The best video games of the year so far

I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a motley collection of video games in my immediate backlog.

There’s the whimsical and trippy platforming of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, the serene open-world traversal of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, the mend-melting puzzles of Cocoon. None of this is to mention the games I’ve already finished that I’m dying to return to: Chants of Sennaar and Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew come to mind, but we all know how alluring the idea of that sixth character in Baldur’s Gate 3 can be. Just like Alex Casey, the hard-boiled detective of Alan Wake 2, finds, sometimes cliches are cliches for a reason: Right now, it feels like there’s a video game for everyone.

In fact, each time I leave the proverbial water cooler after recounting stories about drow wizards or Remedy Entertainment’s future plans, I seem to come away with three more games in my backlog. 2023 has been an embarrassment of riches across seemingly every genre, and it’s rarely been easier to recommend a game that might fall outside a friend’s wheelhouse.

So, as we play our way through this last gasp of fall releases, we’ve compiled Polygon’s favorite video games below, in the hopes that you’ll find that one last nudge toward a game you’ve been putting off, or even stumble across a gem you’ve never heard before. —Mike Mahardy

Alan Wake 2

Saga stares at a cork board of mysteries in Alan Wake 2. Image: Remedy Entertainment/Epic Games Publishing via Polygon

Where to play: PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X

Like any game from Remedy Entertainment, Alan Wake 2 is designed to be obsessed over.

From its twisting plot to its labyrinthine level design to its implications for the Remedy Connected Universe (Control nerds will find a lot to parse through here), Alan Wake 2 is a dreamlike survival-horror game that pulls from a plethora of obvious inspirations and, in the process, creates something wholly weird and new. It also takes several big design swings and knocks each one of them out of the park: two playable protagonists, each with their own storyline and world to explore; interactive 3D spaces that take the place of boring old menus; and a meta story that’s just as much about the original 2010 Alan Wake as it is about fandom, interactive art, storytelling, and Remedy itself.

It’s been 13 years since we first set foot in the surreal town of Bright Falls, Washington, and the sequel is worth every minute of that wait. Alan Wake 2 marks yet another daring outing from Remedy Entertainment, albeit with more resources than the bold studio has ever experimented with before. The result is a game unlike any other. —MM

Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Princes Peach runs from a stampede in Super Mario Bros. Wonder Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

Where to play: Nintendo Switch

The Super Mario Bros. games raised me. These games taught me how to play precision platformers — and when I got a Game Boy Advance SP, Super Mario Bros. 3 became a source of entertainment no matter where I went. While I’ve loved basically every contemporary iteration of Mario — Paper Mario games, Galaxy games, Odyssey — the 2D side-scrollers will always be the heart of the series for me.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is everything I could have asked for in a new series entry. It truly captures that sense of wonder with new gameplay mechanics — touch the Wonder Seed and the level becomes even more whimsical — enemy types, and delightful gimmicks. Every level is overflowing with ideas, and they’re all so joyful and just plain fun to play. With no more level timers, there’s freedom to find every nook and cranny — and savvy players will find hidden rooms and pathways, just like in the game’s mysterious, joyful progenitors. Nicole Clark

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2

Miles Morales stands next to Peter Parker and looks off and to the left of the camera in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 Image: Insomniac Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Where to play: PlayStation 5

New York City is a vibrant metropolis of 8.5 million people who are always in a hurry to get somewhere and do something, a fact that seems like the primary design ethos of Spider-Man 2.

One of the many marvels (sorry) of Insomniac Games’ third Spidey game is that it throws a plethora of activities at you — there’s always a citizen to save, a collectible to hunt down, a science experiment to conduct, a roller coaster to ride, graffiti to spray-paint, an umpteenth upgrade currency to earn — yet it somehow never feels overwhelming or bloated. It’s a terrific Spider-Man simulator on a number of levels, including that meta layer: Peter Parker and Miles Morales, of course, are perpetually on the brink of being overwhelmed by the great responsibility that comes with their great power. He just like me fr!!!!, as the kids say.

Insomniac accomplishes this by smartly gating certain unlocks and activities behind story progression. And it harnesses the power of the PlayStation 5 hardware to remove much of the friction that exists in typical open-world games: When fast travel is effectively instantaneous thanks to the PS5’s speedy SSD, it’s easier than ever to swing by one more icon on your map before calling it a night. Speaking of which… thwip! —Samit Sarkar

Assassin’s Creed Mirage

Basim looks out at a courtyard in front of a mosque in Assassin’s Creed Mirage Image: Ubisoft Bordeaux/Ubisoft via Polygon

Where to play: PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X

Turns out, Assassin’s Creed only needed to go back 15 years to crack the code. Yes, Assassin’s Creed Mirage is nominally set in the 9th century, but it feels more like a creature of the late aughts than anything else.

Recent entries in Ubisoft’s history murder-sim series — Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla — were sprawling action-RPGs replete with stats and equipment and massive open worlds. While all were terrific in their own right, Assassin’s Creed has long been overdue for a return to form. By paring back, Mirage delivers.

Remember when Assassin’s Creed was actually about, y’know, assassins? In Mirage, eliminating your targets means gathering evidence, scoping out enemy bases, formulating a plan of attack, and attempting to enact that plan without getting discovered. When you do get caught, though, you don’t stand and fight. You run away, parkouring across rooftops (so 2000s) and looking for the nearest bale of hay to hide in. Like all good stealth games, Assassin’s Creed Mirage is less of an action game than it is a high-stakes puzzle game — which, for longtime series diehards, feels like home.

Also, it stars Shohreh Aghdashloo. —Ari Notis


The insect-like protagonist of Cocoon pauses before a bridge in a desert environment Image: Geometric Interactive/Annapurna Interactive via Polygon

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

There’s nothing more potent than the rush of solving a good puzzle. This is compounded when you learn a novel mechanic, or arrive at a revelation that makes you look at the game’s entire world in a new way, especially if the gameplay feels frictionless and inviting. I’m just conceited enough to admit that Cocoon’s puzzles are so slick and intuitive that playing it made me feel like a genius. Who doesn’t want that?

Cocoon mixes the concept of matryoshka dolls with excellent adventure and exploration elements — including well-tuned boss fights. It’s got an absolutely gorgeous art style to boot, mixing science fiction machinery with bugs, making metal feel alive in a way that just borders on the ick. Initially, it’s a game about carrying orbs around and putting them in the right places. But soon, that simple idea explodes, and it becomes so much more. I wish I could play this for the first time again. —N. Clark

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty

A neon-lit pyramid-shaped building in Dogtown, the new district introduced in Cyberpunk 2077’s Phantom Liberty expansion. Image: CD Projekt Red

Where to play: PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X

Like the best DLC, Phantom Liberty does as much to expand on the base game as it does to reframe it. Alongside the sweeping Patch 2.0, which revamped Cyberpunk 2077’s role-playing progression systems, improved its enemy AI, and course-corrected a litany of other details, Phantom Liberty also adds a whole new district to the dystopian world of Night City, complete with its own spy-thriller storyline.

