For its many miseries, 2020 delivered some extremely memorable video games. And now, with the arrival of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, there's more reason than usual to get excited for the offerings of the year ahead.
Here are the titles we're most eagerly anticipating. While not all release dates have been confirmed for 2021, we've included games that are believed to be coming before Jan. 1, 2022.
- "Hitman 3"
Available on: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia
Recent games in the Hitman franchise have taken a games-as-service approach; they are supported and expanded upon long after their initial release. IO Interactive is continuing that with the release of "Hitman 3." Coming Jan. 20, players who already own "Hitman 1" and "Hitman 2" can import their maps into the third game to continue from where they left off, and can expect regular updates to the game post-launch.
This assassination game puts you in the shoes of Agent 47, a cipher who plans out kills like a series of puzzles in large locations ripe with opportunity. At its best, the Hitman franchise offers plenty of replay value: You can hunt down foes with different methods each time. The polished and at times comedic gameplay offers creative situations like disguising yourself in a flamingo suit at a racetrack or finishing off a target by slapping them with a dead fish. For "Hitman 3," fans of the series can expect new levels and under-the-hood improvements, like an engine that supports 300 active NPCs at once, making locations feel busy and lived in. - Elise Favis
Available on: PlayStation 5, PC
First-person action shooters nowadays need something different - different aesthetics, different gameplay, different gimmicks - to truly stand out in a genre saturated by bland, same-y games. "Deathloop" appears to have all three. It takes place in a deliciously campy world filled with 60s styled music and spy show splash screens. Oh, and gameplay revolves around the titular death loop.
You play as Colt, a hired gun tasked with assassinating 8 targets before midnight. The problem? You're being hunted by Julianna, an agent hired to kill Colt before he hits his 8 targets. If you die, or fail to kill all 8 targets before midnight, the loop repeats. The game is a Groundhog Day-like scenario where you slowly learn things about the loop and are doomed to repeat it until you successfully kill all targets without dying yourself.
If the concept itself isn't enough to get you excited, the competitive aspect of the game should. Other players can assume the role of Julianna, and hunt Colt players down before they kill their 8 targets. Add the fact that Arkane Lyon and Bethesda, the developers of the Dishonored series, are at the helm, and you've got a game that can definitely break the mundane first-person action shooter mold. - Jhaan Elker
- "Halo Infinite"
Available on: PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One
The expectations for this title are high. "Halo Infinite" will lift the Xbox again. "Halo Infinite" will change online multiplayer. "Halo Infinite" will rescue the series from its years-long lull. "Halo Infinite" will, at least, be good.
The game was sent back into incubation after a chilly, meme-filled reception to a preview this past summer. Now with the addition of Joseph Staten, the original trilogy's writer, as creative director, "Halo Infinite" is getting all the fixings it can to meet the above expectations, and hopefully surpass them.
It's also expected to boost the already-rich fortunes of the Xbox Game Pass subscription service, where it will be offered free. Pair that with the ability to play the game on the cloud via xCloud, and it's clear it's in Microsoft's best interest to make "Halo Infinite" the crown jewel of its entire strategy. The game should be social. It should be addicting. It should feel like a whole other world. At the very least, it should be a good "Halo" title. It's up to Staten and the team at 343 Studios to recapture that old magic. - Gene Park
- "Far Cry 6"
Available on: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia
I guess the question of whether "will Giancarlo Esposito be good" is out the window. He always seems to knock performances out of the park. Really, it's the legacy of Far Cry that's at stake here. The first game revolutionized the first-person shooter, while the third cemented what's know recognized as the Ubisoft formula for open-world games.
