It's rare that a prequel truly works, where a story can captivate despite the audience knowing what's coming and where the path will lead. Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is one of those exceptional stories because it draws you in on its own terms. The only problem: You know it's building you up just to break your heart.
As we know, the original Life Is Strange is steeped in tragedy. Maxine Caulfield's estranged friend Chloe Price comes riding back into her hometown, hoping to find her missing friend, Rachel Amber. The search brings Chloe and Max close again after years apart, but it also illustrates a vast gulf in their life experience, which never fully closes. Max's life is defined by good fortune and privilege. Chloe, as seen through Before The Storm, is defined by loss.
When Episode 1 starts, Chloe is forced to finagle her way into an underground metal concert with nothing but street smarts and her own awkward sense of sass. She's not yet as sharp and hardened as the girl we meet in the original game, but she has it in her to become stronger as life gets tough. That girl's outlook on life is everywhere in Before The Storm: the greyer, evocative, post-rock soundtrack compared to the sunny lilt of the original game, the sneering commentary of the information in the menus. The Backtalk system—a stand-in for Life Is Strange's time travel mechanic—gives you even more control over the flow of a conversation...
The God of War series has, until now, stuck very close to the standards set in the original 2005 game. More than a decade (and many games) later, it makes sense that Sony would want to mix things up for the aged hack-and-slash series. Like so many popular franchises that have reinvented themselves in recent years, the new God of War dips into the well of open-world RPG tropes. It also shifts its focus to Norse mythology, casting off the iconic Greek gods and legends that provided the basis for every previous game.
These major shifts don't signal the end of God of War as we know it, rather they allow the series' DNA to express itself in new ways. There are many reasons why the structural transformations are a good thing, but it's what's become of Kratos, the hulking death machine, that leaves a lasting impression. A furious, bloodthirsty icon has transformed into a sensitive father figure. Part of him retains the old violent tendencies that made him a star long ago. However, with his young son Atreus to protect and guide, we also see Kratos take a deep breath and bury his savage instincts in order to set a positive example.
Watching Kratos take care in nurturing his child's sensibilities does feel a bit jarring at the start, but thanks to the natural writing, fitting voice actors, and flawless animation, it's easy to get sucked into the duo's journey and buy into their mutual growth. Though...
Penny-Punching Princess opens by declaring that, in the age of capitalism, money is where real power comes from. This is a game about a princess who needs to accumulate wealth to get revenge on the Dragaloan Family, who sent her father into poverty and death with their harsh interest rates. It's an intriguing, startling note for a cutesy beat-em-up game to open on. This isn't a 'message' game--don't go in expecting a searing critique of capitalism, as it's largely played for laughs--but this framing device immediately makes it clear that this brawler is going to be different. It might not be in the top-tier of its genre, but at the very least Penny-Punching Princess is unique.
The game is an isometric beat-em-up, in which fighting is your main form of interaction with the world. There are no puzzles to solve, and the level design is extremely simple, to the point of being universally uninteresting, designed just to funnel you between fights--the extent of permissive exploration is simply a matter of going left when your compass is telling you to go right. When a fight starts, the Princess (or Isabella, a zombified second playable character that you unlock a few hours in) can perform quick punches, use a stronger charge attack, or roll to safety. It's not the deepest system, and your defensive options are limited.
Most fights involve a few waves of enemies, usually of increasing...
Don't let the AAA price tag fool you into thinking Extinction is a high-end product. It ain't, and there's nothing in the game--not even cutscenes--that come close to approaching the level of quality seen in its lavish, pre-launch cinematic trailer.
Discovering Extinction's sub-standard quality is frustrating because its premise is very enticing, and there are moments early on when it feels like it's primed to deliver. As a warrior who's capable of sprinting up walls, soaring through the air, and channeling sacred energy to tap into supernatural strength, you go toe-to-toe against incredibly tall and powerful giants. Taking them down requires you to lop off limbs and dismantle armor, building up enough energy to deliver a killing blow: a whirlwind slice through the back of their neck. Yes, it's obviously inspired by Attack on Titan--you even have a whip that can be used to latch onto hook points and pull yourself through the air.
