- Resident Evil 4
- Bushido Blade
The turn-based stealth gameplay is empowering, but fraught and fleeting each time you dive deeper into one of the world's least architecturally sensible corporate buildings, rooms budding off rooms, some empty, some dangerous, all necessary. It's a fight to stay equally matched with your enemies and make it to the end. Things can and will go wrong. Sometimes life-saving maneuvering just delays an impending, inevitable loss as you bring the full weight of the guard down on your head. And it's almost always your own damn fault, which is why you'll try again.
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.
Everything just works so well in unison. The soundtrack is delightful and odd, at times reminiscent of Paprika’s parade fanfare with its lively horns. The world, put together in paper scraps, is unbelievable in its artistry and function. Tearaway’s paper water and ripples as you walk through it are more impressive than any realistic water graphics I’ve ever seen. The level of unique detail in the world is staggering. Every moment spent immersed in it is heartwarming. Fittingly, it feels positively handcrafted.
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.
Ether One nails its puzzles, atmosphere, and sound (ambient and voice acting). It also nails its story -- whether or not you decide to fully unravel its world and its mysteries -- culminating in a, well, refreshing, smart finale that will stay on my mind for years to come.
My normal difficulty run through, save for some exasperation at the final two titans, did make for good pacing. Death or victory come quickly because, for the most part, the titans are designed to leave you few opportunities to win. Running around and staying alive isn't an impressive feat because you're no closer to winning. The moments of opportunity are designed to put you in harms way -- surely killing you should you miss the shot -- doubling down on an intense thrill. The quickness with which these things kill you leaves you always feeling unsafe. That you often have to stare down these charging killers, like drawing an arrow against an oncoming train with a baseball-sized weak point, is exhilarating.
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.
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.
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.