A 1930s mystery set on a sun-saturated yet eerie island full of mysteries and puzzles. This is a relatively short game that pulls you effortlessly through its story, about a curse-afflicted woman who follows her explorer husband on an expedition from which nobody has returned. It’s slower-paced, beautiful to look at and unexpectedly introspective. Read a full review.
Beautiful to look at … Call of the Sea. Photograph: Raw Fury
Guide an endearing pink-haired woman up a forbidding mountain and through an encroaching mental health crisis in this acclaimed indie platformer. It’s tough as nails but makes you feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment when you get through it, a game-design achievement that fits very nicely with the game’s themes of getting to know yourself and overcoming self-doubt.
No one makes big, ambitious genre adventures like Remedy Entertainment, creator of Max Payne and Alan Wake and effectively the Christopher Nolan of video games. Control is the team’s latest, a quasi-supernatural thriller in which government agents battle an astral entity know as The Hiss. The storytelling, combat mechanics and visual imagination are as strong as ever. Read a full review.
Nightmarish … Dead by Daylight. Photograph: Behaviour Interactive
It’s been around for almost five years, but this co-operative online horror game is still a blast with a bunch of friends. Four participants are the survivors trapped in a series of nightmarish domains, working together to open the exit doors and escape, while a fifth player takes on the role of a sadistic murderer hunting them down. Tense, thrilling and fun. Read a full review.
Testing … Dead Cells. Photograph: Motion Twin
If Bafta award winner Hades has ignited your interest in the roguelike genre, it’s definitely worth getting stuck into Dead Cells, a 2D scrolling hack-’em-up set in an endlessly regenerating castle. Excellent controls, searing visuals and a difficulty level that’ll test you to the limits and quite possibly beyond. Read a full review.
Recent Resident Evil games have revived interest in video game horror, so now is the time to discover this gruesomely effective chiller from Shinji Mikami, the creator of Resident Evil 1 and 4. Its a classic third-person jump-scare fest, following Sergeant Sebastian Castellanos as he sets out to investigate a mass murder at the Beacon mental hospital, but then descends into a monster-filled Freudian hellscape. Read a full review.
Cosy … The Gardens Between. Photograph: Voxel Agents
Two childhood friends explore gorgeous dioramas comprised of their memories and experiences together in this puzzle game, where you scrub backwards and forwards in time to get them safely through. Whether you’re rewinding giant tapes, playing games on old giant TVs or clambering across a giant sofa, it feels both cosy and interesting. Read a full review.
If you want to enjoy some of the finest animation and most exquisite 2D game design of recent years, Hollow Knight is where to go. A slowly unfolding, mysterious and inexplicably alluring adventure that takes you to the subterranean depths of a decaying bug-world. It’s spooky, but not scary; challenging, but not off-putting.
Nostalgic exploration in Cornwall … Knights and Bikes. Photograph: Foam Sword
A gorgeous, hand-painted action adventure set on a mysterious island off the coast of Cornwall in the 1980s. Channelling Stranger Things, The Goonies and classic Japanese role-playing games, Knights and Bikes provides a weekend of nostalgic exploration and puzzle-solving for one or two players. Read a full review.
A two-player puzzle adventure where you play as a pair of shades trying to escape a monochrome Lovecraftian nightmare realm. You roll around a big ball full of light, and, if you get too far away from it or wander into the shadow that it casts, you disappear. This means you must be careful not to accidentally evaporate whoever you’re playing with right in the middle of a complex puzzle – it can be fiddly, but is quite unlike anything else you’ll play this year.
Stylish twists … NieR: Automata. Photograph: Square Enix
Set on a devastated planet amid a cosmically destructive proxy war, NieR: Automata is a transgressive action role-playing game that twists and subverts genre tropes, requiring players to finish multiple times to get the whole story. A superbly stylish and clever title from cult developer Platinum Games. Read more.
Cool twist in space … Observation. Photograph: Epic Games
You’re stuck on a space station, floating in the void, and things are getting very weird. But you’re not the astronaut in this creepy sci-fi game – you’re the AI that runs the space station itself, looking through cameras, opening doors and trying to fix circuits to keep things together. A cool twist on extraplanetary horror, influenced by some of the most innovative sci-fi films of the last decade. Read a full review.
Mega Drive fans have no excuse not to download this modern addition to Sega’s famed series of backstreet brawlers. Up to four players stomp through the side-scrolling alleyways, picking up weapons and bashing gangsters. It’s a brash, frenetic ode to the glory years of 16bit console gameplay. Read more.
Inventory fun … Wilmot’s Warehouse. Photograph: Finji
A puzzle game about running an efficient stock management system does not immediately sound enticing, but this is a beautifully designed game, and working out how to store and quickly retrieve goods as orders come rushing in is curiously fulfilling. No, seriously. Give it a try, you’ll see what we mean.