Zipping across a city to reach a faraway objective, with your character effortlessly scaling walls and bouncing off treetops and canopies to avoid touching the ground altogether, can be enjoyable. And the early battles against the first few giants definitely strike a chord, with their impressive scale and intricately textured body parts giving their artificial bodies a dash of realism. It's all well and good while you're learning the ropes, but these initial thrills fade fast. Extinction quickly transitions into an incredibly repetitive game that fails to build upon its promising foundation.
In Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, the struggle of coming to terms with past trauma and guilt comes out in a number of surprising ways. Developer Ninja Theory channels its talents for narrative and presentation to tell a personal story that has more to say than it initially lets on, and will likely leave you wondering what's real, and what is a part of an elaborate hallucination.
In a far-off land covered in mist and fog, a traumatized celtic warrior named Senua embarks on a spiritual vision quest to suppress her inner demons, and come to grips with the death of her family. Plagued with severe psychosis, Senua's past trauma manifests itself through duelling inner voices and visual hallucinations that compromise her emotional and mental state. On this journey, she'll face abstract and reality-defying puzzles, and battle a seemingly endless horde of adversaries that aim to put a stop to her quest.
Pulling from Nordic and Celtic lore, the fiction of Hellblade evokes a dire and somewhat bleak atmosphere, making it seem like the world had already ended, leaving Senua with only the company of her memories. Hellblade is an introspective experience, albeit with several combat and interactive story beats scattered throughout. While the story and world are presented through cutscenes and stone glyphs depicting the history of the land, Hellblade also makes clever use of live-action cutscenes. These cinematic moments are blended into in-game graphics, giving each occurrence a somewhat surreal feeling, as if you're watching a live playback of an altered...
For a game that was long in development as a cooperative horde-based shooter, the conspicuous and relatively quick addition of battle royale to Fortnite seemed to be a move to capitalize on a trend. However, its seemingly simple building system and loose shooting mechanics not only set it apart from other games built on the same premise, but work extremely well to make a uniquely chaotic and surprisingly deep deathmatch experience.
Everything about Fortnite's presentation emits a lighthearted tone. You start a match by jumping out of a party bus held up by balloons that flies across the game's massive map. Weapons, ammo, and health items litter its silly-named cities, all using alliteration--Tomato Town, Moisty Mire, Tilted Towers, to name a few. Even enemies don't really die; they're teleported away after getting knocked out. Valuable loot is found inside pinatas called supply llamas, for crying out loud. Players throw up basic structures formed out of thin air and firearms brightly express their trajectory. But don't let that first impression fool you; the further you get into a match, the more you see how Fortnite's gameplay elements have to be used in clever and complex ways to emerge victorious.
Unique to Fortnite is a streamlined building system comprised of four components: walls, ramps, floors, and roofs. These are constructed with three different types of materials that you either mine with a pickaxe or scavenge across the map; wood, stone, and metal each have their own properties in terms of durability and build...
The famous Einstein quote that "science is never finished" has never been more perfectly exemplified in a video game than in Kerbal Space Program. After four years in official release, and what felt like a lifetime in early access, the game has provided a deeply impressive set of tools to experiment with, explore, and imagine the possibilities of space travel. In fact, that toolset is so deep, and the game's enraptured fanbase so committed, that it's hard to not see the first official expansion, Making History, as being behind the curve.
The biggest thing Making History adds to the game is a set of missions branded as milestone events in Kerbal astronautical history. Most are modeled after real-world space excursions like the Apollo and Soyuz missions, and there are a few less-realistic scenarios thrown in for good measure, including one that essentially feels like an official Kerbal remake of Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity. It feels like a deliberate, well-curated collection of content that introduces a slew of new parts and vehicles to tinker with. Your performance during these missions are also scored and can be compared to how the rest of the community fared, which is a nice little plus. There's tons of value to be had trying to figure out how best to execute the mission, how best to deploy a ship's resources and crew, or how to efficiently manage an emergency, and there are certainly plenty of those moments to be expected.
Time is not often a resource that you need to think about when going on an adventure. Zelda patiently waits in Hyrule Castle while Link finishes up shrines in Breath of the Wild, the religious zealots in Far Cry 5 let you fish in peace, and even the merry band of travelling friends in Final Fantasy XV find downtime during crisis. Minit doesn’t subscribe to such design, and instead puts emphasis on the need to hurry. Its strict 60-second time limit is an ever-present threat as you dig up the world’s secrets around you, dispel a cruel curse, and attempt to bring peace to the land.
