This console generation is weird. It’s been over a year since the PlayStation 5 came out, and yet consoles are still impossible to find, and its biggest games are still coming out for the PlayStation 4 as well. In fact, the PS5 can natively play any PlayStation 4 game, so for most people there’s no real clear distinction between a PS4 and a PS5 game these days. It’s becoming more useful to simply talk about a PlayStation ecosystem instead of splitting it up by the specific console name, like the industry always did in the past.
Of course that overlooks the substantial differences between the PlayStation 5 and the PlayStation 4. The new box is a more powerful machine, and I don’t know if there’s been a case yet of a game released for both systems where the PS5 version isn’t obviously superior. And PS4 games also tend to look and run better on the PS5 than on the PS4, so it’s a no-brainer to upgrade if you can.
Since every PlayStation 4 game is also a PlayStation 5 game, a list like this one gets a little complicated. I could just republish our list of the best PlayStation 4 games, with a small handful of true PS5 exclusives sprinkled in, but that’d be both lazy and boring (and I can only afford to be one of those at a time, dammit). So here’s what we’re going to do: our list of the best PlayStation 5 games will only consider games that have official, dedicated PlayStation 5 versions. Whether it’s a PS5 exclusive, a recent game released on both consoles, or an older game that has a remaster or port specific to the PS5, we’re only looking at games that have had a legitimate PS5 release. That cut the field down a bit, and made it easy to land on this top 20.
If you’ve been fortunate to find a PlayStation 5, these are the 20 games you need to play first.
As an action shooter, Returnal is a competent enough game. The weapons are interesting if a bit underwhelming at times, though some of the alt-fire moves are truly fantastic and show off the much vaunted power of the PS5—watch as those teraflops go to work orchestrating the particle effects and physics of a dozen balls of deadly blue light bounding and ricocheting like the Mega Millions Lottery Machine bringing death to an entire arena. And the various random powers you’ll accrue can be neat; remember bunnyhopping in Quake? Returnal lets you turn every landed jump into a kinetic blast of death—the ultimate in forward momentum. I don’t like having to retrain my fingers and brain to make sense of the alt fire on the haptic feedback L2 (there’s bumpers, just let me use those), or the impossibly slow recharge time between alt-volleys. It’s the best use of the haptic triggers I’ve experienced on the PS5, but also pulling back like you would in literally every other game since the invention of controller triggers is a muscle memory that gets you killed in Returnal. The alternate fire options are sick as hell, though, and one of the few areas the Housemarque I remember peeks through.—Dia Lacina
Assassin’s Creed games are massive, messy spectacles that elevate boilerplate Ubisoft drudgery with the epic sweep of history. They’re absolutely ridiculous, highly repetitive, and entirely my shit, in a way few big budget franchises are. I haven’t enjoyed them all, and yes, I don’t always finish these mammoth adventures, but every few years a Creed hits me just right. Valhalla makes two in a row, after 2018’s similarly fine Odyssey. It turns the Viking invasion of 9th century England into yet another chapter in the eternal struggle between two secret societies devoted to recovering powerful artifacts left behind by a godlike race of ancient aliens—and I will never tire of typing sentences like that. Valhalla has what I look for in an Assassin’s Creed: memorable characters, vivid recreations of a long gone past, and a completely ridiculous, increasingly tangled, sci-fi conspiracy story rooted in a cartoon version of history. And this time it has way more mead and decapitations.—Garrett Martin
The PlayStation 5 launched with not one, but two glorious platformers. Sackboy: A Big Adventure dumps all the creation stuff from Little Big Planet (you know, the reason those games existed) to focus on the star of that series, the adorable little burlap buddy known as Sackboy. The peculiar flightiness of those games’ physics has been greatly reduced, resulting in a more precise and easier to control Sackboy. This has made possible some of the most rhythmically minded and musical platforming levels since Sound Shapes. It’s not quite at the level of Astro’s Playroom, but fans of running, jumping, and general Mario-ing about should make room for Sackboy.—Garrett Martin
