It’s safe to say Sony has unequivocally won over this console generation. Just last month, the company announced that the PlayStation 4 had sold more than 86 million units in its lifetime, surpassing the PlayStation 3 and far outpacing Microsoft’s Xbox One.
Part of the success involved Sony’s early lead back in 2013, when the device came out with a price tag $100 lower than Microsoft’s competing console and a honed focus on a core game-playing audience. Then Sony kept the momentum up by releasing a string of excellent exclusives. For the last half-decade or so, the PS4 has been home to some of the best games ever made, a majority of which can’t be played on any other console out there.
If you’re just getting your first PS4 ever, it couldn’t be a better time to start building out your library. As Sony gears up to release its next-generation device sometime in the next few years — rumor has it the PS5, or whatever it’ll be called, is coming out in 2020 at the earliest— many of the current generation’s best games are getting fiercely discounted. And if you’re upgrading from an old PS4 to a PS4 Pro, a number of recent releases, as well as some older titles, have been optimized to take advantage of the speedier hardware.
So here’s where to start if you’re looking for a guaranteed good game to download on your new Sony console.
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No “best of” PlayStation list would be complete without mentioning FromSoftware’s masterpiece Bloodborne. The game is a more stylish and gothic horror-themed take on the game studio’s legendary Dark Souls titles, and that aesthetic statement and its much more approachable design ended up making Bloodborne an instant classic. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still incredibly difficult. But as an entryway into FromSoftware’s more brutal catalog, you cannot find a more rewarding experience, so long as you push through the pain.
UNCHARTED 4: A THIEF’S END
Whatever your opinion on the merits of Naughty Dog’s cinematic and visually stunning Indiana Jones simulator, there’s no denying that Uncharted 4 is a pinnacle of the franchise’s signature style of interactive storytelling.
As the conclusion to the Nathan Drake saga, A Thief’s End offers everything fans came to love about the series: giant and eye-popping set pieces, incredibly lush and detailed environments, and a compelling and well-written story. It may be no more sophisticated than your standard big-budget action movie, but Uncharted set the bar for how those types of experiences can be translated into a gaming medium, and the fourth entry is still a sight to behold.
Few games manage to deliver an experience that would be completely untranslatable to another medium quite like Nier: Automata, created by the enigmatic Japanese game designer Yoko Taro of Drakengard fame. Technically a sequel to a 2010 Drakengard spinoff, Nier: Automata mixes the best-in-class action game chops of developer Platinum Games with an off-the-wall, post-apocalyptic narrative featuring killer robots, super-powered androids, and an overall sci-fi tone that would feel familiar only to the most diehard of anime fans.
The game technically has 26 endings and is chock-full of cheeky references to the act of playing video games, making it as much a cerebral meta exercise in storytelling as it is a demanding action-adventure game in the vein of classics like Devil May Cry.
Beloved role-playing game series Persona can be best described as “anime the video game.” You typically inhabit a Japanese high school student who, you guessed it, has secret powers that involve fighting spirits in a mystical netherworld at night, after they’re done studying for exams and working at the local grocery store. What makes Persona work, and in particular 2017’s Persona 5, is how it blends those fantastical, dungeon-crawler elements with the day-to-day life simulator activities normally used as a way to relate to the teenage viewing demographic of your standard anime. (Like Japanese culture itself, a central theme of most anime is the balance of one’s school, social, and family life.)
Because your relationship with other characters influences the way you fight, progress, and grow your small army of “personas,” which fight alongside you, the game demands investment into areas that would otherwise be simple side quests or mini-games in more traditional RPGs, like your standard Final Fantasy game. Persona 5, while not a big departure, is the most refined game in the series and an instant classic for PlayStation owners.
HORIZON ZERO DAWN: COMPLETE EDITION
Guerilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn did the seemingly impossible: it created an entirely new world not based on any prior piece of entertainment, with a strong and uncompromised female protagonist, and with one of the best and most imaginative video game stories in years. The game, which you can now buy complete with its Frozen Wilds expansion, is set in the far future, where humanity has regressed to a primitive, technology-less society.
The twist: killer robot dinosaurs stalk the land, and Aloy, a capable fighter and survivalist, sets out to discover where they came from and what happened to society before they arrived. Horizon Zero Dawn is simply a must-play action-RPG for any PS4 owner.
MONSTER HUNTER: WORLD
After years of handheld releases and mobile ports, the Monster Hunter franchise returns to consoles, and even the PC, this year with the best, most refined version of the game in quite a long time. Like some classic RPGs, Monster Hunter: World involves fighting huge beasts, collecting rare drops, and using those items to craft better weapons and armor to keep fighting more beasts. It’s a feedback loop with a loose narrative surrounding it, and players who love mastering combat systems and going deep into stats will be right at home.
