I’m not asking Abzu to just be Journey, but if it is already working from that point of reference it’s strange how little Abzu understands why Journey worked at all. If Journey was a ballet Abzu is a SeaWorld show. Flashy, controlled, at times inspiring, its artifice fully on display.
The Last Survey is a two (arguably one) man play about justifications and the failure of modern liberalism to try to both hold on to capitalism and appear sympathetic to our concerns. It holds you in this limbo and dares you to justify your way out.
This tension between Tonight We Riot’s political ambitions and the limited depth of its systems is a large part of why it feels paradoxically tame. It has taken the mechanics and structure of a traditional beat’em’up and attempted to map them to anti-capitalist revolution, but it hasn’t thoroughly interrogated how those existing mechanics are also a product of capitalism.
Mutazione imagines a beautiful and complex life founded on small, self-sustaining community and a respect for the natural world. It is charming and warm but also plain about the challenges of sustaining a community like this. It reckons with the contradictions of colonialist greed and asks if things couldn’t be rebuilt without hierarchies and violence.
It was difficult to play Hyper Light Drifter and not feel a deep empathy for the drifter, also alone, also dying from an invisible disease. It’s an easy connection, but when the world is on fire all you can see are embers. Hyper Light Drifter doesn’t prescribe specifics so it’s easy to imprint meaning onto it. But it also resists glorifying those readings.
Games can often feel like some kind of sorcery, impossibly complex and created by people with inhuman ability. But they’re just people. Highly talented people, but still. Anodyne 2 is not sorcery, but it is a kind of magic, an ordinary magic that is all the more exceptional because of it.
I am not sure if Evan’s Remains entirely earns its thematic heft when so much of it is inscrutable, but that it is willing to end its plot in a moment of intense duress is daring enough to elevate its weaker moments. It's untidy, its themes barely cohesive. But if Evan's Remains was not so unusual, if it had simply doubled-down on puzzles and pretty screens, I do not think it would have left half the impression it did.
Saving You From Yourself is just one story. In this one, it is possible to have a happy ending, for the experience of transitioning to be as friction-less as possible. But at every point it emphasizes how discrimination corrupts that process, making a moment of self-actualization a sequence of bureaucratic roadblocks. It was timely in 2018 and has only grown more significant in the time since release.
Had Signs of the Sojourner allowed the player to fail without having the door slammed in their face, it would be easier to forgive some of the flatness present in its card system or the brevity of its script. But by framing conversations as games to be won without anticipating how often they’d be lost, huge chunks of the game become sequences of frustrating nonsequiturs.