Fallen Order stacks some of the best parts of Metroid, Dark Souls and Uncharted inside a Star Wars trenchcoat, but that isn’t the smartest thing it does. That would be how it squarely centers on the stress and trauma of its characters. PTSD should be rampant in this universe, considering war is all anybody seems to know, and yet within the Star Wars canon it’s rarely been focused on as keenly or depicted as clearly as it is here. Its lead characters aren’t all that likable, for reasons that are both intentional and unintentional, and that is a flaw; still, they feel a bit more human than what you normally see in games and Star Wars stories, and that, combined with the guaranteed to please gameplay formula, makes Fallen Order a Star Wars highlight.—Garrett Martin
Resident Evil Village goes to great lengths to instill an ominous atmosphere with an odd undercurrent of lightness—there’s a ton of dread, like in Resident Evil 7’s early moments, but there’s an added layer of goofiness that seriously cuts the tension. I love that. Resident Evil has always been goofy; horror games in general are filled to the brim with cheese and insane situations, from UFOs in Silent Hill to dorky dialogue in Until Dawn. Something about allowing the audience to participate in the horror directly through controlling the game’s central victim creates hilarious moments, intentional or otherwise. I’ll always remember fondly the first time I played Alien: Isolation with a friend and learning the hard way that you aren’t actually safe while crawling in a vent. The comedy of horror, derived from inconsistencies in tone and questionable choices no human would make, is an integral element that’s simply not acknowledged enough. When I remember a horror movie, I should laugh about my naïve experience sitting through it. I should be eager to terrify my friends with it, to grin as they jump out of their seats.—Austin Jones
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 remasters the first two games in the iconic series, updating all the levels from the original games and featuring both the original skaters and new ones. If you’ve been hoping a skating game could recapture the look and feel of those old classics, well, here you go. When I picked up the controller it was like no time had passed. I haven’t played the warehouse level from the very first game in literally decades, and yet it all came back to me immediately once I put thumb to stick.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 isn’t mere nostalgia. It’s a revival. It exhumes a true classic but roots it deeply in the modern world and not in some idealized version of its past. It doesn’t try to hide or ignore the changes of the last 20 years. And that’s one reason it’s one of the best games of 2020.—Garrett Martin
Death Stranding is unforgiving, and rarely fun, but I love it.
With every step I can feel myself pushing against the game’s systems, wobbling slowly towards my objective with way too many kilograms on my back. At its worst, the game can feel uncomfortably isolating as you take to the mountains by yourself, trying to manage orders through a tiny, overcomplicated menu and please every NPC. But shortly into the game you realize you’re never really alone, and that makes the experience way less taxing.
NPCs who have been cut off from society will send you emails talking about their lives, what snacks they like, and thanking you profusely for your help. They give you a lot of likes if you deliver their orders quickly, and they exchange some banter whenever you drop off a load. These little things make you feel more connected to Death Stranding’s strange world and its inhabitants, and give you more incentive to do your job. Everything sucks, but you’re helping, and that’s a fantastic feeling. Empathy is what powers Death Stranding. And you can especially see that with the way players can interact with each other through the game’s subtle online features.—Funké Joseph
Chicory is filled with contemplative moments on the purpose of art and how it relates to the mental and spiritual health of the artist. The protagonist soon falls into the dangerous pit of comparing themself to other artists—previous wielders, their sister (a talented artist in school for her craft, while they’re just a novice), and others aspiring to become the wielder someday. There’s a lot of doubt that comes with being “the chosen one” here, and it’s even more salient given the wielder can step down at any time and pass The Brush to whoever they want. It’s enough to make the player question their own biases about art; do they value education and skill over enthusiasm? What is the function of art if it’s grown to only make us unhappy?—Austin Jones
Horizon Forbidden West is that it proves the open world genre doesn’t have to be as creatively bankrupt as it currently is, even while sticking close to the genre’s conventions. With the right focus, the right setting, and the right storytelling, a game can remain in thrall to a familiar format and still feel inspired. It isn’t a game that will surprise you or make you rethink the possibilities of what games can do, but it’s proof that games can still be really fun even if they don’t try anything new, and that’s something we don’t often see from big budget corporate games like this one.—Garrett Martin
