With the video game industry as busy as it is these days, there’s rarely ever a “bad” year for any console. Even in a less busy year, platforms like Xbox still tend to have highlights in exciting indie games. That was true for PlayStation this year, which continued its strong momentum this generation despite only having a handful of big-ticket games.
While not every big PS5 exclusive thrilled this year, there were a lot of strong experiences to dive into. Developers got more mileage than ever out of the system’s beefy tech specs, while PlayStation VR2 gave the platform some creative, immersive experiences. That’s not to mention a handful of indies and third-party releases that Sony locked down as console exclusives for a time. That list of heavy hitters even included Baldur’s Gate 3 for a few short months. In reflecting on another great year for PS5, we’ve highlighted seven games that stuck with us this year. Some were certainly divisive, but all of them helped give Sony’s powerhouse system some extra depth in a crowded year.
Even if PlayStation barely got any games this year, it would still be home to one of this year’s very best exclusives. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is about as good as big-budget gaming gets, delivering top-notch spectacle and incredibly smooth superhero gameplay. Though players are sure to revere it for its refined combat and traversal, it’s the smaller moments that stick with me most. Sidequests that see both Spider-Men helping their community leave the biggest impact of all. It was also good to see this game backtracked on the uncomfortable police surveillance state setup of its predecessors. With an emphasis on criminal reform and being more of a friendly neighborhood helper, Spider-Man 2 is a more mature superhero sequel that ranks with the best of them.
Final Fantasy XVI may be the series’ most divisive entry to date. Even our own review was torn on it, criticizing its dry storytelling. No matter how you feel about its narrative, though, one thing is undeniable: the RPG contains some of this year’s most astounding action. The fully reinvented combat system makes Clive Rosfield one of Final Fantasy’s fastest, deadliest fighters yet. His Eikonic abilities, coupled with some jaw-dropping kaiju battles, bring the long-running series to a logical crescendo, fully realizing the scope implied in smaller games like Final Fantasy VI. It’s a blockbuster full of spectacular moments that you don’t want to miss.
While Horizon Forbidden West released last year, 2023 was a surprisingly big year for Sony’s open-world series. That game got a strong DLC chapter in the Burning Shores, but the real headline was its VR installment, Horizon Call of the Mountain. Taking notes from The Climb, the PlayStation VR2 launch title has players scaling mountains on top of engaging in classic Horizon combat. Though it’s a little too ambitious at times, it’s the kind of game Sony needed in order to make a statement with its latest headset. I can only hope that we see franchises like God of War get the same treatment down the line, adapting everything we love about the modern series into a tactile VR experience.
While Horizon: Call of the Mountain is a great game to try once you have a PSVR2, Humanity is a reason to buy the headset. The fascinating puzzle game has players directing an army of tiny humans through increasingly complex situations. That simple premise takes a dark turn in its back half, commenting on the terrifying power people possess when they coalesce into a mob. While it can be played without a headset (it’s available via PS Plus),the PSVR2 is the best way to experience all the diorama-like puzzles. It feels like you’re watching an ant colony at work. Few games released this year are quite as mesmerizing.
It might be surprising to see Square Enix’s Forspoken on this list. The open-world adventure was the subject of ridicule when it launched due to its quippy writing. While those criticisms were earned, that doesn’t mean the entire game is a joke. In fact, Forspoken is a surprisingly creative game filled with fast, fluid traversal and a magical combat system that’s not too far off from Final Fantasy XVI. If you can get past all the Marvel-esque one-liners, you’ll find a solid blockbuster that’s a lot more engaging than the less magical Hogwarts Legacy.
While there was no shortage of big-budget releases on PS5 this year, it’s the smaller indies that landed console exclusivity on PlayStation that I enjoyed the most. Just look at Season: A Letter to the Future. Set before a mysterious event, players set out across a gorgeous countryside to capture as much of the world as possible before a new era changes it all. By taking photos and recording sounds, players engage in a meditative experience that reminds us to cherish the littlest parts of the world around us.
Even if you don’t traditionally like puzzle games, Viewfinder is the kind of thing you need to try. The indie hinges on an incredible magic trick that lets players snap 2D photos and seamlessly place them anywhere in levels, turning flat images into 3D spaces. It’s the kind of digital marvel that seems unreal, and that is thematically relevant too. Under all its ingenious puzzles, Viewfinder is about researchers looking for impossible answers to impossible questions. It’s a celebration of human ingenuity, one that inspires hope that we may one day save our planet from the seemingly irreversible threat of climate change.
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