The resulting Cyberpunk 2077 is not an entirely different beast than the one that was released in 2020, but it is a more evolved one. It delivers on the promise of building a hacker-samurai in a neon-infused open world replete with futuristic heists, daunting choices, and striking characters. Phantom Liberty and Patch 2.0 may not completely erase the memory of CD Projekt’s initial botched release, but they come pretty damn close. Three years after we first set foot in V’s shoes, Cyberpunk 2077 has finally justified the hype. —M. Mahardy

Lies of P

The Lies of P boss Fallen Archbishop Andreus lashes out with a tongue at the Lies of P main character. Image: Neowiz via Polygon

Where to play: Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

Yes, Lies of P is a Dark Souls mixed with Pinocchio, and that’s a questionable elevator pitch from the outset.

In the years leading up to Lies of P, “Pinnocchiosouls” was more of a running joke than anything — this profane idea that you can take any world and slap some Dark Souls into it to get people mildly interested. But once you’re in the game, eliminating bosses left and right with your sweet parry moves, you’ll quickly find yourself entirely unbothered by how strange Lies of P initially seemed. And you’ll start telling your partner things like “I have to go back to Geppetto to upgrade my puppet body” like it’s a perfectly normal task to assign yourself on a Tuesday afternoon.

It’s very rare for a Soulslike to ever feel like anything more than a knockoff — even when they’re decent fun, like The Surge. But the best compliment I can give Lies of P is that it feels like the genuine article, a FromSoftware game developed in an alternate dimension and somehow released in this one by mistake. But it wasn’t a mistake or luck that made Lies of P, and it wasn’t FromSoftware, either; it was a talented group of developers at Neowiz Games and Round8 Studio that took a tired genre, paired it with a bizarre IP, and knocked it out of the park. —Ryan Gilliam

Chants of Sennaar

An isometric view of a courtyard in the Tower in Chants of Sennaar Image: Rundisc/Focus Entertainment

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One

In Chants of Sennaar you climb up a kind of Tower of Babel, and your job is to decipher the distinct language each group of people speaks, eventually aiming to translate fluidly from one language to another. You do so by matching pictographic symbols — the characters for each language — to images of the nouns, actions, and concepts in a large dictionary-style book.

It sounds complicated, but it’s wonderfully fun because the mechanics are so simple. You explore the isometric world — which is rendered in a gorgeous cel-shaded style — witnessing interactions between cultures and attempting to puzzle out the meaning of their written words. The game parcels out words for you to assign meaning to in little packets, to avoid overwhelming you. By the end, you’ll have translated numerous languages, and scaled your way to the top of the tower. Perhaps you’ll even change the tower itself. —N. Clark

Sea of Stars

Three party members in Sea of Stars square off against a rock-and-flora covered bull on a sliffside Image: Sabotage Studio

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

Sea of Stars is a delightful role-playing game from the makers of The Messenger, Sabotage Studio, and it serves as a reminder of the glory days of the turn-based, pixel-art RPG. Some have compared it to beloved games like Chrono Trigger, but for me, it reminds me of one of my favorite games from childhood: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for Game Boy Advance.

That’s part of the charm of Sea of Stars. It’s confident in both its identity and also where it draws on its influences. So whether it’s your first turn-based RPG (in which case it offers some fabulous difficulty toggles) or it’s taking you back to the Super Nintendo halcyon days, it feels crafted for you.

Sea of Stars is a total package for an indie RPG. It looks great, it sounds great, it feels great, and it’s got charming characters that I actually enjoy spending time with. It reminds me of my childhood, sure, but it also makes the kind of lasting impression that ensures it’ll be some new kid’s Mario & Luigi — the turn-based RPG standard by which they measure all future games. —RG

Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon

EC-0804 Smart Cleaner robot raises its glowing arms as it readies to attack 621’s mech in a screenshot from Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco via Polygon

Where to play: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

After a decade-long break from the Armored Core franchise, during which its members became hitmakers with games like Dark Souls and Elden Ring, developer FromSoftware has returned to hardcore mech action with Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon. Linear in structure and devoid of the unique multiplayer mechanics of the Souls games, Armored Core 6 is still decidedly a FromSoft game: incredibly demanding, both in difficulty and in asking the player to meet it on its own terms.

Armored Core 6, like the Souls games, is about failure and perseverance. You are sent out on missions on a contested alien world, battling powerful, heavy metal machines with your ever-evolving mech. A failed mission sends players back to their garage, where they can experiment with new builds of their mech (AC) to outfit themselves with a variety of weapons and body parts, hopefully eking out a win with a new set of strategies.

Unlike the Souls series, Armored Core 6 is less about player freedom in a fully realized open world. As a faceless, (mostly) nameless mercenary, you are told where to go and whom to kill. The game’s mission-based storyline will play out the same for all players — right up until you reach Armored Core 6’s new game plus (and beyond), where the story unfolds in new and more intriguing ways. That requires even more determination, of course, but like FromSoft’s other games, the climb is more than worth the view from the top. —Michael McWhertor

Baldur’s Gate 3

Four characters stand on a hilltop in mountainous terrain, and one raises a sword in triumph, in Baldur’s Gate 3 Image: Larian Studios

Where to play: PlayStation 5 and Windows PC

It’s impossible to capture the limitless possibilities of tabletop role-playing in a video game, but Baldur’s Gate 3 certainly pushes it farther than anything before it.

Larian Studios’ sprawling RPG offers dozens upon dozens of possibilities, seemingly small choices that ripple into greater effects. There is so much within the game that there is a huge amount of pressure to explore every single area and finish every single quest. But the beauty of Baldur’s Gate 3 is that it’s impossible to do everything in just one playthrough, or two, or three. The game invites replays, encouraging players to experience the same battles and areas through the eyes of different character builds and party combinations. A lawful Paladin isn’t necessarily going to delve into the deep arcane secrets of a random basement the same way that a chaotic Sorcerer might want to, just as a drow might be more aligned to side with Minthara than with Halsin.

