We reviewed (nearly) every game out now for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X

We reviewed (nearly) every game out now for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X

“Finish him, Rambo!” From left: Astro’s Playroom (Image: Sony), Watch Dogs: Legion (Image: Ubisoft), Yakuza: Like A Dragon (Sega), Mortal Kombat 11 (Image: WB Games)
“Finish him, Rambo!” From left: Astro’s Playroom (Image: Sony), Watch Dogs: Legion (Image: Ubisoft), Yakuza: Like A Dragon (Sega), Mortal Kombat 11 (Image: WB Games)
Graphic: Allison Corr

It’s been a long and strange November for the hobby of gaming, as both Sony and Microsoft launched big, fancy, expensive new consoles directly into the middle of both a global pandemic and a (somehow still ongoing) U.S. national election. The dust is still settling on the arrival of the Xbox Series X/S and the PlayStation 5, but regardless of which one ends up “winning” this latest bout of the console wars, early November 2020 will likely go down as a landmark fortnight (and also Fortnite) in the timeline of gaming. We’ve previously talked our way through the bizarre nature of this recent slate of games as a launch lineup, with the absence of almost any true exclusive system-seller title for either console being a notable feature, or lack thereof. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t also engage with these games as games, whether you’re playing them on a new console, or—as many of them still perfectly function—as major releases for the latter days of the existing Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

We’ll be the first to admit that this runthrough of launch titles isn’t 100-percent complete; specifically, we’ve left off a number of older games like Borderlands 3, Sea Of Thieves, and other titles that merely had a graphical update to go on the new devices. (We’ve also skipped a few games that didn’t technically launch on the PS5 or Series X, period, like Harmonix’s fascinating new music toy FUSER.) But as a run-down of the new (or, in some cases, new-ish) slate of titles that came out in the last 14 days, this list will hopefully help you get a grasp on what to play on your new hardware—or how to abate your FOMO by still playing many of the hottest new games on your perfectly serviceable PS4 or Xbox One.

Advertisement

2 / 20

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Stadia, PC

Played on: Xbox Series X

The last thing anyone needed right now was another impossibly massive Assassin’s Creed game, considering how impossibly massive—and well-received—2018’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was. Plus, the last few years have had at least two excellent video games based on Norse culture and mythology (God Of War and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), so a game about vikings that will inevitably consume 100 hours of your life seems like it should be a tough sell. Lucky for Ubisoft, Valhalla makes a very, very strong first impression. It’s hard to say if it’ll still be good after 100 hours, but the changes it makes to the AC formula (specifically, the RPG-inspired formula established in Assassin’s Creed Origins) make for a much less intimidating and time-intensive game than Odyssey—which, as good as it was, had an impossibly long list of interchangeable tasks to complete. Valhalla dramatically pares down the amount of stuff you need to deal with, and it adds fun new elements like a two-handed combat system where fighting styles change based on what you have in your main hand versus your off-hand. It’s a lot of fun, and it doesn’t feel like a job, which is a nice way to feel about an AC game.

How next-gen is it? Medium. It looks nice and the load-times are minimal, but nothing about it seems all that mind-blowing. A creative triumph, more than a technical one.

Advertisement

3 / 20

Astro’s Playroom

Astro’s Playroom

Available on: PlayStation 5

Played on PlayStation 5

Sony put its best foot forward with this, one of the best console pack-in titles since Super Mario World graced the Super Nintendo back in 1991. A bright, colorful, endlessly charming trip through both the insides of your brand new PS5—and also Sony’s long history of games, which is the sort of thing that creates the genuinely bizarre image of seeing a cute little robot lumbering around dressed up like Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2Astro’s Playroom ensures that the first four or five hours with your shiny new toy are put in the best light possible. It’s painfully easy for games to wear out their welcome in this day and age; having something that gets in, sets off a little joy bomb—that “I’m Your GPU” song!—and then gets out is immensely refreshing.

How next-gen is it? Somewhat. The visuals are undeniably gorgeous, but where Playroom really tries to sell itself is with its use of the DualSense controller’s various additional features—most notably with a series of sub-levels that push you toward playing with things like the controller’s reactive, pressure-variable triggers.

