A comprehensive look at the very best games available for Sony’s PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 consoles.
The PlayStation 4 was released back in 2014 and has been a huge success for Sony – selling over 100 million units worldwide and becoming the second best-selling home console of all time (currently just trailing the all-conquering PlayStation 2). Sony’s enviable roster of quality first-party studios has ensured the PlayStation 4 is home to an incredible line up of exclusive games not available on other consoles. Ranging from state of the art blockbusters to smaller-scale indie darlings, the PS4 truly has quality as well as quantity.
What follows is a list of the very best console-exclusive games available for the PlayStation 4 listed in order of release date, and since Sony has confirmed that the PlayStation 5 is compatible with “99% of PS4’s catalogue”, this list will be continually updated with the latest and greatest PS4 and PS5 releases going forward (any PS5-only titles will be clearly marked).
Release: September 2020
Developer: Mossmouth / Blitworks
Spelunky’s greatest magic trick was always its remarkable ability to make randomness so utterly, beautifully precise. Creator Derek Yu knew this more than anyone, and thankfully hasn’t forgotten it during the 10-plus years since his masterpiece was first released. Smartly then, many of the original game’s fundamentals remain untouched in Spelunky 2. The general structure is the same; dig deeper into randomly generated environments, trying to avoid environmental traps and enemies whilst gradually increasing your own knowledge of the game and opening up shortcuts to aid future attempts. There are of course new additions here, with extra items, traps and enemies making for a busier game overall and adding to the already-steep difficulty level of the original.
The great benefit to this is that Spelunky 2 retains its predecessor’s wonderful capacity to surprise, no matter how many hours of experience you may have under your belt. It’s daunting stuff, but the myriad ways in which the game’s dangers and physics systems conspire to pulverise your plucky spelunker are inventive, consistently surprising and darkly comic; helping to lessen the frustration of repeated deaths and restarts. Spelunky 2 is that rare follow up to a classic title that not only builds upon what went before it but does so without sullying its predecessor’s name or by feeling unnecessary or cheap. Another masterpiece from Derek Yu and Mossmouth then, proving that there was nothing random about the original game’s towering achievements.
Ghost of Tsushima
Release: July 2020
Developer: Sucker Punch
After helping to kick-off the PS4 generation with Infamous: Second Son, Sucker Punch serve up one of its final blockbusters with Ghost of Tsushima. This is a far more ambitious game than Infamous, and far more serious too; indebted as it is with the classic Samurai movies of old. Sweeping vistas, slow motion duels and even a grainy, black and white “Kurosawa mode” ensure Tsushima wears its influences not just on its sleeve, but with big flashing lights on them. True to form, the opening half-hour of the game is a bombastic tour-de-force that quickly embeds the player into it’s narrative, setting up a story that is both personal to the protagonist and far-reaching for his people.
Tsushima can often fall foul of the usual open-world pitfalls (namely an over-reliance on similar and often repeated side-missions and an abundance of collectibles), but the world itself is so beautifully realised, so graphically stunning to behold that it can sustain these familiar problems for far longer than many of its peers. Indeed, Ghost of Tsushima is photo-mode taken to it’s current-gen limits, the game practically advertising itself via the thousands of beautiful images and videos flooding across social media and streaming channels. Although ultimately personal preference will dictate how long players will tolerate samey side-missions, Ghost of Tsushima’s compelling main story and an unwavering dedication to its subject matter ensure that Sucker Punch’s latest comes close to having the depth to match its astounding surface-level beauty.
The Last of Us: Part II
Release: June 2020
Developer: Naughty Dog
To paraphrase an old theory known in writing circles, the key to a good story is to create relatable characters and then make bad things happen to them. Well, it’s safe to say that The Last of Us Part II’s writers truly, truly believe in this theory. The original Last of Us was released towards the tail end of the PS3’s lifetime and brought with it a maturity in narrative, a subtlety in storytelling and a genuine step-change in performance capture that set a new high water mark for the industry. It created characters that were so well rounded, so nuanced and believable in their motivations and individual flaws that players felt part of their lives long before the game reached its conclusion.
With The Last of Us Part II, Naughty Dog subvert expectations and play with these beloved characters in ways rarely seen in gaming – in any medium – before, introducing enough controversial design choices and bait-and-switch shocks to provoke true hatred from many fans. The journey is often tortuous in the extreme; violent, vivid and supremely uncomfortable to be a part of. It is also an experience that can only work via the interactive medium of the videogame, and that is truly something to be celebrated. The Last of Us Part II is an ambitious and audacious risk the likes of which no other AAA developer would be daring enough to even attempt, let alone deliver at this kind of scale and polish. It is both a towering achievement in game design and a genuinely divisive narrative experience that will be hotly debated for years to come.
