To mark five years since launch, developers from Naughty Dog, Santa Monica, Bend, Guerrilla, Insomniac share their picks
Happy fifth birthday, PlayStation 4! In half a decade, PS4 has seen the release of some of the greatest games ever created. And it’s all thanks to the hard work of passionate, driven developers.
We wanted to celebrate this momentous milestone, so we invited 23 of the world’s top game designers to build the ultimate list of the best PS4 games released to date. Each developer got three picks: you’ll see some clear patterns emerge quickly, but there are some surprises in store.
Be sure let us know your picks in the comments! And finally: thank you. Not only for your support since PS4 launched five years ago, but for being part of this community for more than two decades.
Without further ado… let’s get to the list.
John Garvin, Creative Director, Bend Studio (Days Gone)
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
I love the entire Uncharted franchise, not just because we got to make one here at Bend Studios (Uncharted Golden Abyss for PS Vita!), but because of its characters. Drake, Sully, Elena, Chloe all have great stories to tell.
We get to learn more about who Drake is, how he became the treasure hunter and adventurer we all know, and explore Drake’s relationship with Elena. In the end, I like narrative-driven games that are about interesting relationships, and Uncharted 4 is one of the best.
2. God of War
Speaking of relationships! How about that father and son relationship in the new God of War? It’s a franchise I’m a huge fan of, but until now, not one which I would have considered to be “character driven.”
I was blown away by some of the game’s bold story choices: making Kratos a father; introducing a kid into the mix; having quiet moments like when Kratos helps Atreus kill the stag. In fact, throughout the game, it’s the moments where things aren’t said that are the most powerful. Kratos reaching out to say something, but not finding the words.
3. Red Dead Redemption 2
I am a huge fan of the first game. In fact it was a major inspiration for Days Gone – I loved the fantasy of being a gunslinger in the Old West, and that love hasn’t faded. I’m only a few hours in but I’m already sold – the atmosphere, the cinematography, the environments, the mood, the music.
And the characters – I want to avoid spoilers, so all I’ll say is that the cast of characters, the performances, the stories, all consistently top-notch and entertaining. The sheer scope of the game is daunting at times, but I’m not going to complain about having too much game.
Angie Smets, Executive Producer, Guerrilla Games (Horizon Zero Dawn)
1. The Last of Us: Remastered
I missed The Last Of Us on PS3 amidst my never-ending backlog of great games, but when I played the remastered version on PS4 I was amazed by its timeless quality.
From the nuanced characterization of Joel and Ellie to the poignant narrative, The Last Of Us: Remastered has lost none of its relevance.
Coming from the makers of Limbo, I knew Inside would be dark – but I didn’t expect it to be so haunting.
The game uses neat puzzles and platforming mechanics to draw the player towards an ending that shocks and satisfies at the same time, and for months after completion my thoughts would involuntarily return there.
3. Rayman Legends
I loved playing games with my mom when I grew up, so being able to do the same with my son is very special to me. Rayman Legends fits the bill perfectly. Its co-op implementation is terrific, and the gameplay hasn’t lost any of the accessibility and inventiveness that I remember from back in the day.
Hermen Hulst, Managing Director & Co-founder, Guerrilla Games (Horizon Zero Dawn)
1. God of War
With God of War, I feel as though Santa Monica Studios pulled off the impossible: they redeemed the most brutal demigod ever to star in a videogame franchise, by reframing his character through the very human lens of fatherhood.
It was a stroke of genius that hugely paid off, reinvigorating the franchise and paving the way for a brand new chapter in its mythology.
2. Red Dead Redemption 2
When Rockstar releases an open-world game, it sets a new bar that can only be surpassed by the next Rockstar game.
I’ve barely spent a week in Red Dead Redemption 2, but I can honestly already say that I’ve never played a game with more attention to detail. Which is all the more impressive given the sheer scope and size of the game world.
Proof positive that puzzle platformers don’t always need to be lighthearted colourful affairs, Inside combines intricate puzzle platforming with deeply disturbing visual storytelling – without any of its characters uttering a single word.
And just when I thought I’d seen it all, developer Playdead pulled the rug out from under me for a conclusion that defied all sanity.
