Wow, what style! Katana Zero has an excellent, colorful VHS aesthetic. Once Zero switches on his walkman at the beginning of each level to one of the game's many solid tunes, you know you're in for a good time. The game absolutely nails the gameplay and level design - there's slo-mo, directional strikes, one-time-use throwables, and the larger environmental hazards that can aid you while you're on your warpath. The game also requires the player to become adept with different strategies. Enemies with shotguns, assault rifles, and shields all require a different tactic - not to mention the frenzied dodges required to beat some of the game's main bosses.
I was wary when I first started playing Mindustry, because I'd never played anything like it. Shortly afterwards, though, I became hooked, creating ever more efficient tube and conveyer arrangements to more effectively gather resources, power my structures, and defending against larger and larger waves of invaders. Not only can you build defenses for your structures, but you can build attack mechs and transform into an attack unit yourself. It's immensely satisfying to look upon your handiwork at the conclusion of each level, seeing a massive, sprawling network of production. In Mindustry, you unlock new technologies at your own pace between levels, which keeps this intimidating game from becoming overwhelming.
I'll admit it - I'm a Remedy fanboy. I've played every game that the studio has released (with the exception of Death Rally), and I've enjoyed them all. Control maintains a magnificently surreal tone throughout, and I wanted to know more about this world. I loved the environments within each department of the Federal Bureau of Control, and read pretty much every piece of lore that I could get my hands on. I also came to appreciate the set of powers at Jesse Faden's disposal, and felt that they fit together much better than those of Jack Joyce (from Quantum Break).
World War Z represents almost a perfection of Left 4 Dead's formula, in my opinion. Although Fatshark has done quality work with its Vermintide series, the classes, skill trees, and the horde physics and accompanying visual effects of World War Z simply put it on another level. The game requires a tremendous amount of coordination: Who is watching what entrance? Who has which defense items? Are we going loud or still using silenced weapons? Who is our healer (they'll get dibs on healing items)? I also liked the way that you level up the guns in the game simply by using them. If you only use rifles, then the same rifle once located will perform better for your character than it will for another character that focuses exclusively on using shotguns. The only issue I had with the title is that some of the classes and abilities are clearly inferior to others (here's looking at you, molotov cocktail).
I didn't hear much about Cardpocalypse this year, and that is an absolute shame. If you're a fan of deckbuilders (like me), you should seriously give it a look! I was charmed by the game's cartoon aesthetic, and the silliness of the "Mega Mutant Power Pets" card game that has taken the school by storm. Not only can you trade your classmates for additional cards to improve your deck, but you can trade for stickers as well. These stickers can be applied to cards to reduce their cost, improve power or toughness, add abilities, or even change a card's color! At one point in the game, you're even allowed to create a custom card. Cardpocalypse reminded me of my scrappy days as a high school student, playing Magic with bent cards and proxies.
- Forgotten Gods DLC
The best ARPG I've ever played continues to get better. Forgotten Gods represents a change in locale to a holy desert area from the dank and dark swamps and caverns of the main game. In addition, the new Oathkeeper class serves as a great secondary for both melee and caster characters. Forgotten Gods adds a "Shattered Realm" challenge dungeon to the game for late-game builds, while this type of content was formerly only available through the specialized Crucible DLC. While Grim Dawn is still not the most accessible title for newcomers, no ARPG makes me feel quite as much that I am creating something uniquely my own.
I did not expect to like the Division 2 as much as I did. I hadn't played the first game, and I had heard that it was full of spongy enemies and the usual game-as-service shenanigans. While Division 2 did contain some of these elements, I loved the other pieces that it brought to the table. First of all, the environments! Capturing a checkpoint with a firefight at the Washington Monument, or fighting through the Air & Space Museum or a History Museum that has been converted to an enemy base, or fighting a boss on the court in a tattered sports arena. I've never seen anything like it, and the game is just gorgeous! Not to mention that Ubisoft did a great job with the character classes and loot. My character was strictly firepower, combining an LMG and turret. However, we also had players on our squad who could hit me with healing grenades or send out a drone to penetrate enemy armor. The game required coordination, especially since enemies are so adept at flanking. Lastly, I found it engaging to rebuild settlements and watch them physically change with the work I was putting in and missions I was completing. At the same time, the game didn't require any of the tedious micromanaging that plagues the survival games with base-building elements. Although it can certainly be seen as a another cynical game-as-service, the Division 2 was made with a lot of heart.
Although I tend to ignore visual novels, I had to give Eliza a try. Not only was it concerned with counseling (my profession), but it was developed by Zachtronics (who created my beloved Ironclad Tactics). Eliza explores the intersection of a jaded 30-something who wants to do something meaningful with her life and a chatbot-type counseling system informed by big data. The issues that the clients present and the frustrations felt by Evelyn (the protagonist) both struck me as genuine based on my experience in the profession. The writing is very smart, and explores many other contemporary dilemmas associated with our current digital age.
When I first heard of SteamWorld Quest, I was a little worried. Here was a deckbuilder, made by the same folks that made my beloved Steamworld Heist, and it seemed like a Switch exclusive. To make matters worse, a friend of mine on our Discord channel said specifically that he thought I'd love it. Thank goodness it dropped on PC soon afterwards. In SteamWorld Quest, your deck is created through your selection of party heroes. Each of your three heroes has their own deck, and the cards are mixed together to create your playable hands. You'll want to upgrade your favorite cards and gear, and you'll receive certain cards during key plot points that represent your characters' emotional states. I liked attempting to maximize my deck's power vs. certain enemies, leaning into their weaknesses and attempting to inflict specific status effects.
I'm sure that many players will likely see Kind Words as a novelty. However, in a time of hearing about near-constant turmoil on the news, Kind Words gave me a genuine faith in humanity that lasted for the entire week following my first play session. Kind Words was a place of respite, a place where I felt a genuine warmth and sense of community that I've never felt before while playing a video game. However, you'll need to involve yourself in the game's ecosystem, even if only briefly, to experience what I'm describing. So many smart decisions were made by the developer to reduce the possibility of trolls invading the space, and articles have even been written on various gaming sites marveling at the game's ability to avoid becoming the toxic cesspool that so many online spaces do. What a special thing.