Star Control: Origins does a great job of creating a new universe and stocking it with a diverse range of weird and funny aliens to fight in intense arcadey space battles. But everything you're forced to do on a planet's surface is boring at best and an annoying chore at worst, and that kills a lot of momentum. Because of that, I didn't really start to click with Star Control: Origins until the last third of the campaign when money became mostly irrelevant and the focus shifted to its strong points of story and space combat.
Flying from planet to planet in search of the universe's rarest materials and technologies in No Man's Sky NEXT scratches an exploratory itch. It still carries a lot of caveats: It's mechanically repetitive no matter what planet you're on, the dull combat should be avoided whenever possible, and bugs are plentiful. But buying new ships and building new things is enough motivation to make it entrancing – for a while, at least.
Donkey Kong Adventure feels almost big enough to be a sequel to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle rather than just an expansion, and it packs in a lot of tactical fun. Donkey Kong is literally a game-changing character with abilities that are fun to learn and use, and Cranky Kong's alright, too. The main downside is that you're locked into one team composition, which limits your ability to change up your playstyle or replay battles differently.
Besides the fact that there's absolutely no evolution involved in it, Jurassic World: Evolution is a bad game because it's just a bore of a park sim. Sure, the dinosaurs look nice enough, but the process of unlocking new species is beyond tedious and actually running the business is shallow and quickly gets stale. It beats getting mauled by raptors, but after careful consideration, I've decided not to endorse this park.
The prospect of playing such a lovingly crafted tribute to the vintage heyday of Konami's seemingly abandoned Castlevania series more than makes up for a few out-of-place boss fights and a slightly too punitive death penalty. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon delivers a brief but effective burst of nostalgia, and thanks to its many creative modifiers it contains enough replay value to engage (and challenge) anyone who pines for gaming's bygone days. And this isn't even the "real" Bloodstained! As appetizers go, it's substantial — nearly satisfying enough to be its own main course.
State of Decay 2's zombie-infested maps are good places to scavenge, fight, and survive in. Combat is satisfyingly brutal and the special zombies inspire some real fear of permanent death, even though the Blood Plague turns out to be more of a sniffle. But the bugs are just as persistent as the zombies, and after a dozen or so hours the repetition of both eventually take their toll, making the appeal of replaying feel more limited than I'd expected for a sandbox RPG.
The wide variety of mech and pilot abilities make Into The Breach's tactical combat deep, satisfying, and replayable. Every turn creates a new complex puzzle, and though sometimes there's no perfect solution, finding the best way to minimize damage creates frequent eureka moments as you learn to make the most of the abilities you're given to work with. It's a small-looking tactics game that's kept me playing more intently than most big ones.
Without the Nemesis system driving its battles and creating consequences for failures, Middle-earth: Shadow of War - Blade of Galadriel feels smaller and less interesting than the main game. Its short story missions are creative and its colorful uruks are good splashes of personality, but the repetitive battles against more than a dozen Legendary uruks get old, even with the promise of new gear sets.
As such an atmospheric, exploration-focused game to begin with, it makes sense that LA Noire would fit in well with VR. But Rockstar's done a great job of retooling it to make LA Noire: The VR Case Files feel less like a port and more like something that was always meant to be played this way, and the effort shows. There's not a ton of content in this version relative to the original game and some of the controls feel imprecise when trying to zero in on the part of a crime scene you're trying to investigate, but it has fun with it despite the deadly serious subject matter.
Fallout 4 VR lets you experience the post-nuclear future in a much more intimate way. Its adaptation to the Vive's hand-tracked Touch controls works fairly well for moving and shooting, but poorly for using the Pip Boy's clunky interface, and that's something you'll need to do frequently. But it's worth putting up with to come face to face with Fallout 4's characters, monsters, and settings.
Doom VFR is a brave shooter that proves that VR games don't have to be conservative with movement to work. Fast-paced action with a great stable of recognizable weapons and enemies makes it a challenging rush, once you find your VR legs. It's a shame VFR story didn't get the same self-aware treatment as Doom did, but even if it's all about warping and gunning, that's more than enough.
Because of its diminished graphics and clumsy combat controls, Skyrim VR definitely isn't the best way to actually play Skyrim. However, if you leave the difficulty on the default lowest setting and roam the world as a god who can slay enemies with the flick of the wrist, it's a good way to experience Bethesda's legendary RPG from a whole new perspective.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is a fantastic single-player shooter, but what really got me invested was the brilliantly written characters and the performances of its cast. BJ and his crew are full of spirit and personality, and General Engel is as memorable a nemesis as you're likely to find in games. Machine Games has once again turned the well-worn act of mowing down Nazis into something to get excited about.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is another epic-length episode of the humor that's kept fans of the show laughing for 20 years. The Marvel vs DC parody delivers regular laugh-out-loud moments with only a few faltering gags, and the combat soon evolves into something much more complex and interesting than The Stick of Truth's simple system.
Similar to the way Batman: Arkham City built on the foundation of Arkham Asylum, Middle-earth: Shadow of War is bigger and more ambitious in scope than Shadow of Mordor, with great results. The way it expands the Nemesis system with far greater variety and fortress sieges makes even better use of the stand-out generated characters, and its battles with memorable uruk captains remain challenging all the way through the campaign and into the clever asynchronous multiplayer beyond.
With a set of thieving and assassination tools that beg to be used creatively, Heat Signature's puzzle-like missions are great for jumping into for a few goes at a time to try something just crazy enough to work. That's when the fun stuff happens.
Based on its colorful world, beautiful animation, and source material you might expect Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle to be “My first turn-based tactics game.” But you're in for a surprise: even for XCOM vets some of its battles are challenging puzzles. Some of its tougher levels do devolve into a trial-and-error slog, but a good mix of enemies, objectives, and character abilities keep things interesting.