Journey to the Savage Planet's greatest quality is that it respects its players. Perfectly paced, genuinely charming, and rewardingly explorable, developer Typhoon Studios' debut is a love letter to thoughtful game design and the ancient art of fun over function. If you grew up loving 3D platformers and games with worlds that felt bigger than they actually were, Journey to the Savage Planet will make you feel like you're coming home.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps does everything that a good sequel is supposed to do. It refines The Blind Forest's mechanics, expands on the world, and throws in a whole bunch of new moves and concepts. But in an era that's rich with "emotional platformers," Will of the Wisps doesn't do anything to make itself stand out. It's a fine, if not forgettable, experience.
As long as Doom Eternal didn't stray too far from its predecessor, it was going to be a good game. But id Software comes surprisingly close to muddying everything with new mechanics. The flamethrower and rechargeable chainsaw give you more options during battle, but they can also feel like unnecessary additions. Still, a deeper lore, a banging soundtrack, and plenty of demons to gib leave Doom Eternal in a happy place—relatively speaking.
Maneater constantly blurs the line between sadistic mass murder simulator and clever satire, while also managing to be as fun as any human-based open-world game. Chris Parnell's narration can get a little repetitive, as can the missions, and the camera could use a little work, but it's all a matter of context. It's a wild reversal of ego, an experience that is both completely freeing and oppressive at the same time. Stare into the dead eyes of the shark, and the shark stares into you.
Tell Me Why might be smaller in scope and less mechanically complex than Dontnod's Life is Strange series, but it's just as emotionally impactful. It's a compelling story with relatable, complex characters, and yet another example of Dontnod's unbeaten ability to make players feel something, anything, in a medium that's increasingly more mind-numbing.
Spelunky 2 rests on the laurels of its predecessor, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It still retains all of the gameplay mechanics and level design that made the original such a satisfying experience. But as a sequel, Spelunky 2 feels a little too scared to expand its horizons. For a game that's all about taking risks, Spelunky 2 is surprisingly risk-averse.
Mafia: Definitive Edition is the best of both worlds. Its updated graphics bring Lost Heaven and its inhabitants to life without burdening them with modern game design elements. While the characters themselves haven't aged as well, Mafia: Definitive Edition, though based on a game that's nearly 20 years old, feels more refreshing than most open-world games.
Watch Dogs: Legion pushes through Ubisoft's generally noncommittal attitude towards storytelling and exploiting current events to create something that feels like a genuine shift, or at least the prototype of that shift. It might be a sloppy game in many regards, but Legion offers a novel way to experience an open world, with its interconnected NPCs and the introduction of permadeath to the genre.