Advertisement

4 / 20

Bright Memory

Bright Memory

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Played on: Xbox Series X

Bright Memory is not an especially good game. It’s a “dumb” first-person shooter where you’re funneled from fight room to fight room so you can kill everything in sight, and then you move on. You have a sword and some interesting special abilities that make everything a little more exciting, but they’re not so much “game-changing” as they are “kind of neat.” But here’s the thing: Bright Memory was reportedly made by one full-time developer as a brief teaser for a “real game,” and it looks wild. It’s all over the place aesthetically, with fantastical beasts alongside sci-fi guns, but it all looks so slick that it’s easy to feel tempted to just turn off your brain and give in to the prettiness like Odysseus meeting the Sirens.

How next-gen is it? Very. If the technology powering these new systems allows for extremely small teams to make small games that look really good, we might finally be able to move past the days where every indie game looks like it’s running on a SNES.

Advertisement

5 / 20

Bugsnax

Bugsnax

Available on: Windows, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

Played on: PlayStation 5

Young Horses, the team behind cult favorite Octodad: Dadliest Catch, has returned to once again take a basic gaming premise—in this case, capturing various wild creatures to use or your society’s collective good—and marry it to some of the weirdest, most psychologically fraught concepts around (body horror, divorce, how it would feel like to have potato chips for teeth). See, Bugsnax’s major conceit is that you can feed any of the incredibly cute, incredibly colorful monsters you discover on Snaktooth island to its various residents… who then cheerfully mutate into horrifying food creatures themselves. The game’s tone is a thing of real wonder, maintaining its chipper edge while acknowledging that many of the things happening on the screen are tremendously weird, if not outright fucked-up. It’s not just a digital freakshow, either; the actual gameplay, which sees you puzzle out ways to incapacitate a wide variety of adorable foodimals for capture, is a genuinely inventive take on the game’s basic Pokémon DNA. (What can we say, we’re a sucker for anything that feels like a successor to Pokémon Snap.)

How next-gen is it? Not especially, but the super-expressive faces on your various devolving Foodensteins do pop really well on the PS5.

Advertisement

6 / 20

Demon’s Souls

Demon’s Souls

Available on: PlayStation 5

Played on: PlayStation 5

Gothic, moody, and on rare occasions even a bit broken, this hyper-faithful remake of From Software’s 2009 PS3 sensation is one of the star attractions of the PlayStation 5 launch lineup. Everything that made the original Demon’s Souls such a fascinating, frustrating offering a decade ago—and which was later refined into the mega-selling Dark Souls franchise—is all intact here: The slow, thoughtful combat; the looping level design, filled with shortcuts, twists, and traps; and especially the design philosophy, which exists to make every step into new territory feel hostile, strange, and inviting all at once. As a choice of launch title, it’s a bold, bizarre choice; as a love letter to a game that deserves more people seeing every odd, fascinating thing it does, it’s an obvious win.

How next-gen is it? Gloriously. Bluepoint Games, which designed the remake, has done a tremendous job of updating Boletaria for modern eyes, whether that means capturing the ruined grandeur of the ephemeral, cathedral-like Nexus, or visualizing one of the grossest video game swamps we’ve ever had the poor fortune to wade shin-deep through.

Advertisement

7 / 20

Destiny 2: Beyond Light

Destiny 2: Beyond Light

Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia, Windows

Played on: Xbox Series X

Destiny 2 is getting a big overhaul alongside the launch of the new systems, with some of the planets you could previously visit on your missions to collect glowing balls getting consumed by dark and mysterious forces. In their place, the game has added the return of a memorable area from the first Destiny, and a new Europa level full of frozen research stations and vast expanses of ice. There are also new freeze powers for you to unlock and some rare exotic items that are hopefully less of a pain to get than previous exotic items. The most meaningful change here, though, is that Destiny 2—an infamously bloated game that’s extremely difficult to get back into after any time away—has become relatively streamlined and stripped-down. Not since the game launched has there really been a better time to get into Destiny 2, if only because there are fewer things you can actually do in the game. The new powers seem fun, the Europa map is cool, and none of it has reached the point where you have to do homework in order to understand what your goal should be… yet. That moment will surely come, but being on the ground floor of a new Destiny thing is the best place to be when there’s a new Destiny thing.

How next-gen is it? Destiny 2 hasn’t received a proper next-gen optimization upgrade yet (it’s coming soon), so right now it’s not next-gen at all. It loads really fast, though, and as we pointed out elsewhere, that’s an extremely nice change for this game.

