Dangerous Golf fancies itself silly and fun, as telegraphed by its lime-green menus, rollicking, record-scratch score, and "punk rock" appropriation of a haughty, classist sport. But the destruction doesn't have much of a satisfying crunch, exacerbated by the floaty ball controls when you're in peak destruction mode. The load times and egregious re-purposing of assets and areas kill any desire I have to get high scores on holes. And it doesn't even lean into its anachronistic, extreme-sport silliness thanks to its sterile Unreal 4 tech demo aesthetic and character-less "world tour." It's fun for a bit and then exhausts itself completely.
Marrakesh has a little bit less lackadaisical exploration, a little less margin for error thanks to the population density and state of military high alert. Even fewer exaggerated costumes, far as I could find. But you can still brain a fool with a wrench from 20 yards.
Stunning art direction; satisfying game feel; a willingness to shake up third-person action conventions, to know when to introduce variety, or let a foot up off the gas; excellent dialogue that reveals a lot without oversharing; and a heck of a conclusion. A thief couldn't ask for a better end.
The main place Hitman continues to struggle is on a technical level. On the PlayStation 4 I'd need two hands to count the crashes I've experienced all week (plus one freeze necessitating a hard reset) and while the long load times aren't as much of a problem this time given the extra slack I found the lax coastal town to offer, it still does put a ding in a game that otherwise encourages you to try new things at the risk of failure. On the whole, though, Sapienza feels more robust than Paris, with even more gag costumes and slapstick deathtraps, leaving me even more confident in IO's move toward this new model, even if the American voice actors' pronunciation of "Falcone" physically pains me every time.
Stealing a staff uniform from the locker room, dropping your gun into a wastebasket so you can let a guard frisk you before he lets you into the room of a Sheik, then knocking the Shiek out, stealing his clothes, and infiltrating a high-society sale of state secrets so you can tamper with an outdoor heater and let a woman blow herself up when she goes to grab a smoke. That's Hitman's highs.
Gurgamoth is closer to Starwhal, another novelty-based, colorful competitive game, but at least the latter had a sense of humor and janky-controls that are part of the fun. Put another way, Gurgamoth really is just bumper cars: a fleeting, mild amusement best remembered as a sliver of an otherwise warm, fuzzy day.
The analog inputs (pulling up the walkie-talkie or map, spinning the same "1234" tumblers to unlock every single park lock box with Henry's paws) combined with unique animation and believable voice work help ground Firewatch, which manages both restraint and maturity in its story without ever going full mumblecore "walking simulator." The warmth of the budding relationship between two voices with natural chemistry is undercut by harsher realities and the drawn out segments of feeling stalked and vulnerable are legitimately stressful. The result is a tight, taut human tale well worth the trek.
Every once in a while, during a taught firefight that actually necessitates mixing and matching weapons (the shotgun alt fire, a stun gun, is possibly too useful), there are glimpses of a solid shooter let down by everything else around it. As it stands, playing Bombshell for more than an hour at a time is like ingesting a sedative, save for flashes of rage as you fall through the map one more time or are asked to find six more crystals.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is better than its predecessor, but only because of its additions; it doesn't fix any of the things that were wrong with Tomb Raider (2013). The story is smoothed down, much of it hidden away in dull audio logs. It's not about "survival" as billed, given the ease of mowing down dozens of folks and plenty of resources. But finding tombs wherein to clamber about ancient Rube Goldberg machines, coupled with the gorgeous visual flair and diverse environments, make Rise's wilderness one worth exploring and elevate Tomb Raider's otherwise perfunctory take on the third-person action platformer. I still get a strong sinking feeling in my stomach when I've misjudged a jump and watch Lara careening towards a splat.
Kingdom very cleverly reduces a complex genre down to something digestible, but that same simplification struggles against its later scope. When your land grows too wide, traveling end to end becomes a chore (it can waste entire day/night cycles), while getting to that point requires gaming somewhat imprecise AI.
These are the kind of things you learn as you delve deeper and deeper into Downwell's four worlds (three levels each) and they are presented intelligently. For example, the first spat of blood red enemies that you shouldn't be jumping on all have spikes, video game shorthand for danger. Later ones won't warn you so nicely. And of course there's trial and error, too, like touching a hot stove, for those who don't get it.
The insistence towards microtransaction-laden Ultimate Team and the new fantasy football-cribbed Draft Champions modes is useless. Throwing, catching, and defending throws have seen some welcomed, long-ignored additions that get a couple yards closer to faithful simulation. You can decide if that's enough.
Rapture deals with mature, human subject matter -- failing relationships, aging, death -- with notable verisimilitude before acquiescing to its lurid, fantastical bent. The latter feels disconnected from the initially analog apocalypse and your thoughts on Dear Esther will likely echo off this ornate end. What Rapture does well feels slight. Interwoven character sketches stretched out like clippings of a short story dropped every mile.
Sunset struggles with pacing, technical performance (movement is a tad wonky and it can run sluggish), and a disconnect between how its lead is written and, occasionally, what she does, player depending. The reduction of work to single click means the year's worth of date title cards, going up the elevator, and going down at sunset feels more monotonous than housekeeping. The music and colors are effective at setting mood, though, and there are instances of emotional resonance, strong writing and voice acting. Shorter, more tightly strung, Sunset's character study set against the revolutionary backdrop would've shone brighter, but as is it still leaves you enough to consider and a calendar to change.
Arkham Knight is a solid, if uneven send-off for Rocksteady's trilogy. Combat and predation are still satisfying. The narrative mixes unsurprising, but well done segments with unsurprising and uninteresting elements. It's full of nods, winks, nudges for batfans, even if certain super villain side missions feel needlessly tossed in. It makes me worried about what will happen with Batman in a new developer's less comfortable hands, and excited for what Rocksteady might do, itself free of the Batman myth.
I felt like middle management making the same position appointments that a computer could make more quickly and all I got for my click click clicking was combat with bigger numbers on the same handful of stages. There is some payoff with the bloodline idea at the end, but it is not worth the rote meat grinder to get there.
Translating cover shooters into 2D makes for a good mix of contemporary and classic sensibilities. It's nice to play a shooter where avoiding enemy bullets is a bit more necessary and I like the tools Not a Hero provides with its slick cover system, mechanically varied cast, and constant chain of slide kicks and executions.