectacularly.”
Kentucky Route Zero
After six years, the concluding chapter to this minimalist, magical-realist adventure game arrived in January, and cements its place as one of the defining games of the last decade. It’s subtle, rather forlorn Americana, letting you eavesdrop on the ordinary and not-so-ordinary lives of its strange characters.
What we said: “It combines the mundane and the mystical to create an atmosphere that sits somewhere along the wispy continuum between a Samuel Beckett play and a David Lynch mini-series.”
You could describe this as “Dark Souls but samurai”, but Nioh 2 is no hollow tribute act. Carve your way through a vast Japanese folklore-inspired world full of demons and spirits using a fun selection of heavy-hitting weapons and mystical abilities. It’s tough, though – if failure makes you want to throw things across the room, this could send several PlayStation 4 controllers through the TV.
You’re a barista working the night shift in a small coffee shop located somewhere within an alternative Seattle where your customers are elves, vampires and werewolves all looking to share their problems. A peaceful, funny and humane adventure game where the quest is simply to listen and serve.
Lair of the Clockwork God
Friends Ben and Dan must prevent the apocalypse in this retro-tinged comedy adventure, where classic platforming and point-and-click play styles are combined to clever and genuinely funny effect.
What we said: “Lair of the Clockwork God strikes an impressive balance between its two mashup genres, mechanically and tonally. It’s a post-ironic take on point-and-click adventures.”
Resident Evil 3 remake
After last year’s brilliant Resident Evil 2 remake, Capcom has followed the same recipe with the third instalment, keeping the narrative and setting of the original Resi 3, but tweaking the controls and adding new components, including an entertaining multiplayer side quest. A fascinating transitional title restored to greatness.
What we said: “A well thought-out and nicely executed modern refresh of a survival horror classic – and a welcome slab of (almost) escapism to enliven our current house-bound lives.”
This sounds like the most boring game in the world: drive huge trucks through mud and snow to make deliveries. But it is unexpectedly hypnotic: slowly, steadily navigating these hulking vehicles through steadfastly unappealing places needs patience and methodical thinking rather than good reflexes and daring.
The Gears of War series of sci-fi shooters has always been known for the brawn (and chainsaw-equipped machine guns) of its muscle-bound characters. This spin-off has the same warriors battling alien Locust invaders, but this time in a series of tactical turn-based encounters. Somehow the switch in tone works perfectly.Advertisement
What we said: “A triumphant twist on an old favourite, capturing the fury and spectacle of its shooter-based brethren while also offering a more cerebral experience.”
In Other Waters
This is an exploration game about deep-sea diving on another planet – but rather than seeing it through human eyes, you are the AI inside the explorer’s suit, reliant on her text descriptions and sketches of alien life to embellish the sparse topography that your computer sensors perceive. Unique and peaceful.
Become the world’s least competent movers as you work together with friends to wrestle furniture out of houses and on to your truck – or just chuck it out the window and hope for the best. Chaotic multiplayer fun made less frustrating by options that let you adjust the difficulty however you like.
Lonely Mountains: Downhill
Newly released on Nintendo Switch, this mountain biking game is ridiculously compelling. It’s just you, a bike and four majestic mountains whose trails range from mildly dangerous to downright lethal. Come for the scenery, stay for the irresistible compulsion to shave seconds off your best times.
Odd geometric creatures, Dalí-esque landscapes, and an unnatural-looking take on the natural world make this an unforgettably surreal bit of VR eco-tourism. It’s difficult to describe this game, but its effect is easier to pin down in words: wonder.
Dystopian cyberpunk rather loses its appeal when you’re living through an real-life dystopia, but Cloudpunk isn’t the usual Blade Runner-inspired violence fest. You play an immigrant delivery driver ferrying packages around a 3D pixel-world that’s fascinating to look at – and eavesdrop upon.
What we said: “Overfamiliarity with the aesthetic does little to blunt the fierce appeal of Cloudpunk’s game world.
XCOM: Chimera Squad
A scaled-down sequel to XCOM 2, keeping the turn-based design of the strategy sim series, but introducing hero characters with special abilities, and an uneasy new alliance between human and alien warriors. Fans have called it XCOM-lite, which is neither inaccurate nor a criticism.
What we said: “Essentially the Agents of Shield to XCOM 2’s Avengers. It gently plays with the formula, and tells the peripheral stories of a much wider world on a much tighter budget and with much smaller stakes. It’s XCOM but chilled.”