Singular and confident, Ultros is a startling piece of work that knows exactly what it wants to be, and hones in on that goal with laser beam focus. It depends on time-tested videogame actions and concepts not just for their comfort and retro appeal, but as a familiar foundation that can be gradually fucked with as part of the game’s greater themes. And although those themes and their presentation are intentionally confusing and obtuse, Ultros never devolves into chaos for the sake of it; there’s always a clear point of view and thought process driving the game’s design. Ultros brings mystery back to gaming in brilliant fashion, delivering us the first genuinely great game of 2024.
No genuinely good game has ever been hurt by being too easy, though. With El Paso, Elsewhere Strange Scaffold has given us one of 2023’s great games—one that’s in constant conversation with the medium’s past, while simultaneously brushing against the emotional and intellectual boundaries of games. And it does it all with one hell of a sense of a style. El Paso, Elsewhere’s greatness lies not in the excellence of any one of its single components, but in the consistently high level of quality found across all of them. It does everything it tries to do exceedingly well, with sound, image, story, and interaction combining into a uniformly great package. Game designers can learn a lot from El Paso, Elsewhere, and perhaps even act on that knowledge, if their publishers let them.
Playing Starfield makes me want to play games that explore space and games that were made by Bethesda, but it doesn’t make me want to play Starfield. It tries to give us the universe, but it’s so weighed down by its own ambitions and a fundamental lack of inspiration that it can’t even get into orbit.
Disney Illusion Island ultimately proves to be more Disney than Metroid. That makes sense: they’re selling this game based on Mickey and Minnie, after all. If you’re a Hollow Knight or Ori fan looking for something as challenging or emotionally powerful as those games, you probably never expected a game starring Goofy to deliver on that. Illusion Island gives us what it promised: a light, fun Metroid-style game with multiplayer, built around Disney’s most beloved characters, and that’s ideal for younger players and their friends and family. You’d have to be seriously goofy to find any fault with that.
B-12's memories are a kind of collectible you'll have to search for, and a few optional side-quests require scrounging up assorted bric-a-brac, but Stray doesn't make you wander about examining every nook and cranny for something you may or may not actually need. That's a good thing for a videogame, but if you were hoping to really just play as a cat doing cat-like things, "pointlessly searching for stuff you don't need" would be exactly what you wanted. The cat game might be less about the cat and more about the existential crises facing mankind and the artificial intelligences that will be left behind, but at least there's a dedicated meow button.
Forbidden West isn't a game that will surprise you or make you rethink the possibilities of what games can do, but it's proof that games can still be really fun even if they don't try anything new, and that's something we don't often see from big budget corporate games like this one.
I kept chugging along through its story and its battles without either ever feeling like much of a chore. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy doesn't have the ingenuity or spark of James Gunn's movies, but it should do just enough to keep you interested on a lazy afternoon when you don't have anything else to do. That's a perfectly fine role for a game to fill, and this game is perfectly fine with filling it.
Too many of these games fall into that witless trap of thinking something "serious" and "important" must also be humorless and dark, unrelentingly grim and fatalistic. Psychonauts 2 reveals that for the nonsense that it is, showing that you can more powerfully and realistically depict emotion when you use warmth, humor, humanity-the whole scope of emotions that make us who we are. Psychonauts 2 asks "how does it feel to feel?", and then shows the answer to us-and the games industry at large-in brilliant colors.
Whether it'll be worth it to you depends on how much you'd need to end up spending and how much you enjoyed your first time in Tsushima. If you've never played it, though, Director's Cut is the obvious choice whether you're on PS4 or PS5. It might be the filler of games, but it's some of the best filler I've ever played. Slap that on the back of the box, Sucker Punch.
It doesn't skimp on challenging action or a satisfying story, but it also doesn't expect us to devote dozens of hours to it. You can reach the end of the story in less than eight hours-roughly as long as the original Legend of Zelda. Its end is neither sudden and unexpected, nor long and drawn-out. If only we can all embrace our own end as gracefully as Death's Door does.
The story that should compel us to keep playing instead becomes an annoying digression from what the game does well. These environments, those puzzles, and the size-changing gimmick that lets you solve them comprise a unique and fascinating vision that depends on the kind of esoteric thinking familiar from classic point-and-click adventure games. Instead of pulling us in deeper, though, Michael and Kenzie's romance pushes us away. That's the real tragedy of Maquette.
It all comes down to the aesthetic-the muted color palette, the hushed tones when characters speak, the overarching sense of loss and despair that permeates the game. And most notably, those archaic visuals that look like they're from the latest Sierra game you and your friend play on his Tandy computer every afternoon after school. Olija roots its mysteries in the ever-distant, increasingly forgotten past, with all the warmth and sadness that implies.
Still, simply acknowledging real world problems isn't enough, even if most games refuse to even do that. If Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is going to raise real-life issues, it needs to treat them with the respect and thoughtfulness that they deserve. As good as this game is, it could've been something genuinely special if it was as brave and confident as the comic book hero it stars.
If Bugsnax wants us to seriously question our relationship to animals, our food sources, and nature itself, it probably shouldn't turn its equivalent to our livestock into run-of-the-mill videogame bad guys who need to be killed. It shouldn't portray these characters' escape as success. It'd be a far bleaker and more depressing game than anybody ever would've expected from that first trailer if the Grumpuses wound up being punished for their hostility to nature, but if Bugsnax isn't willing to fully engage with these weighty subjects, it shouldn't bring them up in the first place.
The genius of Spelunky 2 is that it somehow adds new possibilities to a game that already had endless possibilities. That's legitimately impressive. And that's why I'm sure I'll be playing this for as long as I've played the original, both games coexisting blissfully together as one of the absolute best parent-child pairs in gaming.
Maneater is a fantastic central concept around which an intermittently enjoyable game has been built. It might not be a classic, but it'll be hard to forget, and that's the kind of game that typically seems better as time goes by. Expect to see this absurd bit of bloody, barbaric business pop up on lists of cult favorites for years to come, and deservedly so.