Advertisement

8 / 20

Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition

Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition

Available on: Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5

Played on: PlayStation 5

The game that dared to ask “What if those lovely Riverdale boys fought demons?” returns for a second go-around, now with a new DLC character and some graphical updates to celebrate the console launches. If you enjoyed Capcom’s latest iteration on its “SSStyle means as many things happen on screen as humanly possible” series of action brawlers, you’ll be in luck: Devil May Cry 5 moves as smoothly (and loudly) as it did when it arrived on old-gen consoles last year.

How next-gen is it? Perversely so, in so far as this is the rare “updated” version of an old game landing on the PS5 and Series X that won’t allow you to share save data with its older versions—on account of it being a brand “new” edition, rather than an update to the old one. The actual looks of the thing are lovely enough, though, as long as your tastes run to the male gaze, cool swords, and excessive gore. (Which, if you’re a Devil May Cry fan, kind of feels like a given.)

Advertisement

9 / 20

Dirt 5

Dirt 5

Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia, Windows

Played on: Xbox Series X

Dirt 5 seems like it should be a really good showcase game, the kind of thing you load up on your new system so you can try to justify to your friends or family (or yourself) why you needed to buy a new thing when the old thing worked just fine. Unfortunately, nothing about this installment in the long-running racing franchise is exciting enough to earn that position. It looks good, but everything on these systems should hopefully look good. Gameplay-wise it does its job, but Xbox owners will likely at least have access to Forza Horizon 4, which is free on the Game Pass service and has been updated to utilize Series X features—which make it look and run very good. Dirt 5, meanwhile, isn’t bad, but it’s the kind of thing that will most likely be forgotten until people start reminiscing about the Series X/PlayStation 5 launch lineups the way those of us in the present-day look back on the days of the PS2.

How next-gen is it? It’s got the toggle that lets you prioritize graphics or framerate, but it’s not entirely clear how much of a difference it makes. If that’s not “next-gen,” then we don’t know what is.

Advertisement

10 / 20

The Falconeer

The Falconeer

Available on: Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Played on: Xbox Series X

The Falconeer is destined to be someone’s favorite game. It won’t be everyone’s favorite, and some people might not care for it at all, but the pitch for it is so specific that someone is going to love it. It’s essentially an aerial dogfighting game like classic Xbox favorite Crimson Skies, but instead of riding in an airplane, you’re on a giant bird. It’s also slightly open-world-y, with you and your big bird flying around large ocean-covered maps as you swoop and soar and shoot your bird gun at bad birds. If that stuff appeals to you more than, say, Star Wars: Squadrons did, then congratulations. Someone made the game for you.

How next-gen is it? Not very. It has a cartoony art style that isn’t trying to look realistic, and there are some nice visual effects and stuff, but nothing that says “this couldn’t be done before.” The old Xbox can handle big birds just fine

Advertisement

11 / 20

Fortnite

Fortnite

Available on: Literally everything that can play a video game

Played on: Xbox Series X

Yes, Fortnite is an old game. But it’s also an extremely popular old game, so it’s worth seeing how it’s going now that it has some next-gen optimizations. Unsurprisingly, it looks nicer, and the load times are better (though it might be hard to tell, since you won’t necessarily be playing with other people online who are also on a speedy next-gen platform). The changes aren’t huge, but they are generally noticeable, and the larger point is that the creative decisions driving Fortnite are really all about adapting the game anyway. If another studio’s shooter comes up with a good idea, Fortnite has talented developers who can easily… take inspiration from that and adapt it into Fortnite. If the game is coming out on a new platform that is more powerful (like a Series X) or less powerful (like a phone or a Switch), the visuals can be adjusted to account for that. So yeah, Fortnite seems fine on a new console because Fortnite seems fine wherever they put it. Epic has spent a lot of money to make sure that’s the case.

How next-gen is it? Somewhere between “not at all” and “lots,” but if you’re buying a Series X or PS5 to play Fortnite, it really doesn’t matter. You do you, just make sure to ask your Twitch viewers to smash that subscribe button.

