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The Insider Pick:
The PlayStation 4 is our favorite console right now, and in the years since its 2013 launch, Sony’s eighth-generation gaming machine has built up an awesome library of both exclusive and multi-platform titles. Although it boasts great hardware (especially the newer “Pro” model), what sets the PS4 ahead of the competition is its superb lineup of unique games that can’t be played on other consoles.
Over the years, Sony has carved out a large niche in the game industry, and the PlayStation has consistently been the top platform for many Japanese developers whose works often aren’t released on systems like Microsoft’s Xbox. Even as far back as 1994 when Sony first entered the world of gaming consoles, titles like “Final Fantasy 7,” “Vagrant Story,” and “Shadow of the Colossus” have set the PlayStation apart as the top choice for millions of players to enjoy some of the richest and most innovative games ever made.
The PlayStation 4 has proven itself worthy of this pedigree, and even when you exclude multi-platform titles, paring the console’s library down to the top five games is no easy task. Nonetheless, we’ve managed to select what we think are the best PlayStation 4 exclusives available right now to help you get your game on.
We’ve also made sure that our picks cover a wide variety of different tastes, from RPG-lovers to action/adventure junkies to gamers who want a deep story that they can really sink their teeth into. No matter what sort of adventure you’re looking for, the PS4 has something for everybody.
The best action-adventure game
Why you’ll love it: Not only does “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” offer fantastic action-adventure gameplay and a great story, the final part of Nathan Drake’s story also features some of the best graphics and design.
The Uncharted series started on the PlayStation 3, and the first three titles are among the best exclusives available for that system. The ongoing story follows Nathan Drake, a freelance explorer and adventurer, as he hunts for treasure and dukes it out with some unsavory characters along the way. It’s a classic action-adventure formula that, when paired with Naughty Dog’s excellent game design, has proven wildly successful.
“Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” is the final chapter of Drake’s story, as our favorite modern-day swashbuckler comes out of retirement for one last jaunt. The basic plot is admittedly typical (one is instantly reminded of the “retired thief reluctantly signs up for one final score” cliché seen in many films) but is nicely done with darker themes, an overall grittier atmosphere, and less flippant story-telling than seen in earlier games. Although we won’t spoil the ending here, fans of the series will find that A Thief’s End delivers a satisfying conclusion to Nathan Drake’s story arc.
The Uncharted titles are known for their run-and-gun action gameplay with platforming and puzzles sprinkled throughout, and those familiar with the series should already know what to expect with Uncharted 4. A Thief’s End doesn’t re-invent the wheel here, but it does borrow some stealth elements from other Naughty Dog works like “The Last of Us.” The numerous puzzles aren’t exactly difficult, and enemies can quickly overwhelm you during the stealth segments if you’re not careful, but these parts never get in the way of the action too much.
Uncharted 4 is also one of the most beautiful games ever and remains perhaps the nicest-looking title on the PlayStation 4, taking full advantage of the console’s next-gen hardware. The series has, since the first entry, taken players into many exotic environments, but “A Thief’s End” features perhaps the best set-pieces and level designs yet seen in an Uncharted title.
All of these design components — the suspenseful action sequences, awesome graphics, fresh gameplay elements, solid story, and beautiful game world — combine to deliver what is easily the best Uncharted game to date and a must-play for PS4 owners.
Pros: Excellent action gameplay, gorgeous graphics, great set-pieces, and a well-written plot that delivers a satisfying conclusion to Drake’s story
Cons: Stealth gameplay elements can be tricky at times, and the numerous puzzles are a bit too easy
The best role-playing game
Why you’ll love it: The popular Persona series has established a well-deserved reputation for zaniness and great RPG gameplay, and “Persona 5” proudly carries on this wild legacy with plenty to offer for veterans and newcomers alike.
Japanese developers have a penchant for creative weirdness that shines through in many of their works. These import titles often feature a unique and addictive flavor that can’t be found in more formulaic Western releases. Japan is also known for its excellent role-playing games, and Atlus’ Persona franchise (a spin-off of the Megami Tensei series) is a stand-out example that combines great JRPG gameplay with a zany style that can only come from the Land of the Rising Sun.
“Persona 5” is the latest entry and, along with proudly carrying on the over-the-top style of previous titles, is a superb RPG in its own right. The game puts the player in the shoes of a high school student living a dual life in modern-day Tokyo. During the day, you go to class, develop relationships with other students, work a part-time job, engage in various recreational activities that raise your character’s attributes, and craft items.
Once the sun goes down, however, you take on the role of a “phantom thief,” a vigilante who leads his party through dungeons to explore, loot, and duke it out with supernatural enemies. Your team consists of other misfits from school who you can befriend, recruit, train, and even romance during the day via the complex relationship system.
