Indie Tagged Articles RSS Feed | Indie RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network GameSkinny's Best Games of 2022 Sat, 24 Dec 2022 14:56:02 -0500 Jonathan Moore

2022 was a fantastic year for games. God of War: Ragnarok, Horizon Forbidden West, Dying Light 2, and Pokemon, among many others captured our collective attention. That's not to mention the amazing indie that release this year, as well, such as Signalis, Prodeus, and Citizen Sleeper just to name a few. Across PC, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation and Xbox platforms, we've collected our highest-reviewed games of 2021 into a "best of" list. 

Since we're a small staff at GameSkinny, going the traditional "staff voting route" doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, as has been the case the past few years. Though it means there are more games here than on other lists, the best way we've found to highlight the best games of the year in 2022 is to include any game with a score of "8" or higher. So that's what we've done. 

The Best Games of 2022

Among Us VR

Image via Innersloth

Publisher: InnerSloth
Developer: InnerSloth
Platforms: Oculus Rift (reviewed), Meta Quest 2
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Simple is an overall theme for Among Us VR. At launch, the game lacks most of the advanced modes and options of the core game and only comes with one map. That said, when the original launched, it was just as limited in scope, and we expect regular updates in VR to make this version just as robust. Even with just the single map, this is a superb Among Us experience. Read the full review here

As Dusk Falls

Image via Xbox Game Studio

Publisher: Xbox Game Studio
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: There are so many layers that I'll be unpacking for the next several weeks as I wrap on my second playthrough. I likely won't be the only one exploring everything that As Dusk Falls has to offer. It's a stellar entry in the interactive narrative genre that will only be exceeded by what its dev team has planned next. Read the full review here

A Plague Tale Requiem

Image via Focus Entertainment

Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Asobo Studio
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PC, Xbox Series X, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: A Plague Tale: Requiem is an enthralling sequel that makes real refinements to the original. Its narrative manages to feel both utterly crushing and incredibly hopeful at the same time. And the degree of freedom in its gameplay options means there's never a dull moment. Read the full review here

Atelier Sophie 2

Image via Koei Tecmo

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is a vast improvement over its predecessor. Borrowing exploration elements from the Atelier entries while keeping its traditional turn-based combat system is a great way to help it stand out within its own franchise. On top of that, the battles have more depth than ever before. Sophie Neuenmuller’s new adventure is well worth it for veterans and newcomers alike. Read the full review here

Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium

Image via Capcom

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium continues in the fine tradition of the original Stadium with a great collection of classic coin-op games. While these retro compilations are largely for the overly nostalgic older gamer, there’s a lot of great action to be had here, especially with friends playing in the same room. Read the full review here

Capcom Fighting Collection

Image via Capcom

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: For fighting game lovers, the Capcom Fighting Collection is a treasure trove of '90s goodness. Aside from finally being able to play the Darkstalkers series again, the inclusion of Red Earth, Cyberbots, and others makes this a thoroughly entertaining package. Read the full review here

Citizen Sleeper

Image via Fellow Traveller

Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Developer: Jump Over the Age
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), Series X, PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: With mechanics inspired by contemporary tabletop RPGs, Citizen Sleeper feels fresh, tense, and engaging throughout its 6- to 8-hour run time. Balancing your actions, resources, and story progress is a tight-rope act that's engrossing the further you get into this stellar sci-fi world. Read the full review here

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion

Image via Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Whether you’re a returning player or you’ve had your eye on Crisis Core in the past, Square Enix has delivered again in its ongoing saga of overhauling FFVII for a modern audience. For better or worse, there are no surprises of the ilk seen in Remake, though I would have happily seen some liberties taken with the events here, even if just to tidy up the game’s finale a little. Read the full review here

Dying Light 2: Stay Human

Image via Techland

Publisher: Techland
Developer: Techland
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Dying Light 2 does so much so well. You never know what you are going to get when you venture out into Villedor. Every handcrafted quest and environment tells a story, something that many other games aspire to, but few achieve. The movement is thrilling, the musical score is tremendous, and there is a bounty of good, but optional content. Read the full review here

Elden Ring

Image via Bandai Namco

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: FromSoftware
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X
Rating: 10/10

What we said: What FromSoftware has accomplished with Elden Ring is staggering. The culmination of more than a decade of trial, error, and success, Elden Ring raises not only the bar for the genre but for FromSoftware itself. It will send a ripple throughout the industry at large, acting as the new standard-bearer for open-world games. If there's more Elden Ring to come, count me in. Read the full review here

Evil West

Image via Focus Entertainment

Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Much like Flying Wild Hog’s flagship series Shadow Warriortheir latest release in Evil West is again an entirely over-the-top and bombastic affair designed to elicit a chuckle as much as it’s meant to appease your lizard brain with its almost non-stop action. But Evil West has done something fairly remarkable by dragging the sort of shlocky, B-tier, 360-era action games into 2022 with basically all of the quality-of-life upgrades you’d expect from a modern title. Read the full review here

F1 2022

Image via Electronic Arts

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Codemasters
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: F1 2022 is a fantastic racing game and the best Formula 1 game to date. There are some very nice improvements to the gameplay, a smattering of new tracks, and a realistic representation of the changes the sport has seen in the latest season. If you really want to get your hands on the new era of cars and feel how they drive, F1 2022 is a must-buy. Read the full review here

Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes

Image via Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: I secretly wanted a "golden route" scenario with Fire Emblem: Three Hopes, a resolution to Three Houses' dangling plot threads where maybe everyone could be happy at the end. What Three Hopes actually delivers is so much better; it's a finely crafted expansion that's fresh and familiar at the same time, all with smartly designed tactical combat that stays entertaining in spite of class similarity. Read the full review here

Ghostwire: Tokyo

Image via Bethesda

Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Ghostwire Tokyo is essentially what I thought it would be, for better and for worse. It's charming but empty, ambitious but too formulaic, and it's got the most personality of any game I've played this year. I sincerely hope Tango has more Ghostwire in store, either as DLC or a sequel. Despite its issues, there's nothing else quite like it. Read the full review here

God of War: Ragnarok

Image via Sony

Publisher: Sony
Developer: Sony Santa Monica
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: God of War: Ragnarok is the very definition of a great game. Its scope is grand, with a polished presentation that looks and sounds spectacular. While the overarching plot is mediocre, the characters, anchored by some of the best acting performances of the generation, stand out for their depth, development, and empathy. The action is exquisite, further honing a winning combat formula while adding some refreshing variety. Read the full review here

Gotham Knights

Image via Warner Bros. 

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: WB Games Montreal
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PC, Xbox Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Gotham Knights is a surprising game. On the surface, it looks like a lesser knockoff of the Batman games that came before, but underneath that rough exterior is a well-crafted action RPG with outstanding co-op, engaging characters, and a story worth taking time to enjoy. Read the full review here

Gran Turismo 7

Image via Sony

Publisher: Sony
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS5
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Gran Turismo 7 strikes the perfect balance between accessibility and realism in a way that caters to casual players and veterans. It's a gorgeous racing game with a surprisingly addictive gameplay loop thanks to the new Café and Menu Books systems. While some modes are certainly not as strong as others, Gran Turismo 7 checks almost all the boxes of what a driving simulator should be. Read the full review here

Hardspace: Shipbreaker

Image via Focus Entertainment

Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Blackbird Interactive
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS5, Xbox Series X
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Hardspace: Shipbreaker is an enjoyable physics-based puzzle game with something for everyone. The surgical feel of dismantling ships, the lore, and the mix of beautiful graphics and folksy soundtrack lends itself to an enjoyable time. The campaign story is enjoyable and the cast of characters are relatable if a bit stereotypical. With its 1.0 launch, now is the perfect time to suit up. Read the full review here

Hard West 2

Image via Good Shepherd Entertainment

Publisher: Ice Code Games
Developer: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: 2022 is unexpectedly shaping up to be the year of the tactics game. Despite enjoying the preview, I didn't expect Hard West 2 to grab me quite as much as Triangle Strategy or the likes of Tactics Ogre, which is itself getting a remake later this year. However, if you're a fan of strategy at all, it absolutely deserves your attention. Read the full review here

Horizon Forbidden West

Image via Sony

Publisher: Sony
Developer: Guerilla Games
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: I hoped Horizon Forbidden West would shatter expectations and take the series to the boldest new heights. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the sequel, but it’s also impossible to ignore there’s so much material to warrant doing far more than just making prettier, bigger worlds with more breathtaking set pieces. Forbidden West is a very good game. It could just be even better. Read the full review here


Image via The Arcade Crew

Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Developer: Berzerk Studio
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Series X, PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Infernax is largely exactly what you'd think at first glance. It's very retro and challenging with simplistic 8-bit graphics and gameplay. Where it excels is taking those old-school constraints and expanding on them to create a gory adventure that feels at once totally familiar but with enough depth to still be interesting and worthwhile all on its own. Read the full review here

Kaiju Wars

Image via Foolish Mortals

Publisher: Foolish Mortals
Developer: Foolish Mortals, Michael Long
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: While Kaiju Wars carries a feeling of familiarity, there’s enough here for it to stand apart from others in the genre. With good pacing, tactical play, and pop-culture moments, there’s plenty of fun to be had with the main campaign ... Add to that the near limitless amount of player-generated content, and Kaiju Wars is a game that emulates its namesake — it's something you can keep coming back to again and again. Read the full review here

Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Image via Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Overall, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is exactly the sequel we'd expect. Despite the move to 3D, the gameplay is instantly familiar. While nothing here is anything close to groundbreaking or even innovative, it is a comfortable, casual, all-ages adventure worth taking. Read the full review here

LEGO Bricktales

Image via Thunderful

Publisher: Thunderful
Developer: Clockstone Software
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: LEGO Bricktales is a delightful surprise, even with its fiddly controls. Pairing puzzles with LEGOs seems like such a natural thing to do; I'm surprised it took this long to see it happen. And I sincerely hope it's not the last such puzzle game from Thunderful. Read the full review here

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope

Image via Ubisoft

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: This creative approach to the tactics genre finally gives the series an identity of its own. It won't be winning any awards for its writing, but Sparks of Hope still manages to be a blast at nearly every turn. Merging tactics, RPG elements, and platforming, the Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is one of the best Mario spin-offs on the Switch. Read the full review here

Marvel's Midnight Suns

Image via 2K

Publisher: 2K
Developer: Firaxis
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Series X, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: It's safe to say Marvel fans who are the slightest bit interested in Midnight Suns should check it out. The writing doesn't work for me more often than not, but if you're just looking to spend some time hanging out with Captain Marvel or Blade while you start a book club or go fishing, then you'll be delighted to find out just how much of that sort of thing is packed into the game. Read the full review here

Metal: Hellsinger

Image via Funcom

Publisher: Funcom
Developer: The Outsiders
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X
Rating: 9/10

What we said: All in all, Metal: Hellsinger is a short, sweet, and immensely enjoyable experience worth every second of your time. It more than earns its purchase price. I cannot wait to see what the team at The Outsiders makes next because if this outing is anything to go by, they have one Hell of a future ahead of them. Read the full review here

MLB The Show 22

Image via Sony

Publisher: Sony
Developer: Sony San Diego
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS5, Xbox One, Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Ultimately, MLB The Show 22 is a powerhouse like most entries in the series, but it falls victim to the sports-game pitfall of yearly editions: it just doesn't add enough new features. Most long-time fans may not mind that, though if you're looking for an upgrade, this is just another season, albeit a good one. Read the full review here

Nobody Saves the World

Image via Drinkbox Studios

Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Nobody Saves the World is an excellent action RPG with unique progression and class systems. If you come to RPGs for their gameplay rather than their characters or stories, you’re going to be well-served here. Read the full review here

Pokemon Legends Arceus

Image via Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Gamefreak
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: I might have wanted more from Pokemon Legends Arceus, and it definitely deserves more, but I’m so happy with what I got. At last, Game Freak took the imaginative, fascinating world it built all those years ago and decided to build on what makes it special — the sense of wonder and, more importantly, the Pokemon themselves. Read the full review here


Image via Humble Games

Publisher: Humble Games
Developer: Bounding Box Software
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: [Prodeus is] still one of the better action games I've played this year, and I can see myself loading it up again whenever I'm in the mood for some stylized ultraviolence. Whatever issues I have with Prodeus become as irrelevant as its storyline whenever I liberate a demon's entire upper half with one four-barreled shotgun blast. Read the full review here

Rogue Legacy 2

Image via Cellar Door Games

Publisher: Cellar Door Games
Developer: Cellar Door Games
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Ultimately, anyone who played and enjoyed the original Rogue Legacy is going to love this sequel just as much if not more. Everything that made the first game so great is here, though it is all bigger and better than ever before. With a host of new classes, traits, and abilities along with some welcome changes to gameplay mechanics, Rogue Legacy 2 is everything you'd want in a sequel and one of the best roguelikes available. Read the full review here

Salt and Sacrifice

Image via Ska Studios

Publisher: Ska Studios
Developer: Ska Studios
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Salt and Sacrifice is a labor of love for its genre, one that will scratch any veteran’s itch for more mysterious worlds to explore. It never reaches the heights of the best Souls-likes but never sinks to the lows of those that attempt and fail to work within the framework. Read the full review here


Image via Santa Ragione

Publisher: Santa Ragione
Developer: Santa Ragione
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Saturnalia uses horror in smart ways to explore social topics – the town’s isolation, resistance to change and to outsiders, and the ugly social beliefs that those things inform. Those facets combine perfectly to make a game that isn’t just horrifying because of the monsters that stalk us in the night. It’s horrifying because of the monsters we make, too – and the things we’re capable of becoming. Read the full review here

Serious Sam Siberian Mayhem

Image via Devolver Digital

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Croteam
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS5, Xbox Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Croteam has teamed up with truly passionate Serious Sam fans to make their vision for the game a reality, and it shows. Siberian Mayhem’s new weapons, enemies, and gameplay variations keep the experience fresh while sticking to the roots of what makes Serious Sam so great: ruthless alien-killing action with plenty of puns along the way. Read the full review here


Image via Humble Games

Publisher: Humble Games
Developer: rose-engine
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: While it’d be remiss of me to discuss some of the specifics that truly elevate Signalis, particularly in terms of the story and its experimental delivery, you can believe that developers rose-engine have made good on their promise. They’ve delivered a top-tier game that marries cosmic horror with altogether more grounded points of conflict. Signalis is a vital experience for anyone who fondly remembers being terrified of vague pixel arrangements of early survival horror games. Read the full review here

Sonic Frontiers

Image via SEGA

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS5, Xbox One, Series X, PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Always fast and sometimes furious, Sonic Frontiers gives me a sense of wonder I haven't had with the 3D portion of the franchise in a decade, and it does so with the sort of flair I want from Sonic Team. It's not perfect, but it is a huge spin dash in the right direction for the Blue Blur. The next game needs to build on what Sonic Team has put together here because this is a formula with long legs. Read the full review here

SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters' Clash

Image via SNK

Publisher: SNK
Developer: SNK
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters' Clash was a game I loved dearly at one time and have had a wonderful time coming back to in 2022. Fans of both SNK and Capcom can find plenty of enjoyment here, whether in the gameplay itself or just in the card art — just don't expect the bells and whistles one might expect from a modern CCG video game. Read the full review here

Splatoon 3

Image via Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Splatoon 3 is the most polished version of the concept yet. While it doesn't break any new ground, Splatoon 3 is still a unique joy within the shooter genre. There are the typical Nintendo design quirks built into the online experience, but they don't spoil the thrilling combat loop at the game's heart. More approachable than ever, Splatoon 3 is exhilarating family-friendly mayhem for competitive and co-op gamers alike. Read the full review here

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II

Image via Aspyr

Publisher: Aspyr
Developer: Aspyr
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II is still an amazing game and compelling sequel to one of the best love letters to the fandom. Pushing 20 years old, it is still a contender when it comes to story, mechanics, and audio, though the visuals are slightly dated. The Nintendo Switch port has some issues to be smoothed out yet, but they aren’t game-breaking and aren’t nearly as bad as some of the issues the original game shipped with. Read the full review here

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin

Image via Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Team Ninja
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is an endearing action RPG that takes careful steps with its reappropriation of traditional Final Fantasy systems. The translation to Team Ninja’s brand of fast-paced combat feels amazing when it’s firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, it’s let down by technical issues and a loot system that actively pushes you away from messing around with its jobs in the way that it so desperately wants. Read the full review here


Image via Annapurna Interactive

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: BlueTwelve Studio
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Stray takes about five to six hours to finish, but it makes use of that short run time to tell a touching story between a cat and a robot drone. Its controls feel great and impactful, whether you're jumping or running. There’s so much personality to the cat, too: being able to meow on command and do cat things like knocking over items and scratching on walls is a nice touch. Stray is a tightly focused journey that is worth experiencing at least once. Read the full review here

Tactics Ogre: Reborn

Image via Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Tactics Ogre: Reborn is a thoughtful re-release of a classic that adds meaningful changes to make the experience more approachable in relation to previous installments. Those changes, by and large, are a good thing, but the complexity of Tactics Ogre isn't lost in the process. Diehard fans will likely be happy to hear that, but it would have been nice to see Tactics Ogre: Reborn strive to be even more accessible for newcomers. Read the full review here

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge

Imgae via DotEmu

Publisher: DotEmu
Developer: Tribute Games
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge works so perfectly because it’s clear the developers not only love the source material, but understand intrinsically how to recreate that beloved sense of nostalgia in a way that feels both authentic and evolved. This really does come across as a game that could have actually existed in a 1990-era arcade... If you have a soft spot for classic arcade brawlers of the 80s and 90s, Shredder’s Revenge is a damn near perfect homage and sequel to one of the best of the era. It doesn't get much better than this. Read the full review here