Part of the reason I love playing choice-driven RPGs is because of the storytelling potential. I like to build my main character’s story along with the game, spinning up my own personal lore and mythos for how they interact with the world and the main plot. I recognize that video games will always have to impose some limits, be it preset last names or origin stories, but Baldur’s Gate 3 lets me have free rein over so much, yet still take into account my particular choices and interactions. It’s everything I’ve been looking for in a game, and I’m looking forward to replaying it over and over again. —Petrana Radulovic

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew

Several members of the pirate crew in Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew sneak along a beach in order to execute enemy soldiers Image: Mimimi Games

Where to play: PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X

Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew may very well be the most bittersweet entry on this list. It is, for my money, one of the best games to be released in 2023. It is also the swan song of Mimimi Games, one of the most underappreciated studios making games throughout the last decade. Mimimi announced its planned closure only two weeks after releasing its final game. This makes The Cursed Crew its swan song. It is also the team’s magnum opus.

Set in a tropical world of zombie pirates, religious fanatics, and talking ships, The Cursed Crew sees you traveling freely across an archipelago as you revive your undead crew, deploy them on dioramic worlds constituting some of the finest level design in video games to date, and dispatching enemies with a mixture of tactical stealth and supernatural abilities. Taken at a distance, this mixture is undeniably niche. But seen up close, The Cursed Crew is as potent a creation as we’ve seen since 2016’s Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun or 2020’s Desperados 3, which respectively established and cemented the studio’s brilliant design chops. I’ll miss Mimimi — but I can’t imagine a better farewell. —M. Mahardy


The family of Venba sits around a dinner table, having just cooked a meal from the mother’s childhood Image: Visai Games

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

I don’t love to cook. For me, it’s more a necessity than anything else. So it’s not often that a piece of media — or anything, really — leaves me with the feeling that I need to make something, to spend time in the kitchen reveling in the tedium of chopping and the sizzle of onions frying.

Venba elicited that urge, reminding me that food is not just something to keep me alive, but something to be cherished. Venba is a cooking game that focuses on an immigrant family that’s moved from India to Canada. Food transcends the story by way of simple cooking minigames as I move through the chapters of main character Venba’s life — moments that switch between painful and heartwarming. Venba packs as much heart in its one-hour playtime as games 30 times its size. —Nicole Carpenter

Pikmin 4

Pikmin 4’s spaceman stands next to Oatchi the dog and a group of red Pikmin Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

Where to play: Nintendo Switch

Has any game so effectively captured the thrill of chasing 100% efficiency, something that may or may not even exist?

Pikmin 4 is based on the Japanese concept of dandori, “the art of organizing your tasks strategically and working with maximum efficiency to execute your plans quickly.” You gather, grow, harvest, and command a slew of multifarious Pikmin on a strange planet (which looks a whole lot like Earth) in your efforts to, well, collect things. Sometimes this means building bridges. Other times it means fighting terrifying creatures. Other times it means launching a handful of blue Pikmin into a pond in order to freeze it, before your dog Oatchi pulls a giant artifact across it, all while another group of Pikmin gathers building materials across the map. Whether or not 100% efficiency truly exists, Pikmin 4 is a meditative marvel about the joy of chasing said maximum productivity, and it’s a game about the hours that melt away while you’re engaged in that chase. —M. Mahardy


The player holds a black-and-white photo of a bridge up, covering an actual gap in the environment in Viewfinder Image: Sad Owl Studios/Thunderful via Polygon

Where to play: PlayStation 5 and Windows PC

At the heart of Viewfinder is a magic trick that never gets old: You take a photo of the environment and paste that perspective into the game world to create a bridge or reveal a needed trinket. The experience of seeing reality distorted by your hands so easily is nearly on the level of thinking with Portals for the first time. You’ll ponder a solution for minutes, sure it’s impossible and that the developers must have made a mistake, before you’re struck by a eureka moment like a lightning bolt.

The game’s lesson on perspective extends to its narrative, which, much like the photos you use to manipulate the world, contains multitudes. Though it’s told in fairly typical video game-y audio monologues that you uncover from the game’s trippy environments, the journey is powerful and topical. Just as differing perspectives can allow for unique solutions, they can also obscure truths that lead us to deny the reality that’s right in front of us. —Clayton Ashley

Hitman World of Assassination: Freelancer mode

Agent 47 holds an automatic shotgun and stands in front of the campaign map in his safehouse in Hitman World of Assassination’s Freelancer mode Image: IO Interactive

Where to play: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

Hitman World of Assassination’s Freelancer mode, which debuted in January and puts a roguelike twist on Agent 47’s globe-trotting murder-for-hire missions, isn’t for the faint of heart. It demands constant improvisation, to a degree that can challenge even veteran Hitman players. Repeated failures can make it feel more frustrating than fun.

But as every fan of roguelikes knows, these high-stakes experiences have the capacity to deliver a sense of exhilaration like nothing else. Pulling off multiple daring kills, hiding the evidence (or going out with a bang), and trying to make it out alive with all the gear you brought into the mission — it’s tense and thrilling, every time.

Every move you make could be your last one; all it takes to ruin a flawless run is a single ill-considered plan, just one seemingly minor slip-up. With the abyss of failure forever yawning beneath 47, playing Hitman Freelancer can feel like tiptoeing along the top of a barbed-wire fence. The exultation of safely making it to the final exfiltration point, having defeated a crime syndicate after completing a lengthy series of dangerous missions, is a high I’ll keep chasing again and again. —SS

Final Fantasy 16

Clive, with a long sword slung on his back, jogs toward a medieval city with a towering mountain behind it in Final Fantasy 16 Image: Square Enix

Where to play: PlayStation 5

Final Fantasy 16 kicks ass. The newest mainline entry in the long, winding series takes you on a lavish, unadulterated Game of Thrones-esque adventure. You play as a broody Clive Rosfield, a young man whose life’s work is to protect his little brother, Joshua. The story begins when Clive’s life takes a turn for the worse and he vows to destroy the monster who ruined his and his family’s legacy.

Developed by Creative Business Unit III, Square Enix’s internal team behind the MMORPG Final Fantasy 14, 16 leans into patchwork territories of fantasy genre fare. There is palace intrigue, a whole lot of sex, and endless war between nations. But the developers then sprinkle in Final Fantasy elements like mother crystals, dazzling kaiju fights between summons (known as Eikons in this iteration), and of course, Chocobos.

