We’re getting towards the end of 2019 and the inevitable discussions of around Game of the year. We’ll probably talk around this or Game of the Decade on Tanked Up at some point, rounding out the list of games we think others would enjoy and that we want to celebrate. With this though there will be a lot of games forgotten and that won’t get any further discussion this year. Except, for now, today, right below this paragraph. Many of the games I’ve played, especially smaller experiences I have been given code to review, I’ve only discussed on the podcast. Sometimes these have been initial impressions, controversy or another topic related to the game but not the game itself or just bouncing back and forth with Lucy and Aadil about playing something, not the critical reviews I would like. So, in no particular order, I present a round-up of recently played games I enjoyed enough to write a little more about.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season
I’m really enjoying the climax to Clementine’s saga. It’s her story but one that comes full circle as it depicts her changing relationship with AJ as she tries to emulate what Lee was to her in season 1. So far I’ve only got to the third act of episode 2; the episode which was almost complete before Telltale Games shut down only keeping a small staff on to get it out the door. Visually this season is better than any of Telltales previous work, the deep blacks and fantastic backgrounds really bridge that gap between games emulating comics and hand-drawn art. Clem herself is grown up and the changes in her appearance show the young girl we knew and the grizzled, worn woman she’s becoming. I’m also enjoying the idea of changing relationships with the other characters, rather than ‘Barry will remember that’ just an indication that your relationship has changed is given, small differences all add up. As a whole package, this feels like Clem, more grown-up, mature and improving on it’s past. I really want to finish Clem’s story and this will be the game I return to before anything else in the backlog, although from the reviews I’ve seen, Skybound perhaps didn’t capture the level of quality Telltale managed in those final days.
Absolutely play this if you’re a fan of the series and want to see out Clem’s story. I’d also recommend it to anyone who likes the Telltale formula or episodic games like Life is Strange. It may be a little hard coming into it as a first taste though and should be experienced as part of the whole story.
This is a really competent adventure game. 2D, pixel graphics, fitting music and a compelling loop of action and exploration. I was reminded of games like 2D Legend of Zelda, evoking the adventure, and of Moonlighter with its similar aesthetic. The procedural shifting of its world never felt like a gimmick and could add hours to the experience clearing the map each time before progressing past an areas boss encounter. It would have shot up my list this year if not for some bugs stopping some progress outside of the main story and it being a really short experience. This may be because of the progression I earned and then felt pretty overpowered after the second area, breezing through the final half of the game. My only other gripe is that the final boss encounter ramped up the difficulty and was unlike anything experienced so far. Once finished I did go back and started playing again but put it down hoping for a day one patch to fix the issues encountered. I’ve yet to go back though.
Sparklite is definitely for anyone who likes 2D adventure games, wants a compelling loop and a short experience. Time could be spent in the world before heading to the final boss if you want to stay in that world a little longer.
There isn’t much more to say that I haven’t covered in podcasts and on the stream I did (videos are on our YouTube channel) except that you experience almost everything within the first couple of hours. Ok, the story progressed and new enemies were encountered but the loop was the same. Go here to talk to someone, go to the next location to talk to someone else, fight them or an enemy they send you to, go back to that NPC or collect some loot then head back to the initial quest giver. This over and over again didn’t hold me. I would hazard a guess I’m at around 12 hours played so I feel I’ve given it a fair shake. The story just wasn’t compelling enough to withstand the constant travelling, bouncing back and forth.
It’s hard to recommend this game when there are other, more rounded, polished experiences out there. Whilst it tries to tell an interesting story about colonialism and a changing world I didn’t ever really feel it took this seriously. Only nodding to it as part of quest lines and making you talk to someone else. Even with both The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition being 4 and 5 years old now I’d revisit those titles instead.
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels
I want to play more of Narcos. I don’t think Narcos wants me to play more of it though. As a squad-based strategy game, you could easily compare it to a South American set Xcom but it doesn’t meet the heights hit by the genres modern benchmark. This is mostly due to the decision of only moving one character per turn. It’s more like a game of chess than anything else; just with lots of shooting. At times I could move around with just one character relying on early positioning of others to provide cover fire when enemies moved into range. I’d then blast everyone with my shotgun each turn I had. What doesn’t help with being able to play in this way, in stripping back the idea of having a squad are the enemies intelligence. At times they were stupid not moving from cover I’m encroaching on and allowing me to get in for a kill. Other times they’re too clever and if outgunned will just hide and let you get on with the objective. Even if that’s killing all the enemies they will occasionally just not take a turn.
I would have loved more from this and even with a second campaign controlling El Patron’s cartel, I don’t think I’ll return to it. Especially now I’ve started playing Battletech.
I enjoy a scenic, narrative-driven walking experience and Draugen is just this so, I therefore expected it to be right up my street. The story was interesting, though not to the point of engrossing. The idea of experiencing the protagonists’ mental state is one I like yet isn’t always that well explored in games. Edward’s thoughts and how this influences his drive to discover what happened to his sister, Betty, and the town she may have disappeared to pushes the story along well enough. You are toured around the sleepy little town uncovering it’s secrets always seemingly one step behind Betty. The writing and dialogue are good, yet some of it missed the mark with me. Mostly the 1920s slang which I don’t have a reference for and, although I knew what it was getting at, just didn’t feel warranted. Sure, it’s used more for context and scene-setting it just didn’t add much for me. One of the things I did take away from Draugen though was its twist. It was possibly the most unexpected twist in a game I’ve ever experienced. It flattened me when it came out of nowhere. It wasn’t telegraphed, or if it was I’d missed it completely. This changed the dynamic of the characters Edward and his companion Lissie dramatically, and for the better. It provided a good change of pace and a little more urgency to the story.
As a shorter experience with an interesting story, I think only those who enjoy this style of game will get something from Draugen. You may find your time better spent playing Firewatch or even the Stanley Parable.
This is a puzzle game that eases you into its mechanics and doesn’t ramp the difficulty up too quickly. That’s something I really appreciate with puzzle games. Taking a first-person view, which is becoming more popular for puzzlers, you cross various elevated walkways and have to work out how to get to the end. Your path will be blocked by different things and the switch to the shadow world will often allow you to progress. As the difficulty of these puzzles increases so does the complexity of the mechanics. Using items to single out interactive pillars to twist and cast light or play tunes. It’s a beautiful game, the most beautiful on this list. The use of colour and tone along with the visual style creates quite stunning vistas. The sojourn also has a simple story accompanying your progression. It is a story told through statues which depict a scene. It’s easy to follow but you’ll be guessing what it actually means most of the time. These statues sit in between different sets of puzzles which generally have a new mechanic to play with each time. The biggest issue I have is that the puzzles feel the same throughout. I didn’t think the change in the mechanic had me thinking any differently than the last set. It’s unfair to compare it to The Witness, as in my eyes that is a masterpiece, but it didn’t capture me as The Witness did.
It’s a very approachable puzzle game that even novice players would find easy to grasp. Its length and not changing up the mechanics of progression enough just left me wanting to do something else. Inevitably then I dropped it for the next shiny game that came along. It is however still installed on my PS4 and when I feel the need for a puzzle game I will return to it.
Although this isn’t my game of the year list being in that mood has me thinking I should pick one over the others. These games cover quite a broad range of genres, some of which I’m drawn to more. I think I’d normally go with The Walking Dead: The Final Season but as I haven’t finished it yet I’ll go with Sparklite instead. So there, Sparklite isn’t my game of the year. It is worth playing though.