The problem is that Scarf doesn’t deliver on the platforming side and, unlike the fantastic Journey, Scarf never reaches that satisfying conclusion where all those small introspective and grand sweeping moments add up to a crescendo that sticks with you even after you stop playing. Instead, Scarf falls a little flat and, while there is a lot of fun to be had, it doesn’t quite stand up to those games that inspired it.
In the end, The Gunk sits in the middle of the pile. The core of sucking up the Gunk is satisfying for the roughly four hours of playtime, but the lack of a difficulty curve for the puzzles or combat lets it down. Its story makes an honest attempt at character drama that works for the most part, but the short playtime doesn't leave us quite enough time with the characters or world. It's by no means bad and there's not much poorly implemented content here, but it's a plainly inoffensive experience that settles when it could have punched slightly higher.
Ultimately, Halo Infinite's multiplayer is a victim to its progression system, that stands in the way of the excellently refined core of the game. It's certain to be a mainstay for years as the developers work out the kinks and factor in the fan feedback. Their work still paid off though, because the gameplay of Halo Infinite is the best of any multiplayer shooter from recent memory. It's just sullied by the egregious implementation of artificial hurdles to that gameplay, which knocks a point or two off the score. Without this abhorrent progression? Halo Infinite would be one of the best multiplayer shooters of the last 10 years.
The redeeming aspect about Halo Infinite is that underneath the unnecessary open world format and cookie cutter story missions, the core gameplay is Halo at its best. While it's much faster paced than the Bungie-era, Infinite improves tenfold upon the disappointing 343 releases so far. The story is nothing to write home about but engaging in a full blown scrap with a squad of Banished feels brilliant. This is largely down to the new tools at Master Chief's disposal, along with the added weapon variants. Few things are as satisfying as grappling a grunt and electrocuting all the surrounding enemies, then finishing them off with a sweep of a Sentinel Beam or perfectly placed Mangler shots. The downside is how this is surrounded by bloat, in a new direction for Halo that doesn't quite land on its first outing, despite being incredibly polished and excellent from one skirmish to the next.
Chorus offers a fairly middling take on a space combat shooter. The gameplay is really where Chorus shines, when you combine piloting, powers, and weapons in just the right way, you can reach a sweet spot that makes the game a delight to play. It just takes too long to reach this point, so you'll likely lose interest before then. If you enjoy space flight games there is almost certainly something here for you to enjoy as the minute to minute action in Chorus is mechanically sound, it's just been done better elsewhere (see: Elite Dangerous, Everspace 2). The real shame of Chorus is that the story can’t match the excitement of the gameplay. Lacking any real characters, the game relies on Nara and Forsaken, and unfortunately, their dynamic is so underdeveloped that it makes the climax of the game feel undeserved. Nara’s journey to overcome her guilt is an interesting one, however, the game doesn’t do enough to capitalise on the promising premise.
Solar Ash combines complex ideas with simple and exciting gameplay in a way that few games are able to, and the final product is nothing short of remarkable. The visual style and soundtrack create the atmosphere, and the excellent writing of Rei and her journey use it to tell a story of grief, and how we can use it to build something better. Heart Machine's passion is clear, and Solar Ash is a triumph that manages to be incredibly fun despite its deeply emotional core. The game's world may be cold and unfeeling on the surface, but that'll only make you want to connect with it more. Solar Ash is an example of Heart Machine's exciting, compelling, lightning-in-a-bottle brilliance, and more than deserves to be considered among 2021's greatest games.
Fights In Tight Spaces is a fantastic example of a turn-based strategy game. There's so much depth to the mechanics and different strategies that can be utilised, that paired with the roguelike elements, makes for an endlessly replayable experience. The purposefully minimal presentation helps to make the combat the centrepiece of the game, highlighting the momentum and force of the fighting. It hardly reinvents the wheel, but it explores melee combat with a vehement focus that you don't often see, making for a tight fighting experience.
Fans of the franchise will most likely see Farming Simulator 22 as a refreshing addition to the franchise thanks to updated graphics, fun customisation options and quality-of-life additions. However, a lack of clear instructions made for a frustrating experience which could immediately alienate new players who can’t get through the first 20 hours or so of gameplay before seeing the fruits of their labour finally developing. Then again, that does represent the harsh realities of farming life, in which case, Farming Simulator 22 succeeds in attempting to recreate an authentic farm life experience as possible. Does it make me want to dedicate any more time to the game itself though? E-I-E-I-No. I'll stick to the unrealistic sugary goodness of Stardew Valley.
Battlefield 2042 is a game with some seriously lofty ambitions, because destruction and warfare on a scale we've never seen before is always going to grab the headlines. Unfortunately, more effort has gone into those jaw-dropping moments, like seeing huge buildings topple to the ground, than it has into making the game fun and balanced. There's a solid foundation here, but this entry needed a lot longer in the oven to iron out the main modes and provide some more variety into Hazard Zone, because the result is a real low point in the franchise.
CJ’s return to Grove Street in the opening sequences of San Andreas feels like a metaphorical foretelling. You’re returning home, much like he is, but things feel different. There’s an uncanniness to it all. You know the places and the faces, but they’re not the same. Rockstar Games has swooped in like Officer Tenpenny and taken your money from you, too, so you’re bitter about it all. To make matters worse, you’re stuck with what you’ve got. The Definitive Edition of these games is all we have now. Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto San Andreas are worth playing if you can - but we’d find it hard to recommend the Definitive Edition versions over hunting down an old PlayStation 2 and booting up the originals. The improvements just aren’t worth the price.
