The comparison to Joss Whedon’s short-lived television series is apt, with similarities extending beyond the music to the genre-bending space adventure and focus on stories that explore humanity in straits. Imperialism, the value of time, the tenuous nature of reality, and the mysteries of the cosmos are just some of the themes that emerge in the strange world of Sunless Skies, contributing to a tapestry of a richness almost unparalleled in the world of video games. The overall pace of the game is staid, but its brilliant simplicity is to be commended, and, come year’s end, it could prove enough to make Sunless Skies a strong Game of the Year contender.
Ensuring the game appeals to strategy die-hards appears to have been a driving force in development, and that approach pays off thanks to the high level of satisfaction arising from successful completion of missions. However, players sucked in by the promise of a "next-generation" experience are likely to be disappointed by the shortage of mechanics that truly push the genre forward. Meanwhile, the investigation elements are too simplified to make it a key draw. A number of minor bugs also mar the experience, but these issues are not severe enough to harm enjoyment. In many ways, Phantom Doctrine is a brilliant addition to the lineage of the turn-based strategy genre, introducing some novel wrinkles to make the typically disparate gameplay and narrative feel more cohesive.
That the game is such a disappointment is a true shame; its ideas are as intriguing and novel as any to be found across the vast plains of the indie sector. The Piano's strengths prime the title to embed itself in the hearts and minds of gamers willing to give it a chance. Unfortunately, the weaknesses are too many and the sense of discord across the production too high. Put simply, The Piano falls flat.
Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered is not the first time that THQ Nordic has commissioned the services of KAIKO, with the developer previously bringing the first two Darksiders games to current-generation consoles. The experience gained while updating those titles appears to have paid off, with this latest offering lending vivid life to the Martian landscape. Nevertheless, the game is the product of a different era, and its age shows through in a number of key areas, the most notable of which is the archaic and uninspired open world. Despite these drawbacks, the game remains as engaging, and a series revival with Volition once again at the helm would surely be welcomed by many.
Unfortunately, Agony stumbles off the starting block and, despite a valiant later effort, is never able to make up lost ground. In this case, a poor first impression irreparably mars the experience, despite measurable improvement in many of the fundamental design principles as the game wears on. The art and audio is striking, but the project may have benefited immensely from less ambition, and the hope is that, should Madmind have a second chance, it will create a more focused and cohesive title. Agony is not great, but it is far from the irredeemable abomination the media has painted it as.
From Remember Me through Life is Strange and now to Vampyr, Dontnod Entertainment has striven to introduce new ideas to each genre it dabbles in. However, the team's latest project is also the one in which that desire feels the most diluted. Novel mechanics including the social web and that core conflict between the Hippocratic Oath and vampiric urges hold immense promise for a project to carry weighty consequences, but the potential is never fully achieved in Vampyr. The need to ground these ideas within familiar, saleable gameplay leaves the title lacking. While the game is enjoyable and engaging, the apparent lack of courage in the strength of its more unusual ideas is slightly disheartening, leaving it feeling slightly toothless.
Far from attempting to elicit mass market appeal, the game targets a niche and shows itself to be a project from a developer stretching beyond what it knows best. Longbow Games's heritage in RTS titles emerges in the point-and-click gameplay, yet, in most other respects, Golem is a departure. While the team's attempt to create something complex and novel is admirable, its ambition occasionally outstrips its execution. Meanwhile, although the game's reliance on colonialist tropes is slightly troublesome, it will be overlooked by most players who have much else to occupy their minds across this evocating, engaging, and challenging adventure.
Conan Exiles is plump with content, combining a sprawling continent with enough progression mechanics to provide endless engagement. However, the game does not feel deserving of its namesake. Between bland combat and an uninspired world, Funcom's Hyboria bears little resemblance to Robert E. Howard's glorious battles and fantastic locales, even failing to live up to its digital forebears. That crafting and community building saves the title from the bin of also-rans similarly seems like a betrayal of the tenets of those time-worn tales. Pedantic literary enthusiasts aside, players will find much to keep them engaged in Conan Exiles, particularly as the developers continue to work on the title in the coming months, ironing out the shortcomings evident in this initial release.
Few games are as unremittingly grim as Frostpunk. In this world of snow and sacrifice, success comes rarely, and hope is but a fleeting memory. Failure is almost assured, and the lessons learned in that process can only be applied to a certain degree. Additionally, some elements intended to be challenging can be exasperating. Nevertheless, these gripes are relatively minor and do little to detract from the engrossing atmosphere. Although the title is unlikely to be remembered as a benchmark or future model for the city builder genre, it stands out from the pack by daring to carve out a wholly unique niche and refusing to pander to the mass-market mentality.
At worst, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is a victim of ambition. The sheer number of ideas and the volume of content packed into the game is jaw-dropping, but can cause confusion. Nonetheless, familiarity breeds contempt, so Level-5's decision to keep things fresh throughout the expansive adventure must be commended. Considering that such a noble goal is attached to a game that, on the surface at least, is targeted towards children makes it even more impressive. However, the reality is that Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is an incredibly powerful title that has the potential to appeal to people from all walks of life. The game's excellence should not be underestimated.
The team at Phantom 8 should be proud of what it has achieved in terms of atmosphere and core gameplay. Past Cure, similarly to Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice before it, is a testament to the idea that small indie developers can produce a quality of content matching that created by blockbuster studios. However, the excellence of these aspects makes the flaws in design, audio, and storytelling more glaring. What looks like a sterling experience feels amateur. Past Cure is ambitious, which can be a fantastic quality, but the developer's effort is misplaced, leaving the game incapable of surviving its own confusion.
The first age of so-called walking simulators is long past. The design foibles that led to such projects being so widely decried have been ironed out, but the genre is still struggling to find its feet. In such a situation, The Station is no revolutionary. Many aspects of the game help to give it a unique identity, but the gameplay is too reliant on established ideas to allow it to stand out from a crowded field.
Few titles can take players on a journey with the ease and grace that The Red Strings Club does; its ability to do so much with so little is a ringing endorsement to the effectiveness of minimalism. The game will not—can not—appeal to everyone, but those seeking a title that takes narrative seriously should not overlook it. Although the gameplay is not challenging, the way it forms an integral part of the story is something that even the biggest, most practiced teams in the industry can learn from. In short, The Red Strings Club is unmissable.
Indeed, in an age where titles are designed as sprawling live services, a more focused campaign can help a game to stand out. Fortunately, Attack of the Earthlings has much more in its favour than being a throwback to a simpler age thanks to its cheery tone and novelty. The game is far from revolutionary, but it bears a sense of individuality that many others lack. The greatest disappointment is that the title will likely never reach the audience it deserves.
Bringing together a pair of budget RPGs, Fallen Legion + represents excellent value for money, but that worth is highly conditional. The artwork is truly inspired—sometimes even breathtaking—but serves a world and story that do not deserve it. Adherents of fantasy war tales will likely find enjoyment from the narrative, though a general audience will fail to be enraptured. Aside from the graphics, the battle system is the game's standout feature, yet even this highlight is let down by the poorly-considered ancillary mechanics that make the Fallen Legion games into anaemic RPGs.
Dynamic Pixels seems to have begun with a simple, brilliant concept, but struggled to make a cohesive game out of it. The AI neighbour and skewed environment are both wonderfully executed pieces of game design, but every other aspect of the project is flawed, making for a fundamentally unenjoyable experience. In some languages, "hello" also means "goodbye", and the latter is more apt here; no matter what horrors lay within the basement, they are not worth persevering through the horror of playing this game.