Overland perfectly captures a feeling of being helpless, of only just getting by, and of being afraid to venture too far away from your car into the pitch-black dark of night. Every movement you commit, every action you command, and every item or character you sacrifice for another will be an apprehensive decision. But taking each of those tough steps makes you even more grateful to hear the soft chime of your car's open-door alarm when you make it back, and the rev of the motor when you escape down the highway, relieved to leave another pack of abnormal creatures behind.
Though it can be frustrating that its core gameplay never evolves past the often one-note rhythm of hacking and jumping across different levels, keeping it from reaching greater heights, I still came away impressed with how much Blasphemous stuck close to its haunting, dark storyline. To that end, playing through this send-up to metroidvania games was a satisfying trial to overcome in its own right.
Children of MortaPC
Children of Morta's fantastic art style and enjoyable storytelling take what would have been an otherwise fun roguelike dungeon-crawler and elevate it a great deal. Taking down enemies and eventually triumphing over bosses is enjoyable, but what kept bringing me back was the connection I felt to the Bergsons, and my sincere desire to help them push back against the Corruption. After all, it's a lot easier dealing with dungeons full of monsters when you have a family to come home to.
But ultimately, because Greedfall is so cavalier about its colonialist themes, and because it plays it safe by sticking so closely to the template of open-world RPGs, it doesn't really feel revelatory in any way. Instead, it's content to be just another digital playground--just another world filled with magic, riches, secrets, and monsters for players to shoot and loot at will. I did have fun when I got lost in its familiar RPG loop, but its lack of nuance or innovation prevents it from being truly remarkable.
AI: The Somnium FilesPS4
Despite the occasional frustration in exploring its dream landscapes, the whole of AI: the Somnium Files winds up being a fun, thrilling, and engaging experience. The story is filled with intriguing twists and shocking surprises, and the characters and their individual arcs inspire you to care about what happens to them. The somnium dream worlds add a layer of psychological horror to the ongoing mystery, and Date and Aiba’s constant back-and-forth interactions provide levity to make every investigation all the more amusing. AI's unconventional detective story is one you won’t soon forget.
NHL 20Xbox One
NHL 20 successfully captures the ice hockey experience from the ponds to big games under the bright lights, with a fine attention to detail and simple yet deep controls that are best-in-class. Once you get over the shock of Eddie and Doc being out of the game, the new commentary team do an adept job of providing informative and playful banter, while the game's multitude of varied modes each have their own distinct feel and appeal that go a long way to make NHL 20 an excellent representation of hockey culture across the board.
Daemon X MachinaSwitch
The missed potential of the story and minor issues with mech-vs-mech combat and multiplayer loadouts make Daemon X Machina fall just short of its potential, but the foundation is strong. As a total package, it’s on the verge of greatness; it just needed a little more time in the shop tinkering.
eFootball PES 2020 Standard EditionPS4
eFootball PES 2020 continues to do its talking on the pitch, refining and improving on last year's game to present what might be the greatest football game ever made. Sure, it's disappointing that you still can't play as Borussia Dortmund and the majority of the Bundesliga and a few other leagues, and its single-player offering is almost identical to what was included three years ago. But all of this effortlessly drifts to the back of your mind once you step between those white lines and simply start playing the beautiful game.
And what a conclusion it is. Borderlands 3 has a few stumbling blocks when it comes to bosses, but these fights are overshadowed by the game's rewarding gunplay and over-the-top humor. The game's character-driven narrative acts as a satisfying finale for the loot-shooter franchise, and the new mechanics and features--especially the reworked skill trees and weapon manufacturer effects--give you plenty of agency in how you want to play through it.
Erica has a strong, fleshed-out narrative full of twists and turns that each bring their own unique piece to the story. Its cryptic tone is carried through the audio, visuals, and writing; it never lets you relax. Sometimes weird controls jolt you out, but there is an abundance of enticing threads to follow, and it's a treat to be able to mold your own adventure out of it. Using a combination of crisp cinematography and FMV-specific game mechanics, Erica never fails to hook you into its haunting, mysterious world.
From lonely farmhouses through pitched battles with gods in far-flung dimensions, Divinity: Original Sin II is one of the most captivating role-playing games ever made in both its original and Definitive incarnations, with the latter proving that even the most complicated role-players can be ported successfully to gamepad-limited consoles. This immaculately conceived and emotion-wrought fantasy world, topped by brilliant tactical combat, make it one of the finest games of recent years, and it remains an instant classic in the pantheon of RPG greats.
For all the gripping tension that its setting instills, Blair Witch can't maintain its initially frightening atmosphere and ends up losing it entirely by its conclusion. It doesn't capture the paranoid horror of its namesake in the same way, partly due to wonky enemy encounters that tread on the ambiguity of its central antagonist and one-note puzzle-solving that rips you out of its meticulously crafted atmosphere.
