Tying Judgment to a combat system that even the original franchise has left behind feels like a decision to hobble the imagination this studio has demonstrated time and time again. We've spent over a decade and seven games learning what a Yakuza game feels like, and 2019's first step into the spinoff series Judgment impressed the hell out of me, but now it's time for the franchise to figure out what it wants to be. And I hope it can do that by standing on its own.
What it does, it does well, and it leaves open a path forward where complex narrative structures are explored (The Vale has some branching, but like early D&D adventure modules, it's fairly on the rails), or the simple puzzle forms are complicated and expanded. There's plenty of overhead to play with new forms of audio puzzles entirely. And while I wished some of that was in this game itself, perhaps leaving space for the next game is crucial-experimentation should never be final or definitive. But for now, Falling Squirrel has crafted a brilliant next step with The Vale.
There's a joy to knowing that if you take a photograph of the flamingo on the right side of the car, you won't have time to get a photograph of the rhino on the left projectile shitting against a concrete restraining wall. Even if you advance the film, and knock your grandfather back into the club car's bench seat as you clamber over him as fast as your little limbs can. There's joy in begging your family to go on the ride just one more time while you've still got film and daylight left.
I'm cynical because the assumption that Housemarque has made here is that AAA games are a genre unto themselves, one whose form is based on cinematic regurgitation, excess, and the speed of disposability. And what sucks is they're slowly being proven right. Prestige television came early to this console generation, and I'm sure for many it will happily pass the time and then it will pass away into memory because memories are short, and there's always a next big thing, and then a bigger next big thing.
Maybe in a few months there'll be patches, course corrections, and I'll get an update and try it again. I came to Mordheim late and I have no idea what the base game was like. XCOM 2 needed War of the Chosen to really become the game I wanted to play. Maybe Rogue Factor just needs time to make Necromunda become the badass squad-skirmish game that I wanted it to be.
Will you like Shenmue III? I can't say. This is likely the last new game I'll play before the year ends, and it's a sure win for my Game of the Year. Shenmue III spoke to me on a level few games have. I thought about giving it a 10/10, even began gearing myself up to argue that with my editor. But Shenmue isn't perfect. It defies real perfection, because life is imperfect. Shenmue III is knobby and requires tremendous, repetitive effort before it gives up the special, unique warmth.
I do wish there were more to Luigi's Mansion 3, that the controls were tighter and more precise, but I also find myself wanting to play it more despite these problems. I don't know that I'll pick it back up when my partner and I finally collect every last gem, and suck out every last coin from every possible hiding place. But the liveliness and charm of its world, the bizarre questions it doesn't ask but gestures to, and the happiness I've had playing it with my partner on the couch will likely stick with me for quite some time.