Release: February 2020
Developer: Media Molecule
Where do you start with the game that can be anything? Media Molecule’s latest is LittleBigPlanet’s ‘Play, Create, Share’ ethos taken to its absolute extreme and then some. Where LBP allowed the remixing of levels and assets found within the game, Dreams allows for the creation of literally anything and everything on a granular level. Indeed, Dreams is a game that doesn’t even have to be a game at all. It’s fluent in the language of game design and game creation, but is wholly open to artistic expression of any kind. Visual novels? Still artwork? Musical numbers? It’s all possible and more, and although this may sound intimidating at first, Media Molecule are the masters of accessibility.
Dreams provides players with both a never-ending supply of pre-made content to enjoy, and a never-ending supply of tools with which to create your own. No side is given priority over the other and the level of sophistication and depth on offer is miraculously hidden away behind gradual, easy to digest tutorials. Media Molecule of course provide their own examples of what can be achieved with their tools (our write up of the game’s campaign mode of sorts ‘Art’s Dream’ can be found here), but its by putting all of these tools into the hands of players and making them so accessible that makes Dreams so special. This is a joyous and often magical experience for anyone and everyone, and a truly titanic achievement by Media Molecule. So where do you start with the game that can be anything? Well, wherever the hell you want of course.
Release: November 2019
Developer: YS Net
Announced alongside Final Fantasy VII and The Last Guardian during Sony’s remarkable ‘E3 of Dreams’ back in 2015, Shenmue 3 was the impossible game; a project most thought had no chance of ever seeing the light of day. After the staggering (and expensive) ambition of Shenmue 1 and 2 contributed to the downfall of Sega during the Dreamcast era, the pre-planned and epic multi-part story of Ryo Hazuki ended all too abruptly, destined never to be told. Until of course the rise of crowdfunding and the involvement of original designer Yu Suzuki made the dream a reality by allowing fans to directly fund this long-awaited sequel as part of a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign. The end result is a slow, ponderous and sometimes boring game. It’s also detailed, honest and almost everything fans of the originals could have hoped for.
For better and for worse Shenmue III feels as though it was made exactly as it would have been if it were released directly after Shenmue II – ignoring many of the design principles and improvements introduced to gaming in the two-decades since. Shenmue III is not an unreserved recommendation by any means, but for those who know and love the first two games in the series the third is unlikely to disappoint. And besides, how wonderful a thing it is just to be able to say that Shenmue III exists at all.
Release: November 2018
Developer: Enhance Games
It’s not that Tetris isn’t very good, of course it is – one of the very best in fact – but the thought of yet another modern update to the now 30+ year old classic isn’t something that elicits too much excitement from many players anymore. This is a Tetsuya Mizuguchi Tetris update though, and the Rez and Lumines creator and his team predictably deliver an experience that transcends anything that has been done with the game before. Mizuguchi’s games have always taken a relatively simple premise and added layers of visual and audio effects to create experiences greater than the sum of their parts, and in finally landing the Tetris license he has coveted for so long he finally has access to what is arguably the most perfectly simple game ever created, and has duly created his masterpiece.
The age-old rules of the game are stretched and moulded and the effects layered on so perfectly as to create an almost out of body experience, and with PlayStation VR the game is taken to its obvious euphoric extreme. The phrase “Tetris effect” is a term that describes how a repeated activity can begin to involuntarily alter someone’s thoughts and dreams. With Mizuguchi’s latest game, it is now possible to experience the Tetris effect at will.
Astro Bot: Rescue Mission
Release: October 2018
Developer: Japan Studio
The Astro Bot levels in PlayStation VR pack-in The Playroom were unquestionably some of the highlights of that package, but the leap in quality that Japan Studio has taken from those levels to Astro Bot: Rescue Mission is nothing short of astonishing. This is a highly confident and competent VR-only 3D platformer in which the developers take a stream of simple ideas and stretch them to their absolute limits. As the designers grow more and more confident with the host hardware, so too does the game. The levels get bigger and better as they go, and a constant flow of ideas pour in from all angles to continually delight and surprise.
There is a Nintendo-tier eye for polish and detail here which is particularly noticeable in the wonderful animations and character designs – especially the rubbery movements of the consistently brilliant bosses. It is a rare game indeed that makes the developers’ joy in creating it so blindingly obvious; the smiles of those who worked on it reflecting off its characters’ faces and back onto yours. This is PSVR’s best, most joyous game yet, and a high water mark for virtual reality in general.
