It’s true that the game’s card-based randomness may allow some players to stumble through boss encounters without properly solving them. But what is the proper way to come at most things is a social construct. Allowing players to find their own, occasionally lucky, way through the game is a brilliant way to demonstrate Inscryption’s cards-as-life theme. There’s no one right way to live, and despite all your preparation, sometimes you may draw an unlucky hand.
Which isn’t to say that you’re locked into a path getting to your destination. Indeed, the game’s minor tonal shortcomings are eclipsed by all the ways that it perfects the 2D trappings of Metroid’s mechanics and hands players so much freedom when it comes to exploring its environments. All the while, the game is deliberate and quite devilish about taking that freedom away and picking the right time to dare you to fight to regain it.
Only the human character models and their clunky facial animations suffer from a lack of realism compared to the stunningly detailed environments, and this remaster’s lack of ray tracing and HDR are odd for a game that boasts not only strong light effects but also makes both light and dark such an integral part of the gaming experience. Regardless, while Alan Wake Remastered doesn’t substantially alter the twisted tale of the writer and the dark forces that bind him, there’s enough here that connects to the events in Control and it’s Alan Wake-centered AWE DLC episode to makes the return trip to Bright Falls a worthwhile one.
It’s worth noting that the main mechanical difference between Deathloop and Dishonored is that you can kill without moral consequence here. That’s liberating, but while it’s nice, and hilarious, that kicking enemies into the ocean is such a key part of Deathloop’s gameplay, there isn’t a whole lot that’s interesting about that. For a stealthy FPS that prides itself on the steady accumulation of power and understanding, the game also rarely makes either one feel particularly exhilarating. But, in the end, Deathloop’s almost perversely ironic saving grace is that it’s populated with charismatic weirdos who are just as irked about that as you are.
Bridge of Spirits is an old-fashioned adventure game, one that sets you on a very curated, puzzle-marked path. Which is to say that it lacks for the trailblazing go-anywhere spirit of Breath of the Wild. But Kena is, after all, a spirit guide, so you can trust that you’re not missing out on much by sticking to the missions that she calls out on the map. What you’ll get by following that path that she puts you on are the tightest, most compelling pieces of gameplay, those rooted in plot. In fact, seeing as what happens to those spirits who lose themselves along the way, the purest form of Bridge of Spirits is the one that doesn’t wander off.
And because the atmosphere encompasses so much of Sable’s appeal, the technical issues can be absolutely ruinous. When the bike disappears into the ground, when the menus break, or when Sable passes straight through an object that she should be able to land on, the illusion collapses and we’re left not with a vivid sense of place, but with a video game where the mechanics are all a bit of a chore. With its restrained approach toward collectibles and its rudimentary traversal, Sable attempts to depict exploration for the sake of exploration, but in doing so it only clarifies that such a concept is not necessarily as enticing as it sounds.
Thanks to the game’s rich writing, rarely does it feel that you’re just wandering through one luscious environment after another—like the canopy-level walkways of the Gianne Woodland or steep ivied cliffs of the Aureum Falls—so much as you’re being given glimpses of a land well worth fighting for. Even the variety of your party serves a deeper function, suggesting that one person alone, however strong, cannot break down every obstacle.
“Every roll of the dice matters, but not every roll counts,” claims Seemore, the die-restoring pipnician who Even befriends. But this isn’t true of Lost in Random’s gameplay, as the worst penalty for a bad roll is around 10 seconds of the player’s time. Indeed, if you don’t earn enough pips to summon a card, all you have to do is wait to draw a fresh card and re-roll Dicey until you’ve achieved the desired effect. Lost in Random’s narrative about a world where self-determination is suppressed is compelling, but the randomness that characterizes the game’s combat risks pushing those of us who actually have free will to play something else instead.