The quality of the story in this long and linear character-driven RPG waxes and wanes, but the action combat is among the best I’ve ever played. The gameplay grips you from the very beginning as Clive smoothly dashes, parries, and swings his giant sword and varied magic with a dazzling amount of style. The gameplay didn’t just help me stick with the game, but instead allowed my excitement to bubble over every time I took on a new mission. —Ana Diaz

Dave the Diver

Dave the Diver underwater aiming his spearfishing harpoon at a tropical fish. Image: Mintrocket via Polygon

Where to play: Nintendo Switch and Windows PC

You could describe Dave the Diver as a fishing game and a restaurant management simulator, and that’d be correct. But that would also be underselling the game, and understating things quite a lot.

Diving into the mysterious Blue Hole, Dave spends the first two quarters of his day swimming deeper into the colorful abyss, discovering both sea life and a story that’s equally absurd and earnest. When you’re not picking up sea urchins or spearfishing sharks, Dave is assisting the rest of Dave the Diver’s cast of characters — his sushi business partners, a community of seafolk, an anime-obsessed weapons expert, and a pair of dolphins. At night, Dave slings sushi and pours drinks at the restaurant, frantically running back and forth between clearing dishes, delivering sushi, and refilling the freshly ground wasabi. Between all that, Dave’s harvesting rice and vegetables on a farm, curating a hatchery, racing seahorses with mermaids, and taking down a suspicious group masquerading as environmental activists. Somehow, there’s even a well-done rhythm video game — starring one of those anime idols that the arms dealer loves — that makes perfect sense.

It really shouldn’t work; I can’t imagine another game where all these disparate ideas coalesce so seamlessly. But Dave the Diver would feel less complete without any one of them. It makes for such a compelling loop, and a consistent advancement of the game’s story, that I kept finding myself in that “one more day” mindset, eager to jump back into the ocean for one more go. —N. Carpenter

Battlebit Remastered

A first person perspective of a helicopter cockpit, looking down at a boggy field Image: SgtOkiDoki via Polygon

Where to play: Windows PC

Battlebit Remastered takes the spirit of the Battlefield series at its very best. The 127-versus-127 combat sandbox sits happily between Arma and Call of Duty, plucking bits from each. Sim elements like detailed bullet-drop models, functional scope zeroing, and multiple reload styles contrast with arcade-y allowances like infinite sprint, easy revives, and vehicular hijinks.

The game’s small dev team has clearly prioritized feel and function over aesthetics, and for the most part, it works. When you’re desperately defending a capture point with your squad or speeding over rough terrain in a smoking truck, it’s easy to look past the super lo-fi graphics. But there are times when flat colors and textureless expanses can make the battlefield hard to parse.

Battlebit Remastered is still in development, and I hope we’ll continue to see the visuals and audio tuned up in the coming months. I’m not too worried, though. Even in its scrappy, blocky state, it might be the best Battlefield game of the decade. —Pat Gill

Diablo 4

A Barbarian character faces off against a towering dragon boss in Diablo 4 Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Where to play: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

With Diablo 4, Blizzard Entertainment set out to marry the frenetic action of Diablo 3, the deep RPG systems of Diablo 2, and the dark tone of the original game. It was an ambitious promise to be sure, but four years and a whole pandemic after the studio announced the long-awaited sequel at BlizzCon 2019, it’s here, and it’s fantastic.

But Diablo 4’s marriage of tone, action, and role-playing isn’t what makes it so good. In addition to all of those other things, Diablo 4 is the best launch we’ve seen for a new “living game” in recent memory.

With the likes of Destiny, Anthem, and even Diablo 3, it was clear from the start that there were some nuggets of potential. But being a fan meant slogging through mountains of frustration just to taste a morsel of what you’d hope those games would become. Playing these games early on was a kind of gamble.

Diablo 4, however, is unlike any of those projects, because its systems are already deep and nuanced enough to spend hundreds of hours growing your character. And there is already loads of content to support that kind of time investment.

With multiple expansions in the works already, Blizzard Entertainment finds itself in almost uncharted territory. When the first expansion for a living game isn’t merely righting the ship, what potential does it hold? It’s a question made even more enticing by the fact that Diablo 4 could never see a single expansion and it would still be a best-in-class ARPG. —RG

Amnesia: The Bunker

The protagonist aims down the sights of his pistol in a corridor in Amnesia: The Bunker Image: Frictional Games

Where to play: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

If only one developer could be said to have a master’s grasp on interactive horror, I’d have to tip my hat to Frictional Games. The Amnesia series has always been a thrill ride of terrifying chases and the quiet, a little too quiet, moments that build up tension between. Amnesia: The Bunker is no different. In fact, it’s one of Frictional’s best.

Set in a seemingly abandoned bunker that’s been sealed by explosions during World War I, your simple yet difficult task is to find an exit. This being a horror game, though, you also have to collect fuel for the bunker’s generator — a veritable beating heart — and scrutinize maps on safe room walls, before venturing into the titular structure’s labyrinthine bowels. Oh, also! There’s a monster hunting you. And it can ambush you from wall vents. And it’s attracted to even the slightest bit of sound. And whether you’re juicing your hand-cranked flashlight, triggering long-forgotten tripwires, or just opening a heavy door into yet another concrete-encased corridor, you’re going to have to make noise at some point. The Bunker is as potent in its terror as any horror video game out there. —M. Mahardy

Super Mega Baseball 4

Hammer Langbollo walks off a homerun hit during a nighttime game in Super Mega Baseball 4 Image: Metalhead Software/Electronic Arts

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

More than 200 real-life ballplayers join the roster of Super Mega Baseball 4, Metalhead’s delightful, arcade-style presentation of the National Pastime. Fans need not worry: Everything that has made the Super Mega Baseball franchise a hit for the past decade is still here, namely the rock-solid gameplay, deep and long-tail season modes, and a dry sense of humor found in everything from the teams’ nicknames to the ads on the outfield walls.

Sports fans who pine for the days, 20 years ago, when they had multiple video game options for any of their favorite sports — especially arcade titles — will feel like they’ve gone back in time. Super Mega Baseball 4 may not be licensed by the major leagues, but it doesn’t need to be: It’s the essence of a very fun sport, and that means a lot more than any branding. —Owen Good

Street Fighter 6

Zangief performs a low kick against Guile’s shin atop an aircraft carrier in Street Fighter 6 Image: Capcom

Where to play: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X

If I were in the “making fighting games” biz, I would not want to follow Street Fighter 6. Historically, fighting games haven’t had to be feature-rich media experiences. It seems like the majority of development effort goes into designing the systems, balancing characters, and everything that happens between “Fight” and “K.O.” While that approach has served the core audience of fighting game diehards, it hasn’t created the best on-ramp for new players, or people who just want to play differently.

