The 30 games we can't wait to play this holiday season

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Tomorrow is September 1st, which means fall is almost here. It’s a time for drinking syrupy seasonal coffee drinks, wearing big warm sweaters, and finding the time in your life to play the incoming onslaught of holiday game releases. 2016 has already been a pretty great year for games, with everything from indie gems like No Man’s Sky and Inside, to big blockbuster experiences like Uncharted 4 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. But it looks to only get better from here on out.

As is typical leading up to the holidays, the next few months will feature a huge number of new game releases, anchored by sequels to some of the biggest franchises around, including Final Fantasy, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Pokémon, and Civilization. There’s also the long-awaited release of The Last Guardian — yes, it’s really coming out — and a new wave of virtual reality experiences, thanks to the launch of PlayStation VR in October.

So as you start to pencil winter vacations into your calendar, here are 30 games you’ll probably want to make some time for.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice (3DS - September 8th)

There aren’t many games that let you play as a goofy defense attorney, which has helped the Ace Attorney series carve out its own niche. But the series is more than just a strange curiosity. What makes the games great is how they manage to jump back and forth seamlessly between serious crimes, goofy scenarios, and heartwarming characters, all while making you feel like a clever detective solving a complex case. Spirit of Justice looks to continue that trend but in a new setting: a fictional country where defense attorneys are hated and criminal trials utilize divination as a form of evidence. [Andrew Webster]

Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness (PS4, Vita - September 13th)

The Psycho-Pass anime takes place in a stylishly dystopian take on Tokyo, where criminals are arrested before they commit crimes, thanks a new and ubiquitous personality-scanning technology (the titular psycho-pass). It’s a great show, but with only 22 episodes, it’s hard not to want more after you watch them all. Thankfully, there’s Mandatory Happiness. The visual novel takes place during the same time period as the early episodes of the show, and puts you in the role of two investigators who are searching for a vigilante hacker. All three characters were created specifically for the game, so while you’ll be missing out on the familiar faces of detective Akane Tsunemori and company, Mandatory Happiness should help flesh out the story and world from a different angle. [AW]

Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC - September 13th)

No one thought they wanted a new Pac-Man game nine years ago, but Namco's revival was one of the unexpected highlights of 2007. Pac-Man Championship Edition updated the pill-popping template for the age of Xbox Live Arcade, with a smart focus on timed high-score play that made the arcade classic feel right at home next to contemporary hits like Geometry Wars. An expanded DX version upped the intensity across various other platforms in 2010, but it's not until now that Namco has seen fit to make a full-on CE sequel. And Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 looks like the least restrained entry yet, with shifting camera angles, boss battles, and even more ghosts to chomp down on. [Sam Byford]

ReCore (Xbox One, PC - September 13th)

ReCore has a solid pedigree, having been developed by Mega Man’s Keiji Inafune and the talent behind the GameCube’s excellent Metroid Prime games. But the puzzle-action game seemed to have something missing when I played it back in June. I loved my cutesy robot sidekicks — jumbles of machinery that could be deployed to solve environmental puzzles — but the puzzles themselves felt finicky and fiddly, more like artificial gates to my progress than real head-scratchers.

That said, I saw an early slice of the experience, and ReCore has the potential to do much more with its mechanics as players progress through the game. In addition to using their robot friends to solve puzzles, players can change the color of their weapon’s bullets, a feature classic shoot 'em up Ikaruga used to excellent effect. We’ll find out whether it does indeed live up to its creators’ potential when the Xbox One and PC exclusive arrives next month. [Rich McCormick]

Forza Horizon 3

Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One, PC - September 27th)