Image via Humble Games

Publisher: Humble Games
Developer: Crema
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Temtem may play a lot like Pokemon on the surface, but a suite of tweaks to the battle system, exciting visual design, and heavy emphasis on PvP more than make up for the similarities with it and other monster catchers. While a deeper story would certainly be welcome, Temtem is a unique and rewarding experience for those with the patience to master its intricacies. Read the full review here

The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story

Image via Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: I feel like The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story may have been better paced as an actual movie than a game given that the interactive elements bogged down the experience a bit. Even so, everything else about the title shines. The century spanning story is exceptionally engaging and I found myself wanting to continue on to the next chapter to see what happened next. It also helps immensely that the actors bring stellar performances to each case. Read the full review here

The DioField Chronicle

Image via Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The DioField Chronicle has some fantastic ideas, even if some of them feel a bit underbaked. This could be the foundation of something ambitious for Square Enix, and if another game could build upon the combat system and narrative style found here, it could really turn into something special ... The DioField Chronicle is easily one of the most unique games of the year and a breath of fresh air in the JRPG genre, even for its problems. Read the full review here

The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero

Image via NISA

Publisher: NISA
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Trails from Zero might be missing a few features it could, and maybe even should, have had, but if you've never played it before, don't let that hold you back from giving it a try. This decade-old RPG lost none of its potency as time wore on and remains an essential experience. In short, Zero is a remarkable feat of RPG storytelling and worldbuilding; even 12 years after its original release, little else like it exists. Read the full review here

The Quarry

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Publisher: 2K
Developer: Supermassive Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Quarry isn't exactly the scariest game out there, but horror game aficionados will find plenty to enjoy here thanks to its high-stakes gameplay and fantastic performances from its all-star cast. If that doesn't sound like your type of game, it becomes difficult to justify paying full price for a 10-hour experience. The game certainly doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel, but still manages to provide players with a unique and rich interactive experience on par with that of Until DawnRead the full review here


Image via Team17

Publisher: Team17
Developer: OverBorder Studio
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS5, Xbox Series X, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Thymesia is one of the best Souls-likes not to come from FromSoftware, full stop. It also stands firmly on its inspirations while finding its own character from within them. It's not perfect, with some of the most valuable aspects (story and level design) being some of its weakest points, but between its stellar boss battles and well-realized combat, there's a lot to love here. Read the full review here

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands

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Publisher: 2K
Developer: Gearbox
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X
Rating: 9/10

What we said: The game's similarities to Borderlands 3 make it an easy sell for longtime fans of the series who already know what to expect from these looter shooters. Still, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands puts its own D&D twist on things, which makes it a unique experience that can draw in new players thanks to its quirks and wacky gameplay. With an excellent loot system and stellar gunplay, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is easily one of the most addictive and satisfying FPS games in recent memory. Read the full review here

Triangle Strategy

Image via Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Triangle Strategy has in abundance the three things any tactics game needs to succeed: story, systems, and style. Whatever its shortcomings in character development and pacing in the first half, they're easy to overlook. This is easily one of the smartest and most interesting tactics games to release in years, and one I'll be playing for a long time to come. Read the full review here


Image via Finji

Publisher: Finji
Developer: Tunic Team
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: TUNIC brings together a gorgeous art style, phenomenal gameplay, and old-school game design baked directly into the way you discover the world, delivering one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in years. Read the full review here

Two Point Campus

Image via SEGA

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Two Point Studios
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Somehow, Two Point Campus manages to find a great middle ground between easy-to-pick-up gameplay and deep management mechanics. There’s an undeniable, joyful glee in spending hours meticulously placing items, seeing it turn into a massive well-oiled university. As stressful as you might think it’d be to run a school, Two Point Campus is nothing but fun. Read the full review here

Vampire the Masquerade: Swansong

Image via Nacon

Publisher: Nacon
Developer: Big Bad Wolf
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: While Swansong shares one of Earthblood's big flaws — both games throw you straight into the deep end of an established and complex setting, which makes them thoroughly inaccessible to newcomers — it's a much more solid project. Its horror is subtle, its puzzles are mostly difficult but fair, and it's got a surprising amount of replayability. Read the full review here

Warhammer 40K: Darktide

Publisher: Fatshark
Developer: Fatshark
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox Series X
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Darktide is a fantastic live service co-op FPS that is almost worth every penny. Almost. I love it to death, and it's ramping up to be one of my most played games of 2022, but it's not perfect. It will surely become one of the titans of the genre just like Vermintide and its sequel, but it's got a long way to go. Read the full review here

Xenoblade Chronicles 3

Image via Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Monolith Soft
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: A recommendation for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 comes pretty easily if you're a fan of previous Xenoblade games or just a fan of JRPGs in general. For others, it's tougher due to its complex mechanics and slow early pacing. Regardless, though there are rough edges, XC3 makes up for it thanks to areas of absolute brilliance, and it's a game well worth experiencing. Read the full review here

That's it for our list of the best, highest-scored games of 2022. What were your favorite games? Let us know in the comments below! 

As Dusk Falls Review: You Can Run On for a Long Time Mon, 18 Jul 2022 16:54:37 -0400 Peter Hunt Szpytek

While video games are the perfect medium for "choose your own adventure" storytelling, the genre is still largely unexplored when compared to others. Studios like Supermassive, Telltale (RIP,) and Quantic Dream release genre titles every few years, but those looking for more after playing through their greatest hits are often left wanting. 

As Dusk Falls is the next big interactive narrative that will be the talk of Twitter and gaming forums long after everyone reaches its conclusion for the first time. It's gripping, it's heartfelt, and it's a game that holds up well when replayed, something few others in the genre do well.

Where other games of its kind have striven to render realistic character models to convey emotion and fidelity, Dusk Falls opts for a more artistic style, showcasing its story through still images resembling paintings more than anything else. At the same time, the presentation seems to be hit or miss for some, As Dusk Falls is an unforgettable American crime drama that had me on edge from open to close.

As Dusk Falls Review: You Can Run On for a Long Time

The elephant in the room is the art style. Though it screenshots well, I wasn't convinced pre-release that it would be a style capable of carrying the game. Within the first hour or so, I found that to be mostly true: its painterly stills are composed nicely, but they initially create a disconnect between the script and what's happening on-screen. Because characters quick-fade into new positions instead of moving in full motion, the action has a slower pace than the script. 

However, that feeling doesn't linger for long because of the performances and writing. By the end of the game, I had grown to appreciate how As Dusk Falls puts its talent and stellar writing center stage, unencumbered by any attempts to achieve artistic realism over style. As Dusk Falls delivers an experience that feels like it's learned from other genre giants, and does so while also achieving something completely original that won't become easily outdated. 

It's lucky that As Dusk Falls has such top-of-the-line writing, too. Perhaps in the hands of a lesser dev team, it could have been a total snooze-fest of an actual game. There's really not much to in terms of game mechanics; 90% of what you do is simply choosing what dialog to say almost every time your character is queued to speak. The other 10% consists of quick time events and scanning a room with a cursor to find objects and examine them closer, all done entirely through cutscenes.

Moving the cursor with a controller feels as good as it ever has  which is to say it's pretty awful. But that's not a dealbreaker since you can highlight conversation options and interactable items with the directional pad. There's also a real-world smartphone companion app that can be used to make decisions and control the game, but it wasn't available to me while reviewing. Considering how barebones the gameplay systems are, the app seems like a decent way to play as long as it's responsive.

Because As Dusk Falls is so mechanically light, its story must do the heavy lifting. There, it delivers a genuinely gripping narrative that tackles complicated themes, such as what drives people into crime and how the police contribute to that cycle, how relationships push people to help each other or push them apart, and what it means to be a family. 

On the surface, it might seem like As Dusk Falls bites off far more than it can chew, but despite its serious subject matter, it handles its themes tastefully and never feels like a total bummer to play. It can be absolutely stressful, but I never felt that turning it on would be a chore. Instead, I was excited to see where the story went next.

As Dusk Falls is broken into six chapters, and the first three have you switching between two perspectives during a hostage situation: one as a hostage and the other as the youngest brother in a band of outlaws. It's tense and tightly written, and the flashback scenes add additional context to why the events have shaken out the way they have. 

The second half, unfortunately, is a little more haphazard. Perspective shifts more as the characters deal with the fallout of the situation at hand, so much so that the character I thought was the main character for the first four hours left the story pretty unceremoniously in favor of others in the cast.

With that in mind, there are plenty of twists in the latter half. While some feel earned, others feel superfluous, as if the writers needed to invent reasons for some characters to stick around instead of letting the cast diminish organically. 

The pacing slows, and the tension essentially evaporates as the game shifts from navigating an impossible situation as a captive and captor to being on the run. That said, by the time I reached that point, I was heavily invested in the outcome of my journey.

And I say "my" journey because As Dusk Falls features an impressive branching narrative that forms itself around choice. Many games in the interactive narrative genre say that your choices really matter but only give the illusion of that. As Dusk Falls, however, keeps you following a set story before drastically changing scenes based on what you choose.

At the end of each chapter, you're shown a map highlighting your path through the story. It's relatively big initially, but as the game's six to eight hours move along, the paths branch off more and more, to the point where recreating the same run twice seems nearly impossible.

(Because of my limited time with the game, I've only completed a full playthrough and a half, stopping just after the end of Chapter 3 a second time. But I can already count numerous story beats and outcomes that are completely different this time around based on my choices.) 

The magic of As Dusk Fades is that it makes each playthrough feel like the proper way that the story was meant to play out. Both of my playthroughs have felt like curated stories that were the "intended" routes through the narrative, which is much more than I can say about my feelings after completing Until Dawn or The Quarry.

On top of that, if you're looking to replay specific moments to see the outcomes of different choices, you can easily do that through the story tree, which has several different places from which you can start in each completed chapter. From there, you can "explore" the different options given to you without making a new save file, or you can copy the events leading up to that point to a new file to pave a new path.

It's the type of mechanic that's essential to enjoying a replay of a game like this that I now won't be able to live without in other narrative-based titles.

As Dusk Falls Review — The Bottom Line

  • Gripping narrative paired with excellent performances.
  • Intuitive U.I. that makes replaying previous sections a joy.
  • Unique art style that gives it a timeless feel.
  • Branching paths that make each playthrough truly personal.
  • Pacing issues in the latter half.
  • Sluggish cursor interface when using a controller.

As Dusk Falls tells a story about desperation, familial pain, and cops who think they're John Wayne. It's an easy recommendation for anyone who likes prestige drama TV shows from the likes of HBO and AMC, and it's an even easier recommendation for anyone with Xbox Game Pass, where it launches on Day One. 

There are so many layers that I'll be unpacking for the next several weeks as I wrap on my second playthrough. I likely won't be the only one exploring everything that As Dusk Falls has to offer. It's a stellar entry in the interactive narrative genre that will only be exceeded by what its dev team has planned next.

[Note: Xbox Game Studios provided the copy of As Dusk Falls used for this review.]

Citizen Sleeper Review: The Good Life is Just a Dice Roll Away Thu, 12 May 2022 11:57:36 -0400 Bryn Gelbart

In the dark reaches of space, among the likes of corpos and bounty hunters, there is a ring called Erlin’s Eye. It is fractured and broken, but it supports life. Your life. In Citizen Sleeper, you are a refugee from another planet starting life anew on the Eye. This is the spark that ignites the cyberpunk RPG from Jump Over the Age, the moniker of solo developer Gareth Damien Martin, who made the game with some help from artist Guillaume Singelin and musician Amos Roddy.

This innovative role-playing experience takes direct inspiration from modern tabletop RPGs. Citizen Sleeper is dense with systems, but once you are past the learning curve, you will find a rich sci-fi world full of scrappy, endearing characters. 

Citizen Sleeper Review: The Good Life is Just a Dice Roll Away

Citizen Sleeper is fundamentally about rolling dice and watching meters fill. That description does little, though, to evoke the tension and on-the-fly decision-making that turn Citizen Sleeper into a sci-fi RPG that weaves many genres of cyberpunk together inside a cohesive space. Especially impressive since you don’t see much of that space; a large portion of Citizen Sleeper’s world is described through text.  

In this world, you are an emulation of a person that embodies a machine called a Sleeper. Someone sold their consciousness to a corporation, and you are the workhorse they have created using a copy of that human’s intelligence inside a robotic body. Escaped from your life of servitude, you still suffer detrimental side effects from when a company owned your body.  

Each morning you wake to a new cycle featuring a dice roll and two decreasing meters. One of these you must keep up with food and other energy recovering activities and one that requires a special (and expensive) antidote, called Stabilizer.

For the first two-thirds of Citizen Sleeper, it is the precious resource you must juggle all your other resources to obtain. To do so, you must spend dice to complete odd jobs around the city, making enough money to survive. It's a balancing act that drives the moment-to-moment gameplay. In fact, Drives are exactly what Citizen Sleeper calls its quests, a stylistic flair emblematic of the engrossing writing that appears all over. 

By moving from node to node on the map, you find various ways to spend your dice, either by doing jobs or hacking. An action can have three possible outcomes: positive, neutral, or negative. The likelihood of each outcome is determined by which dice you spend. Roll a 5 and that's a 50/50 shot at neutral or positive. Roll a 3 and your odds are 25/50/25. Bonuses on actions are determined by stat points.

Hacking works differently. Once unlocked, viewing the Eye in hacking mode allows you to see modules that take specific dice numbers. It's a smart way to spend your low-value dice, giving even traditionally "bad" roles some value. 

Positive and neutral outcomes fill up Citizen Sleeper's various clocks. Another cue taken from TTRPGs, the clock system is one of many unique and fascinating systems. Occasionally, you will need to complete an action numerous times to advance a clock, but other clocks tick down. You don't always know what is coming when a clock reaches its end, lending a constant sense of dread and anxiety to the proceedings.

Like all other mechanics in Citizen Sleeper, clocks are thematic and mechanical choices. The Working Class dread and fear that you can't afford the next medical mishap. These are passed on to you when you cross your fingers that a dice roll goes your way, or when that final red tick fills in on clock counting down to "something" ominous. 

Citizen Sleeper is best on PC and the only major quibble I have is in navigating the map and menus with a controller. Playing on Xbox (where many will likely check out Citizen Sleeper via Game Pass), moving to the node you want is occasionally imprecise, making for a good deal of fiddling around between actions. This hits the Drives and Skills menus the hardest, both of which feel most built for a mouse interface. I frequently encountered bugs in these menus that had me strangely navigating both the menu and the map at the same time. 

Citizen Sleeper is a dialogue-heavy RPG about managing your resources and making choices, all for the sake of pushing forward the many compelling plot threads. Comparisons to Disco Elysium already feel a little too easy — and frankly, Citizen Sleeper is a more inventive use of dice — but it is not a bad point of reference. Both have excellent writing that focuses on telling a story while building mechanics through player choices instead of using traditional fail states. 

The stunning character art goes a long way to convey the cyberpunk imagery the prose so often evokes. The portraits of the various people — ahem, sentient entities — are detailed and stylish. Everyone is effortlessly cool yet lets their character through in their design. I felt compelled to see pretty much every storyline for more of the characters, even the ones I discovered far too late.

The killer synthwave soundtrack by Amos Roddy is the cherry on top of the clean minimalist aesthetic. Music, too, is used to communicate themes and emotions during dialogue-heavy sequences.  

Many of the character-driven narratives expand and intertwine, leading you to various endings. Some are simply bittersweet moments, but Citizen Sleeper is the sum total of all its parts. There is no main storyline. Instead, what you decide to focus on and how you spend your resources dictate the threads you see through and which ending you see first. 

On the Eye, you may meet the slum doctor Sabine, who is in deep trouble with one of the local gangs. You may run into Lem and his daughter Mina as they struggle to make ends meet in poverty on the ring. There is a sentient vending machine, too, and while that sounds silly, it slowly builds to being one of the most profound storylines in the game. 

Each plotline fleshes out its characters while exploring the political issues of the world. The power struggle for Erlin’s Eye between local organizations and galactic corporations leaves the working class out to dry. There is an impressive breadth to the sub-genres Citizen Sleeper’s dozen or so narrative threads cover. From a William-Gibson-inspired hacking odyssey to the more subdued personal narratives with sci-fi twists, each plot thread is memorable and meaningful. 

On the whole, the writing needs to do the heavy lifting in terms of both characterization and world-building for Citizen Sleeper’s minimalist style to work. Thankfully, it does and is confident in its choices. 

It took me about 40 or so cycles to see an ending, and regardless of which one you choose or stumble into first, you will be able to return back to the world. I played for almost 60 cycles by the time I tied off all my loose ends. You'll be glad you did, too, since every plotline has an emotional or intellectually interesting ending. 

Citizen Sleeper Review — The Bottom Line 


  • Builds a compelling cyberpunk world despite most of the game being text.
  • An inspired use of dice results in a one-of-a-kind gameplay experience.
  • Deep well-drawn characters with rich storylines.
  • A soundtrack you can vibe to in and out of the game.


  • Buggy UI on consoles.

Citizen Sleeper is an innovative cyberpunk RPG that understands the core tenants of the genre better than most AAA attempts. With deeply sympathetic (and extremely cool) characters, it builds its punishing post-capitalist society on the back of some of the best descriptive prose I've seen in a video game. The only caveat is to play with a mouse and keyboard if you can. 

With mechanics inspired by contemporary tabletop RPGs, Citizen Sleeper feels fresh, tense, and engaging throughout its 6- to 8-hour run time. Balancing your actions, resources, and story progress is a tight-rope act that's engrossing the further you get into this stellar sci-fi world. 

[Note: The Game Pass version of Citizen Sleeper was used for this review.]

