Even after completing everything there is to do in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, I still feel the tug to return and hurl myself down the streets of its New York City one more time. Its serpentine comic-book drama and explosive set pieces might not stick with me for years to come, but I will forever hear the siren call of its bustling world and the effortless grace with which it pulled me through it.
The thing I loved most about playing Cocoon is how often I found answers without even seeking them. It’s so keen to share its secrets with you that it works harder at creating the illusion of being lost or stuck than it does at actually trying to stump the player or leave them feeling stranded. Like a complex sequence of sleight-of-hand coin tricks, its overwhelming layers are only there to disorient you long enough that you feel surprised and delighted when the object is revealed again. And Cocoon’s tricks are ones I won’t soon forget.
The central fantasy of every FromSoftware game is pretty much the same—that through close observation and relentless practice you too can bootstrap your way to greatness, slay the dragon, save the kingdom, or solve the puzzle to unlock the mysteries of the universe. In many of the Soulsborne games this means mastering the violent gauntlet ahead of you. In Armored Core VI it means changing yourself until that death march becomes a cakewalk instead. It’s a game about having faith in yourself, even when no one else does, and becoming an ass-kicking mech pilot in the process, not because it will save the world, but because it’s cool as shit.
I’ve enjoyed how breezy the game is, but I can definitely see the difficulty and complexity ramping up a bit further in. As you play you unlock additional perks that you can choose between at the start of each map, like whether to arm your commander with a spear or bow, or whether to increase your money generation or get bonus health for your castle. There’s also a set of mutators you can mess around with to increase the challenge and in turn raise your high score. I’m sure I’ll get there, but in the meantime it’s the little things I’m enjoying about Thronefall, like the super-satisfying clink of all the gold filling my coffer each morning.
One of the few points of pleasure for me in each battle was the soundtrack. Instead of dramatic horns and violins, Arcadian Atlas’ jazz-infused soundtrack by composer Moritz P.G. Katz is dominated by saxophones and guitars. The standard combat music in particular is so oddly unexpected but catchy, I still found it playing inside my head days later. I wish I could say the rest of my time with the game felt as memorable.
The tokens you earn from each run can be used for unlocks in addition to respawns, including a host of additional characters you can choose to play as. It’s a nice carrot to chase even after you manage to successfully complete your first run, though ultimately Double Dragon Gaiden hasn’t really kept me hooked. I love the roguelite refresh on paper, but it never really commits to it in the way of something like Hades or its numerous clones. Without that extra depth, there’s not enough to make up for Double Dragon Gaiden’s occasionally floaty feel and less than exacting moment-to-moment combat. It’s not quite the Double Dragon renaissance I was hoping for.
Deathloop is a deeply kinetic game where everything feels at its best and most satisfying when you’re on the move, teleporting around cover and force-pushing people off rooftops. And as repetitious as it can be, the act of moving, shooting, and engineering the slaughter of dozens of costumed enemies is so exquisitely tuned that the mischief never loses its lively spark.
But it’s also undeniable that much of the rest of the game outside that experience is in shambles or has disappeared entirely. At the end of last season Destiny 2 told me to go to Europa to find an ancient power, and I have. The only problem now is that I don’t know where else to go with it.
As a playground for one of the most idiosyncratic superheroes of all time, Marvel's Spider-Man is sheer bliss. It's a sandbox platformer first and foremost, and a damn good one. Throughout playing the game I was constantly hounded by the question of whether this—sublime superhero traversal in a gorgeous, idealized version of New York—were enough. After countless hours later spent cleaning up every last icon on the map, I'm convinced they are.
A worthy successor to the first game, bigger in almost every way but without an inch of space wasted. But as it's grown in size and ambition, so too has the gulf between the herculean feats of strength Juan is asked to perform and the incomplete feeling of the universe he's doing so to save.
Its best parts feel basic in all the best ways, both classic and modern at the same time. It never made good on the dream of seeing another more tragic, more complicated side of Master Chief, but years later, through endless updates and balance patches, it's made good on the promise of its multiplayer. Even if that were all that Halo 5 was, at this point that would still make it a very good game.
Battles were raging and allies were calling for help, but for once the game offered me the option of deserting the fray and contemplating the larger world around it. It's a shame that everything else in the game works so emphatically against it.
Even the most clumsy and gnarled duel will achieve moments of greatness. And when two experienced players operating on the same wave-length begin stringing together slashes, parries and counter-attacks in an unbroken chain, the resulting exchange feels as much like a choreographed ballet as a fight to the death…if ballets ended with severed heads flying into the orchestra.
Instead of surviving Salt and Sanctuary's horrors by obsessively dissecting them, liberation comes as a result of being able to execute ever more deft acrobatics with a few simple twitches. In this way, the game helps us learn to shed the burden of realism by flattening it, reducing its physical and emotional details into obstacles that can be overcome with the flick of a button.