Game reviews

(CLICK HERE FOR A SORTABLE TABLE OF ALL OUR REVIEWS)

You can take a look at Tom Chick's Patreon page (the link is at the top of the page) for more than you'll ever want to know about this site's approach to reviews. But the overarching idea is that a review is an expression of someone's experience with a videogame. It is subjective. It is not advice. It is not a buyer's guide. It should be valuable to people who have and haven't played the game. Furthermore, our ratings using the full range of the 1-5 scale and they are simply shorthand for how much we liked a given game. You can find details here.

And we hope you'll participate in the discussion following any review! If you've taken the time to read our opinion, the least we can do is read yours as well.

Latest Game reviews

Despite Odyssey’s long shadow, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla holds its own

, | Game reviews

In Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, you have to play as a Viking named Eivor, which is pronounced “AY-vore”.  Eivor is a flaccidly drawn Mary Sue of badassery whose flimsy characterization consists of machismo and shit poetry.  The male voice sounds uninterested.  The female voice is hoarse and forced.  Take your pick.  You can even swap freely as you play.  It matters that little.

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This one easy trick could have saved Watch Dogs: Legion!

, | Game reviews

Watch Dogs Legion is exactly what I want in my open-world games, and I know this because State of Decay was exactly what I wanted in my open-world games.  I don’t need someone writing a story about a character doing character things, because good writing in open-world games is rare and meaningful writing is almost non-existent.  So load me up with a team of dynamically generated characters and let me let them make my own story.  This is what Watch Dogs: Legion intends.

Sadly, it’s not what Watch Dogs: Legion actually does.

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I don’t want to tell you why Hades is so good

, | Game reviews

[Editor’s note: Among the many things that I found deeply confusing in the 70s was the commercial for Life cereal. Two boys are given a bowl of Life cereal and told it’s healthy. Of course, they want no part of it. They’d rather have Sugar Pops or Froot Loops. But then one of the boys gets the bright idea to give the cereal to Mikey, because “he hates everything”. The other boy enthusiastically agrees.

I do not understand their reasoning. Why would they give it to Mikey if he’s just going to hate it? What do they hope to accomplish? I know what the commercial is trying to accomplish. It’s trying to sell viewers on the idea that Life cereal is so good that even kids who hate everything will like it. But I don’t understand the character motivation of the two boys. The fundamental premise of the commercial, the inciting event for the dramatic reveal, is flawed. Nonsensical, in fact.

I bring this up because it explains why I told Bruce Geryk that Hades was “not for him”. It’s not because Hades isn’t good. It is. It’s excellent. But I told Bruce Geryk that Hades wasn’t for him because I’m not someone who would foist off a bowl of Life cereal on some kid who hates all cereal. I would no more tell Bruce Geryk to play Hades than I would give Mikey a bowl of Sugar Pops or Froot Loops, much less Life.

But Bruce Geryk, ever the surly contrarian, ignored my comment about Hades being “not for him”. What’s more, he didn’t just play it; he played it a lot. He emailed me about it a lot.  He even wanted to review it, which accounts for what you’re about to read.  So while I’m still deeply confused about the choice the boys make in the Life cereal commercial, I can at last understand their surprise and delight by the end of the commercial: “He likes it!  Hey, Bruce!”]

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An open letter to whoever found my Godhood notes

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Dear sir or madam,

I am writing to you concerning the legal pad you found somewhere in the vicinity of Pasadena, California, on or about the date of September 12th, 2020.  The pad contains several pages of notes in cramped and somewhat messy writing.  Surely you can appreciate the time that was spent writing them.  Surely you can tell that the pencil was kept sharp.  Surely you noticed that entire sections were erased and rewritten for better formatting.  Surely it’s obvious there is some esoteric and deeply detailed subject at hand.

You might have inferred from what is written that these are the notes for a sermon, or perhaps someone’s theology homework.  But then you get to the references to nudism, cat worship, lust priests, and virgin sacrifice.  Perhaps you wondered if this might be some strange cult manifesto.  Maybe you have stumbled across the plans for a doomsday.  Maybe you should turn it over to the police.  

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What’s a nice shoggoth like you doing in a game like Carrion?

, | Game reviews

I remember Donald Pleasence screaming.  He’s trapped.  A white blood cell is bearing down on him.  He’s been shrunk to microscopic size and injected into a human body.  It’s the movie Fantastic Voyage, from 1966, and the white blood cell is descending slowly and inexorably toward Donald Pleasence.  It oozes over his head and he’s screaming and he dies a terrible death.  The special effects at the time, all very practical and weirdly theatrical, presented a white blood cell as basically bubbles from bubble bath.  Donald Pleasence screams as a stagehand pours bubble bath bubbles over his head.  I mean, that’s how it looks to me now.  But at the time, it was utterly horrific.  Donald Pleasence screaming as it consumed his head.

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Let’s meet Secret Government member Ramiro Vazquez

, | Game reviews

Allow me to introduce you to Ramiro Vazquez.  Reader, this is Ramiro.  Ramiro, reader.  Ramiro is a member of a small nameless organization hidden deep underneath the machinery of government, yet profoundly involved in the affairs of state.  A “deep state”, if you will.  Our secret brotherhood pulls the strings that run the world.  Yes, it’s a brotherhood.  We don’t allow girls into the club.  This is the 1600s.  Think of it as a pre-Kassandra Ubisoft game.