We Were Here Forever Review: A Head Scratcher Tue, 10 May 2022 11:35:16 -0400 Peter Hunt Szpytek

Communication can make or break a team solving their way through a co-op puzzle game, and We Were Here Forever knows this all too well. The central mechanic revolves around two players communicating through a pair of walkie-talkies, and while that piece of the puzzle fits together quite well, the rest of the experience is something of a mixed bag.

There’s plenty to like about We Were Here Forever from its great atmosphere and the series’ staple walkie-talkie mechanic to the fact it’s an exclusively cooperative experience, which seems to be something of a dying breed in the current landscape. That said, its elements rarely work in tandem to create a truly extraordinary puzzle game.

To be clear, there are some moments of genuine genius hidden in We Were Here Forever, but the experience is hampered by far too many one-sided puzzles and a buffet of game-breaking bugs causing softlocks, crashes, and an early instance of save file corruption.

We Were Here Forever Review: A Head Scratcher

When reviewing a game pre-release, you’re likely to encounter a bug or two that will be ironed out before the finalized version. Oftentimes, it makes sense to not comment on these hiccups if you can trust a studio can address them in the finished product. A bug here and there is to be expected  even in finished builds. Unfortunately, my time with We Were Here Forever was packed with enough major bugs to make the 1.0 version of Cyberpunk 2077 blush.

Softlocks were the biggest threat my partner and I faced. We held our breath with each loading zone for fear of infinite loading screens or the sudden inability to interact with doors and other means of progression. When one player gets hit with a bug, it means ending an entire session. Both players must navigate the menus to reestablish a connection.

When it happens multiple times in a row, the true challenge of We Were Here Forever begins to transform from brain-teasing puzzles to a test of patience.

Outside of softlocks, other bugs are rampant, manifesting as simple visual issues or biggest roadblocks like save file corruption that prevents you from hosting game sessions. I expect some of these glaring issues to be fixed in early updates, however, it’s worth pointing out that developer Total Mayhem Games certainly has its work cut out for it.

It’s a shame too because outside of the technical issues, We Were Here Forever is a pleasant enough puzzle game, even if many of its ideas feel a little underdeveloped.

A first-person puzzle-em-up, We Were Here Forever is packed to the brim with co-op puzzles that typically have two players in two different areas needing to communicate to solve each side of their problem.

The issue with the core aspect, however, is that the puzzle quality is mixed. Obviously, balancing a co-op puzzle game takes a bit of work. It requires that the game trusts both players can deduce solutions on their own while collaborating on the bigger picture, but We Were Here Forever often feels heavily skewed to one side for many of its rooms.

All too often, puzzles feel unbalanced: one person solves several aspects while the other acts simply as the muscle, moving pieces from place to place. They aren't engaging in the brain teaser in any meaningful way. 

That’s not to say all of the puzzles are bad. Some are excellent, with the gravedigging key hunt and the whodunnit-esque church pew seat problem standing out as highlights. The issue is that they’re few and far between.

The walkie-talkie mechanic gives We Were Here Forever a unique feel to other puzzler-em-ups while serving as a fun, albeit simple, way of communicating. Each person has a radio they can use to talk to their partner by pressing a button, and, like real walkie-talkies, you can’t talk over one another. If you need to have a lengthy conversation about the puzzles, you’ll need to learn to say “over” after you’re done speaking or come up with another verbal signifier.

Playing with the walkie-talkies reminds me of just how fun they can be. I was taken back to the days of hiding in the backyard and communicating with my siblings, enamored by the simple fact that they could hear me over the radio. We Were Here Forever has much of the same initial novelty, but it begins to wear off as you continue playing and as the focus becomes much more centered on the puzzles.

Previous We Were Here titles have varying lengths but tended to get longer as the series progressed, and it seems as if We Were Here Forever is the longest of the bunch. Depending on how many softlocks you run into and how quick-witted you and your partner are, it can run you anywhere from 10 to 15 hours.

If you’re playing with a good friend, then it’s 10 to 15 hours of hanging out, using your brains, and generally having a good time. There’s certainly a story going on — something regarding a medieval jester (?)  but it didn’t capture either my or my partner’s interest. It serves as a nice backdrop for the setting and tone but isn’t something I found entertaining.

We Were Here Forever Review — The Bottom Line


  • Some well-executed puzzles based around the walkie-talkie communication mechanics.
  • Good area variety.
  • Great atmosphere.
  • Solid length for a co-op experience.


  • Constant technical issues.
  • Frequently unbalanced puzzles.
  • Uninteresting narrative.

A recommendation for We Were Here Forever comes largely weighted by what you're looking to get out of the experience: a few nights of brain teasers and puzzle solving with a close friend? Absolutely. An airtight puzzler that isn't held together by scotch tape and prayers? Maybe not.

Those who've exhausted the supply of great co-op puzzle games like Portal 2, It Takes Two, or Operation: Tango should consider giving We Were Here Forever a shot. Otherwise, you might consider trying more established co-op puzzlers before circling back to this one.

[Note: TMG Studios B.V. provided the copy of We Were Here Forever used for this review.]

Trek to Yomi Review: Going Full Kurosawa Mode Thu, 05 May 2022 09:00:01 -0400 Bryn Gelbart

The PS4 blockbuster Ghost of Tsushima featured an optional black and white filter called “Kurosawa Mode.” The desaturated visuals and film grain brought to mind the early samurai epics of the eponymous and legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. If you liked this idea but found the execution shallow and lackluster (like some critics), Trek to Yomi will satisfy your need for authentic Kurosawa inspired aesthetics.

You may, however, be slightly disappointed by a tale that doesn’t hold up to the standards of the master storyteller. 

One look at Trek to Yomi and you will see why the black and white art style is so immediately striking. Devolver Digital’s latest release is a collaboration between game designer Leonard Menchiari and Polish studio Flying Wild Hog. The 2.5D samurai action game is set in the Edo period of Japan. The attempt at authenticity in its presentation makes Trek to Yomi an ambitious title worth playing, despite its narrative and mechanical shortcomings. 

Trek To Yomi Review: Going Full Kurosawa Mode

From the get-go, Trek to Yomi commits to authenticity. It’s not simply just the black and white look or the optional film grain filter. Loading up the start menu, each English menu option is listed alongside a Japanese kanji. Furthermore, there is no English dub, which means no opting in or out of a Japanese language track. You must play in Japanese with your choice of subtitles. 

The score was composed using instruments exclusively from this period of Japanese history. Sound is perhaps the area where Trek to Yomi best captures an element from Kurosawa’s films as serene woodwinds echo throughout the quiet moments and intensifying drums can be heard as you transition from exploration into combat. 

The dichotomy between the action and the light puzzle and exploration bits is key to explaining what kind of game Trek to Yomi actually is. Broken up into linear chapters, you play through the life of samurai Hiroki, who begins as a young learner in the tutorial section before the game jumps to his adult life.

One fateful day, his village is raided by bandits and his sensei’s daughter (and Hiroki’s love interest) Aiko is captured. On a revenge and rescue mission, you slash your way through a bloody story full of samurai tropes. 

The perspective of Trek to Yomi is from a fixed camera that follows Hiroki during the action but remains static during non-combat sections. While not in combat, you can move Hiroki in 3D. Objects like ammunition and upgrades shine with a silver twinkle. (Those two things can’t help but remind me of classic Resident Evil, especially the 2002 remake).

The way these shots mimic film make every single moment feel hand-crafted and meticulously framed. Trek to Yomi makes its most direct references to Kurosawa by using shot compositions that harken back to Seven Samurai and the classics of the genre. The result is a gorgeous game that feels cinematic in every step, not just during cutscenes. 

Trek to Yomi’s combat rewards defensive play and reaction. You are fragile, especially early on, and going in aggro will get you killed quickly. Instead, enemies force you to block frequently, manage your stamina bar appropriately, master parry timing perfectly. It isn’t as punishing as Ninja Gaiden Black or Sekiro, but even on Bushido (medium) difficulty, Trek to Yomi will test your timing and ability to pull off combos.

Combat is most akin to a 2D take on Devil May Cry; it's a system that requires quick button presses and fighting-game levels of precision to pull off some of the more deadly moves. There is a satisfying depth here that reveals itself as you gain abilities. 

As you progress, Hiroki learns more sword skills and finds a handful of ranged weapons, like shurikens and a bow, that have limited ammo you can pick up. The ranged weapons are more like “get out of jail free cards” that stagger enemies mid-combo. The more powerful ones do decent damage, but ammunition is limited enough that you have to use them strategically during the more overwhelming encounters.

Alternatively, you can save your ammo to make quicker work of the bosses, none of which feel especially long or complicated. This works in the game’s favor, though. A boss might destroy you three or four times in a row, but it doesn’t take long to pick up on their weaknesses. When you finally achieve victory, it is extremely rewarding to be able to take one down in 30 seconds.

The majority of the combat, though, is sword based. As you progress, you gradually unlock more offensive and defensive skills. Many of these are unlocked after mandatory battles, but some are hidden away behind optional or secret paths where you can also find health and stamina upgrades. If you are trying to seek out every single sword skill, though, you might be in for a frustrating time.  

Each level hides 5-10 collectibles that give historical context but don’t have any gameplay impact. When you go down an optional path, any number of items could be awaiting at the end. You never really know if you are going to get a health upgrade, new skill, or just a collectible. I can see how some players might find this exciting, but poorly communicating the difference between the path forward and the side paths is an issue. 

It's not always clear which path is the one forward and when you progress far enough along the main path to reach the next required combat scenario, there is no going back. You can load your last checkpoint if you realize you missed something in time, but there is no chapter restart and no post-game chapter select.

Once you beat Trek to Yomi, you are booted to the main menu and have to start over. The lack of a chapter select or New Game+ mode means most players probably won’t have an incentive to play again. I ended up short a handful of skills by the end of my 7-hour play time and was left wishing I could easily go back in and track down the ones I missed. Perhaps they would have made those last couple hours feel less tedious.

That's because the difficulty (and monotony) begins to increase near the end of Trek to Yomi. In the last couple of hours, each encounter starts to feel like the last, only harder and longer. It doesn’t help that the game is more or less a linear path of encounters. There are a handful of environmental puzzles that essentially boil down to the world’s easiest game of Memory, a last-minute inclusion to break up the pacing. Just not a fun one. 

More disappointing than these puzzles, though, is the story. Trek to Yomi’s first half is an extremely by-the-book tale of a samurai whose village gets invaded. His life destroyed, he goes on a quest that blurs the line between honor and vengeance. You don’t get much of a feel for Hiroki or Aiko as characters beyond the archetypal roles they fill.

This is due in part to the writing, which feels like a disjointed translation. Many of the subtitles sound unnatural in the way an old anime dub would. Thankfully, the story takes an unexpected turn about halfway through. 

I won’t give it away, but suffice to say the second half of Trek to Yomi allows the artists to stretch their creative limbs. For a game with such strong visual design already, this feels like a well-considered choice that leans into its strengths. The lack of any emotional attachment to the characters still muted my connection to the world, though. By the time credits rolled, I still didn’t find myself particularly invested in the characters, despite the visual splendor. 

Trek to Yomi Review — The Bottom Line


  • Stunning visual and audio design.
  • Fundamentals of combat are satisfying. 
  • Makes great use of fixed camera angles.


  • Characters are boring archetypes. 
  • A bit repetitive in the back half. 
  • Puzzles are beyond basic and feel tossed in for variety.  
  • No chapter select or New Game Plus.

Trek to Yomi is a masterclass in presentation. The striking, period-appropriate style and impressive use of fixed camera angles make each screen engrossing, pushing you to see what’s next. The writing doesn’t live up to the nuanced expectation set by styling the game after the works of Kurosawa, and some of the chapters are a bit long in the tooth, but Trek to Yomi is still worth playing for any fan of 2D action or the samurai genre. 

[Note: Devolver Digital provided the copy of Trek to Yomi used for this review.]

Martha is Dead Review: A Grueling Psychological Thriller Thu, 24 Feb 2022 09:00:01 -0500 Bryn Gelbart

Ahead of its release, it was announced that a certain violent scene in Martha is Dead would be censored on PlayStation platforms. This gave many potential players the impression that LKA and Wired Production's latest release is a gruesome, gory horror title. But Martha is Dead isn't trying to scare you with its imagery. It is more psychological thriller than horror. Think a walking sim or adventure game without fail states. There is no creeping around to avoid monsters here. 

Instead, Martha is Dead is about inhabiting a character, experiencing her trauma, and recalling repressed memories. It is a dark game full of shocking violence and gore. It is also a game that eventually loses sight of its focus, an experience full of fascinating ideas that don't quite come together into a cohesive whole. While its story eventually left a bad taste in my mouth, the authenticity of the setting and environment was enough for me to see it through. 

Martha is Dead Review: A Grueling Psychological Thriller

Set against the desperate backdrop of the waning days of WWII, Martha is Dead takes place in 1944 Italy. You play as Giulia, who, after blacking out and then waking to the murder of her deaf twin sister Martha, is determined to find the killer. In an attempt to hide the truth from her abusive mother and Nazi father, Giulia feigns Martha's disability to convince them it is her who has died. 

This sets the stage for a game that begins as a slow adventure where you explore the Italian villa this broken family calls home. You learn the finer details of Giulia and Martha's youth and family life by collecting notes and progressing the story. A quest log starts to fill up with leads and opportunities, allowing you agency in the order you uncover the otherwise fairly linear plot. In the early going, Giulia's primary tool of progress is a camera. 

Photo games are a favorite emerging genre of mine, and Martha is Dead certainly has a unique take on the medium. Taking properly lit and framed photos is a satisfying, engaging way to uncover the mystery here. All photographs must be developed in the house's darkroom via a sequence of mini-games, an element that adds authenticity to the time period. It also helps build tension. Not every element of a photo can be seen until it is fully developed, a stark reminder of how things worked before the digital age. 

If you follow an optional questline, you'll discover a telegraph mini-game. Here you communicate in morse code with Italian resistance soldiers fighting Nazi occupation. Like the photography mini-game, it gives you a small history lesson and also firmly situates you in the setting. It's not compelling in a traditionally fun sense, and it's occasionally buggy, but it fits the game's pace. 

Some important context here is that LKA is an Italian studio and the default language settings for Martha is Dead are Italian with English subtitles. I played this way to honor the game's ambitions and brush up on a language I had once studied in school, but I wholeheartedly recommend sticking to this default. 

Martha is Dead is paced slowly enough for you to be engaged with the mechanics while also reading subtitles. Plus, there is a log that keeps track of all spoken dialogue, similar to what you might see in a visual novel. If you’ve played a Yakuza game, you know what I mean when I say Martha is Dead just seems off with an English dub. The story is so tied to a specific time and place that the best way to appreciate it is to play in Italian.

It is worth mentioning, too, that despite its limited budget, Martha is Dead manages to evoke photorealism in its landscapes consistently. Up close, the textures are a bit muddy, and the faces can be uncanny, but it's hard to deny how well the team at LKA captured the natural beauty of the Italian countryside. 

This is where the beauty in Martha is Dead comes to a close. Martha is Dead is not afraid to make you repeatedly commit atrocious acts of violence. A very early scene that was explicitly mentioned as one of the censored moments for the PlayStation release has you, in a dream sequence, removing the face of your dead sister and wearing it as a mask. If that makes you gag, turn back now. It only gets worse. 

My misgivings with Martha is Dead began to compound as I approached the end. In those final stretches of its six- to eight-hour runtime, Martha is Dead frequently disrupts its pacing for two extended sequences of marionette puppetry. Apparently a favorite activity of Giulia, these segments are tedious, and in my experience, both led to game-breaking bugs that made me restart the entire section. Much of the time puppeteering is spent recapping earlier story beats before they begin to reveal Giulia's repressed memories. It is here that Martha is Dead chooses to make you commit its most heinous acts. 

I won't describe them, but two specific sections cross a line. One of them involves animal abuse and upset me on a deeply personal level. Even worse, it feels like the developers used the marionette framing device as an avenue by which to "get away" with including these parts without any kind of warning.

I say this because not 15 minutes after completing this segment, Martha is Dead decides to give a specific content warning for self-harm. While I always welcome trigger warnings — like the generalized content warning the game gives upfront — this one made me feel invalidated. Why is this one instance of self-harm worth giving a warning for when an egregious and unnecessary depiction of animal abuse comes out of nowhere? 

The ending itself is especially disappointing due to how quickly it dismisses many of the important plot beats in lieu of a big reveal. In its final moments, the confidence Martha is Dead once exuded fades completely. As it moves towards telling its story through metaphor, the grounded tangibility that defined the game's captivating early hours disappears. Through a combination of cliched twists and misplaced ambiguity, I was left reflecting on the darkest moments of Martha is Dead and questioning their inclusion. 

Martha is Dead Review — The Bottom Line

  • A dynamic, methodical take on the photography genre.
  • Unique and authentic setting.
  • Strong voice acting in multiple languages.
  • Marionette sequences are tedious.
  • Many disturbing moments are unearned.
  • Cliche plot twists abound.
  • Buggy in some spots.

In many ways, I suspect the reaction to Martha is Dead will fall into two camps like with The Last of Us Part II. There will be those who appreciate a game pushing the boundaries of interactive violence and morality, and those who feel like the game's dark subject matter is an edgy excuse to wallow in its own misery. 

Unfortunately, I fall into the latter camp. Martha is Dead's failure to stick the landing leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The narrative and mechanical ambitions don't coalesce into something greater despite some interesting mechanics throughout. It attempts to tell a careful story about mental health but eventually devolves into cliched story beats and emotionally manipulative moments that serve no other purpose than to shock you.