Will the sixth game finally upend the tower-climbing, bandit-camp-raiding, hunting loop that the last three titles and most Ubisoft games have adhered to? Ubisoft has claimed it would start reinventing some of its series, so there's some hope that a true next-gen "Far Cry" might finally push the developers into new waters. It remains to be seen whether developing for the last-gen consoles might hold this title back in the same way it did "Cyberpunk 2077." But for the most part, Ubisoft is pretty good at this thing. Let's see if they can be better. - Gene Park
- "God of War" sequel
Available on: PlayStation 5 (and possibly PlayStation 4; Sony has not confirmed whether it's a next-gen exclusive)
There's no release date yet (though Google says it's 2021), nor even a confirmed title, but anticipation swirls given the greatness of the game's predecessor. The 2018 installment of the God of War franchise from Santa Monica Studio injected protagonist Kratos into Norse mythology for a rumble with some of the gods lower down the divine pecking order from the better-known Odin and Thor. The beautifully rendered, interdimensional, open-world adventure game explored the relationship between Kratos and his son, Atreus, as the latter realizes that he too is a god - one with a different name than the one his father gave him.
The final scenes of the 2018 game appeared to set the stage for what the upcoming PlayStation exclusive will chronicle: A mega-scrap with the God of Thunder et al, possibly tied into the events of Ragnarok, the legendary war that doomed Odin and a number of other Norse deities. And given what Sony's studios have been able to introduce via the haptics of the DualSense, it's exciting to wonder what Kratos's ax or the Blades of Chaos could feel like with the PS5's controller. - Mike Hume
- "Senua's Saga: Hellblade II"
Available on: PC, Xbox Series X/S
Announced at The Game Awards 2019, this sequel to 2017′s "Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice" astounded the audience with an evocative trailer centering on protagonist Senua. The first game followed her harrowing descent into hell, where she aimed to save the soul of her dead lover. The journey was captivating even in its most uncomfortable moments, and profound in how it tackled mental illness and psychosis, a condition rarely portrayed in video games. Far more than a simple hack-and-slash action game, "Hellblade" was praised by critics as a work of art.
We don't know much about the sequel, "Senua's Saga: Hellblade II," but we hope developer Ninja Theory will go to the same lengths and take the same care as they did in its predecessor. - Elise Favis
- "Resident Evil Village"
Available on: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
Capcom has been on a creative roll that started with the inspired, first-person reinvention of "Resident Evil VII." The revamped RE Engine has powered some of best games of recent years, including "Devil May Cry 5," "Resident Evil 2 Remake," and "Monster Hunter World." And at least with the "Resident Evil" series, Capcom has remembered that the survival horror genre it helped to invent has an eager audience that isn't done with frights and zombies and inventory management.
The "Resident Evil" series has a weird history of becoming really good, and then flubbing a subsequent game by leaning a little too hard into successful ideas. "Resident Evil 4" made way for a goofier, more action-packed series, while "VII" returns the series to its roots. "Village" signals the return of series staple hero Chris Redfield, so it seems Capcom is interested in returning to the old lore of the games. That could be good or bad news, considering how nonsensical the entire story has been. Still, Capcom has shown a lot of growth in how it designs its horror setpieces. Both remakes of the second and third sequel were practically new titles altogether, ones that recontextualized the old games in fresh, exciting ways. "Village" may yet discover new ways to needle our anxiety. - Gene Park
- "Horizon Forbidden West"
Available on: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4
The Horizon series is a new and exciting RPG IP that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is forced to live in tribes to survive in a world overrun by advanced machines (large robots in animal form). You play as Aloy, a critically-adored hunter voiced by Ashly Burch who sets out on a journey to discover more about her and humanity's past. Despite the original game releasing right when "Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" came out, "Horizon Zero Dawn" more than held its own, in encouraging players to explore its rich, unique world.
"Horizon Forbidden West" continues Aloy's story, and while we've only seen one trailer so far, we know that it involves exploring a new frontier known as the Forbidden West in an attempt to locate the source of a deadly infectious disease. Coincidental timing aside, "Forbidden West" looks to repeat the same magic that captivated audiences the first time around. - Jhaan Elker
- "Mass Effect: Legendary Edition"
Available on: PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
For a long time, a remaster of the original Mass Effect trilogy felt more like rumor than reality. Reports suggested the project was delayed from its targeted May 2020 release, though the game hadn't even been announced yet. Finally, BioWare confirmed late this year that the studio is working on the project. Modernized versions of the three games will come in the spring, returning fans to the Normandy starship where they can travel to different galaxies, fight off the Reapers and Collectors, and find love among the stars.