And that’s where Street Fighter 6 sings. The game is overflowing with stuff and love. There’s a lengthy open-world-RPG-esque story mode where your self-insert create-a-character pals around with the iconic World Warriors. The campaign drip-feeds you new tools and mechanics, teaching you fighting game fundamentals through goofy scenarios.

That joyous abundance of character extends to every little bit of the game. Lovingly rendered idle animations on the character-select screen transition into bravura entrances. The character-specific tutorial modules are written in that fighter’s voice. The stages are gorgeous and full of cute details and Easter eggs.

Jam all of that joy into a package with compelling mechanics, an industry-leading training mode, and excellent netplay, and you’ve got one of the best, most accessible fighting games ever. —PG

System Shock

The player wields a sledgehammer as an enemy robot spots the protagonist in a dimly lit neon corridor in the System Shock remake Image: Nightdive Studios

Where to play: Windows PC

In a year of several stellar remakes and immersive sims, it wouldn’t have been surprising if System Shock showed its age of nearly 30 years. At least, it would have been understandable if the changes needed to update the game would leave it nigh unrecognizable. That’s why Nightdive Studios’ accomplish is so impressive: It updated the 1994 classic with a slick coat of modern paint while also preserving what made the game so thrilling in the first place.

The element where that’s most evident is in the game’s look, which captures all of the original System Shock’s garish cyberpunk neons and frightening enemies in a style that appears like a modern high-fidelity game at a distance, but subtly transforms into retro pixel bitmaps on closer inspection. In much the same way, the gameplay feels surprisingly modern at a distance, but on closer inspection, you start to see how this proto-immersive sim is actually what inspired so much modern game design. You have to rely on your own curiosity, caution, and cunning to navigate the halls of Citadel Station and upgrade your hacker into a cybernetic death machine. It’s a game that expects a lot from the player (and a little save scumming), but the experience is just as rewarding as it was in 1994. —CA

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom; a shirtless Link skydiving into Hyrule Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

Where to play: Nintendo Switch

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom had massive shoes to fill, and somehow, it not only filled them, but managed to tread new ground. Its predecessor, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, went down in history as one of the most influential games in open-world design. Now we know that Breath of the Wild was just the first draft of an adventure that would be so much bigger.

Tears of the Kingdom gives you the freedom and tools to tinker your way through Hyrule. Now, with Link’s new powers, you can build a wide array of contraptions to help Link traverse the wilderness. His Ultrahand power allows you to “glue” a vast array of materials together, while Fuse lets you craft weapons out of the most unlikely combinations of items. Fans have used these abilities to build everything from maniacal torture devices to fully functional war machines. Memes aside, these contraptions show what an absolute marvel Tears of the Kingdom is. Whereas it’s fun for many players to merely mess around, developers have said that even a simple bridge in the game is a development miracle.

These astounding mechanics guide you through a world that’s both strange and familiar at the same time. Hyrule has experienced an upheaval, and the mainland we got to know in Breath of the Wild is dotted with new settlements and archeological wonders. Additionally, you explore two entirely new layers of the map — one above and one below Hyrule — adding even more mystery and wonder to the wilderness Nintendo first unveiled in 2017. At the end of the day, this new world and Link’s new powers all contribute to an emotionally charged time-travel narrative between Link, Princess Zelda, and even Ganondorf. Taken together, these elements make Tears of the Kingdom one of the best games of 2023. —AD

Laya’s Horizon

A woman glides through a forest in Laya’s Horizon. Image: Snowman/Netflix

Where to play: Android and iOS with a Netflix subscription

Remember Alto’s Adventure and Alto’s Odyssey? Their developer, Snowman, made a spiritual follow-up, except this time it’s a 3D open-world game. And it rules. Laya’s Horizon takes my favorite bits of Steep, Riders Republic, and the Alto’s games (read: moving extremely fast down tall cliffs to chill music) and tosses away practically everything else. Your goal is simply to glide down a mountain and land at the shore. Along the way, you can complete some light objectives (like playing tag with a bird or racing a crew of fellow gliders) or you can just enjoy the feeling of virtual wind in your hair.

Laya’s Horizon didn’t make a big splash when it launched in May, but here’s the thing: If you have a Netflix subscription, the game is basically free. Download it on iOS or Android, sign in with your account, and you’re all set to wingsuit away your weekend. —Chris Plante

Age of Wonders 4

Several squads of mole people square off against a horde of poisonous spiders in Age of Wonders 4 Image: Triumph Studios/Paradox Interactive

Where to play: Windows PC

As Alexis Ong wrote in our Age of Wonders 4 review, “the real magic of 4X games lies in watching shit happen.” And in Age of Wonders 4, a lot of shit happens.

Resting somewhere between the empire-building of the Civilization series and the emergent storytelling of Crusader Kings 3, Age of Wonders 4 lets you build your own high-fantasy race from the ground up, gradually flesh out its beliefs, rituals, ideals, and laws, and watch as a complex web of systems either reinforces those pillars or, more than likely, morphs them all into something unrecognizable. You can found new cities, explore natural wonders, and deploy your armies in shows of militaristic might, but the true joy in Age of Wonders 4 comes from comparing the civilization you wanted to build at the outset with the one that emerged as a result of circumstance. My crusading Toadkin may have had holy wars on their mind when they first set foot on the world’s stage, but by the end of my failed campaign, they had become stauncher pacifists than any of their neighbors. And I loved every second of the transformation. —M. Mahardy

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor

Cal Kestis looks out over an inhabited area within a ravine on a lush planet in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor Image: Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts

Where to play: PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X

Is Star Wars Jedi: Survivor an Empire Strikes Back level of sequel? Well, no, but it manages to get extraordinarily close to being one of the best follow-ups in the entire Star Wars franchise.

The game improves upon Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order in every conceivable way, with a more entertaining, action-oriented start and a ton of aerial movements and lightsaber stances that make you feel even more like a seasoned Jedi Knight. Quality-of-life improvements like fast travel make the game less frustrating to play, while the new locales packed with hidden collectibles and upgrades makes exploration more rewarding.

But what makes Jedi: Survivor truly special isn’t this crude matter, but its luminous heart. You feel it in the memorable characters you meet on your galactic journey, be it the people you help or the friendships you forge and reconcile with. It’s in the classic, crowded cantina where you actually want to go check in with the barkeep. It’s in the tactile, reverent way you craft your lightsaber. And it’s in the kinetic set-pieces that remind you of the serials Star Wars was originally inspired by. At its best, you really can feel the Force around you. —CA

Mr. Sun’s Hatbox

One of the agents in Mr. Sun’s Hatbox navigates a 2D platforming level full of ladders, buttons, and long chains to ride Image: Kenny Sun/Raw Fury

Where to play: Nintendo Switch and Windows PC

Mr. Sun’s Hatbox is about a hat delivery person (or maybe it’s just a blob with legs?) that takes their job way too seriously. At the beginning of the game, a customer’s package gets stolen and whisked away to a nearby towering castle. Despite the client’s apathy toward a single missing hat, the delivery company, named Amazin, proceeds to set up an entire subterranean paramilitary operation beneath the poor customer’s home.