The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 hosted a golden era in arcade racing. There were series like MotorStorm and Burnout, and standalones like Blur and SplitSecond. Each title took a simple imperative, racecars from point A to point B, and contorted it into something unique. But while first-person shooter and sports games struck gold through being homogenous, the experimentation of the racing genre led to financial ruin. None of those games are still in development, and many of the studios have closed, lost senior team members, or transitioned to other, more traditional racing projects. Even Need for Speed and Gran Turismo Sport won’t appear at the starting line until 2017. What we get in 2016 is Forza Horizon 3. Fortunately, Forza Horizon 3 is the sequel to Forza Horizon 2, one of the best arcade racing games — full stop. The series makes the rich simulation design of Forza Motorsport accessible, dropping dozens of beautiful and fun-to-drive cars in exotic and colorful settings. Horizon 3 takes place in Australia, and features (as silly as it may sound) some of the most impressive clouds we’ve seen in a video game. You’ll be able to admire the sky on Xbox One and also PC, as Forza Horizon 3 will be the first in the series to be cross-compatible. [Chris Plante]

Yo-kai Watch 2

Yo-kai Watch 2 (3DS - September 30th)

Sure, there’s a new Pokémon on the way, and you’re plenty excited about it. But don’t forget about Yo-kai Watch. The series, which made its English debut last year, is similar to Nintendo’s monster-battling phenomenon, but changes things up in some important ways. For one, it’s set in modern day, a world where folklore creatures exist, but can only be seen with the power of the titular watch. Its monsters have more personality than Pikachu or Eevee, since they can actually talk to you, and the battles are refreshingly dynamic and fast-paced. All of these elements combine to make Yo-kai Watch and its upcoming sequels feel like more than just simple pokémon clones. [AW]

Mafia III (Xbox One, PS4, PC - October 7th)

The Mafia series has long been the Fredo Corleone of video games. Its entries have been plagued with behind-the-scenes troubles, middling reviews, average sales, and unfavorable and perhaps unfair comparisons to its cousin, the popular Grand Theft Auto series. With Mafia III, publisher 2K Games is making an aggressive attempt to give the brand a fresh and audacious new identity.

Set in 1968 New Orleans, Mafia III tells the story of Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam vet wronged by the Italian mob. The game’s developers pitch a campaign in which the small side-missions will feed into the larger plot. Assassinating mid-level mob bosses, racketeering neighborhood haunts, and interrupting rival gang trade deals, in theory, will be the legs on which the table is set. 2K Games leadership seems confident. Earlier this summer, at the annual E3 conference in Los Angeles, the company constructed a to-scale street corner of the French Quarter, including a theater, a psychic booth, and an anachronistic, humongous screen that played the trailer on repeat.

Judging from the crowds that stopped to watch, fans are ready to give Mafia another chance. [CP]

Paper Mario: Color Splash

Paper Mario: Color Splash (Wii U - October 7th)

The Paper Mario series is one of Nintendo’s best-kept secrets. The games combine the iconic world of Super Mario with a quirky role-playing game, serving as a fitting successor to the classic Super Mario RPG on the SNES. As of late, the franchise has shifted focus somewhat; the most recent game was a mashup of Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi, while 2012’s Sticker Star took the series in a more action-oriented direction. The upcoming Color Splash looks to follow in the footsteps of the latter, with an adventure that eases up on the role-playing elements, but looks to retain the distinct (and hilarious) sense of humor. [AW]

100ft Robot Golf

100ft Robot Golf (PS4, PSVR - October 10th)

You would think a name like 100ft Robot Golf would tell you everything you need to know about a game. Here’s an experience where you play as a towering robot, laying waste to cities in an attempt to get a hole in one. But there’s so much more to it. 100ft Robot Golf also features an anime-style story mode complete with "intrigue, love, suspense, and golfing action," and there’s a VR mode that lets you ride on top of one of the towering robots. Also, there’s a robot that’s a lot like Voltron, except it’s made up of smaller robots piloted by dogs, one of whom wears an eye patch. What more do you need to hear? [AW]

Gears of War 4 (Xbox One, PC - October 11th)

