Complaining about Outer Wilds inscrutability is a little like criticizing Rome because you don’t know which sights to see. Do a measly Google search. Mobius Digital has, at times, erred on the side of giving players too little information. But, as a result, they have created a world that casts you as Isaac Newton. They are eagerly waiting for you to discover its gravity.
Even with the thin gameplay mechanics and small bits of narrative logic that felt off, its world, characters, and story grew on me. It is truly heartwarming when a piece of media, especially video games for all their interactivity, embrace subjects such as loneliness and mental illness. Our society still deals with problems of stigma, which in turn creates barriers for those who want to reach out for help but are afraid to ask. Video games, and art as a whole, have the remarkable power to move and inspire one another, to encourage inner strength and find our voice; Sea of Solitude is one of those hopeful experiences.
Frogwares has created an interesting and absorbing world of horror, and it’s deliciously rich in story and world-building. The sanity system works well, throwing some horrific visions at you, and capturing a feeling of nightmarish helplessness. Yes, it comes with some signature flaws too, but The Sinking City is a fine horror game and an engrossing detective RPG.
Four years ago in 2015 when Koji Igarashi took to Kickstarter, he wanted to prove to the suits of the games industry that people still loved Castlevania. If they wouldn’t give him the series name, he and the fans would make sure it lived on in spirit. Now, in 2019, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is finally here, and it’s everything we hoped it to be. I might be late to the Igavania party, but it made me nostalgic for a bygone era of gaming all the same. As it turns out, the notion that this kind of game is antiquated turned out to be just a strange illusion.
The great shame here is that there are a lot of good ideas in DayZ, it’s just that they are poorly executed. The immense open world and survival mechanics all read really cool on paper, and at the start of one’s journey come off intriguing. As one dives deeper into DayZ, however, the realization washes over them regarding just how empty the experience feels. What could change this is if the developer decides to add more to DayZ, opening up the accessibility of the game. For now, DayZ is more of a disappointment in what could have been a great survival title.
Chaosbane does, however, just about work well enough. If you’re looking for something to plow through with a friend or two, then it’s perfectly serviceable. It just doesn’t have that hook to keep you coming back beyond the endgame. That could change of course with updates, but in the here and now, it’s a dry, if enjoyable, imitation of a superior title.
Void Bastards, unfortunately, stifles creativity at times. No matter how you approach the game, much of your time will be spent rifling through drawers. It succeeds at evoking the best of comic book art, but will need some work before its emergent narratives approach the heights of explosive comic book storytelling.
Even with countless VR horror games coming before it and effectively siphoning the effective scare juice the series created, Five Nights at Freddy’s VR maintains the series’ identity and utilizes the headset to great effect. Any further attempt at delving into the virtual reality space should try to push new boundaries, but as an opening gambit? It’s an interesting and unsettling success with a few rough edges.
Despite being such a common setting in horror, it feels like there aren’t that many big games that utilize the woods (The Forest is probably the best other example), especially to the level Darkwood does. Every decision is informed by the setting, from the survival mechanics to the enemy types to the tone and story. This cohesion of theme makes it stand out in the crowded indie horror market, providing scares that AAA games have trouble achieving. But just like getting lost in the woods, be prepared to spend some time fumbling around in the dark before finding the path.
My own lack of emotional investment doesn’t negate what Observation does so well. No Code has created something truly unique. It defies easy “x meets y meets z” categorization. While there are recognizable component parts—the map of a ship-builder, the numerous small mechanics of a microgame collection, the rubberneckery of an immersive sim—I have never played anything quite like Observation. But, I’m guessing it would be awfully familiar to the AI in my pocket.
For all Rage 2‘s shortcomings, it’s worth stating again that whenever you find enemies, you find some of the best combat encounters in any modern shooter. It’s so good it makes the duller parts close to irrelevant. Would Rage 2 have been better off as a more linear shooter? Maybe, but I’d rather have seen a bit more refinement and polish to the open-world, and its driving, because by trying to be a bit of everything and not creating each aspect equally, Avalanche and Id has diluted a hi-octane shooter’s venomous sting with a beige paste of open-world busywork.
If you don't know the name Asobo Studio, you will after A Plague Tale. It clearly had a vision for what it wanted this game to be and despite the presumably lower budget than similar games, it rarely feels hamstrung by financial constraints. It's a game that looks, sounds, and plays great, and is all wrapped up in a story that unfolds irresistibly. For anyone who still longs for single-player games they can just sink their teeth into and enjoy, A Plague Tale should shoot to the top of your list. It's one of the year's best games.
Maybe the most damning thing I can say about Close to the Sun is that the main story it’s so interested in telling—the story that everything else on the Helios funnels you back toward—just isn’t the least bit surprising. All of it borrows pretty heavily from the BioShock playbook, and all of the plot points it trots out have been done better (and far more shockingly) elsewhere. The portrait of Tesla it presents seems conflicted—and I hoped Close to the Sun would attempt to close the distance between the egomania that would prompt a man to build statues of himself and the gentle humanity Tesla shows elsewhere — but the game doesn’t do anything to dig into those contradictions. That’s the consequence of all those chase sequences. Close to the Sun just doesn’t have the time to dig into anything. It’s got somewhere else to be.
Days Gone doesn't rip up the rulebook for open world games, brings very little new to the tired zombie genre, and while its story is enjoyable, it's far from compelling. Yet that doesn't mean you won't have a good time with it. While the riding and horde dynamics elevate the dependable, yet humdrum, nature of the rest of the game, just remember that patience is definitely required for the stretches of repetition between the more interesting parts.
Wastelands is a satisfying experience and an excellent step up in the story of Life Is Strange 2. Given the episode’s ending, I cannot imagine what will even come next. The Diaz brothers, along with the rest of the cast, make Wastelands the strongest chapter so far in the story, offering great emotion and characters.
Fade to Silence is nothing if not interesting, which helps keep the game afloat even with several short- and long-term issues. From a studio that has never done this sort of thing and comprised of just a few dozen developers, it’s clear its downfall is its own ambition as virtually all of Fade to Silence’s many systems need refinement. A lack of good tutorials will scare off genre newcomers, while half-baked elements like poor combat and controls will upset the veterans too. Still, the story drips out irresistibly and base-building is deep and engaging, which makes surviving the storm of problems worthwhile. Black Forest Games bit off more than they could chew with Fade to Silence, but they deserve some credit for taking the bite.
Mortal Kombat 11 is a great fighter, perhaps the best the series has been to date. It’s a visual spectacle filled with lots of ways to play for players of all skill levels, and features the most enjoyable fighting game story I’ve ever gone through. It also has some boring new characters, crippled further by the extensive customization suite, and a growing disconnect between the regular fighting and the fatalities. Small issues, but issues all the same. Still, you’ll probably be having too much fun to care.