Even the Ocean sits unfortunately between an early indie hit and a decade defining classic. It is the studio’s most technically accomplished game to date but lacks the emotional heft of its siblings; a delight in itself that falls shy of the incredibly high bar Analgesic have set for themselves. But as a transitional piece it is one of the best modern examples we have of thematic development across games, made more interesting through Anodyne 2's parallels.
Video games about violence so often fail because they do not actually understand what they are doing. They can copy others, depict violence in shocking fidelity, and endlessly trawl the waters of individuals doing individually bad things, but they are culpable of so much violence themselves the shots will always miss. Lucah understands form is the message, that violence is messy and contradictory, and that games cannot simply adopt the language of film and literature and achieve the same ends. It is a game of relentless despair, and yet underneath it all its tenderness cannot but shine through.
Ghostrunner may as well have fallen backwards into cyberpunk for want of a theme. It can wrench nothing from this stone that has not already been ground up by other derivative works, and squanders its movement on inconsistent combat and weightless platforming.
I’m not asking Abzu to just be Journey, but if it is already working from that point of reference it’s strange how little Abzu understands why Journey worked at all. If Journey was a ballet Abzu is a SeaWorld show. Flashy, controlled, at times inspiring, its artifice fully on display.
The Last Survey is a two (arguably one) man play about justifications and the failure of modern liberalism to try to both hold on to capitalism and appear sympathetic to our concerns. It holds you in this limbo and dares you to justify your way out.
This tension between Tonight We Riot’s political ambitions and the limited depth of its systems is a large part of why it feels paradoxically tame. It has taken the mechanics and structure of a traditional beat’em’up and attempted to map them to anti-capitalist revolution, but it hasn’t thoroughly interrogated how those existing mechanics are also a product of capitalism.
Mutazione imagines a beautiful and complex life founded on small, self-sustaining community and a respect for the natural world. It is charming and warm but also plain about the challenges of sustaining a community like this. It reckons with the contradictions of colonialist greed and asks if things couldn’t be rebuilt without hierarchies and violence.
It was difficult to play Hyper Light Drifter and not feel a deep empathy for the drifter, also alone, also dying from an invisible disease. It’s an easy connection, but when the world is on fire all you can see are embers. Hyper Light Drifter doesn’t prescribe specifics so it’s easy to imprint meaning onto it. But it also resists glorifying those readings.
Games can often feel like some kind of sorcery, impossibly complex and created by people with inhuman ability. But they’re just people. Highly talented people, but still. Anodyne 2 is not sorcery, but it is a kind of magic, an ordinary magic that is all the more exceptional because of it.