[Note: Wired Productions provided a copy of Martha is Dead for the purpose of this review.]

Fellowship of the Ping: Children of Morta Online Co-Op Update Arrives Mon, 14 Feb 2022 19:33:13 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Children of Morta has seen a treasure trove of updates since it was released in the latter part of 2019. New characters, new quests, and new modes have been brought into the family, while New Game+ and the Paws and Claws DLC have expanded on the game's original foundation in meaningful ways.

While Children of Morta lets you and your family members and friends team up in local multiplayer, online co-op has always been a big request from the community. After all, it's been part of the development roadmap since plans were first shared in December 2019.

Now, it's finally arrived — for some players at least.

The latest Children of Morta update, Fellowship of the Sanctuary, is free and adds two-player online co-op to the Steam version of the game. The Good Old Games version and those for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One still don't have it. Yet. Dead Mage said it's "hard at work" on those updates, though there's currently no time frame for when they might arrive.

Fellowship of the Sanctuary comes alongside a Steam free-to-play period from February 14 at 1 p.m. EST to February 18 at the same time. A Steam sale between those dates also discounts the game by 60% and its DLCs by 25%. 

Those who still haven't played Children of Morta should take the opportunity to join the Bergson family as they hack and slash their way through corrupted baddies attempting to overtake Mount Morta. In our review, we said that "Children of Morta is a standout roguelike RPG with a solid central hook, satisfying gameplay, and gorgeous art style all piled on top of huge replay value."

Infernax Review: Gory Nostalgia Fri, 11 Feb 2022 09:24:46 -0500 Jason D'Aprile

Infernax keeps its unabashedly obsessive 8-bit retro design front and center its entire length, which is probably enough for many gamers to know if it will appeal to them. Infernax is for people who love the idea of a brand-new hack n' slash platformer that could have, at least spiritually, been right at home on the original NES.

Whether it actually could've run on the old hardware is up to speculation, but developer Berzerk Studio has managed a nearly perfect illusion of nostalgia.

Infernax Review: Gory Nostalgia

Things begin when our hero, Alcedor (who can be renamed at the start) returns home from a distant war to find his land overrun with grotesque demonic forces. Infernax immediately throws you into a familiar-looking pixelated world with a variety of mechanical elements to elevate it beyond the simple build plate of Ghosts n's Goblins and other early arcade-style adventures.

Infernax owes heavily to the Metroidvania camp. It offers a large(ish) open world to explore with definitive gates between areas that can only be overcome with the acquisition of new spells and abilities. There's a strong focus on side quests and character stat building as well, both of which lend it distinction.

Monsters respawn in each "room" or area, which can get tiresome except you need a constant stream of things to kill to get more gold and experience points. This leads to a lot of back and forth across the ever-growing map.

There are towns, keeps, secluded wizard and witch huts, dungeons, churches, and demon-infested castles to explore. Towns have various types of shopkeepers — blacksmiths, potion sellers, wizards with spells and trinkets, an inn. Each town only offers a very limited set of purchase options, so to get better gear, you'll need to visit and purchase the wares from every new shopkeeper you find.

Defeating the boss at the end of each of the six or so castles and other side dungeons leads to new spells and abilities. Alcedor's only weapon is a mace though, which can be upgraded to a few better models (along with his armor). While he'll eventually get a fireball-like spell, most of the game's combat is entirely close-range, which can make tricky platforming areas even more difficult. We certainly wouldn't have hated seeing the guy get at least a crossbow during his trek.

Spells include a magical shield to reduce damage, an avian companion who can both attack enemies and trigger switches, healing, teleportation, and even the ability to change the time from day to night and back again. Experience points are used to upgrade the knight's health and mana bars, the latter of which is necessary to cast spells.

He'll also gain some agility attacks that are vital for reaching new areas, one of which makes him shoot upwards, and another a high-speed horizontal attack dash. Both enable Alcedor to reach otherwise inaccessible parts of the map.

While his move set increases a bit over the course of Infernax, Alcedor's combat overall is very basic. He mostly just jumps around and repeatedly hits things with his mace. Aside from the previously mentioned dash moves, there's not much subtlety or variety to the combat system beyond hitting things while standing up or ducking.

Boss fights therefore all have to stay within that range of abilities. Just the same, there's some interesting variety in the head demons. One is an auto-scrolling sequence where you have to avoid attack and instant-death falls until the creature presents its weak spot, then bash it. Others involve single-room matches where you'll have to use platforms and dodges to get close to an enemy's weak spot before it unleashes devastating and usually explosive attacks. Some bosses flood you with low-level baddies to keep you at bay.

These boss battles are fun and intense overall, and there's a humorous bent on making each more grotesque than the last. For those into the whole "Hell on earth" scenario, Infernax keeps things lively with zombies, tentacles, bloody pustules, even craven blood-thirsty babies. It's still not as overall bleak as Blasphemous, but there are plenty of dark bits in this world.

That horror theme is especially prevalent in the occasional moral choices Infernax throws at players. At the beginning, you encounter a clearly agonized man begging to be killed, for instance, and you can opt to try to help him or just outright kill him. Choosing to help ends in him turning into a larger monstrosity that you'll have to kill anyway, while killing him immediately is far easier. Except that easier choice has a distinct penalty later on.

There are sequences where you can opt to help people who are clearly not on the side of good, causing catastrophic harm to the poor denizens of the world. Different choices open different paths and ultimately lead to different endings. Part of the fun of Infernax is playing with these choices, which makes multiple playthroughs a more appealing prospect.

Infernax opens with a very stern warning about how bleak and bloody it is, but the overall presentation is still 8-bit pixels so the impact of all that gore, blood, and flying intestines is simply a bit limited. The retro visuals are highly complimented by the retro audio work as well, complete with a solid very-NES-era score, sound effects, and slideshow-like cut scenes.

Infernax Review — The Bottom Line


  • A near-perfect recreation of NES-era nostalgia but with more meat on its old-school bones.
  • Multiple paths and endings thanks to some amusing dark decision-making.
  • Makes the constant grinding feel more entertaining thanks to several pronounced RPG elements, including side quests.


  • Basic combat is very simple.
  • That dogged old-school game design means things can get incredibly unforgiving, especially the platforming.
  • There's still a ton of grinding.

Infernax is largely exactly what you'd think at first glance. It's very retro and challenging with simplistic 8-bit graphics and gameplay. Where it excels is taking those old-school constraints and expanding on them to create a gory adventure that feels at once totally familiar but with enough depth to still be interesting and worthwhile all on its own.

[Note: Berzerk Studio provided the copy of Infernax used for this review.]

Blackwind Review: A Lackluster Hack-and-Slash Experience Wed, 19 Jan 2022 10:00:01 -0500 Samuel Adams

In an industry where AAA games and starlight indies tend to get most of the attention, Blackwind is a budget title developed by Drakkar Dev and published by Blowfish studios that tries to deliver on a hack-and-slash style with “brain-teasing” puzzles.

Unfortunately, Blackwind ends up creating an experience that is more frustrating and repetitive than it is anything else. 

Blackwind Review: A Lackluster Hack-and-Slash Experience

In Blackwind, you play as James Hawkins, the teenage son of a renowned scientist who has created an Iron Man-like mech suit outfitted with an AI named Blackwind. On their way to the mining planet of Medusa-42, the Hawkins’ ship is brought down by a band of Raknos aliens.

Professor Hawkins forces his son into the battle mech to survive the fall just in time for the ship to rip apart, catapulting Dad off into the distance and leaving our young hero alone on a foreign mining colony overrun with aliens.

Now, James is setting out to fight back the Raknos and pave his way across this mining world to reunite with his father and destroy the alien threat.

Throughout Blackwind you’ll unlock upgradable weapons like blasters and energy blades along with abilities like melee chains and the classic ground pound technique. Along with an impressive arsenal, a special abilities class also opens up plenty of combat possibilities. Rockets, shields, a radial force blast, and even self-healing technologies are all unlocked throughout.

Without going into deeper details and sharing all of Blackwind’s secrets, a few extra secret unlockables scattered around add to a stack of weapons and powers that bring plenty of options for approaching each section of enemies. 

The Raknos, alien enemies that James goes toe-to-toe with during the search for his missing father, also come with a collection of their own weapons and abilities. Basic alien foot soldiers and sentry guns are often the least of your worries, with stronger elite soldiers and tank-style enemies coming at you from every angle.

Each enemy type brings its own combat style into the fray along with its own unique weakness, at times pushing you to open up your arsenal and push your gameplay style to try new tactics and tools.

Even with this large collection of weapons and an army of enemies, Blackwind’s combat often feels lackluster. There are plenty of mechanics to try out on any enemy, but the majority of enemies can be taken down easily with basic ranged or melee combat. Boss fights are few and far between, but they can often be taken down within a minute or two with little more than the basic attacks.

Melee combos and special abilities can come in handy in a pinch, but Blackwind fails to really push you out of your comfort zone often enough to make them core parts of the game’s combat loop.

Blackwind succeeds in character upgrades and cosmetic customization. Everything from basic weapons to special abilities can be upgraded through a skill tree, adding damage, bullet spread, fire rate, and more to help boost combat abilities.

The upgrades themselves definitely have value, and every bit of extra firepower can be felt during those intense late-game firefights when entire screens of enemies are attacking. Mech skins can also be found hidden across Medusa-42, providing plenty of new mech skins for you to choose from. 

Puzzles scattered within the world work to add variety to the gameplay. A drone built into James’ mech suit can split off, giving you the power to toggle between the two to activate panels and flip switches that unlock the next area of the map. Another type of puzzle lets you unlock areas of the map by guiding a drone through air vents and activating security panels with a few enemies scattered along the way. 

Blackwind’s biggest downfall is its lack of direction. While your AI finds and downloads maps for many of the areas that you explore, there is no world map to plot your path and figure out where to go. The onscreen minimap gives some guidance, but with much of Blackwind taking place in sprawling military compounds with multiple levels and dozens of identical hallways, I still found myself getting lost and having to backtrack frequently to find the next objective or area.

Blackwind’s camera is also painfully bad. It remains static throughout the majority of gameplay with no option to use a thumbstick to turn it and get a better view of the environment. Rather than guiding you toward key locations and paths, Blackwind forces you to run in every direction to try and find clusters of enemies, progress through levels, and advance in the story.

This is nostalgic in a lot of ways, since relying on finding new enemies is often the only way to know that you're going in the right direction.

Unfortunately, nostalgic charm can’t overcome how much I wished that I had a world map to point me in the right direction. The poorly designed camera also has a negative impact on a handful of the puzzles, with shootable triggers just just out of view to add some unnecessary frustration to the puzzle solving.

Blackwind Review — The Bottom Line


  • Enjoyable hack-and-slash gameplay
  • Fun puzzles to unlock progression
  • Great skill tree ability progression


  • Frustrating player camera
  • Lack of a world map
  • Repetitive combat and dialog

While Blackwind isn’t a bad game at its core, the experience as a whole ends up being overwhelmingly bland. Generic landscapes, repetitive combat, and a frustrating lack of guidance make Blackwind a forgettable budget title that can safely be skipped.

[Note: Blowfish Studios provided the copy of Blackwind used for this review.]

Infernax Preview: A Valentine to the Gory Retro Side-Scrolling Past Wed, 12 Jan 2022 13:18:14 -0500 Jason D'Aprile

There’s no shortage of modern retro-styled homage-centric games that speak to the nostalgia of days gone, but Infernax might earn some extra karmic points for releasing its unabashed pixel love this Valentine’s Day for PC, PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch.

Honestly, given how 2022 has already started, a carnage-filled, low-fi hack and slash side-scroller might be the perfect way to spend the day anyway. 

Infernax Preview: A Valentine to the Gory Retro Side-Scrolling Past

Infernax is a mix of Ghosts n’ Goblins, Castlevania, and Metroid spun up in a grimdark fantasy world that would have felt right at home in the 8- and 16-bit console era. As a beleaguered, yet dashing knight, Alcedor, you’ve finally returned home from war to find the place in nightmarish chaos. The dead walk the earth, hellish spawn skulk the poor citizens, and the kingdom needs a hero with the kind of earnest that would warrant a Bonnie Taylor solo to power the entire soundtrack.

So, you know, normal classic video gaming stuff. Developer Berzerk Studio is adamant Infernax is the kind of brutal, gory, difficult side-scroller adventures the old-timers jammed to. Hell, the short demo beta we played even started with a warning about how the game was not for children.

On a side note, my seven-year-old can confirm this. Having hoped on my lap to watch immediately upon seeing the warning, she soon got bored with all those “old-looking” graphics. Make of that what you will.

In terms of just how brutal, dark, and gory Infernax is in comparison to say the downright dismal extremeness of Blasphemous, this game is damn near cheery and bright. It has a lot more color, for one thing, and the more retro-fied (that’s a word, right?) graphics really do a lot to take the edge off any violence as pixel blood and exploding body parts just aren’t as shocking as they used to be.

The visuals are solid, so long as you want to play something that looks like it’s from around 1991. The beta was only about a half-hour long but provided some keen insights into what distinguishes Infernax from the slew of other games of this ilk. For one thing, there’s a hefty focus on grinding for XP and gold. These, in turn, are used to level up Alcedor’s stats, earn him new skills and powers, better weapons, and other useful means of survival.

These light RPG elements are more important here than in most Metroidvanias and should offer interesting ways to tailor the knight to your carnage-inducing preferences. The open-world map features plenty of chance for exploration, backtracking, and, of course, repeatedly killing respawning monsters. There are castles, dungeons, caves, forests, and other fraught locations to explore, with a variety of fiends to kill. Bosses abound as well. We murdered several hulking abominations in just the first 15 minutes and liked it.

Another element that isn’t particularly well-represented in the beta is the inclusion of a morality system. Throughout, Alcedor will have the opportunity to make choices between light and dark options. These, in turn, will be tracked and lead to different endings. Admittedly, we only encountered one such event. A poor villager begging you to kill him as his body convulsed violently offered up the choice to either kill or pray for him. As it turns out, praying for the poor bugger also leads to killing him after he transforms into an ooze-filled agent of death.

It seems like this added bit of decision-making will give Infernax a boost of distinction, though we won’t know how much until review time.

Infernax Preview — My Bloody Valentine

Beyond that, the demo was fun with lively if basic mace-bashing combat, a variety of monsters to crush, townspeople, quests, and shops to engage with, and more. Infernax is clearly not as linear as many games of this type used to be and with the greater emphasis on stat-building and side-quests, there’s likely going to be a lot of meaty action to be had in the end.

Stay tuned for our full review next month. 

[Note: Berzerk Studio provided the copy of Infernax used for this preview.]

GameSkinny's Best Games of 2021 Thu, 30 Dec 2021 12:42:04 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Another year passed means another great list of video games worth playing on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, Stadia, and more. To look back on the year that was in video games, we've collected our highest-reviewed games of 2021 into a "best of" list. 

Since we're a small staff at GameSkinny, going the traditional "staff voting route" doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. Though it means there are more games here than on other lists, the best way we've found to highlight the best games of the year in 2021 is to include any game with a score of "8" or higher. So that's what we've done here. 

A few games on this list didn't technically release in 2021 or perhaps have other editions that released in years prior, but we reviewed certain versions and ports that released in 2021, so we've decided to also include them here. 

The Best Games of 2021

12 Minutes

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Luis Antonio (Nomada Studio)
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: 12 Minutes is a game about escaping a time loop, which is ironic given that it's so good that I wish I could see it all again for the first time myself.

Read our full 12 Minutes review.

Aerial_Knight's Never Yield

Publisher: Headup Games
Developer: Aerial_Knight
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Aeiral_Knight's Never Yield is a short, yet stylish endless runner with one of the year's best soundtracks.

Read our full Aerial_Knight's Never Yield review.

Alan Wake Remastered

Publisher: Epic Games Publishing
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Alan Wake still shines in a modern landscape thanks to its unique story and intoxicating atmosphere, and the remastered visuals modernize it just in time for Remedy's inevitable sequel.

Read our full Alan Wake Remastered review.

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure

Publisher: Plug In Digital
Developer: UsTwo Games
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch 
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Alba: A Wildlife Adventure wonderfully recontextualizes the video game sandbox as a wholesome call to action.

Read our full Alba: A Wildlife Adventure review.


Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: Nameless XIII
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Ashwalkers tells an open-ended story the right way, mixing equal parts agency and powerlessness, hope and despair.

Read our full Ashwalkers review.

Atelier Lydie & Suelle DX

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Vita
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Atelier Lydie & Suelle DX is a hard sell if you've already played it, but remains a stand-out Atelier game with strong heroines, excellent crafting, and good combat.

Read our full Atelier Lydie & Suelle DX review.

Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Atelier Ryza 2 improves on the original in almost every way and, despite a few stumbling points, proves Gust is still one of the best at making something magical out of ordinary things.

Read our full Atelier Ryza 2 review.

Axiom Verge 2

Publisher: Thomas Happ Games LLC
Developer: Thomas Happ Games LLC
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Axiom Verge 2 marks a fine return to form for the indie darling, providing fans with a compelling adventure worthy of its Metroid-influences roots.

Read our full Axiom Verge 2 review.

Base One

Publisher: Blowfish Studios
Developer: PixFroze
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Overall, Base One is an enjoyable experience that you can play casually for a few in-game cycles or a few IRL hours. It doesn’t really bring anything new or innovative to the table but executes well the familiar game mechanics that make up its loop. 

Read our full Base One review.

Before I Forget

Publisher: 3-Fold Games
Developer: 3-Fold Games
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Before I Forget is a highly emotive tale about one woman’s struggle with dementia, and a story that everyone should experience.

Read our full Before I Forget review.