Advertisement

12 / 20

Godfall

Godfall

Available on: Windows, PlayStation 5

Played on: PlayStation 5

Developed by Counterplay Games, this self-described “slasher-looter” sits in a weird position, attempting to tie the “every enemy a piñata” feel of games like Destiny or publisher Gearbox’s own Borderlands series, to the slower melee combat pioneered by the Dark Souls games. The end result is a strange mish-mash of gamefeel that comes off feeling like filler more often than not. (Fresh off spending plenty of time with the Demon’s Souls remake, it feels extremely strange to get killed by a boss here, only to return and see all the damage done to it still intact. The lack of stakes can be overwhelming in how underwhelming it is.) The actual plot is one of those noun soups that gaming loves to vomit up when editors are in apparently short supply, as you acquire Valorplates with the help of your Sanctum to eventually defeat the Whosits of Whatever. If you desperately feel like you need to get your full amount of time out of your new console, give it a spin; otherwise, a pretty easy pass.

How next-gen is it? Opulently. It’s probably too easy to pass any kind of unified judgment on the visual quirks of this new console generation, but if Godfall is anything to go off of, a lot of people’s first instincts when attempting to harness all this new graphical power are going to be “Well, let’s make every single thing in the game as shiny as fuck.”

Advertisement

13 / 20

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate Edition

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate Edition

Available on: Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S

Played on: PlayStation 5

A (mildly) updated take on a year-old-plus game, MK 11 Ultimate does exactly what you’d want out of a new-ish Mortal Kombat game, especially if “what you’d want” includes watching John Rambo—voiced by, yes, Sylvester Stallone—kill a goddess of time, usurp her control over the flow of history, and then realize, hey, who is he to decide who lives or dies? (He’s Rambo.) All of which is to say that this is, indeed, the ultimate expression of the sheer, “Hey, let’s throw Robocop in there” goofiness of Mortal Kombat 11, complete with an updated tutorial to help you come to terms with the game’s surprisingly intricate rules for how to make The Terminator or an ice ninja do their ridiculous things.

How next-gen is it? Barely noticeable. The game still looks good, and the addition of new characters Rambo, Mileena, and Rain are welcome. But there’s nothing here demanding an upgrade if you were already perfectly happy playing the game on your Xbox One or PS4.

Advertisement

14 / 20

The Pathless

The Pathless

Available on: Windows, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, iOS

Played on: PlayStation 5

Abzû developer Giant Squid Studios delivers another largely wordless, largely lovely expression of the joys of video game movement—in this case, the feeling of speed and flight, instead of gliding through the ocean. Set on a mysterious island, The Pathless cribs cheerfully from Nintendo’s Breath Of The Wild, presenting a large, open world to navigate in whatever way feels best to the player. The joys of the game, then, are in the simple story, the feeling of floating through the air—buoyed by the help of your young eagle companion—and the sense of cutting your own way across the world, guided by distant icons that imbue your hero with speed and altitude as they carve their own path across the island.

How next-gen is it? Possibly the only thing that The Pathless and Fortnite have in common is that they’re the only games on this list that also have a mobile iteration; nevertheless, The Pathless’ simple but evocative animation benefits mightily from the updated graphics on the PS5, lending much-needed fluidity to the hero’s movements.

Advertisement

15 / 20

Sackboy: A Big Adventure

Sackboy: A Big Adventure

Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5

Played on: PlayStation 5

An old-school 3D platformer in new-school skin, Sackboy has the bad grace to a) launch on a system that already came with a great, kid-friendly platforming game packed into the box, and b) skip over many of the most interesting elements of the Little Big Adventure games it’s derived from—i.e., the game creation tools that are the series’ most distinctive draw. Instead, your little Sackboy runs through a whole host of admittedly pretty levels, collecting a whimsical bank’s worth of largely meaningless currencies and costume pieces. The platforming is solid, and the addition of actual same-box co-op on the system—one of the only games offering it, outside the sports titles we’re not covering here—elevates things somewhat. But it’s a game to pick up after your kids finally get sick of Astro’s Playroom, and not a moment before.

How next-gen is it? As next-gen as a top-down 3D platformer can be. The Little Big Adventure games have always been textural showcases, letting their cameras luxuriate in the hand-crafted look of everything. Sackboy fulfills that brief, even if there’s nothing especially evolved about what you actually do.

Advertisement

16 / 20

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Available on: PlayStation4, PlayStation 5

Played on: PlayStation 5

You can read our full review of this spin-off of 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man here, but the quick and dirty version is that, were one still craving a fresh dose of web-swinging action after the first game, they could do a lot worse than what’s on offer here. After all, this is a whole new version of the same old New York, now with Marvel breakout Miles as the web-swinger in question, attempting to follow in his mentor Pete’s footsteps. (Web-steps?) The story is as warm and funny (if occasionally a bit misguided) as ever, and the basic swing, punch, sling mechanics are firmly intact. Miles Morales is the best kind of more-of-the-same—while still remaining, you know: more of the same.