Let me show you what Ramiro can do.

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I wish Dan O’Bannon were here today to see Zombie Army 4

, | Game reviews

Heavy Metal was a 1981 anthology of very R-rated short animated films based on the sci-fi/fantasy magazine.  It was infused with enough nudity, gore, and profanity — albeit animated — to keep a 15-year-old boy riveted.  But after the titillation wore off, the part of Heavy Metal that stuck with me the most was a segment called B-17, about the ill-fated crew of a World War II bomber.  I was really into B-17s.  I had built models of them.  Sure, I was partial to the B-25 (remind me to tell you about a solitaire boardgame called Enemy Coast Ahead), but the B-17 was a legend.  It was an icon of American resolve and fortitude.

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Let’s count the ways Valorant makes me feel old

, | Game reviews

Valorant, the new free-to-play team shooter from Riot makes me feel all of my years. I’m 49 now, so I’m not so old that I feel like a senior otherwise. I exercise. I binge stream. I’m hip with the kids. Sure, I played the Atari 2600 and I remember when arcades had pinball machines that did not have movie licenses, but I’m down with the tweets. I am old enough that I feel out of step with just about everything in this game. Playing Valorant is a grim reminder that with each passing day I get one step closer to my match ending permanently. It makes me feel old. And not for the reasons you may suspect. I’m not too slow. I don’t have trouble seeing the enemy players. I get all the rules.

Nevertheless, it’s a game for younger folks. Here, then, are all the ways Valorant makes me feel like an old man.

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Seven Reasons I Keep Trying to Play Shadow Empire

, | Game reviews

There are a lot of reasons to stop playing Shadow Empire.  I’ve hit many of them several times over.  The most common is that I don’t understand how something works, but I didn’t realize I didn’t understand until it was too late.  Maybe I built some expensive structure that took several turns of saving up resources, and then several turns of actual building, and now it doesn’t work like I thought it would.  Maybe I move my armies into position for an attack, and now they’re decimated because the supply rules are impenetrable.  Maybe I get into a sudden economic death spiral when I didn’t even realize why I suddenly ran out of food.  Who’s eating all my food?  Maybe I simply can’t figure out how all these numbers are supposed to line up.  Why are these numbers here if I’m supposed to simply take them on faith without even understanding what they mean?

Among other reasons to stop playing Shadow Empire are the torturous interface, the primitive graphics, the slow turn processing, and the uneven documentation.  

But there are also lots of reasons to start playing Shadow Empire again.  Most games that are easy to quit playing are also easy to not play again.  That’s not true of Shadow Empire, an (overly?) complex combination of hardcore operational level wargame, intertwined with a King of Dragon Pass style leader management game, played atop a sci-fi 4X.  Every time I’ve quit playing, I’ve picked it back up.  Here are some of the reasons:

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The torturous tragedy of Solium Infernum

, | Game reviews

You can tell a diver whose mask doesn’t fit by the ring pressed into his face after a dive.  The angry red crease along the shallow skin of the forehead, then down around the outer edges of his eyes, into a furrow through the soft flesh of the cheek, and finally cupping the nose to bisect the philtrum.  If it’s a guy, and he shaved that morning, and you’re all on a salt water dive, he’s really feeling it.  He’s feeling the burn on his upper lip even when the mask is off, and especially when it’s back on. That maddening chafe, and more maddening still that the water kept getting in, up his nose, into his eyes, no matter how tightly he pulled the band at the back of his head.

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Entropy and empires collide in Sunless Skies, the best game of 2019

, | Game reviews

For all the points of the compass, there is only one direction.  And time is its only measure.

–Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

The eye has a powerful thirst.  It will drink greedily and without reservation whatever pictures you put in front of it.  But words sneak past the greedy eye with their own secret pictures. Pictures that no one showed you, that no one else can see, that no one else will ever see.  You, and the author of the words, and the words themselves conspired to create these secret pictures out of emptiness. The words are the breath breathed over the face of the black waters and what happens next is no less than the act of creation.  

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Volko Ruhnke’s Nevsky is a fiddly that has its own quality

, | Game reviews

Wargame design has developed so profoundly over the past four decades that a collection spanning this era almost feels like a series of geological strata. From the perfunctory Nixonian arithmetic of military integers dressed up as history in early SPI games, to the multilateral multi-impulse area movement Avalon Hill games of the first Bush Administration, to the Clintonesque triangulation of the card-driven games that moved history from the rulebook to a little story you held in your hand, the chase of verisimilitude has seen a steady stream of devices meant to get us to that ultimate grail: to touch history. Modern designers have an impressive arsenal of mechanics to assist them in this quest. Yet the goal too often, for one reason or another, eludes them.

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The 3rd best game of 2019: One Finger Death Punch 2

, | Game reviews

Fighting games are a form of puppetry.  You pull the strings, an insensate doll animates, videogame violence ensues.  Most of the puppetry has gotten really complex because most of the puppeteers have gotten really good, and therefore more demanding.  They expect long deep learning curves and literal split second timing. Those learning curves get deeper and that timing gets more precise as brawlers like God of War and Devil May Cry lure away the more casual players like me.

But One Finger Death Punch believes we should all be puppeteers.  

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