There was a lot of potential for Code Vein to end up little more than a mediocre Dark Souls clone dressed in anime clothing, and yet, it's actually kinda, sorta, pretty good. The game mixes some long-established gameplay qualities with a totally engrossing class system and a story that's more enjoyable than it has any right to be. Code Vein won't be for everyone, even if you're a Souls fan, but if the overall idea sounds appealing, the execution might surprise you.
Borderlands 3 has finally arrived, seven years after the last numbered game in the series. But in that time, while most of us were growing older and wiser, Borderlands has doubled-down on its most prefrontal cortex obsessions. There's more loot than ever, and it's more individualized, but there's very little room for other areas of growth, like in story or character. As busy as Borderlands 3 can feel, and as much as this game expands the universe, you'll still feel like all you're doing is keeping your nose on the ground, sniffing out shiny, colorful guns.
The remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is stuck between two places—the past and the present. Chances are that you've already made up your mind about whether or not to play it. It's a classic Zelda game given a second chance with a striking visual language and evocative, haunting musical reinterpretations. Making the jump from the Game Boy to the Switch means that you'll spend a lot less time changing items in the menu and much more time appreciating the meticulous clockwork of Koholint Island's challenges.
Gears 5 makes major strides in the series' approach to storytelling. This is the most heartfelt Delta Squad has ever been, and The Coalition backs up that emotion with genuine improvements to gameplay. While its new co-op mode, Escape, is generally underwhelming, Arcade mixes up the competitive meta enough to keep things interesting. All told, Gears 5 is more Gears, but it's also a bold statement for why this series is still relevant.
While it feels like a not insignificant step down from the breakout hit Until Dawn, Supermassive Games' latest attempt at interactive horror still serves up some compelling thrills and chills. The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan definitely gets better the deeper you get into its story, but traveling that path is fraught with technical issues and questionable narrative direction more often than it should be.
Control is Remedy at the height of its abilities. Finally, the studio's expert handling of tone and story is met with gameplay that's just as engaging and refined. As an experiment in nonlinear world design, Control doesn't just stick with tried-and-true waypoints and forests. Its Oldest House is a brutalist masterpiece, and the characters inhabiting it are just as unforgettable. All told, it's going to be one of the most memorable games of the year.
Astral Chain is loud, brash, exciting, and, in the end, a warning about the dangers of unquestioned loyalty. Its hyperkinetic action sequences and colorful characters might make the game seem like it isn't interested in offering more than intricately designed fights and a straightforward genre story, but stick around for its entirety and its cast of 2070s police officers show themselves to be more than just cartoon cut-outs of sci-fi cops.
Telling Lies may borrow its core mechanic from Her Story, but shifting from monologues to two-sided conversations brilliantly expands the investigative gameplay, and a pivot from murder mystery to political thriller gives director Sam Barlow a much richer set of ideas to explore. A few storytelling hiccups and awkward edges do little to detract from a thought-provoking look at the modern surveillance state—delivered not through soapbox lecture but by forcing you, unsettlingly, to participate.
All MachineGames and Arkane Studios needed to do was make a straightforward, cooperative Wolfenstein experience. Instead, Youngblood replaces the series' celebrated narrative twists and turns with humdrum XP grinding and a live-service model. It would be bad in most games, but the fact that it's in a Wolfenstein title makes it sting a little bit worse.
Bucking the trend of "bigger, badder, louder, faster," Samurai Shodown is a return to the glory days of SNK's beloved sword-slashing fighting franchise. The slower, more thoughtful combat style the franchise is known for is on full display here, challenging players not just to be better at fighting games, but also smarter. Wrapped in a beautiful overall package and given some interesting new roster additions, Samurai Shodown is probably the best new chapter we could have ever hoped for.