Mafia: Definitive Edition is a curiosity. Newcomers to the game will find here a soft landing via a strong narrative and gameplay that will readily welcome them. Meanwhile, veterans will find enough changes to make another visit to Lost Heaven worth their while, though whether they will be pleased with the modernization is a separate question entirely. With one eye on the past and one on the present, Mafia: Definitive Edition is less dated than Destroy All Humans!, though it never feels as distinctive or necessary as Resident Evil 2. Whether that’s enough to coax you back will be up to you.
When Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts works, it works amazingly well. The process of spotting, planning, and sniping makes for a tense, engaging experience, especially given the expansive maps that almost always provide multiple vantage points and approaches. However, the game too often demands that players close the gap and suffers as a result. Although Seeker’s toolkit is filled with toys, too many rely on noise, and the enemies flock to the slightest sign of the player’s presence, making the game tougher than will likely be enjoyable for many. Add to that the bugs that, although not game-breaking, are annoying and a story that is not much of a story at all, and Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts falls short of its ambitions. Maybe next time, CI Games will have its scope calibrated properly.
Despite everything written so far, Narcos: Rise of the Cartels does exactly what it aims to. The game is not an attempt to rewrite the strategy rulebook, but rather a gateway drug for anyone not familiar with the genre who is already hooked on Narcos. In that context, the title is solid: an entry-level strategy game that eases players in. The shallowness stems from the mass appeal and, as such, is a strength. However, those concessions will not spark joy for strategy veterans or anyone looking for a meaty, engaging experience.
Like its protagonist then, Woven is an odd beast. Alterego has succeeded in making something distinct—the game certainly stands out from the crowd. However, that uniqueness comes with concessions. Every charming feature is offset by a fumble: a fun premise by a non-existent story, a stunning aesthetic by burdensome exploration, solid puzzles by technical issues. Nevertheless, the game is fully functional and will certainly be worthwhile purchase for young children or anyone else who enjoys the simple pleasures.
RUNE II lacks the wow factor to be a serious contender in most Game of the Year lists, but that does not mean it should be overlooked. The game is solid and dependable, its faults never quite enough to sink it. Moreover, Human Head should be celebrated for daring to take a different approach to its open world. Where many games try to drive engagement through more quests, more distractions, more collectibles, more everything, RUNE II pares that drive back to its bare essentials. The result is a game that successfully walks the tightrope between appealing to the linearity-loving traditionalists, fans of sprawling RPGS, and the adherents of Minecraft’s make-your-own-adventure style of play.
Five hours into a session, the player could be forgiven for thinking that only half that time has gone by. WARSAW has an addictive quality that comes from sublime gameplay and a pervasive feeling of desperation. ‘Just one more mission,’ goes the refrain. ‘Just one more’ until the final mission is complete, and the game comes to its shattering end. WARSAW may be short, but as an engaging history lesson and an engrossing game, it warrants any number of replays.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood had the potential for greatness. MachineGames has proven itself as one of the best FPS developers active today with the previous two series entries, and Arkane Studios has a well-deserved reputation for great immersive sim experiences. Both are highly regarded for their single-player offerings, yet this collaboration squanders so much of the magic that could have been. The gunplay is as tight as fans could hope, and the central storyline is just strong enough to overcome the malaise that the repetitive open-world exploration breeds. However, those boons are not enough to offset the flaws, foibles, and—most of all—the sense that this is a game designed to keep players coming back: even as it lacks a hook to do so.
Warhammer: Chaosbane is a functional though fundamentally unspectacular addition to the Warhammer universe. The number of missions, the multiple playable characters, and the additional modes available after completion give the game a thick padding that could provide weeks of entertainment for the right player. However, the core experience is more bones than meat, which means that that ‘right player’ may be a rare breed.
In some ways, those adjectives suit Draugen as a whole. Slightly dated game design and some poorly telegraphed narrative elements aside, the game makes for a wonderful four-hour adventure. The town of Graavik is a delight to look at, and the stories it hides drag players deep into the mystery. The design tropes of walking simulators are backed up with more logical cause than is often the case, while the story leaves just enough open to keep the player thinking after the credits have ceased to roll. Draugen seems unlikely to win any awards for originality, but it shows what mastery of the ‘walking simulator’ format looks like.
Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.
Tropico 6 matches and even exceeds the breadth of content found in fellow city-builders, but it does not delve deeply enough into its simulation to take the genre forward a step. For some prospective players, the lack of depth may be too great an impertinence to brook, but everyone else will find a delightful management sim with one of the best settings the genre has ever seen.
Devil May Cry 5 does so many things right: the engrossing narrative, the understated integration of online elements, and, most prominently, the stunning amount of variety in the combat mechanics. These aspects move the series forward, but this new entry also replicates some of the duller qualities from action games of yesteryear. This tendency prevents Devil May Cry 5 from being the new standard bearer for the genre, but that does not prevent it from being something truly special.
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.