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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.