While MLB The Show 21 is another solid entry in the series, the pitch to Xbox newcomers and those looking for a next-gen experience isn't as strong as it could have been. Pitching, fielding, and existing modes get some welcome adjustments, but truly significant additions are thin on the ground and the series' presentation is stuck in its tracks. Hardcore hardball fans and Xbox owners who haven't experienced MLB The Show before should have a good time, but this franchise may be in need of a rebuilding phase within the next year or two.
Evil Genius 2: World Domination has a certain nostalgic charm, and not just because of its retro 007 stylings. It feels like something you might have found on your dad or friend's computer back in the Windows 3.1 era and sunk a few diverting hours into. Unfortunately, a lack of depth, challenge, and modern features makes the game hard to fully recommend in 2021. Some fun can be had if you keep your expectations in check, but don't count on Evil Genius 2 taking over your world.
It Takes Two is one of the most varied, inventive games ever made, serving up dozens upon dozens of different styles of gameplay in a remarkably polished, approachable package. An inconsistent level of challenge and lack of editing may strain your relationship with the game at times, but It Takes Two is good enough to justify working through the rough patches.
PixelJunk Raiders has a unique vibe and some interesting ideas, including smart implementation of Stadia's State Share feature, but it isn't anywhere near as fleshed out or polished as it needs to be. Cheapo presentation, clunky combat, unbalanced roguelike mechanics, and a lack of variety combine to extinguish the game's promise. PixelJunk Raiders may stand out like a minor oasis on the desolate Stadia release calendar, but there's a much wider, more vibrant world of roguelike-flavored games out there to explore.
Curse of the Dead Gods is a fun, polished, and mechanically-sound roguelike with a few smart twists. Unfortunately, a lack of personality and variety means it's also a game that gets less interesting the longer you play it. Hardcore roguelike fans will enjoy their time with these Dead Gods, but less dedicated players may find themselves praying for relief.
Little Nightmares II often manages to recapture the unsettling essence of Tarsier Studios' original game, but almost every attempt to expand the formula falls flat, resulting in an experience as lumpy and misshapen as the game's shambling monstrosities. If you loved the original Little Nightmares and need to know what happens to Six next, this sequel might be worth your time, but more fair-weather fans may regret reliving this particular bad dream.
Hitman 3 is the definitive case for careful refinement over needless reinvention. While not that fundamentally different from its predecessors, Hitman 3 has been polished to a high sheen, offering up fantastic frictionless stealth gameplay and an eye-catching array of unique, exciting stages. At times it's felt like luck was against this trilogy, but Agent 47 would be proud of how IO Interactive's well-laid plans have come together in the end.
Shady Part of Me is a decent puzzle platformer, which offers some inventive challenges and an overall polished presentation. That said, almost everything about the game, including its story, aesthetic, and core mechanics, are lifted wholesale from more memorable indie games like Braid, Limbo, Little Nightmares, and Contrast. Like a shadow cast upon your bedroom wall, Shady Part of Me may be fleetingly interesting, but it won't leave a lasting impression.
NBA 2K21 makes a solid debut on next-gen consoles, but may fall short of some fans' razzle dazzle expectations. The game looks impressive, if slightly uneven, and new animations make for silky-smooth on-court action, but a lack of unique, worthwhile content holds the overall package back. If you've been waiting for NBA 2K21 on PS5 and Xbox Series X, or bought the Mamba Forever Edition that comes with a free upgrade, this is certainly the best version to play. That said, if you don't have access to the upgrade (or a PS5 or XSX for that matter) you don't need to feel too bad about sticking to the G League this year.
Empire of Sin is a sincere love letter to a fascinating moment in American history and delivers all the style, swagger, and Tommy-Gun-inflicted violence you'd expect. Unfortunately, somewhat shallow sim elements, pushover AI, and a serious lack of polish means this probably won't be your next great strategy obsession. That said, if you love gangster stuff, Empire of Sin might still be an offer you can't refuse.