While it might stick true to the standard point-and-click formula, The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow works because it uses its atmospheric story and great, interesting characters to draw the viewer in, helping you to inhabit Thomasina and her point-of-view in a manner like a role-play game. As the dire warnings about what might happen if Thomasina excavates Hob’s Barrow continue to mount, there is a real theme of the clash of science vs. faith and superstition, which the game explores really well. If you like adventure games and you’re looking for a thoughtful horror story with plenty of worldbuilding, The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow has it in spades.
The special editions of Monkey Island 1 and 2 in 2009 and 2010 respectively showed that there was still a voracious appetite for more of Guybrush’s adventures, so I’m glad that Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman finally got to have another shot at “ending” the Monkey Island story in a manner which they envisaged. Return to Monkey Island is more Monkey Island, and if you’ve been missing out on that for years, this is an excellent return to form.
Wayward Strand is a very unique game with a lot of heart, and it tells its non-linear, intertwined narratives in a very naturalistic fashion, which you can freely jump between as you guide Casie across the decks of the airship. The game’s ending is somewhat lacklustre, but I admire that the game didn’t attempt to invent a dramatic finale simply for the sake of it. It’s certainly worth a playthrough or two to see the various stories and conversations you missed the first time around, and the heartfelt, caring atmosphere it fosters will help to raise your spirits.
Overall I thoroughly recommend Gerda: A Flame in Winter as a bold branching adventure game which is keen to tell the story of a relatively unknown part of the Second World War, in a mature and thoughtful manner. The in-game glossary helps to explain a lot of the historical backstory, as well as educate players in an elegant fashion. I’m looking forward to seeing what stories PortaPlay might decide to tackle next.
It’s a shame that the game didn’t take the opportunity to be a bit more bitingly satirical with its jabs against for-profit higher education, but there is certainly more than an element of truth to the PA announcement saying; “university gives you a bright future, and clouds it with debt.” Two Point Campus certainly scratches the itch for more management game zen, and does it with panache.
Although South of the Circle failed to touch me emotionally at anything other than a surface level, it is nonetheless a nicely paced and structured linear narrative adventure, merging the frozen wastes of Antarctica with the golden afternoon sunshine of Cambridge. If you enjoyed Virginia, this game is an unquestionable recommendation given its stylistic overlap, but if you’re put off by linear narrative adventures of this type, South of the Circle probably isn’t going to win you around.
Silt’s plot is delivered very similarly to that of the Playdead games, being entirely dialogue free. It’s certainly a game about the experience and emotions of what you’re seeing and hearing, as you swim your way across an alien underwater world, filled with beauty and nightmares galore. While there are elements of horror here it’s not as deliberately horrifying as Limbo with its grisly death animations, and is more interested in invoking a sense of wonder as you explore. For fans of the Playdead games Silt is an easy recommendation, but it’s also fully accessible for newcomers to this style of puzzle game.
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe has been deliberately designed so that whether you’ve never heard of the game before and are starting fresh, or you’re a seasoned veteran who experienced all the endings of the 2013 game, there is still plenty here for you to enjoy. The humour may not be for everyone’s taste, but the writing remains as sharp as ever. All of the new content adds about 3 hours to the game’s runtime if you go hunting for every last ending, plus a couple of minor amendments to the original game content are fun to spot. All in all it does flesh out the original in a meaningful way, making this an unqualified recommendation to those who have never experienced it. There has never been a better time to experience The Stanley Parable, where the end is never truly the end.
République is definitely a game which was deliberately designed as a throwback stealth title, and on those criteria, it certainly succeeded. That said however, the camera system is nonetheless frustrating, and while the stealth gameplay is solid, it does get rather repetitive as time goes by. The Anniversary Edition isn’t a graphical overhaul so it’s still the same visuals from 2016, but the story and world remain as interesting as they ever were. If you missed République the first time around on iOS or the second time on its original console release, and you’re a fan of old-school stealth games, this should certainly be a game you’ll enjoy. For more casual players, it will depend on your tolerance for struggling with the movement and camera system.
