In the absence of an Orwell title being released in 2017, Mainlining came in to give me my surveillance/hacker fix. For some reason, I find games like this fascinating: digging through e-mails, journals, social media posts, and learning about characters. Perhaps this is why I chose to become a therapist - I like digging into the hidden, inner lives of people. In Mainlining, you collect evidence on criminals using powerful hacking software, and dispatch law enforcement to make arrests. Although not as solid a game as Orwell, I liked Mainlining enough that it earned a spot here.
Pyre gets off to a little bit of a rough start, but I ended up really enjoying it. I liked creating a squad of quick and evasive outcasts, and optimizing them with skills and items to dominate in the rites. The characters in the game are very "fleshed out," and it was fascinating to talk to friends who'd completed the game about who they chose to return to the Commonwealth and why. I also enjoyed analyzing the overarching themes in the title, relating the exiles to the lowest classes in our own society.
Wow. I was extremely surprised that I enjoyed this game as much as I did, especially considering that I almost skipped it altogether. I expected Little Nightmares to be rather similar to Limbo and Inside, which I enjoyed, but didn't "love." However, I feel like Little Nightmares surpasses both. The grotesque aesthetic and carefully designed environments work perfectly to reinforce the themes that the game presents. Little Nightmares is a necessary game in a culture obsessed with food and appearance.
Probably the funniest game I've ever played, but also a heartfelt tale. The entirety of the game takes place in a car, perilously balanced on a cliff. Although it's a bit of a downer to say out loud, we all could pass on at any moment from any number of things, and we are surrounded by supporting evidence. Far From Noise is an argument for appreciating the moment, and therefore touches on the importance of a mindful approach to life.
Although my co-op partner and I had both never read a single book in the Dresden Files saga, we loved this card game adaptation. My favorite thing about the game was that the every obstacle was already on the board when a scenario began. There were no surprises here, and this made it easy to tailor your pick of player decks. Even then, however, the game was far from easy. We accumulated plenty of losses, even playing on the easiest (Apprentice) difficulty level. It was very engaging to balance your “fate points” (mana, essentially) to ensure that you can cast your strongest spells at the most appropriate times. In addition, I loved the game’s ambient soundscape – it added to the theme of each battle.
Ever since playing Hotline Miami, I've had a soft spot for these top down shooters where you assault a compound, slowly and methodically taking the resistance apart. Jydge NAILS this loop. Each map has multiple objectives, and it is difficult to attempt many at once. Therefore, you get very familiar with the maps, and you'll want to customize your Jydge before tackling a new objective. You can equip four different pieces of cyberware on your body, three different weapon mods, and you can change the fire mode of your weapon. These options aren't just nominal, but significantly change the way the game is played. It doesn't hurt that I just like the concept (the Karl Urban film is a blast) and that the game has an enormous, bumping soundtrack.
I wasn't expecting too much from Subsurface Circular, after quickly quitting Thomas Was Alone a few years ago (both made by Mike Bithell). However, the writing was the highlight of Thomas Was Alone - I was only turned off by the gameplay. In Subsurface Circular, brilliant writing takes center stage. Although you're just a robot riding a subway, I felt more like a detective than I ever did in something like LA Noire. The game tackles difficult topics, such as the place of factory workers in a world of increasing automation and the human "need" for meaningful work outside of strict productivity.
Rumu explores emotional regulation, and you play as a little robot vacuum cleaner in the home of two scientists. You take orders from a master AI, Sabrina, who controls the global lighting and air conditioning systems in the home. Rumu asks a lot of wonderful questions: What happens when an AI who is programmed for companionship has no companions? Can we protect those we love (or our children) from heartbreak? Is it better to deaden unpleasant emotions than experience them?
I loved exploring the old Finch home, and learning about these peculiar family members. The game falls into the "magical realist" tradition, as the game veers into the fantastical with the details of the family. This family supposedly has a "curse," as many of its members die prematurely or in freak accidents. How would you cope with these losses if you were a Finch? This hyper-awareness of your own mortality? Through learning about the family, who were all aware of the "curse," we explore many ways of coping: fear, escapism, religion, storytelling, or even an unabashed exuberance for life.
I had a great time as Aloy, running around fighting robot dinosaurs. Although there were silly collectibles, I liked that everything in the game was so deliberate and carefully considered. This world felt fully fleshed-out to me, as opposed to the copy/paste syndrome that so often afflicts open world games. I enjoyed the combat and the rush of popping arrows into the weak spots of a Thunderjaw, and felt that the voice actress for Aloy did a marvelous job. The game explores tribalism and the reality of an outcast, as well as (indirectly) climate change and the mentality necessary to tackle such a monumental problem.