Clint Morrison, Jr.
Silent Hill: The Short Message feels like an echo of an echo. Its existence reverberates through the horror genre, but it is a noise we first heard 10 years ago replicated time and time again. The P.T. comparisons are still possible because of its initial stirring. The aesthetic and gameplay echoes are now indistinguishable in a way that comparison is inevitable. The difference is that this echo comes from the publisher that set that first sound into motion.
The first Alan Wake could have been a Stephen King story. Alan Wake 2 doesn’t shy away from some of this influence, but this is firmly Remedy’s story—both their postmodern detective thriller and their writer’s nightmare. Alan Wake 2 is a horror story with every jump scare and unnerving moment. But it’s not just a horror story. This sequel is also an experimental narrative that challenges not only how we think about video games but stories and the fictions we tell ourselves about how they are created. Alan Wake 2 is poetic. Developer Remedy Entertainment has crafted not only an excellent sequel to a now 13-year-old game, but the best horror game in nearly a decade.
El Paso, Elsewhere might not be Max Payne, but the inspirations are there. James Savage asks players to believe in him during the early moments of the game. That statement early on, as he discusses his sobriety, addiction, and Draculae, carries more weight on this side of his elevator ride through the void. I enjoyed the game’s gameplay loop, even when I grew frustrated with its repetition. I found the “You Keep Going” screen to be encouraging. With James, I kept fighting through the void even when my faith faltered.
Atlas Fallen is a competent action role-playing game that supports some interesting play styles with its Momentum gauge. While the story and voice acting disappoint, the stars of the show here are the sand surfing, platform navigation, and world. Serviceable as it is, however, Atlas Fallen could have been so much better. Despite some interesting mechanics, its gameplay is so generic that it never really establishes its own identity. Players can enjoy it without much complaint, but in a year of stellar titles, its competence never truly shines.
The Expanse is in excellent hands. Telltale has crafted a wonderful opening duology for its comeback story in episodes one and two. For fans of the developer’s past work, you’ll be happy to know this is a Telltale game through and through. The episodes may be briefer than in the past—at 90 minutes each so far—but they showcase some of the best writing, choices, and animations that the studio has offered to date. Gone may be the walkers and the fairy tale creatures, but The Expanse: A Telltale Series promises scavengers, politics, and even space pirates. I can’t wait to play episode three.
I wanted to like Layers of Fear (2023). I leisurely traversed the haunted house (and ship) for around fifteen hours, but its horror elements never truly left the realm of abstraction. I walked away fascinated by the spaces and objects left behind by the game’s characters. They left a residue of horror. But I left frustrated by how little this residue manifested in truly terrifying, concrete, or meaningful ways.