With a wicked sense of humour, loads of visual flair, and a surprising amount of cerebral satisfaction packed into its deceit-filled race against the clock, Overboard! is a delight. It's one to keep within arm's reach when you're in the mood for short bursts of frantic, but low-effort, fun.
It's beautiful, it's charming and its insights are given greater punch by exceptional voice acting. Yet, despite ticking so many boxes, The Magnificent Trufflepigs never manages to find the sweet spot of player satisfaction due to some odd, clashing design choices.
FMV games aren't to every taste, to be fair, but for a change of pace, and an opportunity to jump into the genre, Erica is the best of its class. A dark, gory thriller, Erica comes across like a compelling mix of Broadchurch and The Wicker Man, elevated by surprisingly strong performances and polished production values. Pity about the restricted, rigid control options that have carried through to the PC release.
Sweet and leisurely delivered, Lost Words: Beyond the Page sneaks up on the player to deliver a powerful emotional punch. It's strikingly stylish, it's heartfelt, and it has a lot to say about the grief that accompanies losing a loved one, reflecting its complexities with honesty and tenderness. While lacking in puzzle challenge, the game is a rarity that offers a memorable experience for players of all ages.
Romantic relationships have their ups and downs, and players will likely go through the same experience with Maquette, which seesaws between satisfying and frustrating. Charming world design and bittersweet relationship observations are offset by a couple of opaque puzzles and patches of gameplay clunkiness (bad enough to force level restarts), which mar the overall sense of enjoyment.
The Shore may be rough around the edges in a number of departments, including the quality of vocal performances, and a story that just sort of ends without resolution. The game is so powerful a visual and atmospheric experience, though, that the flaws are worth overlooking. Given the way it absolutely nails its striking depiction of the Cthulhu Mythos, The Shore is recommended, especially for Lovecraftian horror fans. It’s a dark indie pearl worth a five-hour dive.
Literally straddling the line between supernatural and real-world horror, The Medium is satisfying, sleek, and sophisticated in every department. While it makes only limited use of its signature simultaneous reality mechanic, and features some of the same gameplay frustrations as earlier Bloober Team games, it's easy to overlook such stumbles. The Medium sidesteps scare gimmicks to deliver a masterclass in mature horror, one rooted in atmosphere, all-round restraint and an enthralling region-specific story. Note: On Xbox we scored the game 8.0 for some intermittent performance issues.
Releasing early in the new gaming generation, Call of the Sea sets the benchmark for story-driven adventure puzzle games moving forward. It's an experience full of surprises, from its lush game world that takes advantage of next-gen graphic capabilities, to its emotionally impactful story that puts a fresh spin on the Cthulhu Mythos. It's also surprisingly challenging; so much so at times that the frustration over its obtuse puzzles damages your sense of immersion, and goodwill towards the game.
Remarkably flexible, frantic, fun and funny, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! serves up a cooking sim that's great value for money, and entirely what you make of it. All the ingredients are there, whether you want to stick to comfort food with very little mental nourishment, or dial up your ambitions with complex culinary masterpieces that must be served to the second. Micro-management skills aside, you're given the freedom to determine how engrossing your experience is.
One of the core debates within Observer: System Redux is whether augmentation makes recipients more or less. In the case of this enhanced edition of the acclaimed, dark cyberpunk tale, it's definitely a case of more. Barring a few graphic and gameplay niggles, the developers have taken a cult indie classic and improved it further, providing a better balance of mystery thriller and psychological horror to accompany the brain-spearing next-gen visuals.
Tell Me Why is a moody and mature-minded mystery focused on family secrets, while touching sensitively on themes like mental health, gender, and indigenous cultural practices. It's slow going but compelling. Less successful is a supernatural gameplay component that's never fully explored, and feels superficially integrated with the storyline.
I Am Dead is a deceptively charming and emotionally potent experience. It's hard not to be won over by its good spirit and intricate, lovingly crafted world. Despite its simple gameplay and heavy dose of eccentricity, it's a tender reflection on ordinary lives, death and the power of memory. A game that will linger in the memory.
It's clearly well thought out, but in execution The Signifer doesn't quite match up to its intriguing concept and utterly convincing setting. The latter are so strong, though, that they keep you engaged even as you grapple with clunkier gameplay aspects and an abrupt ending. Ambitious, cerebral, worth investigating.
Visually striking and mentally satisfying, Creaks is a puzzle platformer that fully embraces its oddball nature. Some control and pacing niggles aside, it's a bright new genre entry, sure to have extra appeal for people with darker, cerebral tastes in entertainment.
Bridging film and video game, interactive movies are a niche format. However, with most of us having a lot more time on our hands during lockdown, now may be the time to give this hybrid genre more attention. Removing many of the annoyances FMV adventures are associated with, and featuring strong production values, The Complex is a solid entry point, even if it's far more enjoyable as a choose-your-own adventure experience than film entertainment.
The video game equivalent of a shot of espresso, award-winning Fractured Minds is a short, potent and tonally dark exploration of living with anxiety and other mental health issues. In some ways, it's obviously the effort of a teenage game developer. In others, well, a good many adult creators can learn from its perceptiveness and sophisticated implementation.
Horror-adventure Close to the Sun pairs an emotionally-engaging narrative with arguably one of the most stunning and memorable game worlds of 2019. Pity about the frustrating gameplay choices and story decisions that ramp up in the final third of the game. They cast a shadow over the accomplishments that preceded them.
Moons of Madness is an engaging and atmospheric effort that feels like a Love(craftian) child of Half-Life and Dead Space. You'll be playing more for the cerebral rewards than the scares, though. Despite its seamless merger of cosmic horror and credible sci-fi, the game doesn't quite match its potential in the consistent emotional intensity of its execution. Plus, the ending feels rushed.
Whether you call it an interactive movie game or desktop thriller, Telling Lies is a gratifying and authentic-feeling fly-on-the-wall experience. For the most part. Exceptional performances and an intriguing, topical story are undercut by a jarring gameplay choice that forces you out of the game when you least want it.
It'll be an acquired taste, but for those who have the patience for its deliberate opaqueness, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is the type of game its fans will be playing on and off for months, if not years. Its challenging nature makes it equal parts compelling and frustrating, but there's no question this smart survival adventure contains loads of rewards for persistent players.