Before Your Eyes

Publisher: Skybound Games
Developer: GoobyeWorld Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Telling a gut-punch of a story with novel gameplay mechanics is no small feat, and Before Your Eyes marvelously delivers on both fronts.

Read our full Before Your Eyes review.

Black Book

Publisher: HypeTrain Digital
Developer: Morteshka
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Black Book is an RPG/CCG/detective simulator/visual novel where you're either the villain or weakly trying not to be.

Read our full Black Book review.

Blue Reflection: Second Light

Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Blue Reflection: Second Light is an improvement upon the first game, following a group of schoolgirls looking for a way back home while fighting evil monsters.

Read our full Blue Reflection: Second Light review.

Bravely Default 2

Publisher: Nintendo/Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Bravely Default 2 is the best JRPG that never came out of 1998 Japan. It has a deep combat system, a sunny disposition, and a weirdly positive outlook.

Read our full Bravely Default 2 review.


Publisher: HypeTrain Digital
Developer: RedRuins Softworks
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Breathedge isn't a perfect space survival game and is sometimes aggravating, but there's plenty to enjoy, and few recent games can be so relaxing.

Read our full Breathedge review.

Capcom Arcade Stadium

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S 
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Capcom Arcade Stadium isn’t flawless. It could definitely be more complete, but the 32 games on display here still offer a pretty great slice of gaming history. As examples of their genres, it’s amazing how well most of these games still hold up while serving to vividly illustrate just how much gaming has changed since.

Read our full Capcom Arcade Stadium review.

Castlevania: Advance Collection

Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Collecting three superb Castlevania entries from the Game Boy Advance era and one more obscure SNES offering, this is a must-have for any fan of the genre that Castlevania carved out.

Read our full Castlevania: Advance Collection review.

Chivalry 2

Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Developer: Torn Banner Studios
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Chivalry 2's ability to convert chaos into exuberance gifts players with an experience that brilliantly hones in on one of the greatest aspects of gaming: fun.

Read our full Chivalry 2 review.


Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Fishlabs
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Stadia, Amazon Luna
Rating: 8/10

What we said: With a solid gameplay loop, a variety of side missions, and an engaging, original story that doesn't overstay its welcome, Chorus delivers one of the best sci-fi experiences of the year.

Read our full Chorus review.

Control: Ultimate Edition

Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, Series S, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Control was one of 2019's best games, with the only pervasive issue being that consoles couldn't always run the ambitious game so well. That's all changed.

Read our full Control: Ultimate Edition review.

Cozy Grove

Publisher: Spry Fox
Developer: Spry Fox
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Cozy Grove presents island life sans crass Capitalistic Raccoon Overlords, and it is a lovely experience through and through.

Read our full Cozy Grove review.

Curse of the Dead Gods

Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Passtech Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Switch 
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Curse of the Dead Gods is an action-roguelike with slick combat and a risk-reward loop that will keep you coming back.

Read our full Curse of the Dead Gods review.

Cyber Shadow

Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Mechanical Head Studios (Aarne "MekaSkull" Hunziker)
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Cyber Shadow is a beautiful, lovingly-crafted gut-punch of an experience. Get ready to throw some controllers.

Read our full Cyber Shadow review.

Days Gone (PC)

Publisher: PlayStation PC LLC
Developer: Bend Studio
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Days Gone received a lukewarm reception when it released for PS4, but the brilliant PC port will give new life to a game about a dying world.

Read our full Days Gone PC review.

Death's Door

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Acid Nerve
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Taking somewhere around 8-10 hours to finish, Death’s Door is a macabre journey well worth taking. The combat is generally simple but excellent, the world is fascinating, and the characters are memorable. 

Read our full Death's Door review.


Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PC
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Deathloop takes elements from games like Bioshock and Dishonored, combining them with a Groundhogs Day like timeloop to create the coolest, most stylish, and best game of the year.

Read our full Deathloop review.

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut

Publisher: ZA/UM
Developer: ZA/UM
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Disco Elysium’s expanded edition successfully builds upon an already excellent RPG, making it just as relevant today as it was in 2019.

Read our full Disco Elysium: The Final Cut review.

Disgaea 6

Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Disgaea 6 isn't a massive change for the long-running series, but the substantial improvements it brings means it doesn't have to be either.

Read our full Disgaea 6 review.

Dying Light

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Techland
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Dying Light on Switch is the same old Dying Light, which means it's one of the best survival horror games — just portable.

Read our full Dying Light Switch review.

Eldest Souls

Publisher: United Label
Developer: Fallen Flag Studio
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: A demanding pixel art Souls-like beautifully rendered and artfully crafted, Eldest Souls is not without issues, but it's worth your time for its bosses, art, and world.

Read our full Eldest Souls review.

Farming Simulator 22

Publisher: GIANTS Software
Developer: GIANTS Software
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: With its many improvements and some important additions, Farming Simulator 22 is the best in the franchise thus far.

Read our full Farming Simulator 22 review.

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater

Publisher: Koei Tecmo/Nintendo
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: This port of the clever and under-appreciated Wii U J-Horror game might feel a little old but is a terrific example of a familiar genre given a unique spin.

Read our full Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater review.


Publisher: Big Blue Bubble
Developer: Big Blue Bubble
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC, PS4, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: An open platformer heavy on combat, upgrading, and exploration, Foregone is an involving and entertaining adventure well worth downloading ... This gorgeous retro platform adventure deftly mixes traditional linear and roguelike elements into one entertaining package.

Read our full Foregone review.

Forza Horizon 5

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Playground Games
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Forza Horizon 5 is ultimately more of the same, but that's hardly a bad thing when it does the same thing so darn well.

Read our full Forza Horizon 5 review.

Green Hell (Console)

Publisher: Creepy Jar
Developer: Creepy Jar
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Green Hell is the latest PC survival sim to arrive on consoles, and it brings a solid and challenging survival experience that requires whits and perseverance.

Read our full Green Hell console review.


Publisher: Akupara Games
Developer: Clover Bite
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: GRIME takes influence from more genres than most games and succeeds at combining them into a cohesive whole. It's well worth your time.

Read our full GRIME review.


Publisher: Playism
Developer: Petit Depotto
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Gnosia draws similarities to games like Among Us and Zero Escape, but ultimately crafts a unique story with a crew of memorable characters.

Read our full Gnosia review.

Guilty Gear Strive

Publisher: Arc System Works
Developer: Arc System Works
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Guilty Gear Strive continues the long-running series’ love of amazingly bizarre character designs, fantastic fighting action, and gorgeous visuals with superb results.

Read our full Guilty Gear Strive review.

Habroxia 2

Publisher: Lillymo Games
Developer: Lillymo Games
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, Vita
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Lillymo Games have made a great attempt with Habroxia 2. Capturing the spirit of old-school SHMUPS, it isn’t especially long, but these kinds of shooters rarely are. Focusing more on replayability with branching mission paths, a customizable ship, and New Game+, it fills a niche sorely missing on modern platforms.

Read our full Habroxia 2 review.

Halo Infinite

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: 343 Industries
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: While there are some improvements that can be made, Halo: Infinite is a return to form for the storied FPS franchise.

Read our full Halo: Infinite review.

Hitman 3

Publisher: IO Interactive
Developer: IO Interactive
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Series S, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Hitman 3 brings to a close one of gaming's great trilogies with one last display of immaculate level design and intoxicating mood from IO Interactive.

Read our full Hitman 3 review.


Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Move over Civilization, there's a new strategy sheriff in town, and it's called Humankind. Amplitude Studios knocked this out of the park.

Read our full Humankind review.

It Takes Two

Publisher: EA
Developer: Hazelight Studios
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Series S, PC, PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: It Takes Two is the culmination of a decade of novel co op gaming ideas, and that makes it one of 2021's best games no matter what else comes out.

Read our full It Takes Two review.

Judgment Remastered

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryo Ga Gotoku Studio
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Judgment remastered is a fine return for 2019’s Yakuza spin-off. Though all of its changes are purely technical, it's the best version of this detective thriller.

Read our full Judgment Remastered review.

Jurassic World Evolution 2

Publisher: Frontier Developments
Developer: Frontier Developments
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Jurassic World Evolution 2 builds on the foundation of its predecessor to create a memorable and addictive park management sim.

Read our full Jurassic World Evolution 2 review.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Publisher: Ember Lab
Developer: Ember Lab
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Kena Bridge of Spirits is a charming adventure that packs a ton of heart, as well as a wealth of engaging systems.

Read our full Kena: Bridge of Spirits review.

King of Fighters 14: Ultimate Edition

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SNK
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: King of Fighters 14 Ultimate Edition really is just the original game with all the DLC automatically added. There’s no other change to the base game. If you missed it the first time around, this is still a fine way to get into the series.

Read our full King of Fighters 14: Ultimate Edition review.

Last Stop

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Variable State
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Variable State rejects one-hit-wonder status with its long-awaited follow-up, Last Stop, a game that feels equal parts arthouse and blockbuster.

Read our full Last Stop review.

Little Nightmares 2

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Little Nightmares 2 is bigger and better than the original, offering up a larger world to explore and all new enemies waiting to devour you.

Read our full Little Nightmares 2 review.


Publisher: SmashGames
Developer: Sean Young
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Littlewood's warm setting, deep customization, and endearing characters make it one of the better farm-sims on Nintendo Switch.

Read our full Littlewood review.

Loop Hero

Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Four Quarters
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Loop Hero blends a number of influences and ideas for a time-bending adventure that's familiar but refreshing.

Read our full Loop Hero review.

Mario Golf: Super Rush

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Between all of the positives on offer in Mario Golf: Super Rush, it's hard to find a complaint for anyone looking to play this in a way that you'd expect from other titles in Nintendo's Switch catalog. Even if things could be a little deeper or more difficult, this game is just too much good, old-fashioned fun to let those things get in the way. 

Read our full Mario Golf: Super Rush review.

Mario Party Superstars

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: NDcube
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Mario Party Superstars is the best of classic Mario Party in one package, and it's just as glorious as it's ever been.

Read our full Mario Party Superstars review.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is a surprisingly compelling single-player adventure that packs in some real emotion, despite a few shortcomings.

Read our full Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy review.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition

Publisher: EA
Developer: Bioware
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Though it shows its age in spots, Mass Effect is still as mesmerizing today as it ever was. The Legendary Edition is a fully-featured revival of one of gaming's greatest stories.

Read our full Mass Effect Legendary Edition review.

Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition

Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: 4A Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS5, Xbox Series X|S
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Metro Exodus is back in a high-octane enhanced edition to push your new gaming hardware to the limit. For newcomers eager to put their new hardware through its paces, this is both a visual wonder and a generally great game.

Read our full Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition review.

Metroid Dread

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Mercury Steam
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Metroid finally returns with a new sequel, and it’s exactly what we expect from the series. It’s a fine return to form for Samus with a huge world to explore but definitely doesn’t reinvent the wheel.

Read our full Metroid Dread review.

MLB The Show 21

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment 
Developer: Sony San Diego Studio
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Series X|S
Rating: 8/10

What we said: MLB The Show 21 isn't as flashy as its cover star. Lacking many overhauls to its modes, this year's game focuses on a decent laissez-faire story mode, a cool new Stadium Creator, and more of the superb baseball sim gameplay that has earned the series its reputation as one of the best Sony exclusives. 

Read our full MLB The Show 21 review.

Monster Hunter Rise

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Monster Hunter Rise as it stands might be one of the easiest games in the series, but it's also one of the most flexible and ultimately satisfying in each and every regard, and for that, it deserves full marks.

Read our full Monster Hunter Rise review.

My Friend Peppa Pig

Publisher: Outright Games
Developer: Petoons Studio
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC, PS4, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: My Friend Peppa has the unenviable task of convincing parents their young kids deserve video games. For the families that don't shy from the medium, this is a delightful new way to play together.

Read our full My Friend Peppa Pig review.

NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22474487139 ... 

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: NieR Replicant Ver. 1.22474487139 is an upgraded version of the original NieR, and it improves on almost all aspects to offer something for both newcomers and veterans alike.

Read our full NieR Replicant review.


Publisher: Noiseminded
Developer: Noiseminded
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Sometimes we wake from a dream and wish we could recall its details. Sometimes we're trapped in a nightmare and wish we could wake at all. Nightslink feels like a bit of both.

Read our full Nightslink review.

New Pokemon Snap

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: New Pokemon Snap delights at every turn, offsetting a grindy mid-game with a parade of charming Pokemon in this cozy on-rails photo adventure.

Read our full New Pokemon Snap review.

NEO: The World Ends With You

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: NEO: The World Ends with You is everything a fan of the series could ever ask for in a sequel. This isn’t just only the best JRPG released in 2021 so far, but perhaps one of the best games this year, period. It’s simply incredible.

Read our full NEO: The World Ends With You review.

Nioh Collection

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Team Ninja
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Nioh Collection brings two of the most satisfying last-gen games to next-gen, offering improvements both new and returning players are sure to love.

Read our full Nioh Collection review.

Pac-Man 99

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Arika
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Pac-Man 99 follows deftly in the footsteps of Nintendo’s Tetris 99 to provide a near-perfect multiplayer Pac experience.

Read our Pac-Man 99 review.

Persona 5 Strikers

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Atlus
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Persona 5 Strikers is a fantastic sequel to the original game. It's fun, stylish, and sleek, a road trip to remember.

Read our full Persona 5 Strikers review.

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: ILCA
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Despite some rough edges, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are the best of modern and classic Pokemon.

Read our full review of Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl.

Psychonauts 2

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Double Fine
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Psychonauts 2 is a brilliant, thoughtful sequel and one of the most creative experiences of the last generation.

Read our full Psychonauts 2 review.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Insomniac Games
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed)
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is an exemplary PS5 game, showing full well what the system is capable of — all while masterfully reviving a beloved series for the new generation.

Read our full Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart review.

Resident Evil Village

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Resident Evil Village has some of the biggest scares in the series to date, but it also has a peculiar feel to it, like a lot of story and gameplay was chopped out before launch.

Read our full Resident Evil Village review.

Resident Evil 4 VR

Publisher: Oculus Studios
Developer: Armature Studio
Platforms: Oculus Quest (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Resident Evil 4 VR is a brilliant port of an already fantastic game and the ideal way to experience Capcom's classic.

Read our full Resident Evil 4 VR review.


Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Housemarque
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Returnal is a tightly designed roguelike with some of the best gameplay the genre can provide, and it's the first game since Demon's Souls to provide a reason to own a PS5.

Read our full Returnal review.

Riders Republic

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Stadia, Amazon Luna
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Riders Republic boasts an open world full of exciting challenges, scenic views, and the freedom to tackle anything as you wish, making it a surprise hit for 2021.

Read our full Riders Republic review.

SaGa Frontier Remastered

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: You'll be hard-pressed to find many RPGs that are so enthralling from a combat and mechanical perspective, that suck you in with a myriad of questions about more than just story and ultimately compel you to do it again and again. 

Read our full SaGa Frontier Remastered review.

Scarlet Nexus

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X|S
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Scarlet Nexus is slick, stylish, smartly executed, and just all-around cool.

Read our full Scarlet Nexus review.


Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: Flying Oak Games
Platforms: PS Vita (reviewed), PC, Xbox One, Switch
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Like so many indies before it, roguelike Scourgebringer has found its true home on the PlayStation Vita. 

Read our full Scourgebringer review.

Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne Remastered

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Atlus
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Shin Megami Tensei 3 remastered might show its age in some places, but its narrative excellence remains unaltered.

Read our full Shin Megami 3: Nocturne Remastered review.

Shin Megami Tensei V

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Atlus
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Shin Megami Tensei V is a triumph, boasting a stellar narrative and combat system with unique style all its own.

Read our full Shin Megami Tensei V review.

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon

Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Vine
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon brings one of the best puzzle games of the year while staying true to its roots.

Read our full Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon review.

Skul: The Hero Slayer

Publisher: Neowiz Games
Developer: SouthPAW Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: As endearing as it is challenging, Skul: The Hero Slayer takes the rogue-lite mechanics you know and adds some flair of its own and a unique take on the fantasy narrative.

Read our full Skul: The Hero Slayer review.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2

Publisher: CI Games
Developer: CI Games
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 delivers one of the best shooters of the year, with intense sniping, skillfully crafted progression, and engaging levels.

Read our full Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 review.

Solar Ash

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Heart Machine
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Solar Ash is a complete package, with stellar gameplay, a well-told story, and a realized world ripe for exploring.

Read our full Solar Ash review.

Song of Horror (Console Edition)

Publisher: Raiser Games
Developer: Protocol Games
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Whereas so many modern indie horror games can feel like on-rails haunted hayrides, Song of Horror keeps players on their toes.

Read our full Song of Horror review.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Publisher: Aspyr
Developer: Aspyr
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Overall, KOTOR on Nintendo Switch is well worth picking up. Not only is it relatively cheap at $15, it's still one of the very best RPGs you can play. And it's high on the list of the best Star Wars games available. There's a reason people want more KOTOR.

Read our full KOTOR Switch review.

Subnautica: Below Zero

Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The follow-up to Subnautica offers more of the same intriguing mix of gorgeous underwater exploration, survival and crafting, and fascinating alien intrigue. 

Read our full Subnautica: Below Zero review.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 10/10

What we said: With some of the cleverest level designs and a boundless sense of joy, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury is essential playing for any Mario fan.

Read our full Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury review.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is the best of classic Monkey Ball with some fantastic new touches to keep things interesting, though accessibility takes a back seat in these remakes.

Read our full Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania review.

Tails of Iron

Publisher: United Label
Developer: Odd Bug Studio
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Out of humble materials, Odd Bug Studios have created a rich, beautiful, and thrilling fantasy world in Tails of Iron.

Read our full Tails of Iron review.