Minit begins with your unnamed hero happening upon a cursed sword, plunging you into a cycle of infinite minute-long sessions that always end with your death. Each time you respawn, the counter restarts, and you’re transported back to your last resting place. New resting places can be unlocked by walking into them throughout the map, but simply finding them in time is a task. You’ll need to uncover routes with your sword, chopping down shrubs to find new pathways to new areas on the edges of your 4:3 screen. Building a mental map of the world around you is paramount next to your ability to both avoid threats and find the shortest path to an objective, and it can feel like a punishing exercise at first.
But it doesn’t take long for Minit to find a rhythm that’s intoxicating. Each new character you...
This year's MLB The Show pushes the franchise's visuals, mechanics, and authenticity to new heights. Marginal updates to the Franchise mode and some of the same quirks in Road to the Show persist, but overall this is a shining baseball game that's worthy of attention.
America's pastime is all about the details, and MLB The Show 18 proves to be an authentic sim thanks to small but impactful touches throughout. There are new crowd animations like the "Judge's Chambers" cheer at Yankee Stadium. Spectator logic is also updated so that fewer people show up for a Tuesday game or when one or both of the teams is out of the postseason hunt. One of the better and more notable aesthetic additions this year are situation-specific home run animations. If you hit a dinger in an important spot, the player will celebrate accordingly instead of just jogging around the bases like it was an inconsequential home run during a blowout.
Batting stances are also customizable now, giving you options to tweak things like the positioning of your hands and elbows. Want a little more bat-wiggle? You got it. It's fun to tweak a stance and find something that is aesthetically pleasing and uniquely yours, even if it doesn't have an impact on your overall attributes. What's more, the crowds for the most part are no longer just bland, boring background elements, and the stadiums are replicated with an incredible attention to detail. From top to bottom, MLB The Show...
2016’s Orwell tapped into our collective fears about online surveillance, the manipulation of information, and our fast-eroding sense of personal privacy in the digital age. In 2018, these problems are more pronounced and have manifested in new ways. Orwell: Ignorance is Strength has launched upon a world where the term "fake news" carries very specific connotations, and where political divisiveness is, in many parts of the world, leading to mass-protests and widespread unease, a lot of which is being channelled through the internet. The Orwell games are very much a product of their time, but unfortunately Ignorance is Strength does not resonate as hard as its predecessor did.
The events of Ignorance is Strength occur concurrently with the first three episodes of the original game, but while there's some occasional overlap you're primarily focused on an entirely separate case. Barring one new element, the gameplay is mostly identical to the first game, which you should play first if you have any interest in this follow-up--some knowledge about the "The Nation" (the fictional country the game is set in) and the technology you're in charge of is assumed. You play as an investigator, charged with digging through the internet for information that will serve the interests of the country's corrupt government.
Initially you're searching for details about Oleg Bakay, a missing military officer from neighboring country Parges. Soon--and for the remainder of the game--your focus shifts...
In the season finale for The Enemy Within, an exhausted, bloody, and beaten Joker asks Batman a question: "Did you ever think of me as your friend?" It's a spark of vulnerability in a character that is typically sowing discontent and wreaking havoc. Unlike many of the other decision-making points, there's no timer pressuring you to respond, and in that moment I reflected on the choices I had made up until then. I asked myself whether I feigned friendship with him in the pursuit of justice, or if it was genuine.
Telltale's Batman: The Enemy Within convincingly presented me with the idea that I could find salvation for the Joker. That I could use the Dark Knight's unwavering sense of justice as a guiding hand, hopefully to shape him into something other than the maniacal Clown Prince of Crime. I was wrong, and I failed.
If you're familiar with the premise of Far Cry--the idea of a one-person army taking on overwhelming hostile forces in large, unpredictable surroundings--then you know exactly what Far Cry 5 feels like. You'll engage in different styles of offensive conflict; attempt to tame the wild, natural environment to your advantage; and slowly build a guerilla resistance in the background. But for its fifth mainline entry, the series formula has undergone some very positive refinements, which make its core hook of exploring and engaging with its volatile setting a more free-flowing and pleasant experience. It lets you fully enjoy the sights and activities of its beautiful and interesting open-world without too many overt distractions.
The biggest change is that the series is finally confident enough to put you in charge of your own progression. After a brief orientation, the entire region of Hope County, Montana USA is immediately open for exploration. Three intimidatingly large regions surround your starting point, and you're given only a gentle suggestion of a good first destination. The moment when you're shown all the equally accessible possibilities and the furthest reaches of the map feels liberating--you may even be crippled by the choice, and that's a good problem to have.
Battle royale games have evolved rapidly in the past year with the likes of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite, but H1Z1's early access version captured the magic of the last-person-standing shooter well before the genre's current front-runners. With the official full release of H1Z1, however, it's apparent that not enough has been done to help it stay in the larger conversation.
H1Z1 drops up to 150 players (solo, duos, or squads of five) on a sprawling rural map where small towns, gas stations, and campsites act as points of interest for loot. In traditional battle royale style, everyone starts with only the clothes on their backs and rushes to find the best weapons and gear. Naturally, the fact that you have one life per match makes this type of deathmatch thrilling and rewarding when you find success, especially when coordinating tactics with a squad.
A number of gameplay elements factor into succeeding, like scavenging for the right materials to craft useful items. Among the essential items to craft are makeshift armor for much needed protection, ointment to stop bleeding, and explosive arrows that can really throw a curve-ball at enemy squads. Crafting feels more like a carry-over mechanic from early H1Z1 models, but it's a key component to winning, and thankfully it isn't very deep considering the fast pace of matches.
There isn't much time between each phase of the shrinking safe zone, and matches move quickly because of it. When employing the strategy of skirting along border...
Sea of Thieves conveys nature's beauty and wrath with aplomb, and sailing across the open ocean in a creaky vessel can make you fall in love with its impressive presentation. This romantic connection can be felt most when sailing alone, but Sea of Thieves is primarily designed to be played with a trusty crew. Doing so allows you to revel in buffoonery and appreciate the value of teamwork, delivering an entirely different perspective on what it means to be a pirate.
These awesome moments make the initial hours of the game feel like you're embarking on a special journey, but this love affair is quickly tested both by the game itself and other players, some of whom on PC are already employing hacks to put your interactions on uneven footing. Sea of Thieves is just that: a game that belongs to conniving robbers, who see fit to disrupt well-meaning players despite gaining no prize other than gold for purchasing cosmetic items. This is to be expected to a degree, and I'd be lying if I said there weren't moments when I screwed over someone else for the sheer delight of asserting power and punishing another player's naivety.
Even so, sabotaging others didn't make me happy for long, and certainly didn't provide me with anything meaningful enough to warrant developing my underhanded side. To that end, playing as a trusting do-gooder is often more fulfilling, though the aforementioned aggressors and a surprising lack of depth to missions curtailed this approach,...
Pikachu is normally very cute and a little bit sassy, but its Detective variety is unlike any Pikachu you've ever seen. Detective Pikachu plays with your expectations of what Pikachu should be, and the game has a lot of fun reveling in the weirdness of a small, adorable creature talking and acting like a human man. It's campy and self-aware, showing a different side to Pokemon and Pikachu with an infectiously rambunctious attitude. Detective Pikachu--the character and the game--is full of personality, and as a result an otherwise standard mystery-solving game is far more fun and entertaining than you might expect.
You play as Tim Goodman, who has arrived in Ryme City in search of his father, Harry, who went missing in an accident. Of course, the real star is Detective Pikachu--you meet him almost immediately, and you're the only human who can understand him. Like a grizzled detective out of a '50s noir, he sounds like a middle-aged man and gestures like a caricature of a New Yorker, and his voice acting and animation captures that character perfectly. He'll occasionally get your attention with a cute jump and a gruff "Hey!"; sometimes he'll give you hints, which are entertaining even if you didn't need them, while other times he'll just chatter away about something random or interact with a nearby Pokemon. His streetwise attitude and campy quips never get old, adding a delightful (if weird) charm to every scene.
A Way Out is not really the hard-hitting, serious, emotional tale of two convicts escaping prison it appears to be. At times, it successfully strikes those notes, but extreme tonal shifts, gimmicky QTEs, and a terrible finale kill almost any emotion or tension contained in the game. In the end, entertaining environments and some inventive set pieces prove to be its saving grace.
