Paste Magazine's Reviews
Rebirth‘s world is gorgeous and fun and quirky, even if the delivery of its stories can feel a bit stilted and rote, and it turns the finale of Remake into the impetus to re envision a phenomenal cast in ways I adore. Along the way, it becomes big, perhaps even bigger than Final Fantasy VII ever needed to be, but that excess provides quite a bit to love.
Helldivers 2 is the rare game that honestly benefits from being live-service. Just within a week we’ve already seen new missions being added with new objectives for the community to work towards that will allow all players to reap the benefits. Arrowhead’s dedication and constant communication to enhance the experience for players deserves to be commended. Alongside those rewards, there’s also compensation for players who didn’t get proper rewards for their missions and XP bonuses to make up for time lost under server maintenance. Under the right conditions (working servers and your misfit group of friends), Helldivers 2 is simply one of the greatest co-op games to come out in recent memory. The feeling of fighting for my life waiting for extraction while the orchestra is blaring away is the greatest movie I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking part in. Unfortunately, it’s not always going to be available due to factors outside the game. Yet when it all comes together, democracy has never felt so good.
Singular and confident, Ultros is a startling piece of work that knows exactly what it wants to be, and hones in on that goal with laser beam focus. It depends on time-tested videogame actions and concepts not just for their comfort and retro appeal, but as a familiar foundation that can be gradually fucked with as part of the game’s greater themes. And although those themes and their presentation are intentionally confusing and obtuse, Ultros never devolves into chaos for the sake of it; there’s always a clear point of view and thought process driving the game’s design. Ultros brings mystery back to gaming in brilliant fashion, delivering us the first genuinely great game of 2024.
Even if you don’t think you’re into big RPGs with a lot of social business attached, it’s worth taking a look into Persona 3 Reload, especially if you’re subscribed to Game Pass; still, though, you should prepare yourself for the long journey ahead. And remember, you will die. Now it’s time for me to play this dancing game I’ve heard so much about.
But in the end, Granblue Fantasy is still tucked away in my phone. Perhaps they thought that a console game like Relink was merely the best way to onboard new players. You can’t hit them with the toxic, cannibalistic lesbians (this is a thing that happened, and was fantastic) or the Lowain Brothers Hostess Club out of nowhere. Most recently in Granblue Fantasy, my Captain got canonically married in a parallel timeline to Catura. Catura is a big-titty cow girl who is the Divine Ox of the 12 Divine Generals. She loves milk, her sentient motorcycle named Milky, her parents, a little cow named Moomoo, and me. And now my big-titty cowgirl is one of the hardest hitting attackers I have on my Wind element team. When she does her ougi, we divebomb the enemies on her motorcycle in our wedding dresses. It’s amazing. And while I admit that this is definitely the energy missing from Relink, it did take Granblue some time to get here.
Like I said, Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth is positively bursting with just about everything you could think to ask for in a game. It’s a more confident RPG, even adopting the kinds of stories fitting of the genre, but that transformation isn’t as seamless as it could be. Sure, it’s a long adventure with plenty of fun to be had and a lovely party of characters, but there’s also a disjointed feel to its disparate narratives and how they ultimately come together. Along the way, it even loses sight of some of its themes, threads,and characters. But that doesn’t mean Infinite Wealth doesn’t coalesce in some truly outstanding moments every now and then that make the journey worth the highs and the lows. I only wish it better understood that some restraint, as opposed to unlimited growth, can go a long way towards making a better game.
All that said, Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising largely achieves its central tasks. It lowers the barrier to entry for newcomers while also offering a well-designed roster with enough complexities to keep things exciting for seasoned hands. I found myself pulled into matches that balanced flashy techniques with the more deliberate pacing of old-school genre entries, creating compelling duels I’m eager to return to. Perhaps most notably, it addresses the core issue with the last game, adding rollback netcode that makes online play dramatically more stable. Although there are a few whiffs, such as the inability to filter opponents by connection speed and regressions in its story mode, it generally hits as hard as its colorful cast of combatants.
Thirsty Suitors has a surprising amount to say about culture, acceptance, self-expression, and growing from your mistakes. That being said, I did not grow past my lifelong videogame mistakes, and, as I’ve done so often in the past, I failed to manually save the game at regular intervals. So when a glitch wouldn’t let me restart a battle after dying, I had to quit the game and return back to the start of the level. Much like Jala my mistakes caught up to me, but, unlike Jala, I doubt that will make me change my ways.
Like A Dragon Gaiden then is both cursed and blessed by familiarity. It’s so much like the games before it that it’s predictably fun, boisterous, funny, well-acted and directed. It is also a bit tame, especially by the standards of the series, rarely pushing in terms of narrative and character in the bold ways Like A Dragon has become well-renowned for, making for a welcome-if-unnecessary side chapter in Kiryu’s story before what appears to be a conclusion for everyone’s favorite ex-yakuza. But even if it falls short in some unfortunate places, this “budget-sized” installment in the series is just as wonderful and bountiful a place to jump into and fall in love with its inane brand of magic.