Release: September 2018
Developer: Insomniac Games
Games based on franchises or licenses from other medium such as films or comics often fall foul of having all of the potential but none of the execution. Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man is a glorious exception. This is a title that takes everything the license offers; the lore, the characters, the fun, the excitement – being Spider-Man! – and makes it everything you imagined it would be. From web-slinging and wall-running to Peter Parker’s snarky attitude and lovingly recreated bad guys, everything here just feels right. The subject matter is taken seriously, handled delicately, and the utmost respect is given to one of Marvel’s most youthful, exciting and relatable characters.
Taking plenty of cues from the Batman: Arkham titles – particularly the methodical, hard-hitting combat – Insomniac take a fairly standard modern-day open-world template and imbue it with the action and spectacle that Spider-Man deserves. Whilst some of the game’s lab-based puzzles can sometimes outstay their welcome, this is otherwise a superbly paced and utterly compelling superhero extravaganza. Expertly blending fan service, state of the art visuals and hugely accomplished and enjoyable gameplay, Spider-Man is an all-too-rare licensed game that truly does justice to its beloved source material.
God of War
Release: April 2018
Developer: Santa Monica Studio
For a series so famous and so well-loved for its laser-focused dedication to spectacle and violence, it was a huge gamble for Santa Monica Studios to introduce a young child into the mix and give notoriously one-note death-bringer Kratos reason to care for and look after him. Of course, the spectacle and violence is still here – and in some style – but it’s given greater weight by Kratos’ new found reasons to deliver it. The shift in setting is a welcome surprise too. Moving the series from the Greek mythology of old and into the Norse realm avoids over-familiarity with the older titles and allows the designers to create some truly stunning and unique locations and creature designs – the introduction of the World Serpent in particular being one of the PS4 generation’s most jaw-dropping moments.
God of War successfully blends grand scale with minor detail in spectacular fashion to provide a relentlessly entertaining and surprising adventure from beginning to end. Santa Monica Studio added heart, soul and genuinely hard-earned emotion to a series that was already so accomplished at everything else, and created something truly special in the process.
Shadow of the Colossus
Release: February 2018
Developer: Team ICO / Bluepoint Games / Sony Japan Studio
Bluepoint Games (responsible for stellar remasters such as The Nathan Drake and Metal Gear Solid Collections) deliver their finest work to date with the Shadow of the Colossus remake. Rebuilding Team ICO’s PlayStation 2 classic from the ground up with truly cutting-edge technology, Bluepoint somehow manage the impossible task of updating every aspect of the game’s already impressive visuals whilst maintaining it’s highly unique and evocative atmosphere. Of course the original game’s base quality was never in question, and Bluepoint have wisely seen fit not to tinker with it.
Tasked with exploring an ancient land and finding, provoking and ultimately killing 16 often peaceful creatures in order to bring back a lost love, Shadow of the Colossus is the rare game that forces the player to question the very actions it asks of them. Bluepoint Games’ state of the art technology and Shadow of the Colossus’ timeless art-style combine beautifully for a truly top-tier remake of an enduring PlayStation classic.
Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Release: August 2017
Developer: Naughty Dog
Having created three hugely popular 3D-but-on-rails Crash Bandicoot games for the original PlayStation, Naughty Dog were presented with the increased power of the PlayStation 2 system and happily raised their ambition to match it. The result was its first fully 3D platformer and a true technical marvel of its time. The continuous open world featured no loading times and the animation evident in its characters was a huge leap forward – an early glimpse at the kind of incredible performance and motion capture techniques that the studio is now famed for with its Last of Us and Uncharted titles.
This PS4 upgrade may be a modest one (upscaling is about as good as it gets), but the quality of the game still shines brightly today. The animation and pin-sharp control of the characters allowed Naughty Dog to create player movement and responsiveness reserved for the very best titles out there, ensuring Jak & Daxter became – and remains – one of the greatest 3D platformers to have emerged from outside of Nintendo’s fabled headquarters.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Release: August 2017
Developer: Naughty Dog
Originally intended as a short spin-off chapter for Uncharted 4, The Lost Legacy predictably fell victim to Naughty Dog’s relentless dedication to narrative sophistication, quickly expanding into a full-length standalone experience in its own right. The result is yet another fantastic Uncharted title that includes all of the hallmarks of the mainline series and takes it’s time to brilliantly expand upon the characters of fan-favourites Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross. The visuals, the story, the performances and set pieces that fans know and love are all here, but Lost Legacy was also able to introduce some new ideas of its own with a mid-game open-world hub area far bigger and less linear than any featured in the series previously.
