“Engage” continues the series trend of mashing up tactics and RPG elements, but while the latter falls flat and feels out of place, it excels in the former. And if my biggest qualms are with the game’s least Fire Emblem-y parts, I consider that a solid entry in the series.
One thing Game Freak does have working for it is that people want to play this game. People want open-world Pokémon. Game Freak may be struggling to get there, but it’s been really cool to be able to see it getting closer with each new generation.
For a dystopian narrative, “Stray” isn’t interested in preaching to the player. It doesn’t try to make grand statements about mankind’s hubris or shortsighted innovation. Instead, it walks you through a living, breathing city where robots have molded their own society from the ashes of another, and lets players make of humanity’s self-destruction what they will. And that impression will stick with you long after the game ends.
Puzzle games have to manage a delicate balancing act: If solutions are too simple, players lose interest; too difficult, and they feel cheated, like the answer was never decipherable to begin with. “Escape Academy” was opaque at times, but the answer always felt like it was within my grasp, if I just tried out this one idea, or thought about the puzzle from this other angle. Giving players that sense of empowerment is hard, and games don’t always get it right. But “Escape Academy” walks that tightrope with finesse, joining the pantheon of frantic-but-fun co-op greats.
“Eternal Threads” almost seems aware that it’s not building a strong case for your emotional investment in whether these six people live or die. Throughout the game, mission control chimes in to remind you that these people’s lives definitely matter, that the average person has such and such number of descendants, so the fate of these six people and, more importantly, whoever comes after them could ultimately decide the fate of the world. And while that’s all technically true, I suppose, I can’t help but feel that “Eternal Threads” would have found infinitely more success laying the foundation for players to care about its existing characters instead of hinging your investment on theoretical stakes.
The predictable formula of Kirby games accounts for part of their appeal. Think of it as comfort food. Case in point: My first Kirby game was 2000’s “Kirby and the Crystal Shards” for the Nintendo 64. Now, 22 years later, I’m fighting the same enemies with many of the same abilities I did back then. “Kirby and the Forgotten Land” throws in some new elements to keep things fresh, and it executes them well for the most part. But it still feels like coming back to a familiar place and feeling like you never left, which is exactly what I, like many others, find endearing about the series.
All told, “House of Ashes” is a notable step in the right direction for The Dark Anthology series. Technical issues aside, it crafts a compelling story that’s fun, campy and terrifying in equal measures. Every installment is inevitably compared to the benchmark set by “Until Dawn,” and it’s clear Supermassive Games has learned from the lukewarm reception and criticisms of “Man of Medan” and “Little Hope.” “House of Ashes” comes close to “Until Dawn”-level quality, and for the first time after finishing a game in this series, it has me genuinely excited to see the next entry.
Instead of getting to the bottom of these questions, most communities prefer to send me crisscrossing the gorgeous Oregon countryside and rolling mountains of Days Gone's open world on my motorcycle as I hunt down bounties, recruit survivors, and raze entire camps of raiders. Completing missions builds trust within these communities, which in turn unlocks better gear, a reward I find much more compelling than the idea of helping each camp's one-note characters.
If Ubisoft had embraced the game’s fundamental silliness instead of cutting its narrative off at the knees by spackling over it with morality, I can only imagine what kind of truly Mad Max-esque shenanigans would have been possible. Its enemies and I are both the villains, but they’re allowed to be comfortable with their morbid, violent fun.