But don’t let me be a downer. Here’s the good: Detective Pikachu Returns does not require much from you. It won’t ask you to do anything especially complicated and you get to look at cute Pokémon. It won’t ask you to get too emotionally engaged nor will it demand too much of your attention or energy. You can be infinitely wrong in your deductions, and it will still offer reprieve. Detective Pikachu Returns has its funny moments, its emotional moments, and its gratifying moments without requiring much effort in return, and for some, that is an ideal videogame. But, if you’re coming to Detective Pikachu Returns hoping for a fast-paced, semi-engaging narrative, or even much of a plot in general, just watch the movie. Pikachu is equally cute in both.
Although Ghostrunner 2’s attempts at expanding its setting fell flat, and I wish it ran better, its central action feels sharp thanks to its empowering movement abilities, extensive offensive tools, and pulverizing but generally well-designed enemy encounters. Most of these thrilling sequences require acrobatics that had me frantically switching between maneuvers as I narrowly avoided bullets and blades. While it has some weak stretches, and its cyberpunk narrative doesn’t offer much to the canon, its frenetic platforming was enough to keep me plugging back in.
At its core, Fae Farm is a beautifully rendered farming simulator that, in my opinion, could compete with the best of its genre. It’s mechanically familiar to anyone that’s played Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing while having a unique enough art style and storyline that it can stand out against other titles. It balances its necessary elements—story and community building—against each other in a way that creates smooth gameplay, and it presents a cozy vibe perfect for the fall and winter months ahead. There are some elements of Fae Farm that may leave some craving a bit more of a challenge, as well as technical issues that do set it back, but it makes up for itself by being creative and fun. I don’t find myself terribly compelled to play Fae Farm constantly, but it is an undeniably enjoyable, adventurous, and approachable game that has brought together the farming simulator and story genres in one cozy package.
Still, despite these problems, I’m glad I took the journey across Laika: Aged Through Blood’s barren hellscape. Despite its extreme violence and unapologetic bleakness, this space is defined by a surprising emotional range thanks to its compelling protagonist and her brutal quest to save those she loves. Motorcycle treks through the wastes are backed by a soundtrack that teases out pain only partially staunched by the thrills of motorcycle-backed duels. And perhaps most notably, it works as an underrepresented game about motherhood, detailing both the unfair expectations and triumphs that come from being a mom. It’s an experience capable of conjuring powerful feelings: disgust, despair, and a smoldering hope that our gunslinger’s actions can improve the lot of those closest to her.
Saltsea Chronicles, put more simply, is triumphant. It’s up there (amongst very tough competition) for the best game I played this year. I found its measured and realistic portrait of the collectivist society it portrays extremely hopeful. It pushes the medium forward, as cliche as that may be to say, in its insistence on theorizing the specifics of a social and political philosophy to its conclusion.
Besides that hitch, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is a largely commendable sequel, building on what’s come before it in smarter ways than I’d put past most AAA titles. It’s an impressively lean and refined take on the open world structure that gives me hope the future isn’t just endless growth. Its familiarity is both a crutch and a boon that Insomniac manages to spin in a mostly good light in order to tell a story we’ve seen before with some key changes that make it land more impactfully than I’ve seen it done in quite some time. Though it sometimes struggles to use the entirety of its cast to great effect, I think what it does accomplish is no small task and more than anything, sets up an exciting future for characters I’ve grown remarkably fond of and can’t wait to see more of. If you’re wondering whether or not this title delivered here and now though, rest easy knowing that yes, it absolutely did.
In spite of it all though, CD Projekt Red has struck it out of the park. Cyberpunk 2077 finally shines the way it was always meant to. I hate talking in anything that resembles platitudes, but Phantom Liberty is an honest-to-goodness triumph. It’s not just the narrative I hoped for out of the original game, it’s everything it ought to have been. It properly sands away the rough and occasionally raw elements and designs of the base game and sharpens its best parts into a weapon like little else. It doubles down and makes it clear this is a world worth telling stories in. It more prominently and earnestly wears its heart on its sleeve, all the while delivering characters and consequences that hopefully ripple outwards in brilliant and bold new ways. It’s everything I could’ve wanted Cyberpunk 2077 to be.
No genuinely good game has ever been hurt by being too easy, though. With El Paso, Elsewhere Strange Scaffold has given us one of 2023’s great games—one that’s in constant conversation with the medium’s past, while simultaneously brushing against the emotional and intellectual boundaries of games. And it does it all with one hell of a sense of a style. El Paso, Elsewhere’s greatness lies not in the excellence of any one of its single components, but in the consistently high level of quality found across all of them. It does everything it tries to do exceedingly well, with sound, image, story, and interaction combining into a uniformly great package. Game designers can learn a lot from El Paso, Elsewhere, and perhaps even act on that knowledge, if their publishers let them.
If I have a major issue, it’s that just as this sensation is fully kicking in, this relatively brief journey comes to a close. The problem isn’t so much the game’s length but that it only reaches its full potential in this last hour or so as it bounds towards its climax. Also, while the ultimate conclusion doesn’t necessarily undermine what came before, it doesn’t quite elevate it either, as its fairly straightforward demonstration of what it’s all “about” is somewhat clumsy compared to what it more elegantly achieves through its mechanics. Still, even if it doesn’t entirely stick the landing, Cocoon’s mind-warping puzzles and well-realized setting make for an out-of-this-world experience.