Bryan Intihar, Creative Director, Insomniac Games (Marvel’s Spider-Man)
1. God of War
I’ve been such a huge fan of this franchise since the PlayStation 2 days. That being said, never did I expect God of War’s transition on the PS4 to be so fresh in its new setting, bold in its design, and emotional in its narrative.
Seeing Kratos juggle not only the dangerous threats all around him, but also the responsibility of fatherhood really left such a mark on me. And when you throw in the technical marvel of a single-shot camera, it’s safe to say Sony Santa Monica has delivered one of the hallmark titles of the console’s first five years.
2. Horizon Zero Dawn
As a developer I always love to see my favourite game makers mix things up and take risks. And wow, did Guerilla ever do that with Horizon Zero Dawn. This experience has one of the most unique settings of any PS4 title (I mean, who doesn’t love ROBOT DINOSAURS?!?!?).
But beyond the premise, exploring the terrain and battling these metallic beasts led to some of the most fun I had with an open-world game in the past few years. Lastly, I thought Aloy was an amazing character and she quickly became one of my favourite new heroes.
Bungie’s new first-person shooter world was one of those PS4 experiences where I simply lost track of…well, quite frankly, everything. It’s one of those games where I would say to myself, “one more weapon upgrade…one more mission…one more strike with my friends” and the next thing I know it’s 4am and I need to be up for work in a few hours.
In addition, Bungie’s buttery smooth shooter controls make it feel like anyone can be a top-tier Guardian while planet hopping. While the later installments in the franchise are just as strong, I’ll never forget that first go-around with Destiny.
Siobhan Reddy, Studio Director, Media Molecule (Dreams)
1. Resident Evil 7
This is the franchise that absolutely clinched my love of gaming. I am a huge horror fan, and the combination of atmos – music, visuals, and story made it actually frightening to play. Especially experiencing it in VR gave me all the chills!
2. Dark Souls 3
I came into the Dark Souls series at number 3 and just loved it. The passive co-op play is such a great mechanic. I also love the story of what inspired it, it has such a beautiful beginning.
The game’s director Hidetaka Miyazaki told a story about being stuck in a row of cars on a hill in the show and the cars nudging each other up, allowing everyone to get home. I love the idea of people who don’t know each other helping each other.
3. The Flame in the Flood
I love a survival game, I think you can see that in all my choices. The Flame and The Flood has a beautiful atmosphere, funny characters, and gorgeous music.
I loved the mechanics: you just get a little further every time. It also doesn’t hurt that your character, Scout, has a pet dog that you have to look after. I’m a big fan of dog companions.
Neil Druckmann, Vice President, Naughty Dog (The Last of Us Part II)
1. God of War
Love how Santa Monica Studio reinvented this franchise. The combat is tight and has greater depth, the world is fascinating to explore, and they made Kratos into a complex character that I truly cared for.
This was my first “Souls” game. I was initially frustrated with its difficulty and its obscure mechanics. After a couple of hours, everything clicked and I learned to appreciate the tension this game provides. Few games match its tone, complexity, and the sheer sense of achievement upon conquering it.
3. Resident Evil 7
Another brilliant reinvention of an existing franchise. I adored the more intimate tone of the environments, encounters, and enemy designs. It was great to have the original survival-horror series going back to its roots.
Anthony Newman, Co-Game Director, Naughty Dog (The Last of Us Part II)
1. Horizon Zero Dawn
As a developer, I can’t help but have my impression of a game be influenced by the nature of the game’s development as well as the game itself.
It’s hard to overstate my admiration for Guerrilla’s courage and ambition: to go from gritty, linear, first-person shooters to a colourful, open-world, third-person action game in a wholly original setting was a leap of faith you seldom see in the medium. And they nailed it!
2. God of War
I’m pretty jaded when it comes to hype, but I’ve never (ever) anticipated a game as much as God of War.
The series had an immense influence on me as a designer, and knowing that Corey (who directed GoW II, my favourite entry) was returning for the reboot made it that much more thrilling.
God of War flipped the script on its combat, found a slick new take on an open world, and represents a quantum leap forward in storytelling for the series. This game’s innovation is what all sequels should strive for.
Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard created a game that exemplifies simplicity and elegance while offering a breadth of content that boggles the mind: they’re up to 4,340 levels, along with a wealth of player-created levels.
Each level is a unique, brilliant haiku of death, and they’re made with the same simple building blocks. N++ reduces platforming gameplay to its purest essence, and puts a laser focus onto every last detail in physics, graphic design, game feel, and the best techno soundtrack you’ll find frankly anywhere.
Kurt Margenau, Co-Game Director, Naughty Dog (The Last of Us Part II)
1. God of War
I don’t know what it was about this game, but I found myself playing it until 3am like I was a teenager again.
Santa Monica Studio was already at the pinnacle of melee combat games in my book, and yet they still thoroughly re-invented this great franchise for an over-the-shoulder perspective, a more mature story, open-world layout, and no camera cuts?!
I couldn’t help but smile seeing that every change was for the better. It’s clear they stuck to their vision even if it was way different from what people thought the franchise could be. They nailed it.
2. Rocket League
I don’t play many multiplayer shooter games because….I suck at shooting, I guess. As a die-hard racing game fan, Rocket League made more sense. And I fell in love. The mechanics are so approachable, but so hard to master. The smoothness and sheer speed of the game is unlike anything else.
Technically speaking, it’s incredible a game this fast even works over the internet! I’ve put more hours into Rocket League than any other PS4 game, and it’s the only game where I’ve ever cared about playing ranked matches.
The communication and positioning took me back to my high-school soccer days. I love that three years on, this silly game about cars playing soccer still has my heart.
Inside is the game that I loved as a player, but hated as a developer. It’s a masterclass in design elegance, with its minimal aesthetic and bare-bones interactions, while still having genius puzzles, amazing animation, and an absolutely mind-blowing final act.
There were so many times as a developer playing the game I sat back and said “wow.” This small team from Denmark had made everyone in the industry look bad. Congrats to Playdead for proving you don’t need a lot of people to create a generation-defining experience.
Cory Barlog, Creative Director, Santa Monica Studio (God of War)
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
There was a tie between Last of Us and Uncharted 4, but since my first TLOU playthrough was on PS3, I chose (what I suppose is) the final act of Nathan Drake’s story.
I absolutely love the writing and performances in this game. It perfectly binds together incredible artistry, technical wizardry, and the concept of playing through the great action-adventure movies I grew up watching. This experience grabs you right from the start and takes you on an amazing journey that I will not soon forget.
2. Horizon Zero Dawn
For me, this was once of PS4’s best surprises. It’s just utterly brilliant. Guerilla put together a game with so much heart and imagination that I didn’t want it to end.
It was thrilling to explore a world with such a unique take on the post-apocalyptic theme, and taking down giant robot dinosaurs really allowed me to get creative as a player. I cannot wait to continue the story of Aloy in what, I hope, is many more games to come.
3. Marvel’s Spider-Man
I grew up watching the reruns of the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon after school, but I can’t say that I was a huge fan of the web crawler. I started reading the comics when Todd McFarlane started his Amazing Spider-Man run. Insomniac’s vision of Spidey was everything I never even knew I wanted from a superhero game, and more.
From the traversal to the combat, the game just felt right. Add to that the fantastic writing and performances and you pretty much have one of the best damn superhero games I have ever played.
Scott Rohde, SVP of Product Development, Worldwide Studios America
1. Infamous Second Son
I’ve always loved this series, but as an early PS4 title, this game really opened my eyes to the power of the machine.
Second Son has some of the best lighting and visual effects I’ve ever seen, coupled with a first-of-its-kind Photo Mode built to make great use of PS4’s new Share button. Photo Mode has basically become a default feature in most big games these days, so kudos to the team at Sucker Punch for trailblazing!
2. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Probably my favorite action series of all time. Since I was a kid, I’ve been a sucker for a good treasure hunt, and Naughty Dog never disappoints.
U4 really blurred my personal lines between action movies and interactive games in a way I never thought possible. The cast is one of the best ensembles ever in a game, and they all work together with amazing cohesion to help tell an amazing tale. This is my go-to game when a new gamer is looking for an epic storytelling experience. Gets ’em every time.
