I really appreciate what Beautiful Desolation is trying to do with creative storytelling; well-developed characters; and a mind-bending and beautiful, albeit desolate, sci-fi world. I just ended up too frustrated by the limitations of the console medium and a lack of direction in many of the quests to ultimately recommend this game on this platform. It's a point-and-click adventure presented without a pointer or a clicker, better played on PC.
Biomutant attempts to channel many inspirations into a compelling package. It does much of that extremely well, excelling at world building and creating a fluid combat system to drive the experience. The one area it falls short is in tying it all together with an engrossing narrative. It not only fails at the narrative, but even worse, fails at the very mechanics of delivering the story. Wander the world on your own initiative and experience a great game; follow the path of the main quest and suffer the letdown of a mediocre tale, told poorly.
Trials of Fire is a fantastic deck-building game. It is enhanced by also acting like a rouguelike for endless replayability, and it crafts a rich world around its characters. Trials of Fire only disappoints on one front: that the story it actually tells seems more like a teaser than an epic. While I can't complain in that it is priced like a single episode in a longer saga, I am left wanting for the rest of the saga. Maybe that's altogether not the worst thing...
Curse of the Dead Gods is a finely polished roguelike that embodies the best elements of the genre. It has a battle scheme that is simple to grasp but requires skill to master. It balances the progression of each run with penalties to maintain a steady, yet shifting, challenge. It brings a few elements over that a roguelike purist might scoff at, but does so purely to the benefit of the game, and aids a progression system that feels meaningful while not demeaning the overall challenge. It nails that hallmark of the roguelike where you always feel like maybe dipping in for one more run.
An excellent puzzler that is let down only by a mediocre port onto a screen that it is doing no favors for. The game plays fine when docked onto a bigger screen, but then the controls let you down that much more when you lose the touchscreen to doodle on. There is a rhythmic, difficult challenge unlocked behind the awkward interface played across a level design that beautifully weaves the very canvas of each problem into the story. I thoroughly enjoyed Solas 128, if only I could shake the feeling I would have loved it more were I playing it on a PC.
Looks good, plays good, a nice use of souls-like mechanics to penalize players for dying but still lets you run freely and enjoy the game at your own pace; there is a lot to like about Foregone. It lands itself squarely near the top of the 2D action platformer pyramid. A little more depth in the skill tree and a little more oomph in the special abilities could take it to that next level, but it stands on solid footing and offers a class leading experience.
Torn between two games the could have been, Assassins Creed Valhalla is by no means a bad game. It's actually quite good, but it comes off ultimately as less than the sum of its parts. The core of the Assassin's Creed gameplay is there, but the environments don't lend themselves to exploit it. The core of an Ubisoft open world Viking game is also there, but story progression keeps pulling you from that space to force the narrative forward. The coolest bits of the combat are locked behind treasure chests scattered across that vast world, and other awkward inconsistencies. Interspersed are low notes dragging you forward to...well, not so much a present-day, but a near-future-day storyline that is even more stale than it was four or five major sequels ago when it well and truly jumped the shark. There are two competing experiences here: that as as Assassin, and that as a Viking, that either on its own feels like it might have been a triumph and better than this good but not great Assass-king hybrid we have.
The single-player and campaign modes are actually really great stuff. But like nearly all Call of Duty games, that is the content you'll breeze through within your first week playing if even for just a few hours a day. The bulk of the ride ends up being multiplayer and zombies and that is where the problems really lie. This is a game that I'm sure will eventually get the extra content, balancing, and bugs worked out along a series of patches and end up being much better than it is today. But unfortunately the buggy, laggy, unbalanced, and content-sparse game we get at launch is the only one I was given to review. And the balance of the excellent single-player with below average multiplayer ends up for an average overall experience.
The Long Dark sets a standard for survival games in its core gameplay loop. The tone and feel of the game is top notch and the challenge is brutal in a hostile and frozen world. Unfortunately, there is also another dimension to the game that cheapens the experience. It takes a frustrating amount of trial and error to figure out the mechanics of how you are meant to do something, even when the goal of what you are meant to do is fairly clear. There is also the missed opportunity to utilize the story mode to walk through these mechanics, instead letting the tale try to stand alone. Try to stand as it might, it instead falls rather flat with a progression and narrative that made little sense. There is a very good game in the center of an overall experience that ends up less than the sum of its parts at first glance, but one that if you are willing to put in the struggle and slog through to the other side can reward you with one of the better survival simulations there is.
Apart from the humor, the well done mechanics, the unique presentation, the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have Here Be Dragons or the Romans ever done for us? My only real criticism is that while there is little to fault on that first go, the game does struggle to offer real replayability. It's an excellent strategy game. So play it once through for that good trip and let that be enough.