Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 just can’t quite seem to get its balance right. On the surface, it really celebrates Nick culture, giving life, style and substance to each of its fighters, helping them stand out and feel like a true version of themselves through their abilities and supers. There’s intriguing ideas in here, including a rogue-like story mode and some stunning stages that really bring the universe to life, but the difficulty curve is unnecessarily hard, the campaign wears out its welcome quite quickly, and the game is full of performance problems and stop/start UI that pulls you out of the experience way too easily.
Lords of the Fallen is a fairly solid, enjoyable Souls-like that really finds the mood and atmosphere that was prevalent in early From titles. The use of Umbral offers some really clever mechanical ideas that keep things fresh, the dynamism to create combos also opens up a range of possibilities, and you’ve got a nice range of environments and bosses that provide a worthy challenge. There are some frustrations with combat though, between balance and abundance of enemies, as well as some technical hiccups and issues around the multiplayer component, but all told, this gets more right than it does wrong.
Lies of P is a fantastic Soulslike in its own right. It ventures to do things a bit differently with some of its choice mechanics and presents a surprisingly compelling story which really helps bring everything together. But it’s the combat, flow and performance that really seal this one as a solid entry in a popular, but often overcrowded genre. While not perfect and certainly a challenge that will not be for everyone, Lies of P is one of the best non-From Soulslikes you can pick up and play right now. And probably the closest you’ll get to playing Bloodborne on a format that’s not PlayStation.
Fort Solis is quite an impressive sight to behold, with some wonderfully atmospheric space adventure, an intriguing murder mystery and some great acting and characterisation. But while there’s a solid foundation in place, its limitations hold it back through painfully slow movement, an awful map and wider User Interface, clunky QTEs and disjointed storytelling. By the end you’re left wondering what could of been rather than what actually is.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the most polished, enjoyable asymmetrical horror games I’ve ever played at launch. From its crisp visuals to its grisly kills and smart strategic undertones, it finds a clever balance between vulnerable survivors trying to escape and ruthless killers who have all the tools to get the job done. Limited map variety and a few balancing issues aside, with a long term home on Game Pass this has a great future ahead, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the game continues to evolve in the months ahead.
Double Dragon Gaiden: Rise of the Dragons is a smart reinvention of the side-scrolling beat-em-up with its roguelite spin, selectable missions, and explorable environments. There’s some really clever ideas bubbling around in this game, in fact it probably holds the key to the future of the genre in its DNA, but sadly Secret Base don’t lean into it quite enough and give us the content to sustain the concept.
Aliens: Dark Descent does a wonderful job of blending genres, taking the familiar troop management and base building of XCOM, then plying it with stealth mechanics, and a surprising amount of customisation. There’s a tense story brewing under the surface and a genuine horror at every turn. You will absolutely feel every death. A high difficulty curve may be offputting for some players and others could encounter a glitch or two along the way, but none of it is enough that I can’t recommend this as one of 2023’s best games and a delightful horror experience that really gets under your skin.
Layers of Fear is one of the most visually impressive games this generation, most certainly the most stunning horror game ever made. It’s a smart, creative approach to a remake by mixing up puzzles as well as incorporating a new storyline which links everything together with compelling, haunting writing. However, it is product of its time, with slow, aimless walking, constantly retreading familiar steps and cheap scares at almost every turn. The definitive way to play Layers of Fear but also a cautious reminder the substance is mostly at a surface level.
Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun does a great job of blending classic and modern day shooters. They’ve done all the hard work in building an authentic aesthetic, as well as making grenades, charge attacks, shields, twin stick shooting and jumping all feel natural, working well within the confines of the game. Unfortunately, the desire to focus around enemy waves, arena shooting, overpowered strikes and overly long levels undoes a lot of that, leaving a lot of potential buried beneath unsatisfying, frustrating content.
Wild Hearts is a franchise with potential and offers a refreshing take on a well-formed genre set in fuedal Japan. Between the more enjoyable combat and the Karakuri, Wild Hearts manages to stand apart from its competitors, but is sadly held back by poor performance and an offputting difficulty curve. Hopefully one that continues to evolve in the months ahead.
Swordship is definitely a tough game to love at times and it doesn’t go easy on the player from the word go, but if you manage to get through its early challenges, start unlocking better ships and items, the game really opens up and the creativity and quality begins to shine. That, sadly, can be quite a big ask for a game with such hyper-sensitive controls, regular insta-deaths, and enemy frequency and brutality.
For Nintendo owners, the release of Bioshock is something of a dream come true. It’s a game that never made it to the Wii or Wii U and was one of those third party games that seemed as if it would never make the jump across. Like all the 2K <3 Nintendo games, this has been lovingly put together and is the furthest thing from a throwaway port you can find.