The next Gears of War is also the first not developed by series creator Epic Games. This time around, the game is being built by The Coalition, a new Vancouver-based studio created for the sole purpose of making new Gears of War games. (It’s also led by longtime series producer Rod Fergusson.) Gears of War 4 features a new cast of characters — including J.D. Fenix, the son of the original trilogy’s Marcus Fenix — and once again is set during a war in which big, beefy humans fight the brutal Locust alien invasions using guns, grenades, and guns with chainsaws attached to them. In a nice change of pace, Gears of War 4 won’t be a console exclusive — it’s also coming to Windows 10. [AW]

Dragon Quest Builders

Dragon Quest Builders (PS4, Vita - October 11th)

When you combine two things that are very different, you’ll often be surprised at the results. Who knew that Jay Z and Linkin Park could make a decent album together? Or that Freddy fighting Jason would actually be really boring? In the case of Dragon Quest Builders — which combines the building aspect of Minecraft with the world and story of Dragon Quest — the seemingly strange mixture works really well. It gives the at times mindless sandbox gameplay a structure and purpose, as you’ll spend hours upon hours rebuilding a fantasy town from a pile of dirt to a bustling metropolis. Along the way you’ll be digging for resources, crafting new materials, and fighting lots of cute blue slimes. [AW]

DriveClub VR

DriveClub VR (PSVR - October 13th)

DriveClub VR is one part of an ongoing test for virtual reality: can developers turn games we already know into satisfying VR experiences? The original DriveClub was supposed to help sell the PlayStation 4 at launch, although its release was later delayed — it was a gorgeous, nigh-photorealistic racing game exclusive to the platform. (While it had a flawed release in 2014, it’s recovered with some updates and expansions since then.) The game’s VR iteration, similarly, is a launch title for Sony’s new PlayStation VR platform. There are already virtual reality driving games, including DriveClub competitor Project Cars. But so far, desktop VR has been too limited for many people to try the kind of high-end racing simulation that both games offer. PlayStation VR gives DriveClub VR a chance at mainstream success, and vice versa — which makes it worth keeping an eye on, whether or not you’re into cars. [Adi Robertson]

Rez Infinite (PS4, PSVR - October 13th)

Rez Infinite is a remastered and expanded version of the beloved 2001 musical rail shooter, with development led by the original game’s producer, Tetsuya Mizuguchi. It brings Rez to the standard PlayStation 4 platform, but more interestingly, it’s also a launch title for Sony’s PlayStation VR platform. Mizuguchi started the project out of an interest in virtual reality, and while it can be played without it, the kind of psychedelic experience you’ll get while playing is ideal for VR. Now, if only it came with the full-body, vibrating "synesthesia suit" prototype that the Rez team showed fans last year. [AR]

Thumper (PSVR - October 13th)

Thumper feels simultaneously like a relic from a bygone age, when futuristic ultra-fast racers like Wipeout ruled consoles, and like something from a hyper-modern future where games are injected directly into our brains. Described as a "rhythm hell" game, players control a silvery scarab thing as it accelerates at stupid speed into the visual manifestation of an LSD trip. Videos of the game in action are difficult to process, full of violent splashes of sound and color, but play Thumper and you’ll find yourself slipping into a flow state — you’re not moving your reflective vehicle, the world is moving around you. It might look like Wipeout, but a closer comparison is Super Hexagon. [RM]

civ6-1 Screenshot: Civilization 6

Civilization VI (PC - October 21st)

As Civilization players try to make their perfect world, so too is developer Firaxis trying to make the perfect world-building game. Civilization VI is attempting this by streamlining the process, making its cities easier to read, and its tile system easier to understand. There’s also more explicit choice in how you set up your settlements than before: players can now build special districts in the areas around their cities, turning some settlements into research centers with universities and labs, or industrial areas with smoke-belching factories. This choice feels like it gives players a greater connection to their land. In previous Civ games I’d allow my workers to potter around on their own, trusting them to build their own improvements at their own pace. It was a hands-off approach that worked but felt disconnected from anything meaningful, a part of the game that might as well not be there. When I last played Civ VI at E3, that option was gone, forcing me to consider when to cultivate a farm, and when to pave it over for a more important building. [RM]

Battlefield 1 (Xbox One, PS4, PC - October 21st)

We normally only see World War I in grainy footage, its eerie silence and unnatural quickness making it feel like a war that might not even have happened. Battlefield 1 changes that perception. Its vision of the Great War is as noisy, dangerous, and brutal as the real thing was. Its virtual Flanders fields are hazed with gun smoke and caked with mud, home to an army of enemies who will kill you from their trenches.