Aside from its release window, little is known about "Mass Effect: Legendary Edition." The collection will include all of the games' downloadable content, faster frame rates, 4K compatibility and visual enhancements. Exactly what tweaks are being made beyond that are unknown. - Elise Favis
- "Psychonauts 2"
Available on: PC, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS and Linux
2005's "Psychonauts" is a delightfully weird game, where you play as a young boy named Raz with psychic abilities, who attends a summer camp with other children who wield similar powers. The platformer became a cult hit, and more than 15 years later, we're seeing the continuation of its story.
In "Psychonauts 2," you once again play as Raz, and the story takes place shortly after the events of the first game. Instead of returning to summer camp, Raz will join the "psychonauts," agents with full-fledged psychic powers, at their headquarters, where he must prove himself as an intern.
In 2015, a successful crowdfunded campaign on Fig to kick-start the game's development raised $3.3 million, but the release window continued to shift with every passing year. In 2019, Microsoft acquired the developer of the game, Double Fine. We're hoping 2021 will be the year "Psychonauts 2" gets out the door. It's been a long time coming. - Elise Favis
- "Super Mario 3D World: Bowser's Fury"
Available on: Nintendo Switch
The best co-op game to come out of Nintendo's last generation will finally be released from Wii U purgatory in the form of "Super Mario 3D World: Bowser's Fury." The game has upscaled textures and better performance, and on top of that, it will include brand new content, including a new world. Not much is known about the new content other than a tantalizing shot of a level featuring stormy weather and a sphinx.
But the most exciting feature? Online play. Super Mario 3D World was already a great couch party experience that took the classic 2D Mario level structure and applied it to 3D environments with 3D Mario games' typically tight controls. It created a quasi-competitive environment where you purposely take risks for a higher personal score at the hilarious cost of your teammates' lives. Taking this delicate balance online is the boost the original needed to become a go-to party game. - Jhaan Elker
- "Five Nights at Freddy's: Security Breach"
Available on: PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4
Seeing Five Nights at Freddy's next game premiere on PlayStation's PS5 Showcase 2020 live stream must have been a surreal, yet satisfying moment for indie developer Scott Cawthon. A struggling game developer in the early stages of his career, Cawthon now oversees a franchise that has become one of YouTube's biggest gaming hits in Five Nights at Freddy's. In the series, you need to survive rampaging animatronics seemingly possessed by the spirits of dead children that once inhabited a Chuckie Cheese-like pizzeria.
Five Nights at Freddy's was never about graphical fidelity, and it only recently ventured into true 3D space with the VR game "Help Wanted." But that didn't stop it from featuring in Sony's official stream alongside AAA giants like "Final Fantasy XVI," "Call of Duty" and "Spider-Man: Miles Morales" - a high mark of validation for an indie developer. Not much is confirmed about the story or gameplay other that it involves an '80s mall environment ripped straight out of something like Stranger Things, and hiding from a new antagonist in a bunny suit called Vanny. It will be interesting to see where this series goes, graphically and gameplay-wise, with its new PlayStation cred. - Jhaan Elker
- "Cyber Shadow"
Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Dripping with 8-bit nostalgia, action platformer "Cyber Shadow" is evocative of NES classics like Ninja Gaiden Batman. You play as a ninja who navigates through the futuristic ruins of a world called Mekacity to rescue the rest of his clan.
The game is drop-dead gorgeous, with big sprites, snappy animations and massive, over-the-top bosses. Developed by one-man studio Mechanical Head and published by the makers of indie darling "Shovel Knight," the game looks to continue the recent trend of excellent retro-style titles like "The Messenger" and "Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon." - Joe Moore
The Washington Post