Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review Shots: November 20, 2016

You can't formally review everything, especially when it's fall release season and there are too many games to write about and you don't want to write about them anyway because you're too depressed about the election results and also you're lonely so you spend what could be productive time flipping through Tinder but no one's to your taste because oh my god is there anyone in my area who isn't into country music?

So yeah, video games. I'd rather not have my opinions on some of the year's biggest releases not be documented for future historians, so here are some quickie one-paragraph reviews for various 2016 titles that I've deemed worthy of discussion. I mean, hey, a couple of these will almost certainly wind up on my year-end top-ten list, so pay attention.

Grow Up (PC)

When I reviewed the delightful Grow Home, I commented on how awestruck I was that such a charming, uncynical product could come from Ubisoft. That is not the case with its sequel, an open-world sandbox game full of tower-climbing and optional race challenges. Yep, this is the Ubisoft formula to a T. While expanding the scale to an entire miniature planet sounds neat, it dilutes your accomplishments, none of them feeling as satisfying or (ahem) towering as the single massive beanstalk that took center stage in the original. Its ideas aren't new anymore, so it took the only approach Ubisoft Reflections could come up with, which was to simply add more, and it's a wasted opportunity. All of these goofy physics and mechanics, and racing challenges are the best you've got? 6/10

Titanfall 2 (PC)

The original Titanfall had one of my favorite multiplayer components in recent memory, and its sequel retreads that formula with minimal changes. That's fine. It's what I wanted, in fact, and Titanfall 2 has been my cathartic release for the last few weeks, the game I come to when I want immediate, big-scale thrills. But where the sequel vastly improves upon its predecessor is in the addition of a legitimate single-player campaign that's actually fantastic. I'd rather not spoil the game's countless memorable moments, so I'll simply say that it wastes no time, features far more original ideas than you'd expect, and doesn't bombard you with wall-to-wall explosive set pieces (so when the game does finally crank it up in its final few missions, it's all the more potent). Probably the closest thing we'll ever get to a Vanquish sequel: fast, huge, exciting, and... blandly written, but hey, save some for Titanfall 3. That is, if enough of you buy this game to warrant a third entry. Please do. 9/10

Battlefield 1 (PS4)

This is strictly a review of the game's single-player campaign, since Battlefield's multiplayer isn't really my thing. Set during World War I (under-explored in this medium), the solo content is split into five individual stories chronicling the various fronts, beginning in France and then moving east into the Ottoman Empire. You can play the stories out of order, which I'd recommend, since they get worse as they go. Battlefield 1 opens with its two longest and strongest sequences (featuring a tank and a biplane), but as the campaigns get briefer, we spend so little time with these characters that the emotional impact is unearned. Although visually ravishing at times, this is actually one of the rare AAA shooter campaigns that could benefit from being longer. Final mission is a chore, too - a stealth section set in the open desert that plays like the poor man's Metal Gear Solid V. 6/10

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (PS4)

Again, this is solely my take on the game's solo campaign, since this is the first Call of Duty game I've touched since the first Black Ops and I'm sure as hell not reentering this arena when it's full of people who have been keeping up with this series on an annual basis. Both major shooter franchises took diversions this year, and Call of Duty came up with the less interesting one, because space marines have already been done a thousand times. To my surprise, though, this campaign is pretty excellent. There's great variety in the scenery, and the game's full of actual space shenanigans - zero-gravity bits where you're slinging yourself about with a grappling hook and a number of full-blown dogfights that put to shame the actual Star Fox game we got this year. I don't care that much for the story (particularly when the villains are so one-dimensionally evil), but the cast pulls its weight convincingly, and your robot buddy Ethan is honestly one of my favorite new characters to come out of a game this year. This one's worth a rental at least. 8/10

Dishonored 2 (PS4)

The first Dishonored had some of the best stealth mechanics in the business, and the sprawling and very three-dimensional level design offered players such a wealth of options that I was honestly reminded of Deus Ex. Gameplay-wise, there isn't much to improve, so Dishonored 2 being more of the same is largely just fine. But would it kill them to make just one of these characters likable? Just one? Just for me? So much detail is poured into this world and its history that I feel guilty for not caring at all over the course of two whole games, but it's Arkane's fault for not getting me emotionally invested in any of this. The dialog's so static and perfunctory that not even A-grade Hollywood talent like Rosario Dawson can inject any life into it. This one's a missed opportunity, but play it for the Clockwork Mansion, a steampunk wonderland that will rank as one of 2016's most memorable levels. 7/10

Doom (PC)

I just bought a new SSD and am in the process of reinstalling my games on it. I thought I was done with Doom, having played the hell out of it back in May and ultimately scored all of the single-player achievements. Since then, though, id Software added a score attack mode to the campaign, which is the only excuse I needed to jump back into this masterpiece. It's honestly the purest fun I've had playing a game this year, and while I recommend it under any circumstance, play it on PC if you can - its handful of launch issues seem to have been ironed out, and I can't overstate how good this thing feels with a mouse and keyboard. I can't imagine myself spending a lot of time with the multiplayer while Titanfall 2 and Overwatch are in my library, but this is the best single-player twitch shooter I've played in years... or possibly ever. 10/10

Dark Souls III: Ashes of Ariandel (PC)

The expansions for the previous Souls games rank among the very best of the series' content, and with Dark Souls III's plot leaving so many unanswered questions, Ashes of Ariandel should have been a knockout. Instead, it's an overly murky side-story that plays like a directionless homage to the Painted World of Ariamis from the first game, marking the point where Dark Souls III's constant callbacks officially became insufferable to me. If this expansion feels light on bosses at first, that's because From Software crams three of them together for the finale and forces players to defeat all three consecutively. I've mastered everything else the Souls series has thrown at me, but this encounter felt pointlessly cruel, and it's the only instance in the history of the franchise in which found myself unable to win without summoning help. Despite a few creepy moments (that fly pit is gross) and some typically lavish visuals, this is one of the series' low points, unrewarding and unsatisfying. 4/10

So that's that, but why not have a look at some of the recent releases I did formally review?

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight
Seasons After Fall
Divinity: Original Sin II (preview)

Also, why not have a listen to the two-man podcast I recently did with Richard Naik, in which we pretend-drunkenly complain about ReCore?