World War I bridged the gap between the modern and the almost medieval, a conflict that featured cavalry charges and sword duels alongside machine guns, mid-air dogfights, and chemical warfare. The setting gives developer DICE license to hand players the strangest weapons from the era, as well as keys to newfangled tanks and the reins to horses. [RM]

The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian (PS4 - October 25th)

The Last Guardian is the follow-up to the sparsely designed adventures games, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, both of which debuted on the PlayStation 2 in the first half of the 2000s. Like the latter, The Last Guardian features a young man and at least one giant creature, though that may be where the similarities end. Despite its lengthy development, surprisingly little is known about the game other than its emphasis on puzzles and collaboration with artificial intelligence. This is really happening, right? I’ve blurbed The Last Guardian for the last nine years, and I still can’t believe I will ever transition this fantasy adventure from the future tense to the past tense. [CP]

World of Final Fantasy

World of Final Fantasy (PS4, Vita - October 25th)

While Final Fantasy XV looks to usher in a new era for the iconic franchise, World of Final Fantasy is an attempt to return to its comparatively simpler roots. Designed to be welcoming to those new to both RPGs and FF, the game has you controlling a pair of twins as they travel through multiple worlds in search of their lost memories, capturing and raising monsters along the way. It also looks absolutely adorable, with an art style that transforms terrifying monsters and brave knights into cute little toys. [AW]

Titanfall 2 (Xbox One, PS4, PC - October 28th)

All any of us really want in life is a 40-foot tall robot friend that we can climb inside to obliterate our enemies. After its predecessor was released as an Xbox One and PC exclusive, Titanfall 2 will let us all live that dream, with a PS4 version arriving at the same time as its Microsoft siblings.

The game itself looks to offer more of the same, giving players a choice between shooting their enemies in two monstrously cool ways: either by running up the side of a building and plugging them in the head, or by vaporizing them with the help of the aforementioned building-sized robot. It also adds in a single-player campaign, which was missing from the first release. Fingers crossed that Titanfall 2 avoids the same fate that befell the original Titanfall, which boasted a bombastic, fantastic multiplayer mode that somehow slipped through the cracks, making it strangely difficult to find a full match just a few months after its release. [RM]

Skyrim Remastered

Skyrim Special Edition (Xbox One, PS4, PC - October 28th)

Bethesda is taking its sweet time in announcing the next big Elder Scrolls game, but that’s okay, because we’ve still got Skyrim. We first got to explore Skyrim’s massive fantasy world in 2011, but even with a five-year head start, only true completionists will have seen every corner of the sprawling Scandinavian land. The remastered version of Skyrim gives us a chance to go back up north, in a prettied-up version of the game that includes its expansion packs, as well as the chance to install mods on console. It’s this last feature that makes this remastered Skyrim an exciting prospect after all these years. Mods have kept the PC version of Bethesda’s game fresh and fun, giving players everything from minor graphical tweaks to professional-grade questlines that land their creators jobs at development studios. Most importantly, it means console players might be able to battle giant Thomas the Tank Engines in the skies above Skyrim. [RM]

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Xbox One, PS4, PC - November 4th)