Creature in the WellPC
Creature in the Well manages to inject the geometry-focused experience of pinball into the frenzied gameplay loop of a dungeon crawler to craft a unique puzzle action game. On occasion, the game's hands-off approach to conveying information is a hindrance, but the well-structured dungeons and monstrous antagonist more than make up for it--producing an engaging hack-and-slash experience that allows for satisfying experimentation.
Gears 5 is very much a return of those best elements of Gears of War, but with a focus on making the game feel somewhat more adaptive to your particular ways of playing. Whether you want campaign or co-op, Competitive or Quickplay, there's an option for you in Gears 5, and plenty of stuff to reward you for time spent and skill gained. Gears 5 might suffer from some of the same storytelling missteps as its predecessors, and it might not venture far out of the past, but the new ideas it brings to the series are all good reasons for fans to return.
Monster Hunter: World - IcebornePS4
This expansion is rife with moments like that; all of the tweaking and the improvements feel like they were done with the excellent building blocks of Monster Hunter World in mind, which means that getting to the meat of the matter is quicker and more satisfying than ever. There’s no more fussing about with new systems or worrying about ruffling the feathers of hardcore fans with a direction change in the series; those teething problems have already come and gone. Iceborne is a confident step into the future of the franchise, and it's hard not to think about what might come next.
Knights & Bikes was created by a small team featuring several people who worked on LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway, and you can feel that all these games share a similar creative vision. There's a kind of wide-eyed, rough and tumble spirit of adventure running through all three games that is hard to resist. Knights & Bikes is a wonderfully warm, effortlessly inviting experience that'll make you feel young again.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of MedanPS4
Man of Medan is still telling a weak story, though, as much as Shared Story plasters over this with its excellent take on co-op, which lets you plan things out and work together to craft the narrative you want to tell (and kill the characters you find the most annoying). If you can organize a session with someone else who owns the game and play through the whole thing together, it's an excellent experience; but if you're after another single-player horror narrative experience like the one offered in Until Dawn, it's very disappointing.
Astral Chain's shortcomings don't overshadow what it does best. It's an incredible execution of a fresh take on Platinum Games' foundation, standing among the stylish-action greats. And its own anime-inspired swagger makes fights all the more exhilarating. You'll come to appreciate the calmer moments in between that add variety and offer a second to relax before jumping back into the superb combat. After 40 hours with Astral Chain, I'm still eager to take on the tougher challenges, and I'll be grinning from ear to ear as I hit all the right moves, one after the other, while watching it all unfold.
Whether you're heading into the final episode in much the same place you were at the beginning--or under the chilling implications of a certain late game choice--watching Daniel wrap his arms around Sean in either circumstance exemplifies what makes the series work so well. Your Sean can be kind or standoffish, thieving or righteous, but your actions don't change the love and adoration between the Diaz brothers--and that love is still the heart and soul of Life Is Strange 2.
It's not often that a game invades my thoughts the way Control has. I'm at the point where I want to consume every last thing it has to offer. And if I'm honest, it also makes me want to go back and replay Remedy's past games, too. Sure, it's a faulty metroidvania in some respects, but there are so many exceptional qualities afoot that Control handily deflects any momentary ire. I can't wait to take part in discussions about the game, to see what others have figured out, and to better understand where it all fits into Jesse's story.
Ancestors: the Humankind OdysseyPC
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey lingers for far too long on its most toilsome aspects. The game does reward initial experimentation, but then asks you to repeat processes over and over again without any means of securing your legacy. It's an absolute grind to reach the closest that Ancestors has to an endgame goal--survive for eight million years--and one costly mistake, whether the game's or your own, can erase everything you've accomplished.
Oninaki is a game that frequently sabotages itself. Its beautiful environments and mood are dampened by annoying hordes of samey enemies. Its amazing concept and world design are wasted on a story that's poorly paced and doesn't give you an adequate reason to care. Its varied and interesting combat styles get dragged down by the need to grind Daemons and uneven difficulty overall. There's certainly some beauty to be found in Oninaki's tragic world, but these flaws make this a circle of life that you can skip over.
Remnant: From the AshesPC
Confusing accurately describes Remnant: From the Ashes a lot of the time, especially when its combination of established ideas doesn't mesh. But for the most part, the experiment is a success, resulting in deeply satisfying combat against creative and challenging enemies. Remnant struggles to effectively transfer that success over to an engaging loot system and an interesting story to wrap it all up, but when you're blasting away foes with weapons crafted from the remains of your latest boss kill, it's hard not to do so with a wide smile on your face.
Telling Lies offers you the opportunity to delve into the intimate connections between people, to uncover who they are possibly to a deeper extent than even they realize. The production values and performances in particular make Telling Lies feel true and immediate, elevating the game's conceit that you're taking part in something forbidden and possibly sinister, even as you work as a digital detective. In that way, it's contemporary and meaningful as a game that uses interactivity in a unique way to explore how we relate to one another.