And because the atmosphere encompasses so much of Sable’s appeal, the technical issues can be absolutely ruinous. When the bike disappears into the ground, when the menus break, or when Sable passes straight through an object that she should be able to land on, the illusion collapses and we’re left not with a vivid sense of place, but with a video game where the mechanics are all a bit of a chore. With its restrained approach toward collectibles and its rudimentary traversal, Sable attempts to depict exploration for the sake of exploration, but in doing so it only clarifies that such a concept is not necessarily as enticing as it sounds.
Psychonauts 2 in particular is a game of surprising psychological insight, full of rich, flawed characters at the end of their ropes. If so much of this game is a reiteration of what worked about its predecessor, it functions as a reminder for just how much of the medium is still catching up to Psychonauts.
Further glimpses into this breathtaking universe are often reward enough for exploring the game’s multitude of alternate paths, but even GRIME’s level design is surprising for featuring a world much larger and more complex than it appears as you discover involved platforming challenges and optional bosses. Though GRIME emerges into an almost comically overcrowded genre, its initial familiarity and rigidity belie a world of intricate and formidable imagination.
The Forgotten City certainly doesn’t need to answer the philosophical questions that it poses before it’s allowed to examine them in a narrative context, but the ludicrously tidy conclusions to the main story and most side quests feel like substitutes for any deep engagement. The game handily transcends its mod origins and tells an ambitious and thought-provoking story, but it eventually reaches a point where it doesn’t seem sure how to end.
Eventually, each story hurriedly resolves itself, foregoing tidy lessons or ironic endings but still lacking that crucial, elusive sense of lived-in authenticity. For as much effort has clearly gone into voicing and animating these characters within their 3D environments, we never spend enough time to seem like we really know them; quirks of the game’s strict linearity ensure we remain at a distance, observing relationships that are otherwise too thinly sketched to sustain the game’s emotional ambitions. Last Stop eventually arrives at an all-too-familiar game-design destination, hamstrung by its attempts at verisimilitude.
Where other games tend to have a greater purpose and complexity behind more granular mechanics that demand closer attention from the player, Biomutant remains a rather simplified, if overstuffed, game of loot-hoovering. In practice, you’re still chasing objective markers and wandering salvageable areas in hopes of spotting the “interact with object” indicator. But while Biomutant’s breadth of options does indeed make that familiar process more rewarding than the norm, it never quite offsets the accompanying increase in tedium.
While these limitations have the potential for forcing nail-biting compromises, the irritating micromanagement clashes with other elements that otherwise suggest a breezier game experience, like the rudimentary combat and the way the environment practically overflows with currency and crafting material. So much of The Wild at Heart elegantly sidesteps the usual pitfalls of a resource grind that it’s disheartening whenever it devolves into busywork.