How next-gen is it? Less than Sony would probably like; the game looks good, and a few graphical flourishes—most notably a suit that replicates the animated look of Into The Spider-Verse—elevate the whole package. (Oh, and if you get sick of swinging, the PS5’s minimal load times let you zip across New York in literally seconds with the fast travel system.)

Advertisement

17 / 20

Tetris Effect: Connected

Tetris Effect: Connected

Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows

Played on: Xbox Series X

Tetris Effect: Connected is largely the same as the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR hit Tetris Effect from 2018, but with some new multiplayer modes—both cooperative and competitive. If you liked Tetris Effect (and specifically Tetris Effect, not regular Tetris), you’ll find a lot to like here. The cooperative multiplayer stuff is neat, and the first time you see its big “connected” hook offers the sort of mind-blowing gimmick that Tetris Effect is good at. It also has a standard competitive mode if you just want to drop blocks and make lines with no added flair—like, so little added flair that you’re literally just playing Tetris next to someone and you keep going when they lose. If, however, you think that Tetris Effect is exhaustingly pretentious bullshit that uses trippy nonsense and arbitrary difficulty spikes in an attempt to “improve” a time-tested puzzle game that was already as close to perfection as possible, you might find yourself irrationally irritated by… you know, all of it.

How next-gen is it? Not at all, unless we assume that two-player Tetris Effect was simply impossible until now. Even if that is the case, though, “Tetris with stuff happening in the background” can only be so impressive as it is.

Advertisement

18 / 20

Watch Dogs: Legion 

Watch Dogs: Legion 

Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Stadia, Windows

Played on: Xbox Series X

Watch Dogs: Legion, the third entry in a series that Ubisoft has been desperately trying to make into something bigger than it is, is the follow-up to a relatively breezy game about hip hackers fighting an evil Mark Zuckerberg-type that had a fine story and fine characters. Legion, on the other hand, takes place in near-future fascist London where you’re essentially trying to rally people to rebel against the government by wearing extremely over-designed masks and either putting up edgy billboards about how the government is watching you and that’s bad or by straight-up murdering future-cops. Tonally and story-wise, it’s all over the place. The big hook, though, is that you can recruit anyone to your secret hacker militia, with every person walking around London having their own little personality and special skills. It’s a cool system, but it also means that the game essentially doesn’t have any prominent characters or traditional narrative, which makes everything feel a bit hollow. It’s very much a “make your own fun” or “come up with your own head-canon” kind of game, which is fine if you’re into that sort of thing—but it’s kind of an odd turn.

How next-gen is it? Quite a bit, even if it does run on the older systems. Everyone having a name and hopes and dreams (even if they’re just “I am an old lady with a shotgun”) is impressive, and the near-future London makes for lots of cool lighting effects and little “augmented reality” flourishes.

Advertisement

19 / 20

Yakuza: Like A Dragon

Yakuza: Like A Dragon

Available on: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5 update coming in March 2021

Played on: PlayStation 5 (running without upgrade), Xbox Series X

Originally assumed to be a joke game—it was announced right around April 1—this attempt to translate Sega’s beloved Yakuza series of open-world brawlers into a turn-based RPG works shockingly well—despite the fact that the actual RPG bits aren’t really all that compelling. (Even Dragon Quest, which Like A Dragon invokes by name, has moved a bit past the simplicity of this sort of turn-based combat.) But where this latest installment thrives is in its devotion to the Yakuza spirit—both in terms of letting triumphantly afroed protagonist Ichiban Kasuga fritter away his time go-karting, playing crane games, or running a multi-billion dollar business, or in its devotion to promoting a sort of relentless social optimism about doing good in the modern world. If nothing else, Like A Dragon is one of the rare games to take issues like the lives of sex workers and the rights of the homeless seriously (even if it also wades bluntly into the realm of poor taste with some of its jokes about those same people).

How next-gen is it? This is a bit tricky, in that, for some reason, Like A Dragon’s Series X version is out now, but its PS5 won’t arrive until next March. Even on the un-updated PS4 version, the game still looks fine—although you won’t get those lightning-fast load times unless you’re playing on the Microsoft hardware.

Advertisement

20 / 20