As its premise suggests, this pixelated 2D roguelite leans into the absurd. Part Metal Gear Solid 5, part Spelunky, you undertake missions where you blast away enemies and kidnap them for your own operation, all while slapstick action unfolds. While on a mission, anything from a desk lamp to daggers is fair game for a weapon. In between fights, you expand your base, where you manage a staff of brainwashed blob-people. It’s fast, frenetic fun, and especially enjoyable to share with friends in co-op. —AD


Dredge’s Traveling Merchant selling Refined Metal Image: Black Salt Games/Team17 via Polygon

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

Dredge is a Lovecraftian horror experience masquerading as a simple fishing game.

The open ocean is filled with terrible creatures that can and will damage or destroy your boat. And each of the major islands you visit comes with its own evil sea beasts that must be dealt with if you want to progress the story or fish peacefully. Dredge ultimately tells a dark parable about loss, and how obsession can own you if you aren’t careful.

But what makes Dread so special — and one of the best games of 2023 — is that under its foreboding story and twisted environments is a fishing game that grows more complex with every outing, centered around an upgrade system that feels amazing to progress through. As the dangers around you grow, so too does your ship’s capabilities. And by adventuring into battles — metaphorical and otherwise — with the seas’ most dastardly critters, you’ll always come out on the other side with some upgrades that allow you to catch even better fish and build an even bigger boat.

By the time you’ve spent 10 or so hours with Dredge, you’ll feel like a commercial fisherman who just happened upon something bigger and more foreboding than they could have imagined — and that, perhaps, you’ve stared deep into some kind of black abyss, only to escape forever changed. —RG


Sister Eustace addresses Sister Darcy, who is high as a kite on herbs from her garden: “Darcy, are you sure you’re going to be able ot sit through service doing... anything?” Image: XEECEE via Polygon

Where to play: Windows PC

This haunting and occasionally quite humorous visual novel mainly unfolds through the eyes of pious, naive protagonist Hedwig, who at the outset of Misericorde is the convent’s Anchoress. This means that, by her choice, she’s spent her formative years locked up in a cell, serving as a presumed “neutral” source of knowledge to any and all spiritual advice-seekers, as she’s devoted herself fully to reading only scripture and religious literature. But when one of the nuns at the adjacent convent is suddenly murdered, Mother Superior drags Hedwig from the simple but serene familiarity of her cell to investigate. She may not have any detective experience, but Hedwig’s position means she’s the only person who definitely didn’t murder Sister Catherine.

Misericorde is a visual novel in the strictest sense: There’s no player choice, no branching dialogue; it’s a matter of just clicking through and reading the story as it unfolds. Only the first volume of the game has been released so far, so the mystery is still unsolved. Nonetheless, its writing makes it a standout of 2023; it’s rare to see an ensemble cast this well developed and characterized, especially in a murder mystery, a genre that often relies on tropes and shorthand. At first, upon seeing the black-and-white art depicting all of the nuns dressed in (obviously) identical habits, I worried about how I’d manage to keep track of all the suspects. But I didn’t worry for long. Each nun has her own distinct voice — and her own set of secrets. I can’t wait until volume 2 is released so that I can learn more about these women and the murder that has torn their close-knit community apart. —Maddy Myers

Resident Evil 4 Remake

Leon Kennedy parries a chainsaw in the Resident Evil 4 remake Image: Capcom

Where to play: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X

It turns out, Capcom is good at remaking games.

The original Resident Evil remake all but set the bar for the format in 2002, with sleeker controls, more nuanced graphical details, and whole new areas to explore in the iconic Spencer Mansion. The Resident Evil 2 remake changed the entire perspective of its source material without sacrificing the focus on horror and survival. Resident Evil 3’s remake, as forgettable as it was, still brought the design conceits of the original game, warts and all, to a modern audience. And now we have Resident Evil 4 — and what a remake it is.

In this reimagined version of the 2005 action-survival-horror game, Capcom has managed to erase many of the blemishes on one of the most beloved games in the series, if not all time. The remake is full of new flourishes and extra details in each of its three sprawling areas, making it less of a remake and more of a dramatic reinterpretation. It has also managed to add even more survival elements to the original’s action-centric combat, without sacrificing the camp and cheese that have made it such an enduring presence throughout the years. A lesser game would have shrunk in the face of such intimidating source material, but the Resident Evil 4 remake achieved the balancing act in spades. —M. Mahardy


A child climbing a three while the sunset turns the sky and ocean pink. Image: Awaceb/Kepler Interactive

Where to play: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC

Tchia, from developer Awaceb, is an open-world adventure game set in a fictional version of island nation New Caledonia — inspired by Awaceb’s co-founder’s childhood in the country.

Everything is filtered through the titular main character Tchia’s eyes, eyes with a special power that allows her to transform into any animals or objects in her environment. Birds, dolphins, a camera, or rocks… It’s all an option for Tchia.

The game, while clearly inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, ends up standing on its own because of the innovative shapeshifting mechanics. Tchia isn’t as technically polished as a Nintendo title with hundreds of developers; Awaceb has a team of roughly a dozen. Still, it’s hard to innovate in such a ubiquitous genre, yet Awaceb has managed to do just that with Tchia, making it one of the best games so far this year. —N. Carpenter

Patch Quest

Roladillo and a bunch of other mish mash animals in Patch Quest Image: Lychee Game Labs/Curve Games via Polygon

Where to play: Windows PC

Lions and tigers and… hat-wearing armadillos? Oh my.

Patch Quest initially roped me in with its endearing creatures, but I stuck around for its expert blend of disparate genres. It borrows elements from Pokémon, Castlevania, The Binding of Isaac, and Enter the Gungeon to create a unique monster-taming roguelike in which you and your animal companions stitch the world back together one piece at a time. Tame deceptively cute monsters, explore the winding labyrinth of Patchlantis, and exterminate anyone who stands in your way with a fruit-ammo smoothie. Developer Lychee Game Labs (a one-person team, no less) stitched several pieces of cloth together to make Patch Quest, and the resulting quilt is a mesmerizing experience. —Johnny Yu

Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo

Several characters discuss a string of crimes in the street in Paranormasight: The Seven Mysterie sof Honjo Image: Square Enix

Where to play: Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC

Square Enix has plenty of mega-franchises to fill its time (and its coffers). This year, we have new entries for Octopath Traveler and Final Fantasy, along with new Dragon Quest and Kingdom Hearts games in the not-so-distant future. Dayenu!