Tales of Arise

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Tales of Arise heralds a brilliant new dawn for the series and is one of the best RPGs of the last generation.

Read our full Tales of Arise review.

The Artful Escape

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Beethoven & Dinosaur
Platforms: Xbox Series X (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Rating: 8/10

What we said: The Artful Escape is a kaleidoscopic coming-of-age story that is a joy to move through, even if the actual gameplay is sometimes hardly there.

Read our full review for The Artful Escape.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 10/10

What we said: Despite a few pacing issues, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles takes the series to new heights with its splendid characters, storytelling, and setting.

Read our full Great Ace Attorney Chronicles review.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Tantalus Media
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Skyward Sword HD on Switch still suffers from backtracking and gimmicks, but its clever dungeons and engaging narrative make it one of the best games in the series.

Read our full Skyward Sword HD review.


Publisher: Thorium
Developer: Thorium
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: UnderMine on Switch is a strong, quirky roguelike full of personality that strikes a healthy balance between challenge and accessibility.

Read our full UnderMine review.


Publisher: Humble Bundle
Developer: Witch Beam
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Unpacking is simple in concept but complex, interesting, and ultimately meditative in execution. Simply put, it's delightful.

Read our full Unpacking review.

Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Switch
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars is a quaint game that doesn't bring anything exceptionally new to the genre, but it is undeniably charming.

Read our full Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars review.

WarioWare: Get It Together

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platforms: Switch (reviewed)
Rating: 9/10

What we said: WarioWare: Get It Together is probably one of the best and most frantic multiplayer games on the Nintendo Switch.

Read our full WarioWare: Get It Together review.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Heart of the Forest

Publisher: Walkabout
Developer: Different Tales
Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: 8/10

What we said: A well-done and intelligent choose your own text adventure set in the venerable World of Darkness Werewolf RPG universe makes for a satisfying bit of interactive fiction.

Read our full Heart of the Forest review

Wraith: The Oblivion — Afterlife

Publisher: Fast Travel Games
Developer: Fast Travel Games
Platforms: Oculus Quest (reviewed), PC, PS4
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Wraith: The Oblivion — Afterlife is a thrilling VR horror game that engrosses on a level not seen since last year's Half-Life: Alyx Jeff sequence.

Read our full Wraith: The Oblivion — Afterlife review.


Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PS4, PC, Xbox One, Series X|S, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 8/10

What we said: Wreckfest is back with a fine next-gen port, going that extra mile with some wonderfully chaotic gameplay.

Read our full Wreckfest review.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox

Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Switch, Stadia
Rating: 9/10

What we said: Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is an outstanding RPG and a big step forward for Ys, with superb story, combat, and characters — plus one of the best settings in the series.

Read our full Ys IX: Monstrum Nox review.

That's it for our list of the best, highest-scored games of 2021. What were your favorite games? Let us know in the comments below! 

Stay Here: An Interview With the Creators of Before Your Eyes Mon, 08 Nov 2021 09:54:58 -0500 Mark Delaney

Though several weeks and a few major video game launches remain on the 2021 release calendar, I can't imagine any of them affecting me as much as GoodbyeWorld Games' Before Your Eyes. It arose out of nowhere for me after I learned of it via word-of-mouth in the springtime from another outlet's glowing review.

As it turns out, that word-of-mouth would continue to spread like wildfire following its release in April. Today, Before Your Eyes is widely considered a surprise Game of the Year candidate among those who have played it. That's owed to its novel gameplay concept of webcam-enabled blinking to advance time, as well as its gut-punch of a story that seems to devastate anyone who finds it.

Recently, I was able to chat with two of the game's developers, Lead Writer and Creative Director, Graham Parkes, as well as Game Director and Composer, Oliver Lewin. During our hour-long talk, we touched on the seven-year journey of Before Your Eyes, whether its intended emotional turmoil is ever numbed by working so closely on it, and more. 

*Note: There are spoilers ahead! If you haven't played Before Your Eyes, do that first, then come back.*

Before Your Eyes is just a 90-minute game, and yet it took seven years between concept and launch on PC and Mac earlier this year. The project, Parkes told me, was born out of a senior capstone at USC by Goodbyeworld Games founder, Will Hellwarth. Hellwarth plotted the initial concept of telling a story where time advances when the player blinks in an introduction to game dev class. Parkes and Lewin joined Hellwarth to mold the concept into something playable.

Then a funny thing happened: The game, back then titled Close Your, started to win awards. First, a Developer's Choice Award at IndieCade 2014, then Best Student Game at Independent Games Festival the following year.

Together, the group felt like they had their "entry into the scene," Lewin said, and the fact that they found themselves "brushing shoulders with a lot of people that we looked up to was very inspiring. Like, I remember seeing Austin Wintory walking around, like, 'Oh, cool. One of the coolest composers there is.'"

The early successes helped keep the game afloat, at least as an idea.

"It's not like we were seven years full-time working on this," Parkes told me. "Off of those two awards, we said, 'We don't want to stop working on this thing.'" But its small beginnings meant people had to move on to some extent, find other work. "We wanted to keep it alive. So we did a Kickstarter."

The 2016 Kickstarter looked like a success — it finished about $10,000 over its base goal of $25,000 in pledges — but Parkes said the team bit off much more than it could chew, "like a lot of Kickstarter projects."

"The plan was to kind of complete it on nights and weekends and kind of, you know, do the real indie bootstrap thing with it," he added. But things always got in the way. After receiving financial investment in 2018, presumably from eventual publisher Skybound Games, the team was able to hire people on a full-time basis and commit wholeheartedly to the already four-year-old project.

Three years later, the game would launch after two name changes — the second name, Coda, was already earning buzz as an unrelated indie film, causing the game devs to ditch the name. Poetically, the project that would come to be known as Before Your Eyes once more took home some hardware from IndieCade, the 2021 Jury Prix. 

With the award show serving as unintentional bookends to the game's evolution, I asked the pair how they think about its success this year after they spent the better part of a decade working on it, especially as Before Your Eyes continues to garner Game of the Year consideration from countless outlets.

"I never expected that we'd be in a position where like, every day, there'd be emails from people sometimes that are quite lengthy," Lewin told me. "And some of them are very personal. And so we're grateful for that, as creators, you know, the generosity on behalf of some of our fans telling us why it resonated with them so much."

The developers also spoke to going down the rabbit hole of fan reactions given that Before Your Eyes is so stream-friendly, which I myself know very well, as I've made a months-long habit out of watching streamers play through the final few heart-wrenching moments.

"It's kind of a treasure trove, you know," Lewin said."Whether it's YouTube comments or the [Twitch] chat room, or just listening to streamers kind of express their opinions as they're playing. Because you learn new things, or you're reminded of things that are years old, that you kind of forgot about."

"It was a pretty magical first week, like, Twitch became kind of where we all were living," Parkes added, contrasting the launch of the team's first game with that of a movie from his filmmaking background. "Even if you make a movie, you go to a screening. It's not like you have a camera on every audience member's face. There's something about putting a game out in the world where you get to literally see the effects that your work has, like on a micro-level on people's emotions."

"I don't think we expected it," said Lewin, sharing an anecdote that captured the game's earliest, and ultimately trendsetting, hours in the public.

"Right after it launched [at 5 a.m. local time], one of us checked Twitch and was like, 'Oh, there's someone streaming the game.' And we were like, 'This is amazing. We get to watch someone play it. Let's see if there are any bugs.' Then kind of towards the end, it was like, 'Wait there's another person playing. I'm gonna go check out that person's stream.' And it was kind of non-stop, and we all just kind of got addicted." 

While that launch period was one of elation, working on such a sad game for so many years might eventually numb one to the experience they're trying to craft, but the duo explained how they were able to rediscover that somberness at various moments during development.

"It definitely comes in waves. You lose your objectivity, and then you get hit by it fresh again," Lewin told me. "Like when you do the recording sessions, you're sitting in there with the headphones on and you hear the actors bringing life to it in a way that you hadn't foreseen or been prepared for. It's like it's hitting you: 'Damn, you know, I was just in this funeral scene, tweaking things for hours, and I'm feeling sad.'"

Parkes echoed the sentiment and commended the performances from the pair of real-life friends that portray the story's parents, Sarah Burns and Eric Edelstein. "I just sort of knew that whatever I wrote, we'd go into a very kind of, you know, safe space, and we'd be able to workshop it, and they'd bring themselves to it," he said, revealing that he wrote the parts specifically for the pair.

But how does one write characters who know they will outlive their child? As a parent of two, I likened the experience to watching a horror movie, where I am blanketed by the fact that it's all for show. I can grapple with it in that moment, then return to my kids, who are fortunately healthy. But for the writer, it's a long and arduous task to deliver those crucial scenes with the necessary devastation, even as Before Your Eyes tries to let a little light in too.

"When you realize that the story is going there, you kind of, as a writer, you get a little scared. 'Am I gonna be able to pull this off?'" admitted Parkes, who added that his own time spent sick and bedridden as a kid was there for him to draw from, even as his experiences were never as dire as protagonist Benjamin Brynn's.

Though so much can be said about its inventive webcam gameplay, for me the greatness of Before Your Eyes is best represented in one late scene.

When you are about 10 minutes away from Benny closing his eyes for good, you rejoin him and his ferryman companion. The ferryman rows him through a non-denominational version of an afterlife, toward a Gatekeeper that resembles Benny's childhood pet. The ferryman, who will be judged as well based on the strength of the stories he brings to the gatekeeper, bellows out the true story of Benjamin Brynn for the first and only time.

"Gatekeeper, before you sits the soul of a child who died before he could grow old." He continues, but it's that exact moment that hit me in the gut when I first played it. It's torn me up all year, really, and it's that moment I've sought out regularly online like some sort of cathartic high. I'll find a streamer's VOD and cut to the 80 or so minute marker in the playthrough. Then I watch as they fall apart on camera, just as I did when I reviewed the game back in April.

For me, that moment is the most beautiful part, because it's when we can no longer evade the story's tragic reality. Some players can surely see disaster coming but don't yet have it all cleared up, while others are certainly less sure what they've seen to that point. But in that moment, there are no more mysteries.

"The way Graham wrote [the ferryman] is that he's also on his own kind of journey," Lewin said, "because he's nervous about his performance and his kind of big moment on stage, so to speak. And while you're kind of full-throttle, recognizing the realities and the kind of tragedies of the story at that moment, he's kind of coming into his own."

"[Voice actor Steven Friedrich] played it with no preciousness," added Graham, "no sense of underlying underlining the sentiment with that character. I do think that sometimes you kind of want to leave it up to interpretation. At that point, you just want to tell people what's going on. And that might be a moment of that, where it's just like, you know what's been happening, but you haven't maybe fully processed it, and then that line kind of helps you. It helps it sink in."

There's no alternate, happier ending in Before Your Eyes, which according to Google Trends, is not what many players hoped to hear. The story of Benjamin, through whose eyes we see from infancy until his death 11 years later, and with a host of imagined happier moments in between, ends when his unnamed terminal illness takes his life in his bedroom as he's surrounded by his family.

Why end the game on such a brutal blow, especially when the story to that point offered some branching paths and was once envisioned to feature even more of them? 

"This story was always going to end the way that it did," Parkes told me. "Most games are about empowering you. And this is about taking power away. And it is sort of about humbling yourself to the fact that you're gonna have to blink eventually, you're gonna have to die eventually."

"Tragedy is practice for what might befall us in life," he added, quoting Aristotle. Thus Before Your Eyes is, as the team sees it, "a test run for death." 

Weird West Preview: Why We're Excited For This Occult Western Wed, 03 Nov 2021 10:37:26 -0400 Mark Delaney

The immersive sim genre is a strange one. Those who know it by name are often obsessive fans who will replay their favorite genre games to keep toying with the malleable worlds. Despite that, it remains a difficult term to define.

Weird West is an upcoming indie take on the immersive sim, but it comes from a team comprised of former AAA vets who worked on Dishonored and Prey, two of the finest takes on the slippery genre to date. So it should be to no one's surprise that it's looking quite fine itself.

After a few hours with an early build of the game, I've fired off a six-shooter of things that caught my attention in the promising preview. Here's why I'm excited for the WolfEye debut, Weird West.

The Pedigree

Weird West comes from WolfEye, but this is the small, distributed team's first game. While that necessitates an introduction, the team's past works need no such thing. Raphael Colantonio, former President and Creative Director of Arkane Studios, founded the team alongside Julien Roby, former producer at Arkane, and industry vet Binu Philip, COO.

Collectively, the team's penchant for immersive sims and games with deep systems is on display early and often with Weird West, and as this is a genre that lives and dies primarily on level design, I'm excited to see this team put their expertise to use on a more focused scale such as this.

The Environments

As the game opens with the death of your son and the kidnapping of your husband, you'd think Weird West is set to be a bloodsoaked vengeance quest, but it doesn't have to be. Just like Dishonored and Prey before it, Weird West gives players hub-like levels full of enemies, but also ripe with opportunities.

Do you create a distraction then sneak in the back door? Do you pick off enemies one by one, hiding their bodies in the tall grass? Maybe you set off a chain reaction that gets all the enemies in one spot only to shoot out a lantern near an oil slick, allowing you to burn them all away.

Level design is what those Arkane games do best (truly better than anyone, in my opinion), and Weird West looks to recreate some of that magic even from an angled perspective. It looks different, but it's still so satisfying to take one's time with an encounter and get things exactly right.

The Combat

Going hand-in-hand with those elaborate environments is the combat, which, after a tutorialized introduction, really opens up to reveal the extent of your abilities. Unlocking major new powers thanks to Weird West's occult leanings adds a surreal twist to it all, but even the good old-fashioned shootouts provide excitement.

That's because enemies, even in this unfinished build, act with a killer instinct. It will be wise to sneak around for as long as you can in Weird West. Every time I blew my cover in a dense area, I was quickly overcome by a swarm of enemies, some of whom wasted no time flanking me with shotguns.

The almost RTS-like UI will keep you informed of your aim and damage, but it's purely up to you to stay on your feet by planning ahead — and acting swiftly when the plan falls apart. 

The Setting

Though I've placed it here in the middle of this list, I'd say the setting is actually my favorite part of Weird West so far. I'm a sucker for when two genres collide (It's a heist movie and a Christmas movie? Reindeer Games rules!), so the blend of mysticism and westerns in both thematic and aesthetic elements has been nothing short of eye-popping.

The central enemy faction wears burlap over their heads like twisted serial killers, cannibals roam the land, and even fiercer monsters are hinted at for the full game. Weird West does a lot with surely far fewer resources than some on the team are used to, and this is most evident in the world-building. It feels expertly crafted as the dark centerpiece to a game already doing a lot right.

The Music

Even before I properly started Weird West, I had my suspicions that it was going to be interesting. Part of that is because of the pedigree I mentioned. But another reason for that is the music. The trailer embedded above gives a good taste of it. It brilliantly captures Weird West's dual sensibilities: the walk-tall western and its touches of occult mysticism.

I love it so much that as soon as I booted it up, I reached out to ask the team that provided the code whether we could expect a soundtrack release (no word on that yet, by the way). WolfEye's website mentions that audio is a point of emphasis, and in the team's debut game, it shows.

The Hints of More to Come

In my demo time with Weird West, I was able to play through the story of bounty hunter Jane Bell, but the full game will offer five playable characters, each with their own tale to tell. This approach ensures variety, and also seems to suggest some crossover.

I'd love it if, by the end of Weird West, we can look back and recall how each of these characters, seemingly living disparate lives in the early going, actually affected each other's stories directly and indirectly. With more monsters to discover, more anti-heroes to emerge, and more tragedies to befall the characters of Weird West, I can't wait to see how it all comes together.

Weird West arrives on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms on January 11, 2022.

Unpacking Review: Making a House a Home Mon, 01 Nov 2021 13:00:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

It's been said that moving from one home to another is among the most stressful events a person can experience in their life, even ranking ahead of things like divorce or having a child. Therefore, a game that is essentially just about moving shouldn't be as stress-reducing as Unpacking ultimately is.

With an intuitive and forgiving central mechanic that turns the stress of moving into a surprisingly immersive puzzle game with few wrong answers, Witch Beam's pixel-art indie is my new favorite game to turn to when all I want is to do unwind.

Unpacking Review: Making a House a Home

In Unpacking, you unpack. On the surface, it's that simple. In each level, you're given a room, or set of rooms, in a house full of cardboard boxes and most furnishings already in place. You open the boxes one by one, put away the contents in a way that makes sense, and move on to the next room.

The game begins in 1997 in a children's room, and in time, you'll come to understand you're following one character through their life. From adolescence through college, in and out of relationships, and eventually deep into adulthood, this unnamed, unseen, unvoiced character is a unique kind of protagonist, one whom you learn about entirely from environmental clues.

Unpacking their belongings thus tells an understated story, and I came to appreciate early and often how smartly Unpacking performs this feat. In the earliest level, the character has a stuffed pig among several other such toys. As they grow up, perhaps some toys don't make the trip to their dorm or their first apartment, but you come to understand the importance of the pig and why it survives every transition when little else does.

A small bedroom with moving boxes, a computer, and a pink pig on a bed.

In its subtle delivery, the diorama-like levels become museum exhibits to a life you watch from the sidelines. You'll have a direct hand in how and where things are put away, and there aren't many wrong answers.

You can't stack the pots and pans in the home office, of course, but do you display your favorite books or stuff them away in a spacious cabinet? Do you neatly divide the GameCube games from the DVDs, or do you just shovel them onto a bookshelf with your leftover knick-knacks from childhood?

This process is remarkably meditative and allows for a real flow state to be achieved as you become more familiar with where things should be put away and how you'd like to present yourself to the world. It's seriously peaceful, aided by retro visuals and calming music on a long loop.

