The Best New Games of September 2023

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The Best New Games of September 2023

Every September games get down to business. The 12 or so weeks between Labor Day and Thanksgiving are when the lion’s share of new games are released every year, with a handful of major new titles landing every single week. This past month was no different, with games bit and small cascading down onto our hard drives with abandon. Not all of them are great, of course. Even the most anticipated, longest-in-development games from massively successful developers can disappoint. But when so many games come out in such a short period of time, you’re guaranteed to find at least a few worth playing. So let’s sort through September’s overwhelming bounty and pick out the top of the crop, the ones most worth playingthe best new games of September.

5. Payday 3

At the risk of betraying how little I’ve played Payday 2, I’d say Payday 3 plays pretty damn faithfully to what longtime players expect. The series has never been the smoothest shooter, reveling in a comfortable (and almost endearing) amount of awkwardness  that is still kind of present here. However the change in engine and sheer passage of time does mean there’s a kind of night and day change in quality in Payday 3. It kept me on my toes more than I expected, especially for the sequel to such a well-established and known quantity. The possibilities in this game multiply quite a bit once you factor in all the different permutations of character builds and approaches that players can make and take. This and the consistency of post-launch content seem to be why Payday 2 is the megahit that it’s turned out to be, and at first blush Payday 3 seems to be following in those footsteps.—Moises Taveras 

4. Mortal Kombat 1

Mortal Kombat 1 continues one of the longest, strangest stories in games, as the now-godly Liu Kang tries to create a single new timeline that resets the game’s classic characters to new, idealized versions. Of course almost nothing goes as planned and various sorcerers and elder gods muck the whole damn thing up. It wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat if everybody got along. MK1‘s introduction of “kameo” fighters—partners who can be brought in for a quick sneak attack or part of a combo—adds a new strategic element while also expanding the number of Kombat karacters in the game. Yeah, it’s a fairly standard take on assist characters, and personally I could take or leave it (this game’s hectic enough as it is, not sure we need even more visual info on screen), but it does set it apart from the rest of the series, which can be hard to do with a series as old as this one. A good Mortal Kombat takes its absurd kung fu fantasy nonsense just seriously enough for it all to work and Mortal Kombat 1’s story mode finds the right balance throughout. And it still has probably the best tutorial in fighting games—at least among the genre’s heaviest hitters.—Garrett Martin

3. Chants of Sennaar

Chants of Sennaar

Imagine if Journey was explicitly about the Tower of Babel. Chants of Sennaar doesn’t follow too directly in the footsteps of thatgamecompany’s modern classic, but it’s just as cryptic and beautiful, with a similarly red-garbed lead character. As its Biblical inspiration suggests, you adventure up a tower whose residents speak a different language on every floor. They can’t communicate with each other, and at first you can barely understand them. You have to puzzle out what their words mean through context, conversation, and repetition, while also contending with occasional stealth sections that can ruin your journey if you’re not careful. Sennaar isn’t perfect, but it’s a unique, fascinating game that sets you loose in an unknown civilization and trusts you to learn your way through.Garrett Martin

2. Cocoon


Beyond its visual strengths, one of Cocoon’s most fascinating aspects is how its mechanics amplify the mind-expanding qualities evoked by its aesthetics. Just as you’re getting a read on certain repetitive, game-y patterns, such as when a monster encounter or additional power are likely to materialize, things veer off course as the puzzles become increasingly interesting. As its challenges become more complex, they also become increasingly based around cosmic proportions, causing us to feel the odd metaphysics of this space slide around in our gray matter as we undergo a miniature metamorphosis. It’s a genuinely cool effect that feels like the underlying purpose of this endeavor.—Elijah Gonzalez

1. El Paso, Elsewhere

El Paso Elsewhere

El Paso, Elsewhere does something exceedingly difficult: it’s an action-first game that still focuses heavily on its story, and pulls everything off with a consistent level of care and quality. It’s an intentionally “weird” game that doesn’t owe too much to overly referenced cultural touchstones like Twin Peaks or hoary conspiracy theories, and it’s also blatantly indebted to turn-of-the-century gaming without feeling cliched or unoriginal. (Think Max Payne or PS2-era shooters—that’s what El Paso yearns to evoke.) It invites all manner of comparisons and references, and yet defies almost all of them across its 50 chapters. It stirs a lot of echoes, yet makes a sound that’s entirely and unmistakably its own. It does the job and does it well, with the kind of cohesion you rarely see in games: an expertly calibrated suite of mechanics that interconnect flawlessly, combined with a smart, well-written story and an intricately interwoven soundtrack.—Garrett Martin

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