Like director Josef Fares' last game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, A Way Out contains two protagonists who experience the game's story together. Unlike Brothers, however, you'll need a friend to play with this time round; A Way Out is only playable in co-op, either locally or online. Whichever you choose, you'll always be playing in a split-screen that dynamically shifts between the respective views of Leo--a reckless, aggressive gangster cliche--and Vincent--a more cool-headed family man.
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is ambitious. It's a character-driven RPG that doubles as a kingdom simulator and even occasionally becomes a real-time strategy game. Though these components don't always feel like parts of the same whole, Ni No Kuni 2 compels you to care and put your best foot forward. It's the whimsical setting; it's the demanding combat; it's the tangible feeling of growth that comes from being a well-rounded ruler. There's something worthwhile around every corner, and usually something pretty to admire along the way.
You can concisely summarize Ni No Kuni 2 as the wholesome story of Evan, a boy prince ousted by traitors on the day of his coronation who wishes to unite warring nations under a banner of peace. Rather than resort to revenge, he admirably believes that cooperation is a more important goal than domination and sets out to build a new, united kingdom. Evan's charge and passion for peace subsequently carries him from one dangerous doorstep to another. Armed with steadfast ideals, he repeatedly dismantles sinister adversaries because they, too, are actually good at heart; they've merely been corrupted by powerful, dark forces.
It's familiar fantasy fare and a bit safe at times, but Ni No Kuni 2 bears no shortage of interesting moments. For example, Evan's adult consul Roland is a dimension-tripping president from the modern day, cast into a strange time and place in the aftermath of a catastrophic military assault. While this intriguing origin story is rarely referenced...
Far from being a mere video game adaptation of the anime, Attack on Titan 2 stands strongly as a character-driven action-RPG in its own right, with rewarding combat that feels fluid and fast and a story that's equal parts charming and shocking. While it shares many similarities with the first game in the series, Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom, the sequel feels like a better package overall with a cleaner visual style and tighter combat. Despite its story taking some time to really dig its anchors in, it gets there and then some, entrancing you all the way until the closing of the final chapter.
Based on the second season of the popular anime series, the story puts you at the center of the conflict between humanity and Titans--a race of giant, people-eating humanoids that one day appeared out of thin air, wiping out a large percentage of the population. Forced to seek a new life behind three huge walls built to keep the Titans out, humanity tried to rebuild, but the Titans managed to find a way through. Faced with extinction, it's up to you and the rest of the military to stop them.
It's been said that city simulators are best thought of as a series of stocks and flows. You have essential buildings that supply resources, which are then distributed in a grand pattern etched by your design. Your success, then, depends on how artfully and effectively you've crafted your settlement. If that is the measure by which we are to judge city simulators, nowhere is that more beautifully or essentially or thematically distilled than in Surviving Mars.
Space is hard, and Mars isn't any more forgiving; your goal is to command a mission that can endure the punishing conditions of the Red Planet. You can take the reigns of an international consortium, a major private enterprise, or any number of real-world space-capable nations here on Earth. From there, you choose how to guide your Martian colony. Insofar as many simulators allow a degree of role-playing, your time on Mars is yours to do with how you will. But your progress is constantly evaluated by your sponsor country or organization, offering some very loose targets like "get colonists" and "keep them alive for a while." Beyond that, the direction is yours.
Well into 2018, we are past the point where VR is a new and novel experiment. Had Supermassive Games' Bravo Team released when the PSVR launched, we could at least excuse the game's milquetoast nature as a first, uncertain step; an experiment in trying to bring arcadey, cover-based shooting to a new format. Released two years into the PSVR's lifespan, however, Bravo Team already comes off as archaic, a game that's been outclassed several times over in the system's first year.
Bravo Team's banality is obvious during its opening minutes. You and your online co-op partner or A.I. brother-in-arms are charged with escorting the president of a made-up eastern European country back home to deliver a unifying speech that will hopefully bring peace to her nation. Of course it goes wrong; the president's envoy gets blown to bits, and a deposed military leader kickstarts a bloody coup d'etat that you and your partner must shoot your way through in order to get home. The mission plays out with stone-faced seriousness, with the monotony of our two masked heroes broken up only by the determined British timbre of your commanding officer. There isn't even a musical score to accentuate the action, so even the most dramatic moments happen in an uncaring void.