3. God of War
This game and the team at Santa Monica Studio hold a very special place in my heart. Much like the plot of the game, the development of this masterpiece was a long and perilous journey, filled with bold risks and amazing triumphs.
In film, I’ve always been drawn to coming-of-age stories, so to experience the bond between Kratos and Atreus in such a unique and impactful way makes this game extraordinary to me.
Shawn Layden, Chairman of Worldwide Studios
1. Astro Bot Rescue Mission
I’m so pleased and proud for Japan Studio and Team Asobi for the creation of the best platformer in VR, perhaps the best new platformer in years.
The unabashed fun and delightful gameplay is surrounded in a world that comes alive with characters and bosses you simply cannot resist falling for. It reminded me of some of classic platformers going back to an early fave of mine, Jumping Flash!. And it sits well alongside the likes of Crash, Spyro, Jak and Ratchet. Welcome, Astro Bot.
2. Horizon Zero Dawn
When Guerilla Games said it was going for a new IP that was 180 degrees different from Killzone, we were quite curious as to what that could be. As the story and ambition for HZD revealed itself, our curiosity was now met with anticipation.
Aloy’s journey of discovery – into her past, into our future – is compelling and gorgeous. The game is simply beautiful, and the creatures, tribes, and robot dinos are revelatory. For a brand-new IP, HZD scored a bona fide critical and commercial hit. And Guerrilla has a fabulous franchise start.
3. God of War
When Santa Monica Studios decided to return to the legend of Kratos, but many years in the future and in the world of Norse rather than Greek mythology, we were intrigued.
When we saw that they were taking it to open world gameplay, full-on adventure ethos, and pairing him up with a son, we were gobsmacked. No resting complacently on past laurels here, apparently.
It was a huge undertaking and not a project for the faint of heart. But in the end, the Santa Monica team delivered a tour de force of story, engagement, character development, and spot-on combat mechanics. Oh yes, the soundtrack is bloody awesome, too. Full package.
Editor’s Note: We let Shawn call out a few honorable mentions here: “Other favourites of mine, and really the list does go on, would include Marvel’s Spider-Man (of course), Everybody’s Golf (no, really, try it), Shadow of the Colossus (now as beautiful as you “remembered” it being), and Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy. So good to have that manic marsupial back on the platform.”
Shuhei Yoshida, President of Worldwide Studios
I was already a big fan of “Souls” games, and Bloodborne tweaked the formula with faster gameplay and a more aggressive combat style by replacing the shield with a gun.
I was obsessed to play this game, to the point of acquiring the Platinum trophy, and to do that I had to beat the impossibly difficult “Big Flame Dog” boss in the Chalice Dungeon.
In a livestreaming show by Japan Studio, I beat the boss as hundreds of people watched live. I chipped life away from the beast and, in the end, got a big triumph. I still remember the adrenaline rush when I did it.
2. God of War
As game creators grow and gain life experiences, that reflects on the titles they work on. God of War is a great example.
The creative lead Cory Barlog, who had been an integral part of creating the first three games, grew up and raised a son of his own. God of War shows a perfect blend of a touching, universally appealing story of father and son with GoW’s signature “feels so good the controller disappears from your hands” combat.
I was compelled to play to gain my second Platinum trophy from a AAA title on PS4.
3. PlayStation VR Worlds: Ocean Descent
PS VR has been an enormously fun project for me. VR has brought back the pure excitement and amazement that I felt when I worked on the original PlayStation, which pioneered the use of real-time 3D graphics for gaming.
Ocean Descent, aka the “Shark Demo,” was a perfect experience to convert people from “curious” to “completely excited” about the future of VR gaming technology.
After two years after the launch of PS VR, developers are using their learnings to develop amazing titles like Firewall and Astro Bot Rescue Mission. This fast progress has not been possible without early innovators like London Studio, who produced Ocean Descent and The London Heist at launch.
Jason Connell, Creative & Art Director, Sucker Punch Productions (inFamous: Second Son)
The tone, mood, colors, and vibe of the world totally captivated me. This was my first Souls-like game and, needless to say, I became a huge fan. The cryptic storytelling and Old World feel of Yharnam makes my skin crawl…in all the best ways.
