Is a couple of weeks past Labor Day too early to be thinking about the holiday season? I feel like it isn’t, at least when it comes to video games. The time between summer and Thanksgiving has always been prime video game release season, as publishers try to catch some of that holiday cash that’s pouring out of everyone’s wallets this time of year.
If you are planning to empty your wallet to give the gamer in your life a special gift for the holidays, don’t risk accidentally giving ‘em Lee Carvino’s Putting Challenge instead of Bonestorm; consult my list of the top 12 most anticipated games coming out between now and the new year. Since every game isn’t for everyone, I’ve also included info about who might want which game.
Mortal Kombat 1 (September 19)
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Billed as a return-to-form for the Mortal Kombat series, Mortal Kombat 1 aims to give fans more of what they want—bone-shattering, skill-based violence—and less of what they don’t want—gameplay imbalance, extra-goofy stories. Classic MK characters like Sub-Zero and Johnny Cage will return, as, hopefully, will the illicit, multiplayer fun of ripping your friend’s spine out when cross-platform play becomes available in a future update.
Who will like this game: Fans of fighting games, of course. This is not a game for kids or those sensitive to violence. It’s super-violent.
Available on: Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Lies of P (September 19)
Sometimes the idea behind a video game is so completely out of left field that it has to be awesome—or at least interesting. Lies of P is that game for 2023. In this single-player action RPG, you are Pinocchio. Yes, the puppet Geppetto crafted who wants to be a real boy. But this is not a kiddie game. It’s a hardcore “soulslike” with a dark fantasy Belle Époque-inspired setting, punishing combat, and a grimly decadent story. It’s probably not for everyone, but if it’s for you, it’s really for you.
Who will like this game: Fans of the Dark Souls games and Elden Ring.
Available on: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Payday 3 (September 21)
If you sometimes want to get together with your friend for a good, old fashioned heist, Payday 3 is your joint. The third Payday game sees the Payday Gang in New York City, where they will be looting as much as they possibly can without being gunned down by the police. There are some new features and wrinkles in Payday 3, but overall, PayDay 3 is keeps the core gameplay the series is known for instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, much to fans’ relief.
Who will like this game: Fans of over-the-top action and chaos will love Payback 3.
Available on: PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S
Assassin’s Creed Mirage (October 5)
I unabashedly loved Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, and I’m hoping the next game in the series even comes close to its greatness. Set in Bagdad in 861, Mirage is ditching some of the RPG elements from Valhalla and other more recent Assassin’s Creed games to focus on the action and parkour the series is known for. There probably won’t be many Vikings either, but I’ll try not to hold that against Assassin’s Creed: Mirage.
Who will like this game: Fans of huge, epic games will love the sprawling, history-based settings and stories of Assassin’s Creed Mirage.
Available on: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Detective Pikachu Returns (October 6)
I don’t know why a pokemon would be solving mysteries as a hard-nosed, tough-talking private dick, but it’s awesome anyway. Detective Pikachu Returns is a cinematic adventure game that features Pikachu working with other Pokemon like Slowpoke and MewTew to get to the bottom of the nefarious goings-on in the underbelly of Ryme City, where humans and Pokemon live side by side.
Who will like this game: This is a good game for slightly older kids, maybe 8+—it’s about crime, but it’s “cute crime”; there’s tough talk, but not that tough; and who doesn’t love Pikachu?
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Forza Motorsport (October 10)
The Forza series has led the pack in racing sims since 2005 when the original Forza Motorsport was released. This is the first full Forza game to come out since 2017’s Forza Motorsport 7, and they dropped the number in the title to highlight that this is a ground-up reboot with a new game engine, better physics, and tighter gameplay. That means more white-knuckle racing action in hundreds of real-world cars, both online and single-player.
Who will like this game:: The gearhead or aspirational-car dreamer in your life will love Forza Motorsport.
Available on: Xbox Series X|S, PC
7th Guest VR (October 19)
Virtual reality gamers can feel like an afterthought when it comes to lists of game releases, but they have feelings too. This full VR reboot of classic horror game 7th Guest will provide puzzles, mysteries, scares, and spooky exploration in a way that no “actual reality” video game can.
Who will like this game: Puzzle fans, old school gamers, and horror fans will all enjoy 7th Guest VR.
Available on: Steam, Quest, and PSVR 2
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (October 20)
This highly anticipated PlayStation 5 exclusive lets player be either Peter Parker Spider-Man or Miles Morales Spider-Man and freely roam through an expansive, open-world New York City, fight both Venom and Kraven the Hunter, and generally sling webs all over the place. It’s a must-have for just about any gamer.
Who will like this game: Literally everyone with PlayStation 5 wants this game.
Available on: PS5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder (October 20)
PlayStation 5’s gamers’ anticipation for Spider-Man 2 can only be matched by Nintendo fans excitement about the release of a new, 2D side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. Game. Both games are coming out on the same day, so if you’re a dual-console household, there will be fights for the TV. Also: They should just make October 20 a national holiday.
Who will like this game: Super Mario Bros. Wonder is perfect for kids experiencing 2D Mario for the first time and adults who remember the first time they played Super Mario Bros. 3. So everyone and anyone.
Available on: Switch
Cities: Skylines 2 (October 24)
Billed as the “most realistic and detailed city builder ever,” Cities Skylines 2 promises to add even deeper mechanics and gameplay to the already ridiculously rich Cities Skylines. More complexity in the simulation doesn’t mean more complexity in the gameplay, though: Cities Skylines 2’s creators say it will be simpler to understand than its predecessor too.
Who will like this game: Civic planning simulations are not for everyone, but Skylines 2 is a great gift for that analytical planner with a god complex in your life.
Available on: PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.
Alan Wake 2 (October 27)
Some of us have been waiting to continue the adventures of Alan Wake since the first game came out in 2010. Thirteen years in the making, this survival-horror sequel sees the title character, a troubled writer, paired with co-protagonist Saga Anderson, an FBI agent hunting a serial killer. Expect broody atmosphere, terrifying set-pieces, and dark surprises.
Who will like this game: The horror fan in your life will thank you for this gift.
Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (November 10)
The release of a new Call of Duty game has been a yearly holiday tradition for dozens of Christmases. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the series, MW 3 will feature the fast, ferocious multiplayer fans of the series crave, bigger maps than ever before, more game modes than you would believe (including an open-world “Zombies” game) a new cinematic campaign, and that hard-to-define special sauce that makes CoD the undisputed king of first-person-shooters.
Who will like this game: If you have a competitive gamer in your life, this is the one to buy for Christmas.
Available on: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows