Alas, if you're coming to Age of Wonders: Planetfall for a brand new angle on games you've played before, then you've come to the wrong place. It's novel to see several different recognizable mechanics blended into one genre soup. The final product isn't better than the sum of its parts, though. It makes the 4X a faster game to play, but not a better one, ultimately.
That said, there's really something here to enjoy in They Are Billions. Taken as a whole, it is an entirely new and interesting take on genres that are as old as gaming. Billions has such great moments at times that it's rather surprising that these genres hadn't been smashed together already. Billions leaves plenty to be desired everywhere else though—in visual fidelity, art direction, sound design, and even game balance. Clearly, this is a first step on a new and mysterious frontier. Hopefully, not the last.
That said, for the budget price, there could be room on your digital shelf for Blast Zone! Tournament. At its core, you can get mostly the same experience out of it. I don't know the reasons why you wouldn't just spring for the real thing, but I don't judge. So long as you are willing to get over the strange music and art choices, and can work around how they can adversely affect your play, you can absolutely get something from BZT.
This remaster seems only well suited for folks who've experienced the series before. It's tailor-made for folks who want to take a trip down memory lane. Even then, you'll find the same surprise I did—that Onimusha: Warlords is a game remembered as being better than it actually was.
So here Jagged Alliance Rage is, splashing around in the now dormant waters of that fountain of youth. It doesn't have scope to be the successor to JA2 that much of the Internet seems to want. It also lacks the execution and originality necessary to be the beginnings of a new generation of the long-running franchise. Any charm Rage! has is hidden under thick and ugly jungle, and undermined by its weak execution and a narrative that is at its best boring. Save yourself the rage, and look elsewhere.
The survival genre is so crowded that there's little ground left to break, but The Forest has done it. Leveraging complex enemy AI and subverting expectations of the sort of terrible things waiting for you in the wild, Endlight Games creates a new sort of thriller. With some more polish, and a better emphasis on making all of the systems more coherent and intuitive, The Forest could truly be a very huge deal. That said, there's a reason it's sold 5 million copies. It's laser focus on executing specific ideas well pays off. It's worth trying to work around its shortcomings for at least a few playthroughs.
As a new interpretation of this almost decade-old formula, Sinner asks some great questions. When we strip away the exploration of the dungeon crawl and the tension of the storytelling, what's the core of Dark Souls? Risky, challenging, and rewarding encounters with larger than life baddies. Sinner may not be the final answer, unfortunately. It's too derivative, both in enemy and environment design. Sinner focused and simple, but over-complicates things with the sacrifice experiment. It's a step in a new and right direction, but it's only a half step at best.
Death's Gambit had such promise. At its core, it is the blueprint to properly take risks and make attempts to improve a game design that we all take for granted. But it's just surrounded with poor quality of life choices, while missing some things it should have absolutely nailed. Weird animations, strange pacing, counter-intuitive combat, and way too many bugs holds this game back from being something truly great.
All in all, Phantom Doctrine is good tactical action game with a great spy culture motif. It's perfect for people who like their spy stories grounded in reality, but also appreciate the subtle approach to world dominating super criminals introduced by modern Bond films like Spectre. CreativeForge succeeds at taking lessons from its previous game, Hard West, and updating the formula. Even if that formula is ultimately a less elegant, less original version of the most popular game in the genre.
Earthfall somewhat succeeds at it's core mission, if it's mission is to try to kickstart the multiplayer subgenre that Turtle Rock started a decade ago. It's biggest failure is convincing people that it is a better alternative to Left 4 Dead 2, which is still very available on limited platforms. There's also Call of Duty's Zombies/Invasion side modes, which are ubiquitous. Not to mention Vermintide, which is a fresh look at the genre. You will absolutely have fun liberating Earth from aliens with a group of your friends – friends make even the most rote experience interesting. But outside of a few sessions with the group, you'll all find something better to do.
At the end of the day, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a cautionary tale. Jokes are not funny just because you say them. Nor are they funny just because they raised over $450K. But being not funny isn't a cardinal offense for a video game. Being dull and soulless mechanically is.