Wildlands wants to be both an ultraviolent cartoon and a grounded, ripped-from-the-headlines thriller. It can't do both, and it's much better at being silly and absurd. The mechanical experience of it is as freewheeling a sandbox as I've ever seen, but the frame, the tone and the script weigh it down like an anchor.
Asymmetric Then there's the lore. West of Loathing takes place after a major magical disaster: the Day the Cows Came Home. Portals to hell turned the cows demonic, and great darkness spread across the West. West of Loathing elicits this powerful emotional connection with stick figures. It bonds you to its world with nothing more than doodling and dialogue. There's a pretty good turn-based adventure game there, under the hood, but West of Loathing's many strengths are all personal: connections made between developer and player when you both laugh at the same time. Absurdism aside, there's something fundamentally human and direct baked into the game's whole design from aesthetic to script. On top of it, you can dunk your hand into a spittoon of caustic toxins to pull out an enchanted sword. That's the kind of player choice I didn't even know I wanted in a Western RPG.
Heat Signature is one of the tightest indie action games I've played, packing a maximum amount of excitement into a minimum amount of time and space. My first few hours with the game were genuinely wonderful, filled with rapid-fire moments of delight and triumph. But when I hit my personal skill ceiling, I could do no more than repeatedly bang my head against it. I respect Heat Signature. I admire its success in accomplishing with such skill what it set out to do, and if it had been more forgiving, it wouldn't be as tense. Heat Signature's laser focus on in-depth mechanical play with high consequence is at once what made it satisfying for me to play and what made it easy to put down and walk away from when I hit the limits of my tactical creativity.