Astral Chain is loud, brash, exciting, and, in the end, a warning about the dangers of unquestioned loyalty. Its hyperkinetic action sequences and colorful characters might make the game seem like it isn't interested in offering more than intricately designed fights and a straightforward genre story, but stick around for its entirety and its cast of 2070s police officers show themselves to be more than just cartoon cut-outs of sci-fi cops.
Even though Splatoon 2 outdoes the first game in every technical sense, it still feels lesser simply because it's more of the same. What was captivatingly eccentric in 2015 feels safer now, its quirks predictable even though they're still impressive. Get lost in the speed and noise of one of its matches and it might not seem like any of these problems matter, but a slower, sober moment looking at Splatoon 2 as a whole makes it difficult to ignore.
The people and aliens who fill its space—and the reasons Morgan has for spending so much time picking through its confines—are retreads of ideas and conventions visited many other times before. As much as its opening objective prompt promises, Prey doesn't represent change. It's just more of what what's been done before.
Given its wide scope, it's understandable that it's also a game that succeeds more in concept than execution. Like the subjects of the multi-generational novels whose tradition it embraces, Edith Finch's individual successes and failures are less important than its overall effect. It's a story made of stories, and the results of its breadth seem more important than the fine details.
There are a handful of good stories to be found in Andromeda, but they’re hidden away, worthwhile moments tucked within hours and hours of disposable ones. In an effort to be as comprehensive as possible in tone, styles of mission objective and purpose, the game ends up feeling as impossibly vast as nature but as rigid and artificial as a computer system.
This is a game that doesn’t seem to care at all about the very real horrors of modern Central and South American history—that presents a dire international problem as something that can be solved through the clean precision of four American badasses pulling off sync shots. Whether out of neglect, a lack of understanding or a deep callousness, it turns the suffering of the people who right now live under vicious cartels into a playground for a forgettable sandbox shooter. Its audience needs either a willful ignorance of—or a disturbing outlook on—the world around them to be able to play Wildlands without a deep sense of unease.
There is much beauty to see in the game's world—such incredible vision and craft exercised in its conception—but it's subservient to a poor story, lackluster combat and, worst of all, an evident paranoia that players won't appreciate the world Aloy inhabits unless it's put within the context of a laundry list of tasks that have to be completed.
Its developer is afraid of settling down for even a moment, worried that players will grow bored with even a second of necessary peace. This approach works in the meat-grinder of multiplayer and the series of American corpses of its opening moments, but fails elsewhere. The result is a game pulling in all directions, aesthetically coherent, but with a muddled design ethos that allows it to come near something extraordinary without ever quite achieving it.
Gears 4 takes only half measures. It discards a lighthearted adventure premise for another fate-of-humanity monster invasion. It gives up on the anti-militarist bent of its early fight against the COG for another plot about soldiers trying to save humanity.
The 2016 DOOM's rebellion is smaller than its predecessor, but still impressive: it is unabashedly itself. It's a game with confidence in the worth of revisiting its history and an earnest belief that doing so can result in much more than an empty exercise in nostalgia.
Every work is entitled to express its own worldview, but the value of one as profoundly distrustful as The Division's is questionable. In an era when such cynicism colors our collective culture and political processes, influencing popular views on issues ranging from immigration to international relations, indulging in a fantasy so ready to justify our paranoia can be hard to swallow.