It’s the 14th game in a series that hasn’t changed its core mechanics since 2003, but Infinite Warfare looks like the most promising Call of Duty in a long while. It has spaceships, for one thing, an inclusion that makes any game better, as well as interesting zero-gravity arenas that will let players make use of new traversal tools like grappling hooks. Infinite Warfare is a Call of Duty game, so you’ll still be shooting a gun at streams of dumb soldiers, but it’s severed almost all of its predecessors’ ties to real conflicts. Players are instead pitched into a sci-fi fight between goody-goody Earthlings and the unquestionably evil human troops of the imperialist Settlement Defense Front, who’ve just done their best to blow up our home planet. You’ll play Nick Reyes, one of the last captains of Earth’s depleted fleet of battleships, making it essentially the game version of Battlestar: Galactica. [RM]

Eagle Flight VR (Oculus Rift - November 8th)

Eagle Flight is one of those games that sounds great at first, seems less cool when you hear more, then flips back to being great when you actually see it executed. To wit: Eagle Flight is a game about being an eagle flying through a deserted Paris in virtual reality, which is great. On the other hand, it’s a non-motion-controlled title, which means you’re pretending to be an eagle by tilting your head while holding a controller. On the other other hand, Eagle Flight looks gorgeous.

It promises to combine single-player challenges and exploration with competitive multiplayer battles, which play out similarly to airplane dogfighting games. It’s also developed by Ubisoft, making it one of the relatively few VR titles from a big-budget studio. Most VR games are relatively small, so don’t expect Assassin’s Creed: Eagle Edition just yet. And since it’s being released around the same projected window as the Oculus Rift’s Touch controllers, it’s possible Rift owners will want to spend their time exploring motion controls, instead of trying yet another seated title. But on HTC Vive, it’s a change from the platform’s many prototypes. It’s also part of the first wave of games for PlayStation VR, which will probably be the most widely accessible of the three platforms. [AR]

Dishonored 2

Dishonored 2 (Xbox One, PS4, PC - November 11th)

Released in 2012, Dishonored felt both comfortingly familiar and strikingly original in a world of sequels and spinoffs. Its team of veteran designers aimed for the openness of stealth / action games like Deus Ex and Thief, set in a world that was one part steampunk, one part dark fantasy, and one part whales — call it whalepunk, maybe? It was the kind of game where you could send a swarm of supernatural rats to devour your enemies if you really wanted, but you were more likely to spend hours getting a perfect stealth run and the game’s good "low chaos" ending. The big question is whether Dishonored 2, set 15 years after the original, can expand the series without making it bloated. The game’s most significant change is that in addition to the original protagonist Corvo, you can also play as the younger Emily Kaldwin, using a distinct set of powers for each character. It’s the kind of gender-balance compromise we saw in last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, layered on top of some fantastically weird-looking environments — like a "clockwork mansion" that rearranges itself as you move. [AR]

Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2 (Xbox One, PS4, PC - November 15th)

The pitch for Watch Dogs 2 sounds like a response to criticism leveled at its predecessor. Where the original’s setting was a murky recreation of Chicago, now we get a bright San Francisco bay. Where the original protagonist was a generic disgruntled bro, now we get a fashion-forward and politically motivated hacktivist. Watch Dogs was painfully self-serious, and so the trailers for Watch Dogs 2 are rife with drones, RC vehicles, pop music, and a dude with an LCD face mask. Of course, Watch Dogs’ most damning fault was its design: the game simply wasn’t that enjoyable to play. At E3 in June, we tested a number of small improvements to driving, shooting, and hacking. The demo, while not a grand departure from the original game, was promising. Without a release in 2015, the franchise may have also benefited from a little extra development time not always afforded at big publishers. [CP]

Pokémon Sun and Moon (3DS - November 18th)

For millions of lapsed fans, Pokémon Go was a reminder of just how amazing the series can be. But while it managed to capture the core fantasy of collecting and battling adorable creatures, the mobile game also left a lot to be desired. It was missing many of the features Pokémon fans have come to expect, like trading and an actual story — but thankfully Sun and Moon are on their way. The latest main entries in the franchise take place in a Hawaii-like island destination, complete with plenty of new pokémon to befriend, some of which are beachy, carefree takes on classics like Exeggutor and Ninetales. Aside from the new creatures and locations — and what appears to be a newfound focus on vehicles — Sun and Moon don’t appear to stray too far from the Pokémon formula. And that's a good thing. [AW]