Even though it’s “another one of those games”, I still found it surprisingly compelling. I liked doing the little sidequests to help a young girl’s spirit find her grandmother’s old umbrella (which had become possessed), or helping a group of friendly tanuki (Japanese racoon dogs) reunite with their boss. I liked reading the thoughts of the cats and dogs, wondering where all the humans went. If it had been a bit more adventurous, Ghostwire: Tokyo could have been something very special, and although gameplay-wise it plays it safe, there’s enough weirdness and personality here to make it worth a visit.
(Console port review) Evil Genius 2: World Domination is certainly another management game, in that it doesn’t do anything which its predecessors haven’t already done before, playing it pretty safe. But as it manages to pull everything it attempts off without a hitch and also provides the pretty unique aesthetic of pretending to be a criminal mastermind, I’m happy to give credit where it is due. For lovers of management sims it’s an easy recommendation, and if you’re limited to only having access to consoles, it’s a good choice for experiencing this style of game in an approachable and streamlined way.
Jett: The Far Shore has an interesting and deep world, but it takes far too long to actually get around to telling you about it. It’s also sadly just boring to play thanks to the glacial pacing, which leaves your enjoyment purely hinging on your engagement with the characters and story. If you’ve got the patience to enjoy Jett’s deliberately slow approach, you’ll certainly find an interesting world to learn about and explore, filled with unique alien lifeforms.
Industria doesn’t outstay its welcome, but it could have done with more narrative meat on its bones, especially for the ending. It sets up a fascinating world I was interested to learn about, and left me eager for more. The shooting is nicely satisfying and the robot design is appropriately unnerving, meaning the dark hallways of the buildings of Hakavik always felt atmospheric and spooky. It needs some more patches to make the performance adequate, but I will be very interested to see what Bleakmill does next. I hope we’ll return to the world of Industria in the future.
Deathloop is genuinely refreshing in how different it is. It took me a while to get used to not saving, and being more daring in my battles against the Eternalists, most of which ended successfully and only occasionally ended with me being shot to pieces. The world is fascinating and the way you gradually learn new tidbits of information each loop means that even if you are killed prematurely, you still feel you have meaningfully progressed. Each zone has loads of secrets to uncover and will respond to Colt’s actions in different ways, meaning that mastering the maps and their layouts is crucial to fully upgrading Colt’s weaponry and hopefully bringing about a final end to the time loop. Deathloop is a brave change of direction for Arkane, and one which I think is overall extremely successful. It might not be an immersive sim, but it’s still a hell of a fine game.
No Longer Home doesn’t out stay its welcome and is a relatively short experience, but I generally found it interesting and inventive. It clearly borrows heavily from Kentucky Route Zero, but wisely doesn’t try to imitate it, but rather borrows narratively and structurally. Ao and Bo’s relationship is very well fleshed out, and they are honest and truthful to each other in a refreshing way, their dialogue never feeling forced or unnatural. This is commendable, as realistic romantic relationships are often difficult to accurately convey in video games. It’s a game which pauses and asks you to value the small moments in life. I took this lesson to heart, using every opportunity I could to pet the flat’s two cats, Luna and Autumn. Sometimes, just petting a cat can spark joy. Life consists of a multitude of small moments, and at some point, we all must move from old homes and build new ones. No Longer Home, like Gone Home before it, proves the adage “you can’t go home again” remains as true as ever.
Samurai Warriors 5 is an extremely over-the-top, ridiculous game. It’s a game where your character can slice his enormous sword at a battalion of soldiers, obliterating them in a massive fireball. It’s a game where you can ride your horse through hundreds of archers, cutting them down while barely getting a scratch on you. It’s a game where if you pull off the correct combination of moves, your character can basically “fly”, zipping around with inhuman speed while inflicting devastating power attacks. All of this from what is on paper supposed to be a realistic, historical action game. This juxtaposition of a relatively serious story with the ludicrous action is a formula that works surprisingly well, creating a core gameplay loop which is engaging, if sometimes a bit repetitive. If you accept the game for what it is, you’ll find a satisfying hack-and-slash with plenty of replayability.