Your dual life is played out through the game’s day/night cycle, which keeps the pace flowing along nicely. The daytime gameplay involves social interactions with other students (fans of visual novel games will be in familiar territory here) along with standard RPG stuff like item crafting and skill management. Although this might not sound exciting on paper, the fun story, quirky and original characters, and great art design keep things interesting and ensure that the game never bogs the player down with too much dialogue or meandering cut-scenes.
But the night cycle is where the real fun begins. “Persona 5” carries on the fast-paced turn-based battle system of previous games, and thankfully brings back some long-absent elements like ranged weapons and negotiations. The combat is also highly streamlined, eliminating the need to scroll through menus and allowing you to quickly detect enemy weaknesses and deliver devastating — not to mention highly satisfying — combo attacks.
All in all, the great style, excellent combat system, and fun story make “Persona 5” arguably the best entry in the series and a game that critics, like Edwin Garcia of Nerdist, are hailing as one of the best JRPGs of all time.
Pros: Fun and fast-paced RPG gameplay, a great story with fun and quirky characters, and awesome style and art direction
Cons: The English-language localization leaves a bit to be desired
The best game for those who want a challenge
Why you’ll love it: True to its Dark Souls heritage, From Software’s “Bloodborne” is a dark and rage-inducing descent into horror that delivers more than enough challenge to satisfy even the most masochistic gamers.
From Software’s wildly successful “Dark Souls” became an overnight sensation and quickly earned a reputation for its punishing old-school difficulty not seen in many games since the NES days. The original spawned two sequels along with a whole new sub-genre of “Souls-like” games that attempted to follow its formula, and in 2015 From Software released it’s own Dark Souls-style spin-off, “Bloodborne.” The title was among the first wave of big exclusives for the PS4 and remains one of the best that the system has to offer.
The gameplay borrows heavily from From Software’s other games — Dark Souls veterans will have no trouble jumping right in — but the combat focuses a bit more on offense this time around. Whereas Dark Souls titles allowed for a wide variety of play styles and shields were an indispensable tool for keeping yourself alive, “Bloodborne” trades shields for firearms, which you wield along with a variety of close-range melee weapons.
“Bloodborne” also exchanges the standard medieval fantasy setting for a Victorian-style city crawling with Lovecraftian evils. This unique and horrifying world is what truly sets it apart from its predecessors. Every environment in the game is richly crafted with awe-inspiring visual detail that surpasses even the wonderfully-done Dark Souls titles, taking full advantage of the PlayStation 4’s power. As terrifying as “Bloodborne” can be, its incredible art direction is truly a feast for the eyes.
The many monsters you’ll encounter throughout the game are just as fascinating. As a hunter, you are tasked with taking out the freakish creatures that have been unleashed upon the city of Yharnam due to a mysterious plague. You will do battle with many lesser enemies, from werewolves to crazed townsfolk, but the real test of skill comes with the epic boss battles. You will die — a lot — but the challenge strikes a near-perfect balance between reward and punishment, never tipping too far into cheap “artificial difficulty” territory.
This difficulty is also what makes “Bloodborne” so supremely satisfying. Every vanquished boss battle makes you feel like you’ve just climbed another mountain higher than the last, and this addictive sensation will keep you from ever wanting to put your controller down. Even if the horror genre isn’t your bag, you owe it to yourself to play this game, and players who really want to sink their teeth into an old-school challenge will find much to love in “Bloodborne.”
Pros: Balanced and rewarding difficulty, a great Lovecraftian horror atmosphere, a terrifying yet beautiful game world, and extremely addictive gameplay with an excellent combat system
Cons: The difficulty may be a bit too punishing for some gamers
The game with the best story
Why you’ll love it: “Nier: Automata” has plenty of great action gameplay to keep players coming back, but where this game really shines is in its rich and unique storytelling.
“Nier,” released in 2010 for the PlayStation 3, was the third entry in the lesser-known Drakengard series of action-adventure RPGs. The game was met with only lukewarm reviews and mediocre sales, but it quickly developed a cult following owing to its excellent story and the unique manner in which it is told. Despite low sales, Square Enix was interested in doing a sequel due to immense fan interest, and development of “Nier: Automata” soon began.
The original “Nier” takes place on a post-apocalyptic planet earth where humanity is on the verge of extinction due to a mysterious plague known only as the “black scrawl.” “Nier: Automata” drops you back into this setting several thousand years after the events of the first game, into a haunting but beautifully-rendered open world where robots are running rampant over the ruins of a long-dead civilization. As a combat android named 2B, your job is to rid the place of hostile robots to make it habitable for humans again.
