ELEX II builds upon its predecessor, offering up an enticing return to Magalan, a setting that is as enjoyable as ever. As with all Piranha Bytes games, there is a level of unrefined gameplay to be found. Audio and animations can be a mixed bag. But beyond the rigidness, there’s a game full of sprawling, deep systems that give the player the freedom to tackle this medieval/sci-fi mash-up their own way. It’s unfortunate that the design of a bygone era comes under fire from resolvable technical problems that make it harder to overlook the rougher edges. After a few patches, ELEX II may be able to shine brighter, but as it currently stands it has one too many jagged edges overshadowing its greater parts.
Shadow Warrior 3 is touted as the next step for the franchise, but the end result feels like several in the wrong direction. Lo Wang’s terribly brief outing fails to fully find its rhythm, although it does occasionally glimpse a better version of itself. The lackluster dialogue, platforming, and campaign all hold back the newest installment, providing us a watered-down gun-toting, sword-slinging adventure that tosses aside the loftier ambitions of its predecessor. If fast-paced FPS action is what you crave, your appetite is better satisfied elsewhere.
Rainbow Six Extraction is a mildly interesting repurposing of the Siege formula as it’s molded into a co-op only outing. Breaking away from the 5v5 PvP that has led the charge since 2015 is certainly refreshing, even if combatting parasites with tactical professionals is unlikely to be the experience Tom Clancy fans desire. Whether or not Rainbow Six Extraction vibes with you may be partially dependent on your prior disposition towards Siege, as the central gameplay is copied as is. The difference is in the use of those gameplay mechanics against a different enemy, which changes up the pacing. Those that have been long-time Siege faithfuls may find the Extraction spin-off a fun deviation for the series. Those without prior participation in Ubisoft’s successful multiplayer title are likely to be more aware of the flaws showing through the uninspired implementation of another game’s soul.
Forza Horizon 5 is a masterclass in arcade racing. There is no equal out there. Burnout has all but disappeared; Need for Speed has fallen from its once-lofty heights, and The Crew is hardly a competent competitor. Playground Games have proven that their formula is still king, offering up countless hours of racing bliss as the live service seasonal format unfolds. As long as you aren’t looking for a more simulation-bound experience like Forza Motorsport, you simply cannot do better than Forza Horizon 5.
Call of Duty: Vanguard is mostly more of the same, for better or worse. Sledgehammer Games has brought fresh ideas to a formula that desperately needs a shake-up, but the execution only leaves us desiring more. The inevitable Call of Duty: Vanguard 2 may further explore the designs seen in their infancy. And we sure hope it does because Vanguard could signal a notable change in the future. But for now, we have a relatively amusing installment that ticks the required boxes and little else for the annual series.
Tormented Souls is a love letter to the earlier years of the horror genre. The fixed camera angles, heavy reliance on puzzle solving, and claustrophobic mansion-style environments all combine to form a package heavily reminiscent of the titles spanning the fifth and sixth console generations.
Rage 2 contains some of the best shooting of any game in 2019. Taking numerous cues from Doom, the familiar gunplay is loosed upon a more open environment. Shredding bandits and mutants never gets old, regardless of if you have a campaign-only focus or you are pushing past the 20th hour on a completionist run. The achievement set by the gunplay reveals how far below it other areas sit. The open world isn’t utilized to its fullest potential, characters (including Walker) are as forgettable as the story, and driving leaves much to be desired. Rage 2 may be considered a one-trick pony, but that single aspect is so gratifying that it carries the lesser parts on its back to the finish line.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is From Software at its best (so far). The developer has beautifully married the demanding nature of their Souls games to a narrative-driven action game. The swordplay is engaging, requiring quick learning and quicker reflexes. All in all, Sekiro is top of its class, offering one of the most memorable experiences of 2019.
Far Cry New Dawn hardly reinvents its core formula, for better or worse. The expected bits are all there, peppered with a few low-impact RPG elements. This isn’t an evolution of the franchise, but rather a more favorable pairing of gameplay and setting than past releases. New Dawn sure feels familiar, but it definitely knows how to have a good time.
Metro Exodus emerges from the underground to explore a world far more colorful than the Moscow railways. Exodus does a fine job of injecting larger spaces with familiar gameplay, even if the two don’t always compliment each other. The refocused survival aspects are welcome additions and add to the hopelessness of the post-apocalyptic setting. The game goes off the rails a bit due to abundant technical issues and restrictive movement that reveal the lack of AAA polish. Even with its lesser parts, Metro Exodus takes the franchise forward with an experience worth seeing through to the end.
All in all, Insurgency: Sandstorm is a competent, exhilarating tactical shooter. Even after countless hours of capturing objectives and eliminating aggressive AI, each battle maintains its high level of tension. The weapon behavior and audio work beautifully in tandem to provide an offering that is difficult to find elsewhere currently. The small flaws that crop up occasionally do little to detract from the overall experience, although they don’t go completely unnoticed. New World Interactive has crafted a quality FPS that builds emergent war stories in every battle. Here’s hoping they someday release the cancelled single player/co-op story mode. One could only imagine what their advanced grasp of sound design could do in a structured, nail-biting narrative.
Battlefield V is very much a work in progress. The core experience is thrilling and comes together beautifully with the right players. It’s a multiplayer offering that DICE could no doubt expand upon in the coming months with meaningful updates to put it more in line with community expectations. Once the balancing issues and technical problems become a thing of the past, Battlefield V will stand as one of the most engaging multiplayer experiences on the market.
Destiny 2 has been trudging along, kept alive by the weekly log ins of its most faithful Guardians. Forsaken makes Destiny 2 fun again, giving more meaning to those log ins. The Tangled Shore and Dreaming City are visual treats and the Barons make for deserving recipients of those new Supers, but it may be the hefty collection of smaller changes that accompany Forsaken that make it feel all the better. The weapon slot revisions, return of random perk rolls, and other back-end modifications bring Destiny 2 closer in line with what it was expected to be from the start.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the culmination of the greatest parts of the franchise. Utilizing Yakuza 6: The Song of Life’s Dragon Engine and physics-enabled combat pairs beautifully with the high stakes tale born on the PlayStation 2 over a decade ago. I might even go as far to say that this recreation could be an even more fitting send-off for Kiryu before the series embraces its new protagonist. Simply put, Kiwami 2 is the peak of Yakuza.
We Happy Few is a brilliant concept in a world I’m dying to explore. However, the game’s mechanics and performance problems work against that which Compulsion Games have spent so much time crafting. The run-of-the-mill survival mechanics bog down the flow of the campaign and make uncovering the narrative’s answers feel like a chore. Still, underneath it all, it is hard not to find something lovable. Given time, tweaks, and patches, We Happy Few could rise above and become the game it was always meant to be, one that would not require a Joy pill to cover its blemishes.
Onrush takes an established genre and drives it down a new path. It creates an experience that is distinctly its own, but that includes a number of flaws. The Burnout-lite experience blends class-based gameplay in a handful of modes, and does so semi-successfully. Onrush has a strong premise at its core. If it adapts over time to focus more on its strengths, it may catch up to the competitive titles it set out to challenge.
State of Decay 2 is a moderate upgrade from its predecessor, providing an expanded environment and the heavily-requested cooperative play. What begins as a genuine care for the community of unique individuals assembled under an ever-developing roof quickly becomes a tedious venture to endure glitches that are more frightening than the undead wandering the streets. Staying one step ahead of the game’s issues becomes more of a focal point than actually enjoying what the game set out to do. After some much needed tender loving care from Undead Labs, State of Decay 2 may eventually become a zombie apocalypse simulator worth your time.