In the post-Dark Souls era, when action-adventure games seem to be designed mostly as an ever-more-elaborate series of boss fights, Monster Hunter: World mixes up the formula by laying bare all its systems and letting players truly geek out on what matters: collecting gear, getting stronger, and enjoying the thrill of the fight.
NO MAN’S SKY
No Man’s Sky, from indie developer Sean Murray and his team at Hello Games, was one of the more controversial titles of 2016. The game, though it was often a gorgeous and meditative experience about exploring the vastness of the universe, overpromised and underdelivered, leaving fans disappointed. But over the course of the last two years, Hello Games has improved No Man’s Sky through substantial updates, all of which have been free.
The most meaningful of those updates was July’s Next expansion, which brought multiplayer and other key features and transformed the game into what it was meant to be at launch. It’s now one of those most ambitious and awe-inspiring games out there, and a total blast to play with friends.
SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS (2018)
Legendary designer Fumito Ueda’s 2005 masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus stands tall in video game circles as a title so singular, simple, and powerful that its influence can be felt everywhere in modern releases, especially in indie games. The 4K / HDR remake of the game, which came out earlier this year, reconstructed its visuals from the ground up, breathing new life into the haunting primordial landscape and the massive colossi boss battles you engage in.
Putting aside the graphical facelift, the game remains a cryptic, allegorical tale of a young man’s quest to revive a loved one by setting out to murder 16 giant beasts that roam the land, as instructed by the voice of an ancient god. The remake still has a wonky camera and not-so-great controls, making some of the colossi fights a true challenge in mastering an imperfect system. But the game is so visually breathtaking and narratively impactful that it’s worth revisiting, especially if you have a PS4 Pro and a proper 4K / HDR TV.
GOD OF WAR
Sony’s God of War reboot, which took home the top prize at this year’s Game Awards, is a downright system seller — one of the few reasons to pick up a PS4 this late in the console’s life cycle. That’s because it is simply that good. The project, developed by Sony-owned SIE Santa Monica Studio and overseen by franchise veteran Cory Barlog, rebuilt the entire premise of the ultra-violent, mythology-inspired series as a heartfelt meditation on fatherhood.
The game is still, well, pretty violent. But the entire focus shifts to protagonist Kratos’ relationship with his son Atreus, and how he seeks redemption through the lessons he imparts on the young boy as they journey to the top of a mountain to spread his mother’s ashes. It’s brilliantly designed and written — in short, it’s a graphical masterpiece. There is no piece of art more fitting to define the modern era of single-player video games.
DESTINY 2: FORSAKEN
Destiny 2 launched in the fall of 2017 promising sweeping quality-of-life changes to the shooter / RPG hybrid that would make it more accessible to casual players and less of a second job for all but the most hardcore of fans. While it succeeded in some respects, developer Bungie ended up inadvertently removing some of the core pillars of what made the first game great.
One year later, the massive Forsaken expansion launched and fixed many of the systemic issues, putting Destiny 2 into the best state the series has ever been and giving players countless new avenues. Destiny 2 can’t be truly enjoyed unless you’re willing to sink a fair amount of time into it, but if you have friends who play, few games offer a multiplayer experience this varied and fun. Plus, if you play on PS4, you get a number of exclusive missions and weapons thanks to a multi-year deal between Sony and publisher Activision.
Just as the Spider-Man franchise helped define early superhero films nearly 20 years ago, the web-slinging Marvel character came to define early superhero video games, too. Spider-Man 2, released back in 2004, took a genre known for its subpar spinoffs designed mainly to market movies and transformed it into games that could truly stand alone. It did so by borrowing heavily from Grand Theft Auto, setting up a formula that even better games like the Batman: Arkham series would smartly remix down the line.
Fourteen years later, Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man isn’t quite as groundbreaking, but it is the absolute apex of the genre. With astonishing visuals and combat coupled with a lifelike open-world New York City to explore, this is about as close to inhabiting a superhero as video games have to offer right now.
Tetris Effect, a reimagining of the classic puzzle game for the PS4 from Rez Infinite and Lumines creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, set out to achieve something remarkable: making one of the oldest and most well-known video games on the planet interesting again. It succeeded with flying colors. With an amazing soundtrack that responds to the movement of the in-game tetrominoes and vibrant, almost psychedelic visuals, Tetris Effect turns a classic puzzle experience into an exhilarating audio-visual trip.
RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2
Rockstar Games has a reputation for making the most expansive and boundary-pushing open-world games in the industry, and Red Dead Redemption 2 took that approach to new extremes. A sequel to the Western open-world classic that defined the studio’s post-GTA IVera, RDR2 is a complex game that can be as beautiful as it is frustrating.
Simple actions can be a chore, the user interface is a mess, and combat and movement often feel like that of a clunky title from a past console generation. But the game’s absurdly refined realism, painstakingly crafted environments, and excellent story relegate its deficiencies into minor annoyances that are easy to ignore, especially when you take in a countryside vista by horseback.