First released back in 2013, the PlayStation 4 is approaching the end of its lifespan as the launch of the PlayStation 5—expected later this year—looms on the horizon. It’s been a successful generation for Sony: free from the dramatic swings in fortune that marked the PS3 era, the PS4 has quietly become the fourth-biggest selling video game console of all time.
The PS4 era has seen the introduction of a range of important new features for the console, from virtual reality headsets to the super-charged PlayStation 4 Pro, through to the PlayStation Now cloud gaming service and PlayStation Plus’ monthly games subscription.
With its days in the limelight drawing to a close, let’s take a look back at the last seven years of gaming, and celebrate some of the best titles to grace Sony’s fourth PlayStation. A note before we go any further: only games released for the PS4 have made the list, which is why you won’t see ports like GTA V (first on PS3) or Shadow of the Colossus (a PS2 game) make the cut.
God of War
The PlayStation mainstay returned reinvented on the PS4. Gone was the blockbuster-like action madness of previous games. In its place was something far more mature as Kratos’ explosive rage gave way to a more sullen, determined father figure. A closer camera angle and more direct combat helped make this the most intimate God of War yet, while borrowing soe elements from peers like The Last Of Us and The Witcher 3 breathed new life into its gameplay.
The Witcher 3
A far more accessible game than its predecessors, The Witcher 3 is so much more than just an RPG. It’s a masterclass in story-telling, set in a world that feels truly alive, where all of your choices matter and few of them are as simple as good or evil. Five years on and it’s still one of the best-looking video games on the planet. The fact The Witcher 3 later got two enormous expansions, bigger than many other RPGS on their own, only makes it all the more remarkable.
The most important thing about a Spider-Man game, swinging from a web, was starting to get a bit like gaming’s own version of Greek Fire, something once invented and perfected (by 2004’s Spider-Man 2) and since forgotten. Insomniac were able to rediscover it and create one of the best superhero experiences on the PlayStation.
Bonus: much of Spider-Man’s graffiti was done on actual walls by Plek One, then scanned into the game to give it a more authentic New York feel.
Horizon Zero Dawn
The PS4 was weirdly short on Killzone games (just the one, at launch), but for good reason: developers Guerrilla Games were working on something better. Horizon imagines a world where human civilization as we know it has ended, but not the human spirit. With mechanical dinosaurs roaming a vast, barren world, it combined stealth, exploration and story-telling better than all but the very best games of the PS4 era. Hopefully the PS5 can play host to Aloy’s next big adventure.
The Souls series (and Sekiro) have all been great, but Bloodborne is the best thing director Hidetaka Miyazaki has done this console generation. It’s brutal, it’s dark and it’s unforgiving, as you’d expect, but more than anything else Bloodborne’s superiority over its soulmates comes down to its more direct combat system, which was less plodding than its predecessors tended to be. The setting was also fantastic, with the game’s horrific Victorian/Lovecraftian tones a perfect match for Bloodborne’s unrelenting pressure.
With so many single-player games now designed to be played once then done with, Nier bucks the trend by asking you to play it again and again and again. And it’s worth it every time, because the more you play, the more of its story you uncover, and the more of its exquisite combat you get to enjoy. There’s an elegance to the way 2B moves and fights, making this one of the most satisfying action games you can play on PS4.
Red Dead Redemption 2
It was a long time coming—and takes a long time to get through—but Rockstar’s second Western was definitely worth the wait. Dropping players in a world so large it’s almost overwhelming, Red Dead Redemption 2 is probably the best story Rockstar has ever told, 19th century or otherwise. Nowhere is this more evident than during its memorable, drawn-out finale, complete with the most pleasant (and playable) of surprise endings.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Assassin’s Creed made its name in cramped, urban environments, but it has found new life as an open-world action game. Both 2017’s Origins and 2018’s Odyssey have players sneaking and murdering over huge distances, and I don’t want to do Origins (or Bayek) a disservice here by playing favorites, but Odyssey is the superior game thanks to its nautical vibe, RPG-like elements and the mere presence of Kassandra, perhaps the greatest assassin of them all.
There have been lots of Hitman games before, but none as good as this. Building on the surprise success of the series’ 2016 reboot, Hitman 2 is a unique video game experience, able to convey the tension of hide-and-seek so well you’ll be playing with your heart in your mouth. A big part of that is down to Agent 47’s fits: you can change clothes in all kinds of games, but the way Hitman lets you do it so effortlessly—and makes it a cornerstone of your murder plans, even when dumping bodies in the trash—helps elevate this from accomplished stealth game to all-time great.