Final Fantasy XV Image: Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV (Xbox One, PS4 - November 29th)

The next Final Fantasy has been a long time coming. Originally announced way back in 2006, Final Fantasy XV has had its name changed, a new director take over, and been delayed multiple times (including just this month). In spite of all that, however, hopes are high for the latest entry in the series. XV tells the story of Prince Noctis and his three closest friends, as they embark on an epic road trip that presumably ends with saving the world. Along the way they deal with massive monsters, a robotic army, and a luxury car that can transform into a plane. With its intriguing characters and story, vast and varied open world, and more modern gameplay and visuals, FF XV could just be the game that returns the series back to blockbuster status once again. [AW]

Steep (Xbox One, PS4, PC - December 2nd)

If the Eskimo people have 50 words for snow, then I’m willing to bet they’d use the majority of them in a description of Steep. The mountains of Ubisoft’s extreme sports simulator are coated in a thick layer of the cold stuff, and it all looks good enough to touch. Some of it thick, pillowy, and inviting, the kind of powder you just want to rub your hand through, while other portions are brittle, icy, and dangerous — the kind you’d avoid on a sidewalk. Steep gives players skis, snowboards, and wingsuits, before dropping them off at the top of its mountains with one directive — get back down. Along the way they’ll be able to race their friends and set personal bests through certain courses by land or air. The quest for Skate 4 continues, but Steep looks like a satisfying stopgap. [RM]

Gravity Rush 2 (PS4 - December 2nd)

Gravity Rush is one of the greatest games almost nobody has played. Originally released on the PlayStation Vita handheld in 2012, the gravity-defying adventure of Kat was ported to PlayStation 4 this winter with minimal fanfare. Gravity Rush 2, which has been designed from the ground up for the more powerful hardware, will, hopefully, be the franchise’s breakout success, and not its final appearance in the spotlight before falling into the darkness of obscurity.

Gravity Rush 2 should appeal to anyone who has pined for a superhero film set in a world designed by Hayao Miyazaki. The urban settings are rich and colorful, but also stained by industrialization. There’s a friction between the natural and the engineered. Kat’s ability, which allows her to control the direction of gravity so that she falls in any direction, encapsulates the game’s turning of the familiar on its head. With a tap of a button, up becomes down, down becomes up, and the whole world turns sideways. [CP]

South Park

South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Xbox One, PS4, PC - December 6th)

Leaving aside the logistics of a "fractured but whole" — let’s leave that image in the minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone — the new South Park game sounds like a more well-thought-out experience than its 2014 predecessor, the Stick of Truth. That game had the jokes of a proper South Park episode, poking hours of fun at video game tropes and conventions, but suffered from a simplistic battling system. The Fractured But Whole promises to change that, adding more complicated combat and customizable characters, hopefully making it work as a deep RPG, as well as a parody of one. But while TFBW might be changing South Park’s video game mechanics, it’s not altering the childish tone of the show — farts are still the world’s most powerful weapon. [RM]

Dead Rising 4

Dead Rising 4 (Xbox One, PC - December 6th)

Frank West is back. The original protagonist of the zombie action series returns as the lead in Dead Rising 4, which shifts the setting to a small Colorado town overwhelmed with the undead during Christmas. We don’t know much else about the game, but it looks to have the same emphasis on turning virtually everything around you into a weapon as its predecessors. In early trailers, Frank can be seen killing zombies with the aid of everything from a spiked bat to some kind of super-powered robot suit to a cross-bow that shoots candy canes. At one point, he can be seen wearing a fire-breathing triceratops mask. So yeah, same old Frank. [AW]

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