I know a director isn’t the be-all end-all of a development project, and the idea of videogame “auteurs” has been romanticised to a ridiculous degree in this industry. That said, given that this is the first (and last) major release for the game without Tabata on board, his absence was notable. At no point was the game ever broken, it’s execution was definitely “competent,” it just felt incredibly uninspired. Even the story, arguably the biggest draw-card given the overall mysteriousness of Ardyn in the main game, was cryptically conveyed. Maybe it could be put down to a “B-team” in the studio working on this last piece while their new IP is in the works, or a new director trying to find their groove in the wake of their predecessor. It’s certainly not a knock-out, however, and I’d only really recommend playing this for the sake of completion.
My real question is: Why? Why was this made, and for whom? If ToeJam & Earl: Back In The Groove was intended as a remake, why try to emulate the original so closely in appearance and design while making everything measurably worse? If it was intended to be a sequel that only had a passingly similar design then, again, why make it so close to the original? Especially when the original is so much better in basically every regard. I’m not exaggerating when I say that in the process of writing this review, I ended up playing the original for far longer than this new version. At first, it was just to see if I remembered the game utterly wrong, as being something fun when it wasn’t. But it is, and I kept on playing it because it was preferable to this…”alternative.” The original is a great “arcade” experience, even by the standards of today, and you should definitely go play it if you want that nostalgia hit. Back In The Groove will just bore you at best and make you uncomfortable at worst.
I don’t hate Crackdown 3, and that’s because I knew exactly what it was I was getting into and wanted that very thing. While the original Crackdown games don’t rate so highly with most, I had a real blast with them for the stupid fun they offered, and Crackdown 3 was the same for me. It certainly helped that it was short because if I had to deal with the game’s many problems for long, I’d be singing a different tune. And those problems that are present could be enough to put off anyone not familiar with the series that wants to try. The design is underdone and the gameplay exceedingly simplistic and unchallenging, with a co-op mode fraught with technical issues and a couple of PvP modes not worth a damn. The good news is that a sequel, or maybe a significant update, is absolutely set up by the ending, which means that Microsoft must be planning on keeping the series around. It absolutely has the potential, and under Microsoft’s new “Initiative” program, I reckon Crackdown could be something really great. Right now, it’s just really alright.
I don’t know why Travis Strikes Again exists, but it does, and that’s what I’d call “unfortunate” within the broader context of the series. No More Heroes was a great-but-crude product of its time, and with clever writing, its style of humour can be brought into the modern era. There’s so much to draw from for a new game in the series, and Grasshopper just didn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. Many series staples were removed in favour of bland gameplay, frustrating and boring design, and some visual and thematic hints that this game might have actually been good had the vision been there. As it exists now, however, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, not even longtime fans. You lose nothing from not playing this… Well, except perhaps the hope of another title in the series.
Fallout 76 is broken, not just on a technical level but by its very nature. It doesn’t challenge its players as they work towards their goals, it actively hinders them with bad design. It took the worst elements of Fallout 4 and even a few of the good ones that it diluted into their most basic forms and made an entire game around them. It wanted to have its cake and eat it too, being built like one of the single-player RPGs but with a veneer of multiplayer design and ended up being atrocious in either capacity. And then yes, it’s technically broken in the literal sense, boasting not just the “classic” Bethesda bugs, but an entire swathe of new issues that make the game borderline unplayable. This wouldn’t just take a bunch of patching to fix, it would take a Final Fantasy XIV style rebuild to salvage this game. It is, without a doubt, the worst Fallout game to date – and I say that having played Brotherhood of Steel.
Despite taking place in a marvellously detailed, humorous, and lively world, the story of The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep is rather by-the-numbers, and a lot of the game’s design harkens back to the old games in the series in the worst, most rigid ways possible. Further to this, even after a few updates, the game is still fraught with technical issues, but it is slowly being patched, and inXile has a good track record for working on their games to improve them. And the good things that are still present in this game are excellent, like the fantastic writing, refreshing approach to puzzle designs, and beautiful music present throughout. The design could also be tweaked to remove the sting of a lot of the older design tropes that cause the most grief. As it stands, the game in its current state is rough as guts, but there’s a lot of room for improvement, and I’ve faith that it will improve. It will just take time.
When Mega Man 11 was first announced, I was somewhat wary, especially considering it was to be a new addition to the original series. However, whatever concerns I might have had quickly melted after just a short period of time with the game, which is absolutely spot-on about how it carries the classic style of Mega Man games. It has a challenging, sometimes punishing platforming design that demands both quick reflexes and a helping of forethought. The double-gear system is a fresh new mechanic that enhances the original design as opposed to attempting to replace it. The overall presentation and artistic style of Mega Man 11 gives the impression of a Saturday morning breakfast cartoon, which actually fits perfectly as a progression of the classic Mega Man appearance. For old fans of the series or absolute newcomers, this game should be an enjoyable scratch for anyone with a platforming itch.
Fans of the Shenmue series place the games on a pedestal reserved for the gaming greats, heralding it as one of the greatest things to ever happen in the industry. In a sense, this isn’t incorrect; for all its faults, Shenmue blazed a trail that many amazing games would go on to follow. Its ideas at the time weren’t just novel but borderline revolutionary, and its reputation in that sense is well deserved. That said, the games have aged incredibly poorly, and by modern standards, they are downright terrible to play for a multitude of reasons. A slow and dull story, clunky controls, more forced waiting than an MMORPG, and any other number of design elements that haven’t aged well. Effectively, they’re an essential part of gaming history, but they aren’t fun to play. For new players coming into the Shenmue series on nothing but recommendations alone, temper your expectations with the understanding that “cornerstone” in this industry does not automatically mean “classic.”
It’s not uncommon for sequels not to live up to the hype established by their predecessors, but State of Decay 2 comes in below even those expectations. Both the design and the way it plays are so similar to the first game that it feels like an expansion to the original rather than a sequel. It even still has all the same bugs and technical problems of the first. The only major difference being that State of Decay 2 feels more aimless than its older brother because it had loftier goals that it couldn’t even begin to live up to. When the basic survival mechanics are a grind, chore, or straight up don’t work, you’re left with another stock-standard zombie survival game.
Much as Final Fantasy XV’s opening line suggests, this is a game for fans and first-timers alike. If you’ve not played FFXV before and want to give it a try, this is (probably) the best way to experience it so far. For those who’ve already played the game before, there’s so much to come back for after a year in post-development. Even if you’ve never played a Final Fantasy game before, this is such a departure from the series’ usual style that I implore you to give it a try. Many of the major “improvements” promised by the development team have already been implemented, and there is a heap of extra content in the included DLC. As it stands, the only major issue with this otherwise solid port are the technical issues being faced by a minority group of players, and I suspect this won’t be the case for very long. If the quality of the future content holds up, I’ll likely be coming back for a third playthrough in another year’s time.