- The Last of Us
- God of War
- Mortal Kombat X
While it marvelously blows up during the final moments of its descent, Fort Solis is a mostly successful voyage. Puzzling together what happened at the station is an engaging exercise that incentivizes players to inspect every computer and voice recorder in order to shine light on its dark mysteries. Its narrative doesn’t seem to branch much or push forward in any new directions, yet it achieves its modest goals rather well. Fort Solis was misused as a facility by its staff, but Fallen Leaf and Black Drakkar have utilized it well to tell one effective sci-fi thriller.
Zombies feels more like a limited-time Warzone event cobbled together from existing ideas and assets and that sentiment permeates throughout MWIII. Each pillar is an inferior patchwork of past ideas from its stunted campaign to its multiplayer that, while the strongest mode, is comprised of systems lifted wholesale from MWII with maps from 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. This year’s COD is a threadbare expansion masquerading as a sequel and an embarrassing way to mark the series’ 20th anniversary.
Those 13 years should have led to something better, and it’s surprising that they haven’t. Alan Wake’s gunplay has gone from dull to frustrating in the sequel, while its venture into true survival horror has been plagued by predictability and amateurish jump scares. Its narrative has a few memorable moments and is able to periodically use its outlandish antics to its advantage, yet it is still dragged down by its refusal to provide enough rewarding resolutions to its litany of riddles. Alan Wake 2 doesn’t improve on what made the original such a cult hit and is instead an uncharacteristically rough draft that needed more edits. It’s not a lake or an ocean. It’s a disappointment.
Ghostrunner 2 goes against its programming by repeatedly slowing down, but it’s still made up of enough of its classic parts. Sprinting and dashing around the neon-lit city while cutting down its many cybernetic forces can be an empowering trip that’s only bolstered by its thumping electronic soundtrack. A strong core like this deserves to be expanded upon more robustly through its new and existing mechanics, which just isn’t the case here. Ghostrunner 2 has taken a few steps forward and a few steps back, but even though it is running in place, it’s still faster than most of its competition.
Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 does not have everything that a modern collection should have. Its inability to ubiquitously implement modern features like save states and rewinding only keeps players from fully celebrating the history this compilation seems intent on celebrating. But the extras paint a decent portrait of its accomplishments by delving deep into its lore and speaking to almost every entry’s significance within the medium. And even though the actual games haven’t seen many improvements, they are still unique marvels generations later that lovingly balance quirky jokes and deadly serious diatribes about nuclear proliferation. The bundle largely captures what makes the franchise so beloved, even if some useful quality-of-life features have sneaked on by it.
Between its sticky brawling mechanics, repetitive level design, and extremely low difficulty, Hellboy Web of Wyrd simply feels like an unfinished game that was early on its journey to greatness. There’s a heft to its combat, yet the controls aren’t nearly snappy enough, and it’s too easy to be engaging. The striking art design means its worlds look nice, but they’re made up of the same rooms and hallways. Incomplete or not, it utterly fails to realize what could have been and only continues Hellboy’s video game curse.
These more intimate scenes coalesce wonderfully with its grander narrative to make Spider-Man 2 an amazing and well-rounded follow-up. Insomniac’s understanding of Spider-Man is unparalleled in the medium, as evidenced by the empowering and expanded combat mechanics, breathtaking traversal, and narrative that focuses on the heroes in addition to those underneath the mask. The team has mastered its craft and, like Spider-Man, is only getting better with experience.
While its brevity impedes the story, Assassin’s Creed Mirage is thankfully a lot shorter than the last few entries. However, its relatively slender figure only points out how the series has used quantity to overcompensate for its stagnation.
High on Knife generally stands out in the context of High on Life because it has some of the game’s best overall moments. It hasn’t completely shaken all of the eye-rolling humor that powered the original, but its conciseness and ability to spotlight more deserving characters makes it significantly less grating. Its unique gunplay similarly benefits from a shorter runtime and has also only gotten better with its new pinball-operated weapon. While High on Life showed how Squanch Games has grown over the years, High on Knife demonstrates that there’s still value in brevity.