Games should have secrets. They should feel like worlds that exist outside of the game and your presence in it, like something you’ve surreptitiously trespassed upon, and that, at best, are ambivalent towards your existence. The Pathless creates that feeling as well as Breath of the Wild, Demon’s Souls, or any of Team Ico’s games. This mythic adventure is set in a land on the cusp of apocalypse, in a battle between a benevolent god and a self-proclaimed godslayer, and trusts you and your eagle companion to sift through the ashes of its civilization to find a way to save it. There’s no violence outside of boss battles, and no threat of death to worry about. It’s built on movement and exploration, with your character slicing through the countryside as quickly as possible, or gliding through the air as your eagle carries you, while searching through decaying temples and fortresses for the tools you need to beat back Armageddon. If there’s anything to criticize about The Pathless, it’s that it’s maybe a little too linear—a little too similar to an Ubisoft game, moving from tower to tower to unlock the next step in the story. That doesn’t lessen its impact, though, or its beauty. This is one of the best games of the year.—Garrett Martin
At the end of the day, the loop is all that matters. Deathloop leaves it all out on the table, reconstructing the immersive sim a few different ways in order to pull you under. Luckily for the game, it’s a damn marvel and works like a charm. While I can nitpick about Deathloop’s shortcomings, I’d rather just point you to a game that’s a joy to play, confident in itself, touts two wonderful Black leads, looks wonderful, and rewards you for thinking outside the box. While it doesn’ quite feel like an evolution of the formula, it’s almost assuredly Arkane’s most feature-complete and refined take on it. Deathloop is countless things, and most of them are great.—Moises Taveras
Playing Hitman 3 feels like being thrown into a random improv scene. You’re constantly switching parts, objectives, and wardrobe, making sure never to break character before you eliminate your target. Every stage is a performance, and they’re all incredibly distinct and fun. You play as world-class executioner, Agent 47, and due to his occupation there’s a thick cloud of intensity and death that follows him around every corner. Each contract sends you to varied and visually striking locations all over the globe, setting up flexible environment-specific boundaries while simultaneously encouraging you to push against them (or even throw it all out and do it your way). Both the plot and general premise of IO Interactive’s Hitman 3 are straight-faced and sober, yet it somehow manages to be one of the funniest games I’ve played in a minute due to clever prop comedy and witty, well-written NPCs. After spending a bunch of time playing around in its charming and compact world, Hitman 3 has proven to be a well-constructed assassination sandbox full of tension, fashion, and possibility. —Funké Joseph
Death’s Door implicitly argues something the entertainment world at large needs to understand: Nostalgia doesn’t have to be shameless or oppressive. It doesn’t have to be the summation of a game’s (or a movie’s, or a TV show’s) ambition. It doesn’t have to be splashed all over the cover and title screen, or the full extent of the marketing campaign. Death’s Door deeply evokes the spirit of some of the most beloved games of all time, and does it well enough that anybody familiar with those legendary games will no doubt recognize and appreciate it. And it does all this with a context and presentation that makes it feel new and vital and not just like a calculated imitation of the past. It takes so much of what made the original Zelda and A Link to the Past into timeless classics, but makes them into their own. Nostalgia can be part of the package, but it shouldn’t be the whole point, and Death’s Door’s cocktail of mechanical nostalgia and narrative creativity is something we don’t see enough of in today’s IP-crazed business.—Garrett Martin
This subtle, believable approach to characterization reinforces that A Plague Tale is an unusually patient and confident game. It lets its story unfold slowly, avoiding the urge to dole out increasingly elaborate set pieces with a predictable regularity. It never lets its pacing or sure-handed command of character become subservient to plot or the need for action or difficulty that’s assumed of videogames. Sometimes the notes a publisher sends game developers can be felt while playing a game—there’ll be too many action sequences, or ones that drag on for too long, or stories will feel truncated, as if a crucial plot point or bit of character development was cut out to make things move faster. That never happens with A Plague Tale, which maintains a consistent vision and pursues it at its own pace.—Garrett Martin
