If this tone takes center stage in the back half of the story, combined with plot developments that add some momentum to the proceedings, it may be easier to overlook the game’s weaker aspects and appreciate it as a compelling narrative work. At this point, though, the town of Redfall is sucked too dry of liveliness for players to be invested in whether its vampires triumph or not.
This uneven mix of humor and design keeps “High on Life” from ever feeling like a natural combination of video game and traditional comedy, even if there are plenty of moments where glimpses of some better blend of the two elements appears. What’s here is worthwhile for audiences curious about the concept of a comedy shooter, but it’s too uneven and stiflingly desperate to please to recommend beyond that.
Still, disregarding the downtime spent on its charmless characters and bland plot, there’s an undeniable thrill to the fighting. If only the rest of the game packed as memorable a punch as its protagonist does when beating the insides out of Evil West’s vampires, it would be easier to recommend. As it stands, it’s not much more than a series of better-than-average monster-pummeling arenas interrupted by uninspired storytelling.
Whether any of this is enough to put off an audience inured to Call of Duty’s detached depiction of brutal warfare is anyone’s guess. Plenty of people can put up with a bit of ugliness if there’s still a pretty good time to be had overall. For Modern Warfare II, the good time offered by its multiplayer and in glimpses within its campaign may be enough.
Unfortunately, though, the narrative is a black hole of missed opportunities, surfacing time and again to remind players of what’s missing from the experience even as they try to forget and just enjoy what does work. If only “Stay Human” could navigate its story of post-apocalyptic morality with the same deftness as its assured, acrobatic protagonist.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla's vision of ninth-century England is a beautiful place to explore, populated with a great cast of characters who make up for the bland new protagonist, Eivor. Nevertheless, the tired overarching story of Templars and Assassins, and a design ethos that overstuffs the setting with side activities, add unnecessary bloat and distractions to the experience. Valhalla's a solid action-adventure game that does well to capture the turmoil of its historical era, but it's weighed down by the increasingly ponderous legacy of the series it represents.
Final Fantasy VII Remake manages to balance the introduction of new concepts with faithfully recreations of the original game's most memorable aspects, but it also unnecessarily pads out this first installment in a larger story with too much downtime between its most striking moments.
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.