While the Persona games are famous for their characters, soundtracks and insane plots, the real key to their success is their mastery of time. Forcing players to spend one whole year in the shoes of a high schooler, with all the drudgery and excitement that involves, lets you truly live your avatar’s life instead of just skimming through it. And what better life could you lead than being a Tokyo kid with a talking cat who fights monsters in the subway, and who has to spend 100 hours breaking into the spirits of bad people to change their hearts?
With a strange release schedule and a ton of remakes on the market, it can be tough knowing just where to start with the Yakuza series. The answer to that question is simple: start here, then play every other game in order. There’s so much to love about Yakuza, from its bonkers cast to its virtual tourism (Japanese cities are caricatured down to the most minute detail), but the two main draws are its pulpy stories, told through hours of cutscenes, and its excruciatingly visceral combat.
There are a lot of big, noisy games on this list, but in this one you just need to fire up your PS4, hit the couch and chill, which is why I wish there were more games like Hohokum. It’s simple yet pure in its execution. Developed in collaboration with record label Ghostly (Tycho, Com Truise), its lo-fi soundtrack complements its colorful, absent-minded wandering to perfection. All you have to do is fly around a 2D-world and enjoy the music. Because sometimes that’s as much fun as saving the world.
It might be the smallest space exploration game ever made, but Outer Wilds still feels impossibly huge thanks to the way it positions the player as a first-person astronaut who has to explore the same tiny corner of the galaxy, looking for the clues that will help them reach one of this generation’s great endings. Outer Wilds is so good because it never tells you its story, it instead just leaves it lying around for you to uncover in the coolest and most imaginable ways.
After a slight misstep, at least by the series’ own lofty standards with Uncharted 3, the fourth and final (for now) game in the franchise had a lot to do. And it did it with style, delivering one of the slickest and most action-packed games of the generation. Sure, by the end it had worn out some of its welcome, relying on a few too many familiar set pieces and Nathan Drake-isms, but Uncharted 4 was still a wild ride from start to finish. Sony is having a lot of trouble turning Uncharted into a movie, but really, when the games have been this cinematic on their own do we really need one?
Kentucky Route Zero
It’s fitting that Kentucky Route Zero makes an end-of-generation list like this, since its first chapter was released the same year as the PS4, and its final act is now out in the year it’s being replaced. Adventure games don’t really grab headlines the way they used to, but KRZ isn’t your average adventure game. A dark, dry ride through (and under) the heart of America, KRZ is a classy, modern take on the genre where conversations are more important than puzzle-solving.
Inside is a platformer that’s menacing in parts, immensely satisfying in others and, like its predecessor Limbo, sometimes even funny at the most inopportune times. Controlling a boy wandering through a monochromatic world that’s full of puzzles and deathtraps, Inside’s grim tone can best be summed up by the fact its music was recorded by passing sound through an actual human skull. And those endings…years after release, people are still no closer to working out exactly what either of them actually mean.
There were a few “living” shooters to choose from for this list, from Fortnite to Apex Legends, but Destiny 2 is the best of them. It has its ups and downs, and switches some stuff up from the original which launched in 2014, but maybe that was for the best. Its focus on cooperation is what sets Destiny 2 apart, and what has helped foster one of the closest and most passionate fanbases in modern video gaming, even in the face of what feels like never-ending turmoil. Destiny 2, more than any other online shooter, truly feels like a living, evolving thing, which can be terrible one month and brilliant (as is more often the case) the next.
They say you can’t reinvent the wheel, and that may be true, but you can improve it, and nearly three decades on from Tetris’ creation this modern version retained everything about the original, while adding a bunch of fantastic new tricks to spice it up. On one hand, it’s Tetris. On the other, this is more than Tetris, bringing music into the game (ala Lumines or Chime) and all kinds of crazy ways to clear lines that make this even more challenging (and frustrating and enjoyable) than the original.
Metal Gear Solid V
Ditching the claustrophobic confines of earlier games in the series for what would prove to be his Metal Gear swan song, Hideo Kojima went the sandbox route in Metal Gear Solid V to impressive effect, rounding out its peerless stealth action with a cast of bizarre and memorable characters. The bigger levels presented whole new challenges (and headaches) for players, while Mother Base borrowed some of Animal Crossing’s homely charms, giving us something to fuss over between missions, not just while out on them.
Considering the first (Titanfall) and third (Apex Legends) games set in this universe were multiplayer games, it was easy to overlook Titanfall 2, despite it retaining some of Titanfall’s best features, like the fact that it was based on piloting a crunchy, giant mech, and that you could run across across walls like a superhero. What made Titanfall 2 so special though is that it wasn’t just a single player game, it was an outstanding one, with its biggest moments, a time travel and airborne set piece. being among the most memorable first-person experiences since Half-life 2.
Luke Plunkett is a Senior Editor at Kotaku. You can read more of his work here.
- Words: Luke Plunkett