Apocalipsis takes its cues from an often neglected corner of Western cultural history, remaking fantastical woodcuts into a convincing, amusing and engaging world. Its puzzles, its art and its atmosphere feel authentically medieval, while its story splashes in the dark waters of stoicism.
God of WarPS4
Barlog — now older, a father — has returned to the series with a bundle of talented designers, many of whom served on the earlier games, to make good on that rich but neglected potential at its core. There’s still plenty of gore, but the now the guts have meatiness. Some die-hard fans may fear this isn’t really God of War. I suppose they’re right. It’s even better.
What’s left if you have the stomach to ignore the story? A very enjoyable game with an immense number of things to do, a beautifully recreated portion of the United States, and a collection of missions with wildly varying tones and structure. It’s a finely tuned open-world game stapled onto a story that’s insultingly bad.
Leo and Vincent work well as conduits for the players, allowing us to role-play through these two men, and to experience the thrills of escaping prison. The ability to spend time with them, and with my player partner, is A Way Out’s biggest strength, even if the details sometimes lack pizzazz. A Way Out has many faults, but a lack of heart isn’t one of them. Seeing that heart translated into a cooperative play experience makes the journey worthwhile.
Even the unique aspect of Sea of Thieves, the player-versus-player combat, has limits. I’ve seen players come up with amazing tactical strategies to broadside ships, board them and make off with the treasure, but since everyone is generally equipped with the same tools, there are only so many ways that ship-to-ship combat can currently play out.
Ni no Kuni 2 aims for a lot of different targets: world-spanning story, management sim, recruitment game and solid combat experience. Against all odds, it manages to hit them all in a way that very few games in its genre can manage. There’s no part of the game that feels more or less important, and there were no moments in the game where I thought I was slogging through exposition or kingdom management to pad hours in my playthrough.
Yakuza 6: The Song of LifePS4
Even with my criticisms of the admittedly optional and inconsequential aspects of the game, Yakuza 6 succeeds because its core story is so compelling. Every seemingly disconnected part serves a purpose: Without fights, it’d just be a movie; without cutscenes, it’d just be a series of contextless fights; without exploration, it’d be an on-rails punching simulator. All of those unexpected pieces and the (oh-so-long) cutscenes interact to make an equal parts story- and punching-driven game that is heart-wrenching.
Kirby Star AlliesSwitch
Still, while it lacks the substance to properly satisfy longtime Kirby fans, Star Allies does at least seem genuinely earnest in its underlying belief in the power of friendship. The game is frequently chaotic and a touch under-baked, but it’s hard to be too upset at a game where you can break down long-standing bonds of enmity and heal foes with a kiss. Even if it’s on the brief and simple side, Star Allies demonstrates the polish and personality you’ve come to expect from the series. It’s a kid-friendly romp through the franchise’s most memorable moments, and the asymmetric gameplay and lively spirit of Kirby’s latest journey make it a great way to introduce a new generation of fans to the series.
Moss is not so much a game as it is an experience. Polyarc sets an immensely high bar for storytelling in VR, exuding careful and deliberate artistry in every aspect — sound design, lighting, camera, visuals — to create a world worthy of straining your back to see the area in 360 degrees. In every sense, I felt like I was inside one of those beautiful, gilded storybooks. The only thing missing was the smell of the forest and old paper.
Where The Water Tastes Like WinePC
Balancing the interactive fiction-style play that carries the bulk of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine with more traditional elements — namely an obscure, puzzle-like system with what feels like a lackluster return — is a difficult task. It’s not one that Dim Bulb Games has quite succeeded with. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine isn’t a visual novel, and considering how open-ended its journey is, throwing in some structured progression isn’t a bad idea.
There’s a weird, enjoyable story in Metal Gear Survive for players who make it past the game’s grueling opening hours, and there are flashes of a great survival game. But with a threadbare connection to the 30-year history of Metal Gear and a comparatively shallow game made in the shadow of The Phantom Pain, it’s hard to recommend enduring the whole thing.
As the game reaches a grand finale, I’m left with the satisfying knowledge that there is still much to explore, winkling out hidden gems and secrets. It’s one of those games that works for those who are happy sticking to the main quest, as well as completionists who want to see and collect everything. Some of the gem-collection challenges take practice and patience, but they are not required to complete the game.
