Psychonaut 2's levels are some of the most inventive in the platforming genre. There's an over-the-top cooking game show where you carry food stuff through a giant platforming gauntlet. There's also a humongous mailroom sorting office where you jump from flying envelope to flying envelope, all the while avoiding the vortex of letters below. You'll visit highly imaginative, gravity-bending dreamscape after dreamscape.
For some, these temporal limits will no doubt be the cause of much stress and anxiety, which is why many will appreciate that the game allows you to toggle them on or off at any time. Personally, I feel something is lost without the aggressive march of time, which adds a genuine sense of finitude to this post-apocalyptic tale. Without this extra dimension, Unsighted becomes a duller and more quantifiable thing - just another Zelda-like or Metroidvania that time is likely to forget.
Nix Umbra understands that horror is most potent when it remains inscrutable. Like cosmic horror, it is amorphous in shape, as indistinct as a dream, and near impossible to pin down. Playing Nix Umbra, surviving a few minutes at a time and trying to piece together its many mysteries, is as close as video games come to feeling numinous. It feels as though there’s some deep, phantasmal truth lying just out of reach, perhaps at the edge of the tree line, or somewhere in the forest’s shadowy margins. One more run and surely I’ll be able to reach out and touch whatever that is?
This new fortification system is also present in siege battles and small settlement engagements, and it's probably the biggest change to the overall Total War formula. Capturing points on the map builds up your resources, which you can then spend on fortifying defensible areas. It's a compelling tactical addition, bringing Total War closer to other real-time strategy games where it's not just about wiping out an army, but capturing points, defending them, and using resources wisely. It does, however, also take away from what Total War battles always seemed to be about: careful, tactical positioning within a semi-realistic environment.
With Weird West, these magic moments appear far too infrequently. Sheer ambition means eventually something special is bound to be spat out by the game’s extensive simulations — a mishap with an oil lamp, for example — although it’ll be a rough and unwieldy thing, all the more crude when compared with the extensive elegance of a Dishonored. Instead of doing what many, myself included, had hoped — converting the spirit of Arkane and the immersive sim into an inventive top-down form — Weird West has stumbled into a more mundane existence as a pared-down computer RPG that’s nowhere near weird enough.
While there’s enough tactical depth and customization to sustain a playthrough, much of Daemonhunters’ battles feel like vehicles for getting across its great story, and not the other way around. For many, XCOM is as much about the long journey — failures and do-overs included — as it is the destination. And while I don’t think Daemonhunters offers that same kind of obsessive replayability, it does lay a crunchy, thrilling tactical base for its brazen aesthetic and brilliant story to tread upon.
The Chaos Wastes introduces a mass of randomness and unpredictability to your playthrough, changing up things as fundamental as the construction of levels, with certain paths being blocked off, or starting and ending points being moved about or even reversed. Loot also takes on a more significant role, as the game isn’t afraid to let you become overpowered, or even just oddly built, with bizarre combinations of boons. All is stripped away after completion. This is Vermintide 2’s endgame — and its best facet. Forget all the cosmetics; forget your “Power Level,” specific equipment, or career. Jump into the Chaos Wastes, with friends, and smash your way through the hordes, relishing in the fact that you’ve no idea what’s next. Since the beginning, Vermintide 2 has had a solid core, capturing much of what makes these kinds of horde games so enduringly popular. But it’s also proven, over time, that it has something new to offer, with The Chaos Wastes adding some much-needed volatility to this endless procession of fantasy brawls.
Still, knowing Fatshark’s previous work, I’m confident Darktide will be in much better shape in just a few months’ time. And perhaps, in a year or two, after a couple of expansions and numerous updates, it may be something extraordinary. As things stand right now, it’s only very good… which is hard to complain about. A fantastic setting with tons of replayability and the same old juicy combat? There’s plenty to get sucked into, and no signs of slowing down.