And yet, the publisher can’t help itself from bombarding us with surprising, interesting, sometimes great, often good-enough experiments. In 2022, we got an English-language remake of lost gem Live A Live, the surprisingly enjoyable tactical RPG DioField Chronicle, a bonkers Final Fantasy spinoff featuring the musical stylings of Limp Bizkit, and a pair of oddball card games lathered in lore from gaming’s best weirdo. This year, we have the Avengers of rhythm games, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, and Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo, an excellent riff on the visual novel penned by a beloved storyteller — whose best series has never appeared in the U.S.

What should you know about Paranormasight before you play? Well, ideally nothing. Why else would I be eating up my word count?

But if you insist: It’s a mystery — and a horror mystery at that. You travel to 1980s Japan, specifically the Tokyo neighborhood of Honjo, located not so far from the modern Tokyo Skytree. It’s hard to imagine that modern landmark ever towering alongside these streets, which are filled with shadows and lethal curses.

If you have even a passing interest in urban legends, spooky folklore, cults, and deadly rituals, or you’ve enjoyed series like Zero Escape and Danganronpa, Paranormasight is an easy recommendation. And if you just enjoy a good yarn and have access to basically any screen and $15, then you’re a perfect mark too. It runs as well on console and PC as it does on iOS and Android, so don’t fret about where you play, just do so and soon! Before Square Enix stops investing in all these oddities. —CP

Phantom Brigade

Mechs line up next to one another on a pre-battle screen in Phantom Brigade Image: Brace Yourself Games

Where to play: Windows PC

Phantom Brigade’s unique “turn-based real-time” battles feel like a revelation in the mecha genre. The most apt comparison is a video editor’s timeline, only instead of scrolling through a movie you’ve already made, you can effortlessly turn the tide of battle with a few smart moves. Once you’ve set up your five frenetic seconds of action, you get to sit back and watch it all play out in glorious slo-mo.

For mecha fans, it’ll be quickly apparent how deeply the developers revere giant robots. Your mecha can be intricately customized, right down to their generator, which directly affects things like how frequently they can fire their armaments. Speaking of, the game’s arsenal is both beautiful and brutal: frightfully devastating shotguns, graceful energy swords, and missile barrages that fire in a perfect Itano circus. Even though the game is played from a bird’s-eye view, your mechs feel big and weighty, stomping through the game world as they knock down buildings and shove tanks aside like toys. Even peering five seconds into the future to see your enemies’ movements feels like a reference to the ESP common in mecha anime.

This is not to mention the minimalist but evocative narratives you’ll get to enjoy on your campaign. While sometimes drawn with broad strokes, these stories are an important reminder that however cool your mechs may be, it’s the pilots inside who really count. —CA

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

Wo Long’s Hidden Village blacksmith location Image: Team Ninja/Koei Tecmo via Polygon

Where to play: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

Of all the developers borrowing heavily from the games of FromSoftware, perhaps none do so more cunningly than Team Ninja. If Nioh and Nioh 2 were Dark Souls as seen through the lens of Japanese myth, then Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (and a bit of Bloodborne) set in Three Kingdoms-era China. And it rules.

Not only does Wo Long deftly maneuver between awe-inspiring boss fights, spell-slinging brawls, and a litany of intricate areas across rural China — it also encourages exploration in a way that even some FromSoftware games haven’t. Wo Long’s morale system (which rewards you for building up your character’s confidence, so to speak, against hordes of lesser enemies before tackling a boss) ensures that no challenge is insurmountable. It’s the rare game that can both brutalize you and root for you every step of the way. Wo Long is one such game. —M. Mahardy

Company of Heroes 3

British soldiers and tanks advance across the African desert in Company of Heroes 3 Image: Relic Entertainment/Sega

Where to play: Windows PC

In 2006, Company of Heroes kicked down the door and strode into the real-time strategy scene with swagger and bravado. Its focus on squad-based tactics, as opposed to the movements of hordes of individual soldiers, set it cleanly apart from Starcraft, Warcraft, and Command & Conquer, and the ensuing spectacle was more than a little reminiscent of the choreographed World War II battles of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.

But things have changed. 4X, grand strategy, and turn-based tactics have nudged RTS games out of their top spot in the strategy space. Despite its explosive original outing in 2006, and its excellent sequel in 2013, Relic Entertainment needed to adapt.

And adapt it did. Company of Heroes 3 makes real-time strategy more approachable than ever, with a “tactical pause” option that allows you to stop time and issue orders to your troops in hectic moments. It also introduces a Total War-esque turn-based overworld map, allowing you to maneuver armies, capture key installations, and provide a bevy of support bonuses to the real-time battles, away from the firm guidance of the team’s (still excellent) linear campaign writers. —M. Mahardy

Octopath Traveler 2

Castii stands on a bridge in a town at night in Octopath Traveler 2 Image: Acquire, Square Enix/Square Enix via Polygon

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC

The first Octopath Traveler was one of those games that was as enjoyable to play as it was painful: enjoyable because so much of it kicked ass, but painful because so much of it dragged the positive aspects down. In other words, it stood on the precipice of excellence, but couldn’t quite cross the line.

Octopath Traveler 2 leaps across that boundary. In place of the original game’s repetitive level design, monotonous narrative structure, and sometimes awkward characterization, the sequel demonstrates an expert ability to challenge your expectations at every turn. Yes, your general goal is still to recruit eight playable characters (hence the name) and follow each of their separate plot threads to their respective conclusions, participating in turn-based battles and side quests along the way. But said plots vary greatly from character to character, and if you so choose, you can see a handful of characters through several major plot points before recruiting the whole gang. Octopath Traveler 2 finely toes the line between that comfort food-esque repetition of the best JRPGs, and the subversive nature of great genre storytelling. —M. Mahardy

Metroid Prime Remastered

In first-person perspective, Samus fires on an ice-covered boss in Metroid Prime Remastered Image: Retro Studios/Nintendo

Where to play: Nintendo Switch

Few games from 2002 hold up as well as Metroid Prime, and the remastered version of the game — which was surprise-dropped during February’s Nintendo Direct — proves that Samus Aran’s first-person adventure is still worth experiencing, whether it’s for the first time or (in my case) the fourth.