2. Horizon Zero Dawn
I was looking for something new, and Horizon delivered. It showcased fresh art direction consisting of fantastic character and mech designs, along with vibrant lighting direction.
The big-picture environmental storytelling drew me in, while the ranged combat and traps kept me playing far beyond a healthy number of hours. Guerrilla brought something new to the table, and it was inspiring to just exist in that world.
3. Shadow of the Colossus
One of my all-time favorite games remastered on PS4. Shadow has a subtle approach to storytelling, simple features, and a camera that unforgivingly immerses you in its world.
I enjoyed using Photo Mode to practice my cinematography skills against the backdrop of Shadow’s simple and vast art style. It’s a sad tale, and one I’ll always hold close.
Nate Fox, Creative Director, Sucker Punch Productions (inFamous: Second Son)
1. Horizon Zero Dawn
Honestly, they had me at robot dinosaurs. I went in excited, but kept playing for the unscripted encounters with deadly robo-predators. Guerrilla made good on the promise of a living, breathing ecosystem that begged to be explored.
2. God of War
Santa Monica Studio packed a lot of soul and fresh ideas into this reboot… so many, in fact, that it’s hard to think of this game as a sequel.
The story between Kratos and his “boy” routinely managed to grab my attention between the escalating lush combat encounters. Also, the recall on Kratos’ axe was amazing.
3. PlayStation VR Worlds: Ocean Descent
It never gets old watching people new to VR go down into the deep ocean for a shark encounter. My five-year old likes to pinch the unsuspecting VR player’s legs once the great white starts chewing through the dive cage, which always elicits an inappropriate four-letter word.
Scott Taylor, Production Director, Bungie (Destiny 2)
1. Batman: Arkham Knight
All of the Arkham games are special to me, because I am not Batman in real life, and in this game I get to be Batman. This game feels huge, has a ton of twists, and combat that is simple to engage in and super satisfying to master. Arkham is my favorite all-time game series.
This launched, of course, as a PS3 game. But playing it on PS4 is a revelation, and the spirit of exploration and discovery of other players makes this an absolute classic. When you run into another player and begin silently working together it feels like a true connection is being made. And that music!
3. Destiny 2: Forsaken
I know I worked on it, but I can’t put this down. I work on it all day and play it all night. For me there’s no better feeling in gaming than invading another team in Gambit and wiping a team of enemy Guardians. If I could play Gambit 24 hours a day, I would. Maybe I can find someone to pay me to do that.
Lars Bakken, Design Lead, Bungie (Destiny 2)
Where do I begin!? As an unabashed Souls fan, I highly anticipated this game’s release. It did not disappoint. I love the hardcore nature of these types of games, which makes your accomplishments feel so rewarding!
The atmosphere was unique as well, and while I love the dark-medieval high-fantasy of Souls, Bloodborne’s comparatively more modern art and ambience were a refreshing change. Also, encouraging players to get in close to ensure their health stays up is a great combat mechanic that kept me hooked for weeks.
2. God of War
The God of War games have always been fantastic at spectacle, and the latest one has no shortage of that.
The three things that make me put it on the list however are: 1) its amazing depth in combat mechanics; 2) the excellent narrative interaction between father and son that changes over time, and 3) exploring Norse mythology. Journeying through the different realms was exhilarating, and exploring all the nooks and crannies always felt rewarding.
3. Until Dawn
For me, this game sets the bar for interactive fiction with branching outcomes. It took my love of horror and for gaming and smashed them together in such a novel way.
How many times have you ever screamed at the TV or a theater screen that they should never go into the basement? This game allows you to make those choices yourself as a player, and you have to live with the outcome.
The characters and dialog were also pitch perfect for what the game (and genre) requires. One of the highlights for me was Peter Stormare playing Dr. Hill. So creepy!
Naoki Yoshida, Producer & Director, Square Enix (Final Fantasy XIV)
1. Monster Hunter: World
I’ve been a fan since the original Monster Hunter, and it’s been exciting to see how the series has evolved with each new platform.
I can only imagine the amount of pressure that falls on the development team to deliver the next installment, but they’ve pushed that aside and created what I felt was the Monster Hunter of the new generation.
This is an amazingly entertaining game that hooked me from the start. It’s a title that brings a lot of pride to those in the Japanese game industry.