Separate Ways is no longer a superfluous extra because of all of these astute changes. With its focus on replayability, upgrades, and unique encounters, this expansion more deeply understands what makes Resident Evil 4 Resident Evil 4 and has all the unpredictability of the remake. But unlike the remake, Capcom couldn't just maintain the essence of what was already there because the original Separate Ways was so underwhelming. Instead, it deftly rebuilt Ada's side story and turned it into an integral part of the Resident Evil 4 remake.
Mortal Kombat 1 has some of the most liberating combat mechanics NetherRealm has ever made, but some of the peripheral features fall a little short of what the studio has achieved prior. Being able to access more tricks and dig into the Kameo system gives fights more depth than they’ve ever had. That ingenuity clashes with the vague unlock system, repetitive Invasion mode, and inconsistent campaign that strangely don’t match the heights of previous NetherRealm games. Mortal Kombat 1 is a victory in many ways, just not a flawless one.
Lies of P is wearing Bloodborne’s cloak, but it has its own heart, one encased in metal and powered by ingenuity. It sometimes transfixes on tropes of the genre to its detriment, yet still overcomes by the sheer quality of its boss fights, combat mechanics, and world design. Lies of P’s steel heart may not be born of blood and flesh, but it still pumps heartily enough to be a worthy substitute for the real deal.
Even with inconsistent visuals, Immortals of Aveum is an enrapturing experience. Its combat gives players a stunning amount of choices and emboldens them to become the ultimate murderous magnus. The narrative doesn’t give into the most bland fantasy clichés, either, and instead tells a well-constructed tale with flawed characters that are given the space to grow. It’s a magical first effort from Ascendant that has set the stage to grow into a spellbinding series.
Blasphemous 2 is more ambitious than its predecessor with its fleshed-out swordplay and cleaner dedication to the search action genre. And while these additions give Blasphemous 2 more of an identity, they also give it more room to stumble. Said deeper combat is sticky and held back by its dedication to being adjacent to the soulslike genre. Its narrative tries to broaden the game’s world but suffers because of its lack of a solid recap and overreliance on cryptic storytelling. It’s an artistically sublime world but seemingly pays penitence with its uneven gameplay.
It’s ironic that a game all about breathing life into pictures can’t breathe life into its own core mechanic. Witnessing a flat picture expand into something tangible or using photography to reposition the existing stage is a technical marvel that hardly goes beyond being just a visual spectacle. These systems deserve much more than that, but, like film lacking contrast, it’s underdeveloped and only a faint outline of what it should be.
It seemed like Alex was damned to wallow in limbo until the end of time, but it’s Oxenfree 2 that ended up being caught in a loop. Some of those replicated features work in its favor, like its fluid dialogue and cast of decently well-realized characters, yet it’s too heavily anchored to its predecessor. The aforementioned dialogue system is mostly the same and hasn’t been further streamlined or upgraded. Traversal is still too slow. And even though its narrative builds on what came before, it struggles to provide a comprehensive summary of that first game and contextualize those all-important events. All of these stumbles mean that Oxenfree 2’s signal isn’t lost, just full of unnecessary static.
Synapse’s roguelite elements are too light, but it’s a well-designed shooter that empowers players in ways only a VR game can. Developer nDreams has taken PSVR2’s eye-tracking and adaptive triggers and built them into the game’s mechanics without turning them into gimmicks. Snatching a barrel and detonating it over a group of hostiles is as gratifying as instinctively throwing back an incoming grenade while dumping submachine gun rounds with the other hand. It all combines to make for a thrilling VR shooter that excels for how it takes advantage of the hardware
With an inconsistent story, total absence of scares, and clunky combat, Final Transmission makes for a shallow last gasp of air for The Callisto Protocol. This new franchise has been lost in space since launch and an onslaught of patches and DLC hasn’t made it any less of a disappointment. Final Transmission just highlights what was already bad about The Callisto Protocol, and ensures that it has ended as poorly as it began.
Not even an intermittent crash or clunky load screen can minimize what Amnesia: The Bunker does so well. The intimate world, wonderfully interwoven mechanics, and semi-random nature make The Bunker a nerve-racking experience that’s a natural evolution of its landmark first entry. On a surface level, it’s still about creeping through a dimly lit hellhole and evading unspeakable horrors, but Frictional has spent the last decade advancing that formula to create the best version of it so far.