Retro Studios’ take on one of sci-fi’s most famous intergalactic bounty hunters controversially took her out of the 2D puzzle-platformer realm that made her famous (although Metroid Fusion also came out in 2002 — a gift for the 2D Metroid purists — which may also be why Fusion joined Nintendo Switch Online’s catalog shortly after Prime Remastered was released). By placing the player inside Samus’ helmet, Metroid Prime recontextualized the bounty hunter’s relationship with the hostile planets around her.

As we donned Samus’ suit and explored strange planets, aggressive alien lifeforms could now get right in our faces, forcing us to dodge, strafe, and roll (in morph ball form, naturally) using all three dimensions. No longer would we sit back and watch as Samus dipped her toe into a pool of lava; in first-person, as molten fire spread over our visor, we’d really feel the pressure to find that Varia Suit upgrade. And perhaps most importantly, from behind Samus’ visor, we gained the ability to scan our enemies and environment, collecting and translating logs from the long-dead Chozo aliens who once inhabited these now-hostile places.

The world of Prime is harsh and unrelenting. (Save points will, at times, be quite far from one another.) But it’s worth buckling down and pushing through the pain points to discover this world’s secrets. —M. Myers

Dead Space

The Dead Space remake protagonist is suited up, standing inside a claustrophobic area. Image: Motive Studio/Electronic Arts

Where to play: PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X

With The Last of Us on HBO and Resident Evil 4 back in the conversation, it’s already a banner year for survival horror. Motive Studio’s Dead Space remake is no exception. Following in the footsteps of Capcom’s aforementioned title, the original Dead Space brought the third-person-action focus of Resident Evil 4’s formula to a deteriorating ship in outer space. In the vein of Event Horizon, Sunshine, and Alien, Dead Space was a paragon for sci-fi horror in a confined and claustrophobic setting. Its remake has brought that same vision to gorgeous new life, bringing quality-of-life changes and underappreciated updates (it has made several previously useless weapons into viable tools in protagonist Isaac Clarke’s arsenal), making it hard to imagine ever going back to Visceral Games’ phenomenal original. —M. Mahardy

Season: A Letter to the Future

Estelle riders her bicycle down an overgrown cobblestone path in Season: A Letter to the Future Image: Scavengers Studio via Polygon

Where to play: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC

Everyone you meet in Season is already dead. The story opens in the far-distant future of a world that resembles our own. A history researcher reads a travel diary belonging to a young woman who documented the end of her era.

The game has you writing that travel diary, documenting the end of a culture and its people with the help of a bike and some S-tier scrapbooking skills.

What sounds sad is quite enlivening. The world isn’t drab or apocalyptic. In fact, you wouldn’t know change waits at the door of this epoch if not for the prologue. The sky and oceans are lush complementary blues. Animals go about their days without a care, grazing on wheat and twittering in the trees. The few people you encounter react to the mysterious prophesied sea change the way most folks approach moving from one apartment to another.

Season is fiction for a generation that believes the end of society as we understand it is inevitable. Maybe in our lifetime, maybe a century from now. Waters will rise, governments will fail, or corporations will mine every last resource from the planet. But also, alongside that terror, there’s also a peace to be found in visualizing a life beyond.

Dark! But what else would you expect from a game about being the documentarian for a world you, the player, already know has run its course?

That there’s so much beauty in the world of Season makes the burden of historical curation all the more challenging. You can take pictures, record sounds, and select sketches and bits of text to include in your diary. Though space is limited. You won’t fit in most of your photos and notes, let alone the entire experience of this world. Should people in the future know about the small, personal dramas of this era? Should you pass along lessons from other eras past, like a baton to be carried from one generation to the next? Or should you leave the book largely empty, affording this culture some sort of cosmic privacy? —CP

Fire Emblem Engage

Marth and Alear attack a demon enemy in Fire Emblem Engage Image: Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

Where to play: Nintendo Switch

Fire Emblem Engage was designed for a very specific kind of sicko: one not particularly interested in the origin stories of a horde of teenagers, or the politics of a bourgeoise academy, or what kind of tea a teacher prefers, but instead one obsessed with the endless minutiae of combat stats, weapon loadouts, and team composition. I know this because I am one such sicko.

If you’ve read any of my reviews or essays on Polygon, then you know I prefer strategy games that can get out of their own way. More precisely, I love when strategy developers can put their pens down, throw their hands up, and admit that the stories unfolding in the player’s head will almost always be more powerful than anything they could write. Fire Emblem Engage is one of the foremost proponents of this idea. It hurls an excess of characters, weapons, battle scenarios, and stat-boosting abilities at you, leaving the door open for you to observe character interactions on the battlefield and create the resulting fanfiction in your head. Its actual script is a quagmire of nonsensical JRPG tropes, and each cutscene is more skippable than the next. But if you’re looking for an excellent turn-based tactics game that gets out of the player’s way, you can do a whole lot worse than Fire Emblem Engage. —M. Mahardy

Marvel’s Midnight Suns

The Hunter slashes an enemy in Marvel’s Midnight Suns Image: Firaxis Games/2K

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X

[Ed. note: Marvel’s Midnight Suns was released in 2022, but it just barely missed the cutoff for our best video games of 2022 list, so it’s eligible for our 2023 awards.]

I know what you’re thinking: Another licensed Marvel game? Come on, right? But hear me out. I played Marvel’s Avengers, too, and this isn’t that. It might seem like it’s going to be at first, because Midnight Suns makes the grave error of introducing Iron Man and Doctor Strange as its tutorial characters, and these two might just be the most irritating characters in the entire video game. (I have beaten the game, so I am allowed to make this call.) You must press on and give Midnight Suns time to win you over. Because it has so, so much more to offer than it may appear in its first few hours.

Picture the romance and humor of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, combined with the high-stakes tactical battles of XCOM 2 — that’s what Midnight Suns becomes in its mid-game and endgame. It’s a card-based strategy game, and each hero has their own customizable deck. I started off favoring Captain Marvel, Magik, and Blade, simply because their moves and hilarious dialogue kept me entertained, but I soon realized that every single character has something exciting or unexpected to bring to the battlefront. Over 100 hours later, I’ve leveled up every single character and played all the main story missions and an unknowable number of optional missions, and I’m still not sick of this combat… or the kooky cast of characters that grows all the time (shoutout to the Deadpool DLC).

No matter how sick of Marvel you might be, give Midnight Suns the chance to win you over with its clever combat. And once you’ve gotten hooked, you might find yourself sticking around to chuckle at Wolverine attending Blade’s book club (yes, that’s a storyline in this game). It’s worth your time, and you can take that from me, a person who — again — spent over 100 hours on it. —M. Myers