2. Marvel’s Spider-Man
I have to say that Marvel’s Spider-Man is the current pinnacle of character-driven games. I feel a deep connection with the protagonist, and on top of that, the action gameplay was nailed down perfectly.
Traversing from one point to the next is especially fun, to the point where I stopped using fast travel. From an engineering perspective as well,
I am amazed at the development team’s ability to both design and execute something like this. I would strongly recommend this game to anyone who is considering working in the gaming industry in the future.
This title made me think about a lot of different things: originality, community, game design, play style, and a lot more. Overall, I feel that this title left a big impact on the gaming scene.
I am honestly a bit envious, and even jealous as a game developer, when I see how this game was able to capture the imaginations of so many gamers – especially the younger crowd. Looking at it from a historical perspective, I think this title will be seen as one that brought about a big transitional period in gaming.
Sebastian Kalemba, Associate Game Director & Head of Animation, CD Projekt RED (Cyberpunk 2077)
1. God of War
This is one of my favorite games of the year and I love every aspect of it. From the father-son dynamics between Kratos and Atreus, to how consistent and well-executed the story is, to a perfect conclusion that beats the typical larger-than-life boss fight cliché…. Rarely do games get me this involved on an emotional level.
Mad props to the devs at Santa Monica Studio and everyone involved for rebooting God of War the way they did. It was a bold decision to move the setting to Norse mythology, as well as to change the gameplay to be more methodical and closer to action-adventure. I think it paid off big time, and fits well with the more mature and human tone of the game.
2. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
I was pleased to learn that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is every bit as good as its predecessor.
The alternative post-WWII setting is one reason — it feels new, yet vaguely familiar. The gameplay features the best elements of The New Order, with some much appreciated tweaks and new features. I particularly enjoyed that collecting and deciphering enigma codes gets you intel on where to find special targets, as well as how the game handles the open world after you finish the campaign.
Still, the story is the biggest highlight. The humour is spot on – perfectly over the top, introduced in just the right amounts and at just the right moments. The characters are all rich and varied, andI felt like I knew them better with each conversation.
I had three completely “WTF” story moments that I couldn’t believe. I was absolutely sure I knew what was coming next, but was masterfully misdirected by the game’s writers and designers. Each new twist was better than the previous. I loved it!
3. Titanfall 2
Titanfall 2 is a great shooter, and offers some of the most dynamic and fun mech combat I’ve ever encountered. It also has some of the best FPS level design I’ve ever seen, perfectly capturing the scale of the world and technology within it, plus some ingenious puzzles and clever gameplay mechanics. Without spoiling too much, shifting between the “states” of the world was simply amazing.
And I’m amazed with just how attached I became to BT. On the surface, BT seemed to be just a piece of tech, a machine I could replace if I wanted… but it became so much more over the course of the story.
Thanks to solid writing, a simple but welcome dialogue system, and some intense single-player co-op action from both leads, the finale turned out to be a real tear-jerker for me. Which is something I didn’t expect coming in.
If you haven’t played Titanfall 2, you should, even if you’re not a fan of multiplayer. The campaign is worth it alone.
Rami Ismail, Vlambeer (Nuclear Throne)
1. NieR Automata
A powerful mix between Yoko Taro’s unique scenario writing and Platinum Games’ relentless action game experience created a once-in-a-lifetime game, a game for enthusiasts of the medium, and a game that tells a story that only a videogame could tell.
2. Destiny 2
Whether I’m stuck in the wild west of Red Dead Redemption 2, the snowy mountain peaks of Celeste, or the Japanese underworld of Yakuza Zero, I always return to Bungie’s universe. Sometimes for the friends, sometimes for the expertly crafted gameplay, sometimes for the universe, and sometimes to rage at that random who is messing up the Gambit match.
3. God of War
A flawless execution in both form and presentation, God of War shows that the most mythological of settings can be fertile grounds for intimately personal stories, empathetic storytelling, beautiful scenery, and violently ripping off the arm of an enemy before slinging your axe into some giant’s face, all at once.
