Video games, like every other form of entertainment, are a subjective experience.
While your best friend may adore elaborate cinematic blockbusters that require very little in the way of actual user interaction, you may prefer hardcore Japanese brawlers that demand 100 hours of concerted effort just to get past the first mini-boss.
Nevertheless, 18 months after the launch of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, we now have a modest smattering of “must-buy” titles – the games you really need to see, even if you don’t think they’re your sort of thing.
So at the start of this long weekend, here are 14 current-gen releases that are pretty essential. Or essential-ish. You can, of course, vehemently disagree in the comments section.
Okay, so the latest game from Demon’s Souls genius Hidetaka Miyazaki is really dark and really, really demanding. It’s an aggressive combat fantasy set in a world that actively despises you, and filled with monsters that don’t really feel like giving up. But it is also a fascinating piece of game design, drenched in atmosphere and utterly content to plough its own ludic course. You need to have an opinion on it.
Dragon’s Age: Inquisition (PS4, Xbox One)
Combat, exploration, romance, intrigue, really huge monsters – Dragon’s Age: Inquisition has them all. The latest fantasy epic from BioWare is a vast testament to this developer’s craft; it exudes detail and guile, it has a great story and interesting characters, and it has a deep levelling and customisation system, adding mechanical heft to the aesthetic showcase. 200 hours in you’ll still be finding new stuff to do.
Dragon Age: Inquisition review
Forza Horizon 2 (Xbox One)
There are arguments for The Crew, Ubisoft’s similarly open driving epic, but if you have an Xbox One and you want a beautiful racing experience with gorgeous car models and miles and miles of luscious scenery, you need Forza Horizon 2. Playground Games’ sequel really revels in the current-gen hardware, bathing its carefully chosen Mediterranean environments in streams of sunlight, the rays glinting off bodywork and road surfaces as you drive. Like being in your own version of Top Gear without having to put up with Clarkson and his cronies.
Forza Horizon 2 review
Grand Theft Auto V (PS4, Xbox One)
Look, honestly, even if you reject the relentless misanthropy of the main story missions, even if you despise the three psychopathic lead characters, blasting their way through a series of bloody heists, you need to experience this game – or more accurately this game environment. In GTA V, you can play tennis, go out scuba diving, fly a helicopter over a mountain range, search for hidden jokes, drive your car over a ramp into the airport, meet your friends, or yes, cruise the streets in a muscle car taking potshots at smartphone hugging yuppies. It is a vast functioning universe of debauched amusement. It is a hyper-real holiday. It is the mind of Brett Easton Ellis reproduced as a theme park.
Grand Theft Auto V review
Last of Us: Remastered (PS4)
Naughty Dog’s haunting, violent and sometimes elegiac masterpiece was essential on PlayStation3, of course. But if you didn’t buy it then, it’s absolutely imperative that you have it on PS4. Those post-apocalyptic nightmare-scapes of busted cities reclaimed by nature are even more gorgeous and resonant on the new technology, but you also get all the extra map packs and the emotionally charged story DLC, Left Behind, which may well be one of the crowning moments of big budget narrative design.
Last of Us (PS3) review
Life is Strange (PS4, Xbox One)
Episodic adventures are all the rage right now, so you should have at least one in your collection. We could obviously have gone for any of the masterful Telltale titles (Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Tales From the Borderlands), but instead, let’s recommend this quirky teen drama by Dontnod Entertainment, with its likeable and gawky protagonist Maxine Caulfield who gains time travel abilities and thereby discovers the butterfly effect – to enthralling effect. This one came out of nowhere, but two episodes in, it is capturing hearts by the thousand.
Life is Strange mini review
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4, Xbox One)
Yes, yes, it’s another fantasy role-playing game for Tolkien’s sake, but this bone-crunching brawler is expertly constructed, and it boasts one of the great new(ish) game mechanics: the nemesis system. Here, enemies remember you forever, so you’re always bumping into old foes who love to taunt you if you lost in a fight. It’s a big game, but it’s split into manageable missions and side-quests so you’re always working toward something tangible. It’s also pretty amusing and self-deprecating for a Middle Earth adventure.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor review
Minecraft (PS4, Xbox One)
You probably already have it on every other functioning device in your house, but if you don’t, you need Mojang’s delightful, endlessly enjoyable block building game on your console. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.
Parents! Focus less on worrying about Minecraft and more on understanding it
Ori and the Blind Forest (Xbox One)
Like Child of Light (which is also excellent) Ori and the Blind Forest is an example of how high-end, super detailed visuals don’t have to mean photorealism or 3D modelling. It is also a truly engaging narrative platformer, combining an explorable environment with basic role-playing elements and graceful, assured controls.
Ori and the Blind Forest review
Rayman Legends (PS4, Xbox One)
On paper, this 2D platformer, with its weird lead character and zealous Gallic humour, appears little better than a momentary distraction for retro fanatics. But the world of Legends is so crammed with life and detail, the levels so perfectly designed and executed, the ideas so abundant, that it deserves a place on every PS4 and Xbox One hard drive. A great one to get non-gamers playing as well.
Rayman Legends review
Every household should have at least one traditional scrolling shooter, and Finnish studio Housemarque is the new master of the genre – though this title, with its swirling, circular environment, is not exactly old school. The set-up is basic: blast alien ships, save human colonists. But the execution is ruthlessly sleek and efficient with intuitive controls working alongside the excellent tumbling combo systems.
Titanfall (Xbox One)
Admittedly, Respawn’s giant mech shooter didn’t quite live up to the pre-release hype, but it remains a diverting online blaster, packed with cool weapons and exciting encounters. The parkour element works well, as does the balance between the ground troops and the earth-pounding robotic titans, and the addition of bullet fodder AI soldiers means that everyone gets the chance to kill something.
Towerfall: Ascension (PS4)
Really enjoyable and accessible local multiplayer games are rare these days, so this indie treat is a great back-up to have on hand whenever friends come over and start reminiscing about GoldenEye or Gauntlet (my friends may be older than yours). It’s a single-screen four-player archery combat game where players chase and leap through a series of chunky gothic environments firing at each other and racing to grab power-ups. If you’re on Xbox One, #Idarb is a good alternative.
Valiant Hearts (PS4, Xbox One)
Want a puzzle adventure game that everyone can play together, whether they think of themselves as gamers or not? This understated yet heartbreaking gem from Ubisoft is the perfect choice. Inspired by letters sent by soldiers during World War One, it’s the tale of four characters caught up in the miserable maelstrom of the conflict, helping each other to survive. The writing, the animation and the visual style are all beautiful. It is an immensely powerful experience.
Valiant Hearts mini review (The Observer)
This article was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Friday 3rd April 2015 13.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010