Ultimately, bringing an end to Nathan Drake’s story in Uncharted 4 wasn’t enough to prevent Naughty Dog from creating another classic Uncharted title, and The Lost Legacy is every bit the equal of the Drake-starring games which preceded it.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Release: February 2017
Developer: Guerrilla Games
After more than a decade spent working on the sometimes-great, sometimes not-that-great Killzone series, Guerrilla Games changed gear in spectacular fashion with the release of Horizon: Zero Dawn. The move to a third-person control and combat system, alongside a full open world and a deep RPG and progression system was a huge departure for the studio and one which rather incredibly resulted in their most accomplished game to date.
Up there with the very best looking games of the generation, Guerrilla deliver an incredible open world environment and fill it with some truly remarkable enemy designs. All of this combines with a deep and surprising story and a wonderful sense of place to make Horizon: Zero Dawn one of PS4’s best games, and the start of yet another flagship first-party franchise for Sony.
Gravity Rush 2
Release: January 2017
Developer: Sony Japan Studio
The original Gravity Rush, released in 2012 on the PlayStation Vita was a unique and beautiful game that seemed to appear from nowhere and won many fans due to its wonderful, Dreamcast-esque art style, unique gravity-manipulating gameplay and genuinely loveable protagonist Kat. The sequel doubles down on everything that made the original great whilst expanding and improving the scope, breadth and graphical quality to take advantage of the added power of the PS4. Although the scale and ambition of the game have increased drastically, the rugged charm of the original remains intact.
The first Gravity Rush is also available on PS4 in remastered form, and although its handheld origins are often apparent in its comparatively small scale, it is definitely still worth playing. Gravity Rush 2 is the true proof of concept though; a truly lovely adventure that remains one of the prettiest and most unique games on a console with no shortage of either.
The Last Guardian
Release: December 2016
Developer: Team ICO / genDESIGN / Sony Japan Studio
The fact that The Last Guardian was released at all is a minor miracle in itself, but the sheer quality of the final product was wholly unexpected. Although it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise. Created by the minds behind PlayStation classics ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, the pedigree behind The Last Guardian was never in question, but countless development problems, delays spanning two console generations and multiple cancellation rumours caused many to believe that the troubled project would never see the light of day, let alone live up to its original hype. Thankfully, the finished product is a beautiful adventure that does its spiritual successors proud, in which a young boy must work together with an initially onerous cat-like creature to escape an ancient, gorgeously designed castle ruin.
As with ICO and Shadow of the Colossus before it, The Last Guardian is a dreamlike, sometimes clunky experience that certainly won’t be for everyone. But for those who connect with its world and with the beautiful bond formed between the two main protagonists, it is an extraordinary experience that will live long in the memory.
Batman: Arkham VR
Release: October 2016
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Released early in PlayStation VR’s lifetime, Batman: Arkham VR from Rocksteady Studios was an early showcase for the format that really showed what was possible with the new medium. Although only a relatively short experience, Arkham VR starts at a rather sedate pace before slowly but surely ramping up the tension towards a truly barnstorming finale, smartly using all of the tricks in the then-unwritten VR rulebook to pull all kinds of ingenious surprises on the player.
Showing all of the polish and ingenuity evident in the studio’s mainline Arkham series – alongside another remarkable, show-stealing performance by Mark Hamill as Joker – Rocksteady’s Arkham VR is a must-play for existing fans of virtual reality, or for those yet to be convinced by it’s gameplay and storytelling potential.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Release: May 2016
Developer: Naughty Dog
If Uncharted was the practice run, Uncharted 2 the giant leap forward proof of concept and Uncharted 3 the slightly too ambitious overreach, then Uncharted 4 is the honed-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life peak of the series. It is ridiculously polished and accomplished. Storytelling and set-pieces perfected over the preceding games and refined, mature character development to rival The Last of Us is all added to one of the most stunningly beautiful game-worlds ever made. No other developer on the planet is capable of combining all of these elements with the flair and finesse that Naughty Dog demonstrates here.
Uncharted 4 is an all-too-rare action blockbuster spectacle with genuine heart and smarts alongside technical and artistic mastery in equal measure. If this is indeed the end of Nathan Drake’s story, it’s a hell of a way for him to bow out.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
Release: October 2015
Developer: Naughty Dog / Bluepoint Games
Remaster specialists Bluepoint Games present one of gaming’s most enjoyable trilogies in a single package, polishing up the PS3 classics in fine style for the PS4. The games themselves are each worth playing in their own right, but together act as a fascinating document of Naughty Dog’s continued progression as a studio. The first Uncharted (their first game for the then-new PS3) is by far the simplest of the three. It is still an enjoyable adventure – and was by no means simple to develop – but provides a mere glimpse at what was to follow. Uncharted 2, released just two years later is the definite highlight of the trilogy, and is one of the most perfectly paced and downright entertaining games ever made.
