Ultimately, Mafia III is a game that's held back by its conventional anchors. It wants to be game about the South but remains content to use its setting rarely as little more than a local color curiosity. It proposes a radical representation of race but falls prey to the conventional chores of open-world banality. Though it initially seems eager to "Tell about the South," Mafia III does not have the patience or interest to do so.
Pavilion is a series of puzzles that become sentences. The painted visuals and Tony Gerber’s haunting soundscape establish mood for the actors in the narrative: protagonist as subject, his actions as verb, the ambiguous goal as object. I was simply there to put it in order or to play with its syntax.
Near Death succeeds in eliciting a sigh of relief at finding a moment to breathe in a place hostile to comfort, and, thankfully, the game’s smart pacing means it does not overstay its welcome. Such tension, after all, is no more sustainable than the station at the game’s center. Ultimately, though, Near Death has nothing to say beyond the struggle to navigate the harshest environment on Earth.
For all its polish, it brand-name polish, it lacks that creative energy found in building battles from faded toys and dumb ideas. Battlefront imposes limits and gates on an expansive universe, reigning in instead of expanding the possible ways to become part of that world. As such, the game remains mercenary in its goal of selling an experience solely on those feelings we have about that galaxy far, far away. Instead of offering a chance to inhabit that space, Battlefront only shows us Star Wars at a distance, perfectly preserved in small pocket dioramas tucked away behind the rose-tinted glass of a toy shop window.
Jotun weaves a tale not about some battle between good or evil, nor does the game construct some "damn-the-gods" narrative about the triumph of the human over unfeeling deities. Instead, Jotun treats its subject with the reverence of a Norse Edda, turning the elements of an ancient poetic tradition into a digital myth.
The game, like the best works of science fiction, understands that horror can come from discomfort inherent to the erasure of boundaries we assume exist. The unintelligible whispers of static and the shattered visuals of glitch provide only the most cursory glances at a machine world inaccessible to us.
So, clad in his shiny new cyber-armor, Batman descends on his city and hops into his vehicle, and I'd like to believe that there's a substantive core underneath those mechanical interlocking plates. Arkham Knight, however, remains uninterested in this prospect, preferring to dwell on this new slate of tools rather than sharpening the dependable ones. Unfortunately, the game's fascination with his devices provides a reading of Batman as shallow and flashy as the sheen on all those wonderful toys.
By showing how war games can make virtual fascists us of all, Helldivers takes its place as one of the sharpest critiques of videogame imperialism. Granted, it's not a particularly new observation, but the game delivers it with such bravado in both action and atmosphere that it warrants commendation. To enlist as a Helldiver for Super Earth admits culpability in a system that disguises tyranny as heroism. Helldivers measures its brutal difficulty against a dehumanizing military and political complex that results in humor and violence, both about as subtle and hard-hitting as a freight train. Such is the price of liberty, paid in full with a pile of shell casings and the sickening splat of another expendable soldier.
When I returned to the Paris rooftops far above the rabble below I marveled at how clean and ordered the city looked. It seemed endless, pristinely crafted and elegantly set. The rabble of the people turned to a muffled hum, and I forgot about the blood and shit-strewn streets where people carried heads on pikes and screamed for justice from a conflict I would never really experience. On the roof of the city, I thought I could maybe catch the faint words of a song that had some political resonance. But in retrospect it was probably just the wind, carrying nothing at all.