This new remake marks the third time I’ve revisited Secret of Mana in the past year: First with the Japanese release of Seiken Densetsu Collection for Switch, and then again with the 16-bit game’s inclusion on Nintendo’s Super NES Classic Edition mini-console. The first two experiences reminded me what extraordinary alchemy Squaresoft achieved with Secret of Mana.
A Case of DistrustPC
This is a damned fine game. Murder-mystery books and TV shows can sometimes feel like a bit of a chore, rolling through familiar procedures as they wend their way toward the whodunit. It’s a sign of the times that a point-and-click dialogue tree narrative adventure gives flight to a genre that’s been so thoroughly tilled in other media. I’m looking forward to playing more games like A Case of Distrust.
Descenders takes a valiant stab at integrating the fast-paced, stunt-focused gameplay of downhill sports with the procedural generation of modern games. Unfortunately, this combination robs the genre of one of its strongest attributes: handcrafted level design that players can dive into and learn from. This is balanced by tight controls and a slick presentation that keeps you from ever getting too angry at it — just make sure to not wipe out too hard.
Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Rise and FallPC
I enjoy military campaigns in Civ games, but I’m convinced that developer Firaxis has made a good choice in Rise and Fall. This expansion is a recognition that the magic of this series is in giving players lots of choices — sometimes difficult choices — as we all strive to stamp our own personalities on what is, effectively, a simulation of personal political leadership.
Dragon Ball as a series has always forefronted epic battles. In each episode of the cartoon, godlike warriors transformed the landscape in fantastic one-on-one fights with ease. In FighterZ, anyone can feel like that in any fight. I’ve been waiting for a Dragon Ball game like this ever since I first saw the cartoon in grade school, and I’m so happy this day has come.
If you had asked me just two weeks ago to name the biggest storytelling sin a game could commit, I would have told you it was making players ask questions without giving them a reason to care about the answers. Ask me today and I’ll tell you something different. Lost Sphear buried me under convoluted logic and explanations, lore and jargon, only to cast it aside with a shrug whenever the details were inconvenient to the action. It answered my questions, but in ways so fundamentally disconnected and absurd that I regretted even caring in the first place.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology3DS
Thanks to its late release, Historia on DS has been largely overlooked or forgotten. Chronology seems likely to suffer a similar fate, arriving at the presumed tail end of the 3DS’ life. It deserves better. Does it seem counterintuitive that this RPG works better when played as a different genre altogether? Perhaps ... but somehow, that seems perfectly fitting for this strange, convoluted, time-traveling tale.
UFC 3 is a lot like real fighting in the sense that the player must be intimately familiar with their strengths and weaknesses, and introduce new techniques by focusing on them one at a time, fight to fight. It requires a lot of losing to git gud. The demands may be tough, realistic and even admirable, but they effectively restrict the player to a single fighter or mode they know best, if they want to have any success or feel like a winner.
Shadow of the ColossusPS4
What better evidence of this than the fact that, five years later, Sony’s big PlayStation exclusive of the season is this recreation of a PS2 classic. As wonderful a game as this is, the lesson mustn’t be that we need more games that look like this Colossus — rather, that we need games that feel like it: a decade later, pushing against what we expect from games, warts and all.
It’s ironic that a platforming game’s greatest, most innovative elements lie not in the platforming itself, but around it. Yet perhaps that’s the point. Matt Thorson, the game’s designer, is clearly a master of platforming mechanics, as evidenced by his work on TowerFall and some truly insane Super Mario Maker levels. Celeste reaches beyond, showing that tricky, well-designed platforming challenges are really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s far more underneath the surface. And maybe that’s worth dying for.
We’ve already seen Battlegrounds’ first “cousin” in the form of Fortnite: Battle Royale, which beat the game to market on console. Expect to see more in the coming years, as every AAA publisher finds ways to put its brands, talent and money into exploiting the language of the battle royale genre. I have no doubt a few of these games will be great. One or two may be superior to Battlegrounds.
At its best, the game is a celebration of Marvel, putting together characters from lore deep-dives with big-screen names like Captain America and Star-Lord. At its worst, it is a vague, opaque slog through hundreds of identical enemies and bad level design. Sadly, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is more “stepping on lego bricks” than “excelsior.”