Steve Filby, Motion Twin (Dead Cells)
1. The Last of Us
There’s not a terrible lot to say here, but the storytelling and the acting here was just on another level. I was wanting to stay to the end, even though I’m not usually into the narrative-driven games. I think Naughty Dog did a great job with a lot of the stealth aspects of the game. I love stealth, so sneaking around and throwing bricks at people is right up my alley.
Bloodborne took the challenge of a standard Souls game and added a new faster pacing that I hadn’t found in the previous games. The rally mechanic got you moving forward and wanting to play riskier loadouts, and moving into positions that you probably would have just ruled out in Dark Souls. Then the change of setting gave me a whole other place to explore and be immersed in.
3. Horizon Zero Dawn
For me, I think HZD was the first big AAA game that I’d played for a while where I was really interested in the story as well as the mechanics.
I’m a big sci-fi fan, so the whole dystopian future and techno-paranoia was really my thing. I often feel like a lot of games focus entirely on the story, and it ends up feeling like more of an interactive movie than anything else.
On the other extreme, some games entirely focus on a tight and polished mechanic, but once you master that there’s no sense of mystery or desire to keep going forward. HZD found that balance for me.
Derek Yu, Mossmouth (Spelunky 2)
Bloodborne took the winning formula of the Souls series and cranked up the speed and ferocity of the combat, making it one of the best action videogames of all time. The Victorian/Gothic world that the game is set in is haunting and beautiful. It’s an unforgettable masterpiece.
2. Shadow of the Colossus
I’m still taken by how confident Shadow of the Colossus is in terms of its design. Even years after its initial release, it feels like games are afraid of the emptiness and quiet that Shadow of the Colossus uses to such great effect. It’s a game you wish you could erase from your memory so you can play it for the first time again.
3. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Swinging through New York in Marvel’s Spider-Man I can’t help but think about all the years of hard work by so many people trying to make moving around in a game feel like this. It’s a technical marvel that makes you reflect on how far games have come.
Tim Schafer, Double Fine (Broken Age)
1. Loot Rascals
Amazing style, challenging gameplay, and even during times when I was deeply involved with another game there was always time at the end of the night to squeeze in a run. I am still playing this game.
2. The Last Guardian
Like all of Fumito Ueda’s games, it created a magical world that instantly put me in an altered state of mind every time I went there. And this time, I had an amazing companion.
3. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
So many fun, creative, tactical choices to make when sneaking up on nasty orcs. I would get slaughtered by them over and over, but each time I’d think, “Hm, but what if I tried something else? Maybe bees?”
Greg Kasavin, Supergiant Games (Pyre)
While I’ve enjoyed From Software’s games for many years, I think this grueling and atmospheric horror-themed 2015 action adventure is easily one of the studio’s greatest achievements.
The unsettling, even otherworldly vibe of Bloodborne, the design of its vicious weapons and countless enemies, the unnatural yet believable architecture of its spaces, the raw and daunting challenge… it all comes together to create a rich, memorable, endlessly replayable experience that really got under my skin.
I love how this game, above all, trusted me — to find my way not just through its often brutally tough battles, but through its evocative and labyrinthine world.
2. Nier: Automata
A game that grew on me the more I played it, up through its climactic and unforgettable finale at the end of multiple interconnected storylines.
The sci-fi world of Nier: Automata has this beautiful bleakness to it expressed through every detail, from the look of it and its distinctive android protagonists, to the tightly woven themes of the narrative, to the breathtaking musical score.
Nier: Automata is also a game with courage enough to save many of its finest moments for later on, so it keeps you guessing even as it enthralls you, and ultimately really rewards the time you put in. I can’t say I’ve ever played anything that ended up making me feel quite the way Nier: Automata did.
3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
I think developer Naughty Dog is unequaled in its ability to create incredibly lifelike, wonderfully written game characters.
Uncharted 4 just reinforced to me that this is a studio at the pinnacle of its craft, continuing to define the state-of-the-art while setting a hopelessly high bar for the rest of us trying to make games worth a damn. It’s got stunning set-piece encounters, from a breathtaking jeep race through a mud-soaked villa to a swashbuckling battle in a burning ship.
It’s got a wonderful cast, from Nathan Drake’s no-good brother Sam, to the cool-headed mercenary leader Nadine Ross. It’s brimming with wonderful detail and has tons of heart.