Admittedly, while Unpacking's pixel-ish style look is gorgeous (it reminds me greatly of the Backyard Sports series), I did have a hard time identifying a few items on occasion. Like the soft, static visuals, the original musical score invites quiet sessions where you can experiment to make the perfect house or just toy with the items like a modeling figure that can sit, stand, or dab.

In my favorite instance of the central mechanic, you'll come to better appreciate what it means to share a space with someone.

When we do it ourselves, we maybe can't see that transition happen so plainly, but as the unseen hand guiding the character in Unpacking, watching two worlds collide in a shared apartment becomes an infinitely fascinating look at what it means to give up some of yourself for another person.

A living room with moving boxes, a tv, and a yellow dress.

You may have wanted to use a shelf for your books, but what if your partner had plans to keep their potted plants there? Will your colorful disarray of mugs and dishware ft in with the neat-freak set of perfectly placed and matching plates? How might you share a physical space without losing too much of yourself?

These are questions to ask and not answer, and I like it that way. It's interesting both in the moment and in between sessions with the roughly 4-5 hour play time. As a married father of two, I find myself looking around with new eyes at how we've all managed to allow others to reinterpret our living space in ways we'd not have thought of ourselves.

Things can lose their zen-like powers when later levels open up to large, two-story houses with six or more rooms, but even then, if you can focus on one room at a time, you'll get there. As a nod to reality, sometimes the boxes you'll have in a room will contain things for other rooms too. Emptied out a full bedroom and still missing a shoe? Check the bathroom.

These minor details make Unpacking so very charming that even the more complex houses don't ever scare me off entirely. It's just sometimes, as in real life, I can merely throw my hands up at a mess and say I'll get to it later.

Unpacking Review — The Bottom Line

A small kitchen with a drawer open and kitchen utensils.


  • Unique and surprisingly tranquil central mechanic
  • Lovely visuals and music set the mood
  • A story told creatively through static environments


  • Occasionally difficult to determine what some items are

Unpacking is something I play when other games are too stressful or busy to suit my mood. It's a concept I'd never have thought would make for such a rewarding experience, but beyond its simple premise is a story of interesting people and gameplay that inventively combines the homemaking of The Sims with the light-puzzling of a point-and-click.

It'll be most appreciated by players who already like that sort of stuff, but I believe its more relaxed tempo can be a brilliant way to unwind if real-world stressors can't be undone by more bombastic games.

[Note: Humble Games provided the copy of Unpacking used for this review.]

Chorus Preview: Almost on Key Fri, 24 Sep 2021 14:34:20 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Some of the best musical compositions ever made subvert expectation, melding the recognizable with the unexpected. Perhaps it’s something as simple as a change in meter or a layering of effects that makes it memorable. Maybe it’s a complex instrumental arrangement or time signature.

It may seem strange to begin a preview of Fishlabs’ upcoming space shooter, Chorus, talking about music. Still, as the name suggests, its development process was directly informed by the ebbs and flows of melody.

This isn’t a rhythm game, to be clear, but there is a tempo to its combat that feels like a musical ballet of bullets, lasers, and rockets, underpinned by a refrain of narrative mystery that exudes the supernatural.

Oh, and its actual soundtrack is pretty terrific, too.

So far, Chorus feels like it could be a hits compilation of multiple genres if it ultimately hits the notes right. That remains to be seen, though I’ve come away from a recent hands-on preview build of the game excited to see more. 

Chorus Preview: Almost on Key

Chorus takes place in a universe that could be called post-apocalyptic, where the usual vectors of famine, disease, and war have pushed humans to the brink, causing them to look for answers and direction in anything that will give it to them. Those things are found in The Circle, a cult that promises to set things right and achieve a new “harmony,” as members of the development team put it.

Of course, things don’t go as planned (or perhaps they go exactly as planned), and The Circle takes full advantage of its powerful position, subjugating the inhabitants of the galaxy to nothing short of tyrannical rule.

Calling to mind shades of Anakin Skywalker post Revenge of the Sith, a powerful “Chosen One” named Nara acts as The Cult’s arbiter of terror, using her preternatural abilities and a sentient ship called Forsaken to quell rebellions and destroy worlds. But the galactic harmony is off, and something pushes Nara to ultimately rebel against The Circle, placing her directly in their crosshairs.

The traumas from this era of her life seem to be at the core of the game’s narrative. Nara can’t escape what she’s done, and her internal conflict plays out through dialog segments between her and Forsaken, as well as in her own mind. It’s unclear where the story is headed ultimately — or how the inclusion of the alien Faceless and their space-temples ties in outside of bestowing Nara her powers, called Rights — but so far, it reminds of both Hellblade and Control in its presentation.

Considering the development team consistently refers to the feeling of Chorus as “shamanistic,” I’m interested to see how deeply the final build delves into these concurrent themes of trauma and mysticism.

Regardless, things won’t always be linear narratively. Some missions and subquests present choice-based decisions, where actions can have rippling effects throughout the story. In one preview mission, I could briefly ally with a pirate faction to help escort refugees through Circle space, or I could destroy them on site. Letting them live proved helpful in the immediate term but disastrous in a later questline.

The semi-open world of the game will indeed play into this as well. Locations are self-contained within the larger galactic map (think hubs), but they’re vast, open, and peppered with sub-areas. You’ll have the freedom to explore these places — with asteroids, mining installations, warp gates, and small cities — to uncover hidden items and currency, as well as take on side missions.

The core of any space shooter, though, is the flying and shooting itself. So far, both take a bit of getting used to, even if they excel the more you play. Banking, in particular, is non-existent, which leads to a strangely restrictive inertia during flight. Its absence creates a discombobulating effect in and out of combat, where the camera compensates for it but doesn’t immediately re-orient when coming out of a turn.

This can be fixed with the press of a button, though it’s cumbersome to pull off in a dogfight against dozens of ships, where you’re dipping and diving at a rapid pace. The development team said that there is an auto-orientation feature to take care of this on its own, but it didn’t seem to work as well (or as quickly) as it should in my preview time.

The most interesting and unique aspect of movement, however, is the ship’s Drift ability. This allows Forsaken to glide in a single direction while firing in another. On paper and in practice, it reshapes the strategy of space combat and leads to some unique and compelling tactics that make you feel like a maverick space pilot.

Forsaken can also barrel roll, loop, dodge, and boost to evade fire and comes equipped with three weapons — a Gatling Gun, a laser, and a rocket launcher — all of which come in different rarities with different buffs and traits that you can unlock throughout the game. Ammo is unlimited, too, which adds to the semi-arcadey feel Fishlabs seems to be going for (it’s nice not seeking out ammo resupply after every encounter).

Shooting itself is tight and responsive on controller, though slightly floaty using mouse and keyboard. I appreciate the latter, as it allows for more precise crosshair movement without as much maneuvering, where turrets feel like they’re on a swivel. But a lack of inversion controls for mice specifically (they exist for controller) kept me from truly giving the input method a more extended test.

There isn’t a lock-on mechanic here, as there is in other games like Star War: Squadrons, though its absence didn’t make dogfighting any more difficult since there are symbols at the edges of the screen to keep track of target ship locations (again a la Squadrons).

The missing function did, however, make targeting stationary objectives like turrets and enemy hangars more cumbersome, especially when the camera was tilted at a 45-degree angle. Coming to a full-stop or bumping into structures was a common occurrence in these situations.

Nara also has abilities that aid in combat, such as what’s essentially a teleportation skill called Rite of the Hunt. This allows you to keep up with fast-moving targets or warp to specific objectives to get out of the line of fire.

It’s a neat ability that is almost like a get-out-of-jail-free card that stops short of being a full-on cheat code… when it works. After a few hours of play, I’m still unsure of when or how often it can be used despite being briefed on how it should work in-game.

Despite some of my overall reservations, Chorus has potential and more systems at work than I’ve covered in this preview or was able to experience going hands-on.

The story so far is compelling if nebulous. The environments are pretty and convey the vastness of space, though I hope there's more variation. And the combat is fun and exhilarating once you come to grips with it, but a lock-on system would be nice.

That's a lot of caveats, sure. And I am concerned that some hurdles in the combat department could dissuade some players from sticking with Chorus. There's a definite way it wants to be played. I'd be lying if I didn't admit understanding some of its mechanics is frustrating. But I'd also be lying if I said I didn't have fun. 

How this all comes together in harmony remains to be seen, but we’ll find out soon enough. Chorus releases on December 3 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, and Stadia.

[Note: Fishlabs provided the copy of Chorus used for this preview.]

The Artful Escape Review: Coming-of-Stage Wed, 08 Sep 2021 12:00:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

A few weeks ago, I polled people on Twitter regarding Wes Anderson because I was wondering how they feel about the quirky director. Most respondents came down with positive opinions, but what I didn't say then was that the poll was intended to inform this review.

The Artful Escape feels a lot like a Wes Anderson movie. Its characters speak with a strangeness that, to them, is nothing but sincere. The jokes are dry and sometimes a bit highbrow. Everyone is dressed as if they're enrolled in prep school.

But this space rock-infused coming-of-age story does not merely seek to play off the director's signature style. It takes all of those quirks and throws them through a nebula of magnificent colors, characters, and heart, coming out the other side something new and memorable in its own right.

The Artful Escape Review: Coming-of-Stage

Francis Vendetti lives in Calypso, Colorado, a quiet town that holds perhaps just one notable characteristic: it was home to the late folk-rock hero, Johnson Vendetti, a character who is clearly meant to look and sound like Bob Dylan. Francis is propped up by the town as the second coming of their local legend, but the young man isn't so sure.

While musically gifted like his uncle, Francis is just about buckling under the pressure put on him by family, friends, and even strangers. Posters for his first gig more prominently feature a picture of his uncle, who is dead, than it does Francis, who is the headliner for the show.

For Francis, the expectations are monumental, and so on the eve of his big show, Francis tosses and turns until he finds his subconscious drifting off to a trippy sci-fi world full of rocking aliens, adoring fans, and the freedom for any young person to become who they want to be, not who they've been told to be.

While the game's almost papercraft visual style is immediately awesome, it's when Francis' mind travels to this extraterrestrial world that it really becomes mind-blowing. The Artful Escape is among the most visually striking games I've ever played — certainly earning the superlative in the category for 2021 at least.

In its 2D style, The Artful Escape ventures to numerous alien worlds, with no two locations ever displaying the same look, yet none are ever less than jaw-dropping. Aided by the way players can riff on Francis' guitar at will virtually always, awakening rowdy denizens and glowing flora alike, this is a game that will leave players with their mouths agape at the style of it all, but there's plenty of substance too.

Francis' adventure is a pretty traditional coming-of-age story. It's written by the writers with an apparent anxiousness, one determined not to let the story get lost in a whirlpool of colors and shapes. It's pretty clear early on where Francis' story will go, and yet I still loved every minute of it.

Featuring a cast of voice actors that includes some familiar names like Carl Weathers and Jason Schwartzman, this is an Annapurna joint through and through. The rookie studio Beethoven & Dinosaur is led by a former touring artist and space rocker, and the understanding of and love for that world shines through in every lyrical line delivered and every psychedelic scene unfolded.

The Artful Escape is a power fantasy, but not like those many other games give you. Armed only with a guitar, players will battle aliens in jam-bandy tournaments modeled after the electronic party game, Simon. In between, they'll jump, glide, and slide across alien architecture and vibrant exoplanet terrain alike. 

In neither case does the game challenge players much at all. Messing up an instance of this "Simon Says" gameplay is forgiven right away as opponents simply replay their riffs until you play it back right. Fumbling a platforming section teleports you instantly to mere feet from where you were.

It's evident The Artful Escape is more of a mood piece than something designed to challenge most players, but because it's drenched in style and often pretty funny too, I didn't mind the lack of traditional gameplay too much.

Perhaps the easiest aspect of anything considered gameplay is also the best part, and that's choosing dialogue options. Everyone in The Artful Escape talks like a lyric book spilled onto the floor. Often silly, more often epic, Francis' choice of words is meant to instill in him the self-confidence and self-identity he was so sorely lacking in Calypso.

In this alien world, Francis is unshackled by the expectations that were eating away at him. As you piece together his "origin" story for all to hear across the cosmos, Francis will chant your hand-picked name and details like they're magical spells fending off dark spirits. On foreign planets among amorphous blobs of alien life, Francis is the electrifying showman he wants to be, and god damn, does it feel awesome to have a hand in his coming-of-stage tale.

While the game looked lovely on my Series X and is enhanced for the platform on day one, it did suffer one recurring issue that I expect is present on all platforms: occasionally a line of dialogue would be missing audio during a conversation. It wasn't a huge deal, but given how much I enjoyed the characters and story, it was jarring each time it happened.

The Artful Escape Review — The Bottom Line


  • Remarkable visual style
  • Funny, memorable characters
  • A sweet story of self-confidence lost and found


  • Occasionally missing audio during conversations
  • Gameplay in any traditional sense is often hardly there

Though it's a relatively short and easy game, The Artful Escape is also a charming, witty spectacle from start to finish in its six or so hours of playtime. I loved Francis' story and the far-away lands he visits on his quest to believe in himself and write his own future.

I can foresee some players scoffing at the entire project for its particular brand of humor, but expect it will be adored by drama kids, garage rockers, and general outcasts all over. The Artful Escape plays like a psychedelic jam band and tells a story like someone spiked Wes Anderson's Darjeeling tea with a few drops of acid.

[Note: Annapurna Interactive provided the copy of The Artful Escape used for this review.]

Mayhem Brawler Review: The Streets are Only Sort of Annoyed Thu, 19 Aug 2021 10:35:12 -0400 Thomas Wilde

The first time you see Hero Concept's Mayhem Brawler, you might think it's a fan game for Streets of Rage 4. Frankly, that's not an unfair assumption. There's a lot about its presentation and gameplay that makes it come off like it wouldn't exist if SoR4 hadn't done so well. 

That's fine, really. There's always been a small but consistent thread of '90s nostalgia running through indie game development — The Takeover, Fight'N Rage, River City Girls, etc. — and Streets of Rage 4 was always going to hit that scene like a bomb. Mayhem Brawler has, at the very least, chosen its role models correctly.

Mayhem Brawler Review: The Streets are Only Sort of Annoyed

That does make it a hard sell, though. While Mayhem Brawler isn't a one-to-one match to SoR4, it's nowhere near as polished. It's bogged down by a number of petty annoyances, and it's not up to SoR4's high standards, even if I had more fun than I expected running through it with a couple of buddies.

Mayhem Brawler is worth a look if you've played a bunch of other beat'em ups lately and you need just one more to fill that punchy niche in your heart, but there are a lot of other games I'd recommend before cracking into this one. 

In Mayhem City, magic, monsters, and superhumans are all an accepted part of everyday life. When there's a problem, it's handled by Stronghold, a team of empowered police officers that seem to keep the peace through the use of incredible violence.

Its members are Trouble, a bearded dope with claws and a history of excessive force; Dolphin, who is what happens when a pro wrestler and a shark love each other very much; and the social-media-savvy and telekinetic Star.

A disturbance at the docks results in Trouble, Dolphin, and Star busting a smuggling operation, which then leads them to a plot where an unknown force has stolen a deceased superhuman's body with plans to turn her powers into a bomb.

It's an urban fantasy/superhero mashup told through the lens of American comics, with between-level cutscenes shown as hand-drawn, interactive still panels. The conceit is that you're playing through several issues of a comic called Mayhem, with plot branches presented as a choice between two upcoming pieces of cover art.

The gimmick is cool for an arcade game, and the levels are short enough that it gives Mayhem Brawler a fair amount of replay value as you explore all of its stages. The art design also goes out of its way to give every character and environment a lot of individual personality.

It doesn't quite all work, and part of it is just down to international confusion, I think. Mayhem Brawler is clearly supposed to be set somewhere in the United States, but Hero Concept is headquartered in Istanbul, Turkey, and clearly did not have an American do a localization pass on the script.

Some of the jokes are surprisingly funny, like Star's angry Twitter followers (she's trying so hard to be a good role model but her fans are not having it), but others end up as total non-sequitur or don't make any sense at all.

Like that. I have no idea what that's supposed to mean.


The rest of the problems are due to a truly peculiar storytelling choice. All three of the playable characters are experienced super-cops, who constantly refer to past events, old enemies, and supernatural politics like they know the audience has the Lonely Planet guide to Mayhem City open in their lap. You can generally put things together from context, but much of the story ends up feeling like you started a trilogy with its second book.

It plays out like what the American comics community sometimes calls "continuity porn," where it's pitched towards long-time readers and impenetrable to anyone else. And while that's a fairly good way to convey how it felt to read superhero comics in the '90s, it's just strange in a standalone video game.

You Have the Right to Remain Extremely Punchable

The actual gameplay of Mayhem Brawler should be instantly familiar if you've played any '90s, or '90s-styled, beat'em up. You've got a standard attack that leads into a combo string, a rushing attack, and a slap that grabs onto an enemy by moving into them.

Like Streets of Rage 4, every character has a special attack, which gives you a healthy number of invincibility frames on activation. But unlike the aforementioned title, this is governed by a meter under your health bar. That meter refills rapidly if you take damage, and can also be regenerated with pickups like coffee.

The special attack can be used to break enemy grabs and combo strings, and also serves as a weird sort of a comeback mechanic. If you're getting your head handed to you, you probably also have a full special attack meter, which gives you a little extra breathing room right when you need it most.

Slightly irritating is that as you move into the mid-game, every other enemy seems to have a grab and/or "vortex" combo string. On your first run through Mayhem Brawler, you'll get grabbed much more often than you've got meter to break it with, which gives the game the same deliberately unfair feeling as old arcade games.

