Throughout, Cloud and his motley troupe of friends are given the space and opportunity to be more than just heroes, even more than just friends, or potentially lovers, but human beings who are rightfully unsure of what power they have to stop the inevitable. These are still the familiar heroes on the same journey they were on in 1997, unsure of their roles as eco-terrorists turned fugitives on a nebulous quest against a force of unfathomable, alien evil, but more than just the size and scale of Rebirth as an RPG, there’s so much more catharsis in the telling.
Frontiers of Pandora is, in essence, just another Far Cry experience—one with breathtaking art direction and a thoughtful portrayal of an alien culture, but a Far Cry experience nonetheless. It’s a tired formula applied to a property that’s capable of showing us much more. This game’s Pandora is a beautiful place to visit, but living there makes for a boring existence.
Still, at the center of it all remains Kazuma Kiryu, a genuinely good man caught in the throes of a vicious career. Even with the series ready to move on without him as protagonist—no disrespect to everybody’s new favorite himbo, Ichiban Kasuga, who’s positioned to be our hero going forward—Gaiden makes a stronger than expected case for why and how he’s endured so much, and deserves a better ending than the old life has been willing to give him.
In Spider-Man 2, we have the most elevated idea of what a AAA open-world game could be. Insomniac’s New York City isn’t an empty place for the player to destroy at will, Peter and Miles aren’t audience ciphers, and the story isn’t there for padding. Great power has been employed to bring this world to life on a scale unprecedented, even for AAA games. Insomniac’s great responsibility was in filling that world with life, love, and something even Peter’s Uncle Ben forgot to imbue his nephew with, and most games of this type must aspire to emulate: Insomniac’s Spider-Man sequel is a game driven by great purpose.
At its most mundane, Jack’s travels let players float through beautifully rendered sci-fi hellscapes with steps light enough to walk on water. And at its most astonishing and electric, this is a game of balletic death-dealing that may demand perfection but rewards persistence like very few other games in recent memory.
Compared to just how expansive MK11 felt even at launch, MK1 feels a bit like Street Fighter V at launch. At least this game has a full-fledged campaign and Arcade style modes with fully voiced endings, but there’s a similar feeling of emptiness about it. That’s a bad vibe to get, especially for the first major fighting game to launch in Street Fighter 6’s shadow. There’s plenty of room for MK1 to expand, but as it stands, Mortal Kombat just tested its might on another reboot and may have broken something unnecessarily in the process.
Every step of the way is littered with details big and small that absolutely sing, from the way that you can see the solution for a problem reflected in a puddle at your feet, to the ways the aphids and fireflies floating through these strange new worlds coalesce into funny little helpers along the way. Even with a phobia of everything this world was made to embody, it’s hard to not become transfixed by the beauty and enormity of it all.
And it all leads to a new available ending for the entire game that’s both a more subtle, sad ending for V than some players may be willing to run with and a strong final statement on the game that was Cyberpunk 2077. It’s an ending with more depth than expected, about the nature of the power that this type of open world grants—both to V and the player controlling them—and the immense, soul-crushing work involved in wielding it responsibly. CD Projekt RED knows that better than any developer would now. Like all of Night City’s heroes, Cyberpunk 2077 had to be torn apart and rebuilt before it could become legendary.
The story twists and turns, and the company Grace keeps over time is a joy to spend a few hours with. Given that Stray Gods is the child of some of the folks behind Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the Dragon Age series, the game’s strengths shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s hard not to be disappointed at how much it fails to teach the old gods some new tricks.
There’s not as much control over that as one might like. While the dialogue is good, the choices regularly given to the player during the course of that dialogue don’t really come to bear until the last chapter of the game. But the journey is still a unique, effortlessly charming one that proudly wears its heart on its sleeve. It treats its numerous marginalized characters with such love, warmth, and care, and the music they make even more so. In Goodbye Volcano High, the world end not with a bang or a whimper, but an eye roll and a middle finger.
But, even then, there’s this overwhelming sense that the tricks don’t really serve much purpose until the game tells you that points and graffiti tags matter, basically driving a wedge between the best thing about the game and the activities that actually progress the story. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is resuscitating what made Jet Set Radio so great back in the day, and it’s far from being a disgrace to the name. But it’s off-kilter in every way that the original games felt cohesive.
That is, as mentioned, a bit of a paradigm shift for how “young adult” the original game skewed, but an important one, creating an engrossing, if more casual, experience. Oxenfree II, seven years separated from its predecessor, is all grown up, and while it’s not quite yelling at clouds yet, it’s rather pointedly a game that’s quite literally about getting the kids off its lawn.
The most fundamental flaw of Final Fantasy XVI is its inability or unwillingness to delve too deeply into the machinations of inequality, but its greatest strength is how the story details the way that people march forward toward freedom. There’s absolutely no doubt that Clive believes in his home, and while he may be one of only a few to swing a sword, bringing houses and bridges and feeding those with empty stomachs is the work of many. Watching Clive’s work come to fruition and build the world for future generations may be the most powerful summoning spell ever cast in the entirety of Final Fantasy.
Yuke’s has managed to deliver an accessible, breezy rendition of their trademark product, without sacrificing the things that make watching an AEW show unique, pulse-raising, and hard-hitting. And more than this, it feels like a foundation waiting to be built upon. This is a game designed to have a long tail, with a steady stream of DLC on the way and the in-game store already (as of pre-launch) offering a smattering of fun add-ons (ironically, Cody Rhodes, who left AEW in 2021, is a bonus character, meaning he’s in both of this year’s major AAA wrestling games). As such, Fight Forever could live up to the name, and while it may not be the place to go for strict realism, it’s still better than you, and it knows it.
And that’s just scratching the surface of the game’s pleasures. There’s the professional match commentary, the surprising character details and bond system in World Tour, the fabulously nonbinary tournament emcee Eternity, the return of bonus stages, the battle-rap style intros for Versus matches, the create-a-character’s intricacies actually affecting gameplay, the character-specific voice lines during the Arcade mode’s final boss fights. Which is to say, Street Fighter 6 is the most feature-rich, welcoming, and inclusive package ever crafted for a fighting game—a stylish reassertion of creative dominance for the series that started it all, and an endlessly rewarding new foundation for its future. The next generation of fighting games starts right here.
Gollum just feels so shockingly old hat—a disheartening collection of mechanics that, at best, bring to mind one of the lesser pre-2013 Tomb Raider games and, at worst, suggest leftovers from the N64 bargain bin. Every success involves wrestling the loose controls, unhelpful camera, and iffy collision detection into submission against an ever-increasing wave of bugs and glitches, only some of which have been fixed by the game’s Day One patch.
Jedi: Survivor is a strong entry in the modern Star Wars canon, part of a new subsect of adventures in this universe finding ways to be sci-fi fantasy without ignoring the innate horror and banal evils inherent in the premise. The story paints an impressively dire picture of the new status quo in the galaxy, and it weaves in elegantly with the interactivity of the game, tying it directly into the fact that Cal is still powerful but only one Jedi in a galaxy that fell even when there was an entire army of them.
Strayed Lights admirably tries its best to serve two masters, attempting to be a loving interpretive dance of a narrative held together with ruthless, tricky, defensive combat. The yin and yang of the game may not fit together perfectly, unbalanced as they are, but both sides are executed with enough forethought, joy, and panache to make the experience worthwhile.