The Ascent’s savviest move is making the arcology its main character. Trains run on their own schedules, NPCs carry on conversations whether you stop to listen to them or not, and there’s no exposition for concepts like “Escher loops” and “the First Law.” You’re not a hero, only a replaceable employee. The commune of off-the-grid coders aren’t relying on you, and there’s nothing you can do to help a traumatized recent arrival who woke to find that his family of 70 years was merely a cryosleep-induced dream. And so you look, listen, and empathize with the concerns of this vibrant, lived-in arcology. It’s a terrible place to live, and a terrifyingly believable premonition of where we might end up, but a wonderful one to get lost in.
That charming, throwaway exchange is just one of the many ways in which the game’s strong writing and character development help to mitigate the campaign’s tedious final hours. It feels like the video game equivalent of a shaggy-dog joke, and while its narrative is fascinating enough to compel you to backtrack not once, but twice, through areas and boss fights that you’ve long since mastered, it’s hard not to wish that Cris Tales had used a little time magic on itself and sped things along so we could have gotten to the good stuff sooner.
The Forgotten City certainly doesn’t need to answer the philosophical questions that it poses before it’s allowed to examine them in a narrative context, but the ludicrously tidy conclusions to the main story and most side quests feel like substitutes for any deep engagement. The game handily transcends its mod origins and tells an ambitious and thought-provoking story, but it eventually reaches a point where it doesn’t seem sure how to end.
Eventually, each story hurriedly resolves itself, foregoing tidy lessons or ironic endings but still lacking that crucial, elusive sense of lived-in authenticity. For as much effort has clearly gone into voicing and animating these characters within their 3D environments, we never spend enough time to seem like we really know them; quirks of the game’s strict linearity ensure we remain at a distance, observing relationships that are otherwise too thinly sketched to sustain the game’s emotional ambitions. Last Stop eventually arrives at an all-too-familiar game-design destination, hamstrung by its attempts at verisimilitude.
Despite its title’s declaration of intent, though, Rift Apart isn’t willing to stand on its own. That’s most evident in the game’s Anomaly puzzles, where you must interact with physical representations of all of Clank’s and Kit’s dimensional possibilities. This is predetermination in action. There’s only one acceptable route for you to guide these representations, like lemmings, down, and that’s the one that has them marching in lockstep along the same path that has defined every Ratchet & Clank to date. In the end, Rift Apart is a superficially entertaining but deeply unfulfilling adventure—one that, like the latest Star Wars trilogy, mistakes a shiny new coat of paint as reason enough to exist.
The occasional moments of tonal dissonance stick out, but they don’t necessarily hurt the experience. And it can’t be underestimated how great it is to have a game that’s very much an allegory about Asian people fighting to be heard, and with two Asian voice actors actually playing the leads. Still, the episode is titled quite accurately. At five-to-seven hours, Episode INTERmission isn’t quite filler, but it’s also not entirely filling. It’s an appreciable detour on a much longer journey.
Throughout Hired Gun, you very much feel its desire to emulate elements of genre-defining hits like the Half-Life and BioShock games, as well as its failure to understand how they utilized their systems and mechanics to engage and immerse players. Worse, Hired Gun turns its back to all that’s promising about Games Workshop’s fiction, such as the various spinoff novels that offer insights into a demented upper-class nobility as well as life in the Underhive, choosing instead to tell a meaningless, mostly incoherent story about archetypal characters who are unmemorable at best. Late in the game, a momentary detour featuring an iconic Warhammer 40,000 monster, one that’s wildly out of place and acting against its bestial nature, serves as a baffling example of how unmoored this game is to its own property.
Where other games tend to have a greater purpose and complexity behind more granular mechanics that demand closer attention from the player, Biomutant remains a rather simplified, if overstuffed, game of loot-hoovering. In practice, you’re still chasing objective markers and wandering salvageable areas in hopes of spotting the “interact with object” indicator. But while Biomutant’s breadth of options does indeed make that familiar process more rewarding than the norm, it never quite offsets the accompanying increase in tedium.