There’s no denying that multiplayer is by far the biggest selling point for Call of Duty and the mode that makes Activision the most money through both sales and microtransactions - heck, Black Ops 4 launched without any single player offering whatsoever - but this showing is poor from Vanguard. It’s fun enough at surface level, but it fails to provide a captivating narrative or any stand-out moments that could attempt to elevate it as one of the greats. It’s also shockingly short with zero replay value, which means the Vanguard campaign only helps to stagnate the Call of Duty franchise. With that in mind, if we are to get Call of Duty Vanguard 2 a few years down the line, this has laid a solid foundation to build upon.
Call of Duty Vanguard is an exemplary multiplayer masterclass that bathes in chaos, creativity, and tactical prowess. It has all the making of a truly great esports title, backing the CDL and the competitive community, which will likely create a hugely entertaining season of gameplay emulated in the upcoming ranked playlists by their fans and aspiring talents – the omission of which is unforgiveable from an esports perspective. Whilst the foundations have been laid though, it comes as a year too soon for a full pathway between casual and competitive, although it’s the perfect stepping stone to be built upon. For a title with miniscule hope, Call of Duty Vanguard could go down as the game that revived esports, soon to be a game that we reflect upon as one of the greats.
Football Manager 2021 was the best entry in the series for some time, and it’s safe to say that Football Manager 2022 continues that trend, by building upon the huge leaps it took last year. The improvements this time around aren’t quite as groundbreaking as last time because they’re a little more subtle and less on-the-nose, but they’re there nevertheless, meaning it is a brilliant time to be a Football Manager player. I just wish I didn’t play quite so much of the last instalment, because I’m not quite ready to start again after leaving behind my beloved Oxford United squad just a few weeks ago.
Forza Horizon 5 checks all of the boxes that it should, but it is let down by a lack of innovation. You are racing the same types of races, with the same types of cars, across a map that looks different but doesn’t feel different. Developer Playground Games has leaned on what it does best, and that makes for a fast and fun experience, however, wherever the series takes car-lovers off to next, it will have to look much further into the horizon for inspiration.
Demon Turf should be remembered fondly in a few years time as a solid platforming experience. The core of the gameplay loop is close to perfection, with the combat tirades and checkpoint system letting it down. Movement mechanics are tight and satisfying, along with well-designed levels that challenge the skills the player will have built up over the course of a playthrough. It’s got a loveable presentation thanks to its melding of 2D and 3D art, bright music, and the majority of its art design and aesthetics. It doesn’t do much to shake up the platformer or collect-a-thon, but it nails the important aspects of each one to craft a deviously fun romp through the Demon World.
For fans of the Anthology, or for fans of horror in general, House of Ashes is definitely a must-play considering its relatively short playtime. Here’s to hoping that the next instalment in the series, The Devil In Me, brings along some characters that are a little more developed and likeable. The Until Dawn shaped hole inside me hasn’t been filled yet, but I have faith it will be soon.
Riders Republic counters many of the issues live service games of the past have faced. It doesn’t feel like an unfinished game, nor does it feel like one simply padded out with mundane content. The base structure remains but without that dullness it becomes an easy experience to get on board with. You may have to endure some awful narrative flare, but there is a lot of game here for those looking for it. What’s better is that there isn’t just plenty to be excited about now, but so much more to get excited about in the future, giving Riders Republic some serious potential to remain as a solid continuing sports franchise. Undoubtedly, it’ll have some growing pains to face, as all live service games do, because there is a particular need to make some of its modes more accessible to casual players. However, it doesn’t demand too much of those that are playing more vigorously, making it one of the most casual experiences Ubisoft has developed to date. Whether you are in it for the races, tricks or the odd bit of co-op fun, Riders Republic is a live service game that feels less like a chore, and more like a fun-filled take on the Ubisoft formula.
Age of Empires 4 is an incredibly fun game that you can easily find yourself lost in for many hours as you take part in lengthy battles that can span over an hour or more. It's not vastly different from Age of Empires 3, instead slightly improving in most areas. This means that if you're a die hard Age of Empires fan then picking up Age of Empires 4 is a no-brainer, but don't rush out to play the game at full price if you own Game Pass because you can try it out for cheap.
Guardians of the Galaxy’s power really came to fruition as the credits rolled. This is a linear and completable experience that takes you on a memorable, fun, and often hilarious ride through the stars. It doesn’t do anything for the third-person action adventure genre, that you won’t find in an Uncharted or Tomb Raider, nor does it have much reason to revisit beyond collectibles and slight variations in its choice system. What it does do though is avoid the typical pitfalls of padding out content and begging its players to keep playing. Instead, you are treated to an emotional, exciting and riveting form of escapism. This is a game that not only respects your time, but respects the material. Simply put, Guardians of the Galaxy is a flarking good time.
Echo Generation honestly feels like it could have been one of this year’s great indie games, but the developer's inspiration from 90s adventure games ended up being both a boon and a curse. It has a brilliantly refined style and atmosphere that provides a sense of nostalgia. It’s eclecticism in its music, art style, and enemy variety also worked to keep it fresh and engaging, but the frustrating balancing and dated puzzle implementation sullied its more immersive aspects, and can’t be overlooked.