Disco Elysium is a gloriously complex isometric RPG, starring a drug-addicted detective with memory issues in a town that has seen better days, that takes its cues from classics like Fallout or Wasteland. Stressing out about every last detail distracts from the tremendous depth built into the world of Disco Elysium, and I’m ready to stop over-preparing and otherwise manifesting my anxiety in videogames. If anything, it will make additional playthroughs, customized by the game’s peculiar set of character skills, an appealing possibility. I look forward to all the secrets that will soon unravel about Disco Elysium. But even better, I’m feeling comfortable with the mystery.—Holly Green
Sony’s excellent Spider-Man game gets a follow-up starring everybody’s new favorite Spider-Man. Miles Morales is a timelier and more human take on the webslinger than the 2018 original, and although it disappointingly doesn’t fully commit to its politics, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable action game with a conscience. It’s also just about the perfect length for this type of game—you can probably 100% in half the time it takes to do that with the first one. If, y’know, you care about things like 100%-ing a game. Swinging through Christmastime Manhattan never gets old, especially when you have Spider-Man the Cat poking out of your backpack.—Garrett Martin
Is this a perfect game? I can’t find anything to criticize in Astro’s Playroom, the short but endlessly enjoyable platformer that comes installed on every PlayStation 5. Judged on both style and substance, Astro’s Playroom is an ideal pack-in game. It’s fun, beautiful, deeply entertaining, and also elegantly introduces the major new features of the PlayStation 5’s controller. And with its meta concept of playing entirely within the new system, while also tracking down art and items from the 26 year history of the PlayStation, it pays tribute to the company’s past and present without getting too schmaltzy or nostalgic. If you’re getting a PlayStation 5, this should be the first game you play.—Garrett Martin
The first real reason to own a PlayStation 5, Rift Apart is an embellishment on a formula that’s worked for 19 years. It’s splashy and charming. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it absolutely will dive into talking about trauma and disability, and tackle questions of belonging and imposter syndrome in ways that are simple enough to speak to children, but honest enough to resonate with adults. And at times, it manages to be surprisingly funny despite being entirely predictable, knitting trope to trope in a tapestry wrapped in more tropes. It’s a simple but surprisingly earnest and compassionate game. What carries this big flashy sci-fi romp along and helps elevate it from a simple farce is this charm and humanity. Rift Apart has the heart that Guardians of the Galaxy could never find.—Dia Lacina
Remedy has worked hard to unite the mysterious and the mundane since at least Alan Wake, and Control is an almost ideal distillation of that theme. At its heart is the bureaucratic exploration of the unknown and unknowable, with the player stepping into the role of the new director of a government organization devoted to classifying and controlling unexplained phenomena. It’s an enigmatic and unpredictable quest not just into a nondescript office building that grows increasingly contorted and abstract, but into the heart of a conspiracy that spans the paranormal and the prosaic, and one that ultimately seems to have little use or concern for either the player or their character. In its depiction of humanity grasping for relevance and understanding in an indifferent and impossible to understand universe we see a clear reflection of our own existence. It’s a game of uncommon wisdom and depth, and one that needs to be played.—Garrett Martin
What makes Hades so great—and what elevates it above other roguelikes—is how it creates a consistent sense of progress even as you keep dying and restarting. Part of that is mechanical—although you lose all the boons bestowed upon you by the Greek gods after a run ends, along with other power-ups acquired during your journeys through the underworld, there are a few things you do hang on to when you return to the game’s hub world. More important than that, though, is how the game’s narrative unfolds between runs, driving you to keep playing through whatever frustration you might feel in hopes of learning more about the game’s story and characters.
Between every run in Hades your character, Zagreus, returns to his home—the palace of his father, Hades, the God of the Dead. Yep, he’s another rich kid who feels his first bit of angst and immediately starts slumming it. Here you can interact with various characters, upgrade the decor, unlock new permanent perks, and practice with the game’s small arsenal of weapons. Every time you return the characters who live here have new things to say, slowly unraveling their own storylines and deepening their relationships with Zagreus. And given that the writing in Hades is as consistently sharp and human as it’s been in all of Supergiant’s games, getting to talk to these characters alone is a reason to actually look forward to dying in this game.—Garrett Martin