As the game progresses, the mysteries of the world begin to unravel and the genius of director Yoko Taro’s multi-layered narrative slowly shows itself. Taro employs what he describes as “backwards script-writing,” which he described in a panel at the 2014 Game Developers Conference. The basic story is set up in the first play-through and then more details about the characters and game world are fleshed out through successive play-throughs, revealing the true weight of the player’s actions.
This serves to create emotional connections surrounding the game’s events which are later re-examined in order to create a stronger impact. For example, the death of that bad guy you happily defeated the first time around might seem a bit more tragic once you learn more about him during your second play-through. This makes Taro’s stories play out like Greek tragedies, wherein he explores complex themes like human nature and the motivations behind hatred, violence, and war. It’s a unique and engaging storytelling style that makes for an emotional roller coaster, but it demands that you play through the game multiple times (although not from the very beginning) to get the most out of it and to experience all of the different endings.
One of the main criticisms with “Nier” was its lackluster combat, which, while far from terrible, was admittedly a bit clunky and repetitive at times. For Automata, Square Enix brought on PlatinumGames, the studio behind acclaimed works such as “Bayonetta” and “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance,” to develop a new combat system. As one would expect, it paid off: The action in “Nier: Automata” is fast, fluid, and extremely fun — equal parts hack-and-slash and bullet-hell shooter — putting it head and shoulders above that of its predecessor.
“Nier: Automata” is a great action-adventure title in its own right, even if you’re not the type of person who typically cares too much about a good story. The gameplay is addictive, the soundtrack is fantastic (composer Keiichi Okabe returns to deliver yet another great score), and the storytelling is some of the most unique and emotionally poignant you’ll find in a video game, making Automata a worthy sequel to the original cult classic and one of the best entries in the PlayStation 4 library.
Pros: A much-improved combat system over its predecessor, an emotionally immersive story, a beautifully-designed open world, and a fantastic soundtrack
Cons: Requires multiple play-throughs to experience the different endings and to get the most out of the story
The game with the best art direction
Why you’ll love it: With its incredible atmosphere, beautiful art direction, and minimalist yet effective story-telling, “The Last Guardian” is sure to please players who are ready to explore another of Team Ico’s breathtaking game worlds.
“Ico” and “Shadow of the Colossus,” developed by Team Ico for the PlayStation 2, set a high watermark for atmospheric game design with their gorgeous visuals, minimalist story, and stunning art direction. These titles quickly achieved cult status and are today regarded as two of the best PS2 games ever made, so it goes without saying that fans had high hopes for “The Last Guardian,” Team Ico director Fumito Ueda’s latest creation.
Although Team Ico went defunct in 2011 shortly after the game was announced, development continued under Ueda’s direction at SIE Japan Studio and “The Last Guardian” was finally released in 2016 to critical acclaim after spending several years in development hell. The wait was worth it. To put it simply, “The Last Guardian” is one of the most beautiful games ever made and a worthy successor to Team Ico’s earlier efforts.
In terms of atmosphere and gameplay, “The Last Guardian” is very similar to “Ico.” The player takes control of a young boy who finds himself stranded in a sprawling ruin referred to only as the “Nest.” You awake next to a giant griffon-like animal called a “Trico,” and after freeing him from his chains, the creature takes a shine to you and your adventure together begins. In order to find a way out of the Nest, you must learn to work together with the Trico, who can jump, climb, and otherwise help you deal with obstacles that the boy could not clear on his own.
Unlike in “Ico” where your AI companion was not particularly helpful, the Trico in “The Last Guardian” is a joy to work with and the partner AI works very well. The Trico learns and grows throughout the game, and there’s even a hidden trust meter that improves his responsiveness to your commands (so be sure to feed him whenever you find those glowing barrels of Trico food). The Trico himself is also extremely endearing: He exhibits puppy-like mannerisms, becomes visibly distressed when separated from the boy, and will fight like a lion in order to protect the child when enemies appear.
As with Ueda’s other works, there is very little dialogue or needless exposition, and the nuanced story suits the game perfectly. There are plenty of touching and even heart-wrenching moments throughout the game (all of them naturally involving your dog-like companion) and the ending is both bittersweet and emotionally gratifying. The stunning atmosphere, art direction, and graphic design also easily outclasses “Ico” and “Shadow of the Colossus.”
Unfortunately, however, frame rate drops are not uncommon during some of the action-heavy sequences. Nonetheless, “The Last Guardian” boasts some of the best level and world-building to be seen in a game, and — at roughly twice the length of “Ico” — delivers an extremely satisfying experience.
Pros: Beautiful graphics and art direction, great level design, surprisingly good partner AI, and a minimalist yet emotionally engaging story
Cons: Framerate drops are not uncommon, and the auto-grab mechanic is an annoyance