You can also block, but I haven't found it particularly useful in a casual run. The attacks you'd most want to use it against don't seem to be blockable, and the rest of the time you'd be better off doing the old arcade beat-'em-up dodge and weave. 

The enemies do have a lot of personality, which is a highlight. Hero Concept's gone out of its way to vary up its formula, so instead of being rushed by six clones of one guy, or palette swaps with different names, many of the rank-and-file enemies have distinct differences in their design. 

You'll meet and beat up all sorts of lycanthropes, vampires, Blade-wannabe "half-bloods," spirits, genies, hired gunmen, and small-time wizards in streetwear. Among other things.

Armed enemies only drop their weapons once they're knocked out, but in exchange, the weapons in Mayhem Brawler are surprisingly powerful.

A baseball bat or crowbar only lasts for three or four hits, but that's enough to take out a standard enemy or shave a nice block of health off a boss. Guns are weaker per hit but inflict a status effect that causes a target to take bonus damage for a few seconds afterward.

I do like how Mayhem Brawler handles that kind of thing. Both players and enemies get icons over their heads when their statuses change, so you can tell at a glance if, for example, an attack is uninterruptible, or if an enemy has an invincible wake-up option. It's one thing I'd definitely appreciate being added to other beat'em ups, since it takes a lot of guesswork out of figuring out a strategy. 

The stages are inconsistent, though, which gives Mayhem Brawler an uneven difficulty curve. The genies in particular are dramatically overtuned, with a body splash that seems to hit half the screen at once for an easy 25% damage.

It's also irritating that you're constantly dodging bullets, and that guns are consistently much less powerful in your hands than in an enemy's. 

When I tried Mayhem Brawler on my own, I wasn't impressed due to all these petty annoyances. When I played with a few friends, though, I was surprised by how much the experience improved. While a few stages are still meat grinders, it's clear that the whole game was designed with co-op in mind, and solo play was an afterthought at best.

Mayhem Brawler Review — The Bottom Line


  • A fun, mostly functional arcade brawler
  • 3-player co-op
  • 3 unique characters with their own arsenals of moves
  • Better-written than you might expect
  • An entertaining and short multiplayer game


  • Not much fun solo
  • Strange balance issues
  • A few janky animations
  • Some of the jokes absolutely do not land

Mayhem Brawler isn't bad. It's a perfectly serviceable spin on the arcade beat-'em-up, set in a strangely built but interesting world. It's even genuinely funny at times, although the script could use some punching up. If you want a cheap indie for your next couch co-op session, you could do a lot worse.

Hero Concept's made a good setting and a passable game. A theoretical Mayhem Brawler 2, with less irritating combat, could be killer.

Its biggest problem is, simply, that Streets of Rage 4 exists. The only people to whom I could genuinely recommend Mayhem Brawler are those who've already beaten SoR4 to death and want to move on to something else. I'm not going to serve you a hamburger when you ordered steak, and I'm not going to recommend Mayhem Brawler over SoR4.

[Note: Hero Concept provided the copy of Mayhem Brawler used for this review.]

Black Book Review: Witching Hour Thu, 05 Aug 2021 13:00:01 -0400 Thomas Wilde

Clearing Black Book's campaign should be worth some kind of academic credit. It's so uniquely steeped in Russian mythology that it automatically generates its own CliffsNotes and encyclopedia for you as you play.

It's hard to pin Black Book's exact genre down. It's a digital card game with RPG elements, but it also has an exploration/conversation element that mixes in a little bit of classic '90s adventure game. If you would've liked Slay the Spire or Roguebook more with a 20-hour narrative mode attached, Black Book is your particular jam.

Black Book Review: Witching Hour

Black Book is a creepy walking tour through the 19th-century Russian countryside at night, where you're constantly perched on a razor's edge between being a full-on villain protagonist or a vaguely contrite anti-hero.

What I appreciate, though, is that this isn't anywhere near the typical Western fantasy environment. With new releases like this and Cris Tales, we're finally starting to see more video games that go further outside the typical Tolkien-by-way-of-Gygax pastiche.

It's a lot to take in. Black Book has that issue you run into with some urban fantasy and weirder RPGs, where it's generating its own terminology so fast that it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. Even though that "terminology" is just keeping various Russian words intact, like "koldun" (witch) and "zagovor" (spell, prayer), I had to take notes as I played.

To Hell and Back

Vasilisa is an orphaned girl who has the potential to become a witch. She planned to ignore that and get married, but then her fiance suddenly turned up dead.

To get him back, Vasilisa goes back to her old mentor Egor and takes up his role as a koldun, a practitioner of witchcraft and demonology, as well as his Black Book. The Book in question contains many spells and is marked with seven seals, the first of which is already broken. If Vasilisa can figure out a way to break the other six, she can wish for whatever she wants, including the resurrection of her fiance, or so the old story goes.

While she searches for the information she needs, Vasilisa serves as the new witch and "knower" for the local peasants, where she chases off demons, fights ghosts, and deals with the occasional curse. Her primary quest is always in the background, but much of Black Book is what happens to her while she's making other plans.

Upstairs, Downstairs

In general, being a witch in 19th-century Russia isn't a heroic job. Vasilisa gradually accumulates a stat called Sins that reflects her morality, which is increased whenever she commits a crime or consorts with evil spirits. It decreases whenever she does something kind.

However, Vasilisa also has a bunch of demons under her command who have to be given something to do at all times, or they'll torment her instead, which inflicts significant mechanical penalties. That means you have to set them out to do petty acts against the countryside, each of which gives you cash on completion but also earns you some startlingly high number of Sins.

It's not so much a balancing act on a karma meter as it's a question of how evil you want Vasilisa to be. She's not getting out of this clean however you play it, but you can invest in ways to minimize the damage. That means you'll make less currency and have fewer skill points to spend on valuable combat capabilities.

It's an interesting approach to the typical video game morality scale, which too often splits between sainthood and petty dickishness. Vasilisa is always on a dark path regardless of how you choose to play — the scene at the start of the game where she gets her powers involves a short trip to Hell, where she's greeted like a promising new talent — but you can try not to lean into that.

A Little Bit of Everything

The combat in Black Book takes the form of a card game, played by taking pages out of the titular book. You're limited by how many cards you can play in a turn, rather than a finite pool of some resource, but the game draws a distinction between normal and "key" cards that can occasionally limit your options.

It's easy enough to start, but the further you get into the Book, the more options you unlock, generally in the form of additional modifiers for spells. I still don't feel like I have a really good handle on how the various systems actually work, but Black Book's has a forgiving learning curve... for the most part.

There are a couple of boss fights that represent a sudden and unfortunate difficulty spike, one of which nearly made me start the game over. (Fortunately, the game keeps an autosave for you right at the start of each new level, which meant I could go back and form a new plan with minimal difficulty.)

You can also customize your loadout from the main menu at almost any time. You do have to pay to get cards back out of the Book, but just getting rid of them is free, which helps to keep your deck streamlined. That, in turn, means you're almost always hurting for cash, which is a peculiar incentive to keep your pet demons harassing the countryside for you.

The rest of Black Book is a peculiar sort of investigation game, where you can search for clues and unlock encyclopedia pages to figure out the various mysteries that Vasilisa encounters. This can range from a weird whodunit in a salt mine to figuring out what type of demon has possessed a villager, and it's pretty good about not just feeding the clues to you.

When you manage to figure out the right answer to something from context or research, it's a satisfying win, making one of the better detective-work games I've played lately is... the 19th-century Russian witch simulator. Huh.

Black Book Review — The Bottom Line


  • Accessible if complex take on digital card games
  • Not just another Tolkien/Gygax fantasy adventure
  • Morality system that forces you to make hard choices almost constantly
  • Solid if quirky translation that tells a peculiar story


  • Consequences are often counterintuitive
  • Challenge level can spike without warning
  • Some difficult-to-grasp systems
  • A few crashes to desktop

Black Book's all over the map in terms of genre, and it's made no effort to simplify its translation for non-Russian audiences. It's uniquely bleak, and it's got more than a couple of brick-wall fights that force you to rework your deck with sharply limited resources.

It's hard for me to put a precise score on that kind of thing. I'd be happy to recommend it to anyone with a card-game addiction, it's got a few things going for it as far as being an RPG, and if you're interested in learning about Russian mythology, Black Book is practically an educational tool.

However, it's also janky, inconsistent, and not great about explaining its systems. I wouldn't say that it's exactly unpolished — I get the feeling that Black Book is exactly what it was intended to be — but it feels like the sort of game that, back in the day, would've shipped with an inch-thick manual, which you don't have.

Call it a high 7, low 8, and don't be afraid to give it a try. It is, at least, unusual, and that's worth something all by itself.

[Note: HypeTrain Digital provided the copy of Black Book used for this review.]

Last Stop Review: At the Junction of Magic and the Mundane Wed, 21 Jul 2021 12:00:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

For me, there's no seal of quality as trustworthy as the Annapurna Interactive logo. By my count, no other publisher delivers such a consistently impressive body of work at the rate of Annapurna.

Developer Variable State's long-awaited follow-up to 2016's Virginia continues this industry-leading trend. Last Stop feels, in many ways, like Annapurna: The Video Game. It's got all the hallmarks of the arthouse label: a unique, twisting story, cinema-quality original music, a cast of characters that seem like no one else in games, et al.

But none of this is to say Last Stop is stale. It's absolutely unpredictable, and it's compelling enough to merit playing in one long go. That's not to mention it's an all-around more tangible tale than the team's debut effort. With Last Stop, Variable State proves it's no one-hit-wonder and cements itself as a name to watch.

Last Stop Review: At the Junction of Magic and the Mundane

Last Stop tells three anthological stories in modern-day London, but not before opening with a purposely confounding flashback that hints at strange science fiction leanings. It promises the human dramas that are to unfold thereafter are merely a twist away from becoming something much different.

For each of the game's three main characters  John, a single dad with full-on dadbod; Meena, a ruthless and unapologetic workaholic; and Donna, a self-liberated high schooler  themes of secrecy and the masks they each wear in their lives are prevalent throughout.

Players can choose in which order they unravel each character's story within reason. Completing each character's first chapter, for example, will open up the trio of Chapter Twos, where players can once again play them out in any order. I found I enjoyed the story most by playing them left to right in the selection screen each time. The game's "Previously On" sections deliver an exciting TV-style quality I've tended to love in games like Alan Wake before it. 

While the story is billed as an anthology, it doesn't take long for the once disparate threads to begin to tangle. This first happens in satisfyingly subtle ways  "wait, isn't his neighbor also her coworker?" — before tangling into a three-pronged narrative whirlwind that culminates in a (probably) polarizing finale.

For what it's worth, I loved it.

Meena, wearing a grey shirt, standing in a red room.

I feel each story is more or less as compelling as the others, though if I had to pick a favorite, it'd be Meena's, as her duality as a workaholic secret agent and failed parent and wife make for a fascinating blend of the mundane and the exceptional. Meanwhile, John's story deliberately pulls from a movie trope, only to not really subvert it in any way, going down a familiar path to its conclusion, albeit through the still-unique filter of the stories' convergent overarching finale. 

Each story stands on its own well, presenting a different genre even while they revolve around pretty normal people caught up in extraordinary situations. The way they come to a head is exciting, because although it's apparent early on that their separate lives will collide in due time, how they get there and what happens next is really what makes Last Stop worth talking about.

As usual with such story-heavy games, its merits live and die by the strength of that story even as they're hard to talk about without spoiling things. Think of Last Stop as something like Crash meets The Outer Limits, with a bit of Indiana Jones later on. It's not like anything else you've seen in games, and for that reason, story-focused players should make time for it.

Donna, wearing a red vest and black pants, crouching behind pallets alongside another man and woman

Playing Last Stop feels like many a narrative adventure game from the past decade. Players will make frequent dialogue decisions, hastened by a timer, and interact with the world from an endless supply of cinematic camera angles, sometimes pouring cereal, other times pouring over files during a B&E.

You'll hardly ever make choices though, as scenes mostly go where they're meant to no matter what you say  at least until some tough final decisions. In many cases, you could feasibly not reply at all and the game would play itself in between more exploratory scenes.

It looks really good, too, using a stylized and maturish Pixaresque blend of colors and smooth textures. Thanks to some hyperactive eyebrows, characters emote well enough to deliver their lines, but their expressions and animations are a bit wooden and harken back to the days of Telltale's faulty processes, which does sometimes hinder the filmic intentions of Last Stop.

More of a saving grace is the game's audio, which is absolutely stellar in every way. Last Stop is voiced expertly, even as none of the names jump off the credits as familiar to me.

The original music is composed by Lyndon Holland, who previously scored Virginia to what I'd call perfection. Here the inspirations are less obvious than Holland's borrowing from Twin Peaks five years ago, but the results are no less enchanting. He's simply a brilliant composer and a perfect match for Variable State's penchant for deliberate, dreamy weirdness.

Last Stop Review — The Bottom Line

John in khaki pants, blue blazer, and red tie standing in a lit elevator outside a dim room.


  • A fun, eclectic blend of anthological tales that come to a head inventively
  • Brilliant music and voice acting 
  • Paced to perfection as episodes you'll want to binge in one sitting


  • Lackluster animations betray some of the game's cinematic intentions
  • Some leaning on narrative tropes

Last Stop feels like a more palatable follow-up to Variable State's ponderous premiere, but one that is made without sacrificing all of the burgeoningly signature weirdness of the small team.

Though the story takes risks, it manages to rein them in a bit, as not to drown its players in metaphor, something the team once seemed happy to do in 2016. Questions go unanswered and some mysteries are once again meant to idle in the player's mind, but in all, Last Stop is more popcorny than I expected but no less entertaining.

[Note: Variable State provided the copy of Last Stop used for this review.] 

Steam Next Fest: 8 Great Indie Demos to Download Now Fri, 18 Jun 2021 16:57:14 -0400 Mark Delaney

Steam Next Fest is back for another round, and that means the popular storefront is currently hosting hundreds of demos for players to try out. It's the closest we can get to something like an E3 showfloor, and honestly, without the long queues for games and longer queues for lunch, it's really not so bad.

While we can't claim to have played all 500+ indie game demos taking part in the digital festival, we did play dozens of them and settled on spotlighting eight that we came away excited about.

The Big Con

Girl with aquamarine hair and pants walking down a sidewalk in front of shops.

Players of a particular age will appreciate The Big Con for its decisively 90s aesthetic. Ugly carpets, video rental stores, and a vanishing middle class give way to the game's protagonist, Ali, needing to pickpocket her way to clearing her mother's debts.

This adventure game is visually striking and both funny and sad at different intervals, like looking through a 1995 yearbook.

Road 96

Kid wearing glasses playing an arcade cabinet in neon light.

If politics and games are your thing, maybe a world that mirrors our own in some uncomfortable ways could be fascinating. If so, the many-branched narrative tree of Road 96 should capture you.

In it, players take on the role of a teen fleeing for the border to escape what seems to be an oncoming storm of trouble from the next possible governing body. Commenting on our world through one not the same, but not unlike ours either, makes for a compelling setting.

Terra Nil

Red ship hovering over forest and wind turbine next to a river.

Strategy is a big umbrella, so it's hard to say fans of the genre, in general, will enjoy Terra Nil, but it's worth a shot because it's unlike any other "city-builder" I know. That's because you are actually tasked with building the world back up from ruin, returning nature to the hills, rivers, and valleys of a once lush land.

The visual effects of replacing the world's beauty have a strangely Tetris-like satisfaction, like getting everything just right can feel so good.

My Time At Sandrock

Girl standing in empty garden plot with town in background.

Farm sims are extremely in right now, and the team at Pathea is back with its bigger and prettier follow-up to My Time At Portia. If you liked it before, My Time At Sandrock feels like it returns a lot of what you loved the first time only with more townsfolk, a bigger starting area, and a whole new desert-like region to discover.

They Are Here 

First-person view walking along path through cornfield at night.

I've long lamented the lack of any proper alien abduction horror, so They Are Here was actually the first demo I tried during Steam Next Fest. While the 10-minute sample is a bit on rails, it gets the atmosphere and innate terror of an alien lifeform so very right.

This is a genre that games have weirdly failed to do much with, so I hope the full game is just as creepy as the demo.

Rainbow Billy

Billy in a spacesuit in vibrant red and yellow landscape drawn like Cuphead.

It's a surprise this colorful indie isn't from Cartoon Network. The blend of 2D and 3D art is immediately captivating, and the story seems to set up a similar tone to Adventure Time, where things are just a bit subversive but still friendly enough for all ages.

It also seems to have a fun exploratory nature to it, where the titular hero travels the world by squishy steamboat.

Chasing Static

Outside a diner at night in a rainstorm.

Fans of retro horror simply must download this one. Using a PS1 visual style but presented in first-person, Chasing Static is an interesting mix of old- and new-school horror design principles.

Music is reminiscent of Silent Hill and it even begins in a diner, much like the classic from Konami. It's effectively scary too, and I genuinely say that about few games anymore.

Severed Steel

Player character infirst-person view falling backward while shooting handgun at enemy.

John Wick already got a game, but this is a much closer John Wick simulator than that strategy title. In first-person, players can wallrun, slide, dive through glass, and shoot in slow motion taking out waves of enemies while dripping with style like Jeff Goldblum circa Jurassic Park.


While you're here, don't forget we also dove deep into LudoNarraCon earlier this year too, where we already fell in love with demo-ready games like Lake and Unpacking, both of which have demos during Steam Next Fest as well.

Those are the handful of indie games we loved that have demos available now during Steam Next Fest. Have we missed your favorite? Let us know, and we'll give it a try!