The leap in quality from Uncharted 1 is staggering, with Naughty Dog more than delivering on the kind of quality only hinted at in the first game. It is the perfect summer blockbuster and includes a number of the best playable action set pieces ever committed to code. Uncharted 3 can be forgiven for not quite having the same impact as its predecessor, but it is still a highly entertaining game and a true technical marvel. Exploration and player expression is sacrificed a little as Naughty Dog go all-in on the scripted thrill-ride premise, but the level of polish and craft on display is a step beyond what most other developers are capable of. Combine all of the above with some of the most likeable and memorable characters in gaming history and this is a trilogy well deserving of its classic status.
Release: March 2015
Developer: From Software / Sony Japan Studio
After the medieval stylings of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls 1 and 2, Bloodborne was a big stylistic sidestep for FromSoftware. Although many of the tried-and-tested Souls gameplay staples are present and correct, Bloodborne trades the medieval knights and castles of old for a more horror-tinged, gothic style. The combat system too is drastically altered, adapted to encourage aggressive play in place of the more calculated defensive systems of the Souls games, making for a far more frenzied and action-orientated experience overall.
Incredibly, with the help of Sony’s Japan Studio (who also helped develop PS3’s Demon’s Souls), Bloodborne not only did its generation-defining Souls stablemates proud but is actually held in even higher regard by many fans. Truly, Bloodborne is another towering FromSoftware achievement, cementing their position as one of the best and most consistent developers in the industry.
Release: October 2014
Developer: Evolution Studios
Describing the initial launch of DriveClub as troubled would be a huge understatement. It was a disaster, and hugely unfortunate for everybody involved. Billed as a true next-generation experience in the build up to PS4’s launch, with incredible visuals and a forward-thinking, always-connected premise from a studio with real pedigree in the genre, it was one of the great hopes for the new era of console gaming. Upon release, the servers broke and large parts of the game rendered unplayable. What followed however was a relentless drive to add content and quality to the game (whole locations, events, cars and even bikes were all patched in) which eventually resulted in one of the best racers of the generation.
Disappointingly, DriveClub has since been de-listed from digital storefronts and almost completely swept under the rug by Sony, but it remains the best sim-arcade hybrid racer on PS4. And still, over seven years later and despite never receiving a PS4 Pro patch, the game’s wet weather effects are still yet to be bettered. DriveClub should have been remembered as a great, but a catastrophic launch from which it never recovered meant it tragically faded from view with nothing like the recognition it deserved.
The Last of Us Remastered
Release: July 2014
Developer: Naughty Dog
Following the pulpy, Indiana Jones-inspired action romps of the Uncharted series, The Last of Us marked a huge departure for Naughty Dog. The quality of animation and motion capture were always a trademark of the studio’s output, but here they were used to wring every ounce of emotion out of the game’s characters and its players. The drastic shift in tone was evident right out of the gate with one of the bravest and most gut-wrenching openings in gaming history, setting the stage for a tale demonstrating a maturity that truly raised the bar for the industry.
Whilst this Remastered edition isn’t the huge leap in graphical fidelity it perhaps could have been, it is still most welcome, and the included DLC chapter ‘Left Behind’ is just as essential as the main game itself. Naughty Dog used a fairly standard post-apocalyptic setting as a springboard to introduce some of gaming’s greatest ever characters, and to tell one of the most daring and sophisticated narratives the medium has seen. One filled with natural, nuanced performances that still have the power to completely take your breath away.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy
Backward Compatibility Title
Original Release: 2005 (PS2)
Note: PS5 Compatibility currently unknown
Grand Theft Auto’s original jump into 3D with GTA III took as big of a leap in ambition and technology for Rockstar Games as Super Mario 64 did for Nintendo, and it laid the early groundwork for open-world game design upon which many of today’s titles are still built. Opinions vary on which of the three PS2 entries is the best, but for many the 80’s themed, Scarface-inspired Vice City will always be the pinnacle of the series due to its unparalleled atmosphere, incredible sense of place and series-best soundtrack.
Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas combine to make one of the greatest trilogies in gaming history, and it is fascinating to revisit each of them now to see just how many of today’s design foundations were first developed within them, and to appreciate the seismic impact they had – and continue to have – on the industry as we know it.
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