There's no question that Sean and Daniel leave Life is Strange 2's third episode with more scars than they began with. Scars have a way of robbing innocence and dispiriting the spirited. It's no wonder Daniel is disillusioned. But that headstrong attitude leaves Wastelands feeling like an episode without much development. Deep in the California forest, the weed is growing but that's about it.
Still, DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders is the rare movie tie-in that doesn't flagrantly lean into a reliving of the film. Dawn of New Riders tries to do something else entirely, and that's admirable in its own way. There's a decent time to be had -- especially for youngsters -- and its flaws and shortcomings don't grate too much, thanks largely to a relatively short runtime. But, because it forges its own path, Dawn of New Riders won't make a lasting impression on the How to Train Your Dragon canon.
Crackdown 3 is a good Crackdown game, which, unfortunately, doesn't mean much anymore. Modern game design has surpassed the Crackdown model by leaps and bounds -- as high and far as an agent can jump. The most remarkable thing about Crackdown 3 is how unambitious it is. It's content to come off as dated, like a relic from a bygone era. That can be comforting in a way, but it's immeasurably more disappointing. Crackdown 3, just like its kin, is only a distraction and nothing more.
Rules is bookended by some heartrate-spiking sequences, but the majority is spent relatively comfortably. Music has crescendos and decrescendos because they're dynamic. Loud has more impact when everything was soft just moments ago. Rules is a decrescendo. It's quiet and it's retrained. But all indications are that Life is Strange 2 won't stay quiet much longer.
It's more Forza Horizon 4, but Fortune Island has a hook that's worth its weight in gold. Turning an island into a giant scavenger hunt is the kind of allure that works perfectly with Forza Horizon. Elsewhere, completing events has its own intrinsic appeal; excelling at racing and stunts is rewarding because it's a racing and stunts game. In Fortune Island, progression brings about a sense of mystery and discovery. That's a reward that's nearly as rich as the millions of credits scattered about the island.
Even though it's not the most thrilling side of Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Hunted accomplishes what it sets out to do. It's an introductory chapter, one that establishes a new conflict at the origins of the Assassin's Creed lore. Although reserved, Hunted manages to be plenty entertaining. More importantly, it constructs a compelling foundation for the rest of Legacy of the First Blade. If the latter two-thirds can build on the first chapter, we're in for one hell of a story.
There's no sugarcoating it: Fallout 76 comes up short at nearly everything it aims to be. It's not a good role-playing game and it's not a good multiplayer experience. It never really feeds into the gradual RPG power fantasy but it's also inadequate as a survival simulator. In wanting to be so much, Fallout 76 doesn't amount to much at all.
Alexios is one of the most memorable protagonists in all of Assassin's Creed, even if I never once actually thought of him as an assassin. In a lesser game, he'd probably be forgettable. But Assassin's Creed Odyssey is superb in nearly every aspect. It's the most impressive Assassin's Creed, even though sometimes it feels like it's Assassin's Creed in name only. It's as broad as Atlas' shoulders and as strong as Hercules. This time, Ubisoft hit a real Homer.
The net result is that we immediately care about Life is Strange 2. There's no getting-to-know-you phase where we're slowly and steadily introduced to conflict. Nope, it's immediate and it's painful. And it makes both Sean and Daniel immediately-sympathetic characters. Developer Dontnod used this first episode as an opportunity to get right at the themes of Life is Strange 2. There's no time wasted and that's an effective way to get our attention. This is going to be a roadtrip that's worth looking forward to, even if it's born out of some of the most tragic circumstances imaginable.
Forza Horizon 4 is another fantastically fun Forza Horizon game even if it's tough to pinpoint Playground's grandest ambition. If it was to reinvent the series with seasons, that falls a bit flat and underwhelming. But, if it was to simply remove the constraints and make everything as open and free as possible, then Playground hit its target in the most impressive way. Regardless, Forza Horizon is still the king of open-world arcade racers, and it really doesn't look like that'll change anytime soon.
That's why the narrative payoff falls short. Lara has always played the roles of savior and protector and researcher and badass -- almost entirely because those are parts she has been thrust into. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a perfectly good game, but it feels as though it never figures out a way to address the most compelling aspect of this arc: Lara's personal growth. What path does she want to carve? What does she want her legacy to be? Maybe she'd be happiest spending her life raiding tombs -- all of the danger with none of the world-ending stakes. The glass half-full analysis is that she's a regular chip off the ol' block; glass half-empty, she never really escaped her father's shadow.
At its core, The Spectrum Retreat has a tragic story about a family cast aside by the American health care system. That much becomes apparent early on, but the finer details are hidden behind too many consecutive puzzles. There's a narrative worth hearing here, but the cadence at which it's told is just a little bit off. That, mixed with the good-but-not-outstanding puzzle design, keeps The Spectrum Retreat from being a truly great stay.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit functionally serves as a playable teaser for the sequel to Life is Strange. Because of this, we never get real resolution to Chris' story. It ends on a gratuitous cliffhanger, and that's so predictably frustrating. But Captain Spirit uses its two hours well to craft a narrative that leaves us wanting more. That was the whole point. Chris may be a superhero but he's also an underdog. Everyone loves a good underdog story.
There's a complex narrative arcing across all of The Invisible Hours, and Tequila Works found a novel way to present it. It's the rare video game that requires no real player intervention to complete. But, the best possible payoff is a result of diligently following all the stories and getting a full picture of all the proceedings. By the end, you'll feel as if you cleverly solved this murder. In all actuality, you only watched the murder solve itself. That is The Invisible Hours' greatest theatrical feat.
There's a constant mood about A Way Out that makes it seem like it's more inventive than it really is. Disregard that and you're left with a decent-enough story with some genuinely enjoyable video game moments. It's campy fun and that's perfectly fine. Just don't expect too much more.
This is Assassin's Creed finally catching the dragon that it has been chasing for a decade. At long last, it has nailed the balance between outlandish and plausible. Because of the period's close ties to mythology, it makes sense for Bayek to travel to the ethereal. It's thematically consistent with the setting, and it's a sincere reason to explore something new. The Curse of the Pharaohs is among the most ambitious of Assassin's Creed add-ons while also among the least jarring. It's quite possibly the best DLC to date. If this is Bayek's swan song, he went out on a high note.
Past Cure wants to be something great, and that ambition is the only thing it has on its side. This is a game that is flawed to its core. The mangled story and shoddy design prevent any single aspect from ever sticking out as something special. Don't even risk taking a bargain bin flier on this one. You'll only end up frustrating yourself.
Pinstripe isn't perfect, but it feels as if it nearly perfectly accomplishes what it sets out to do. It tells an emotional story with its own peculiar and disturbing flair. Like Dante seeking out Beatrice, Ted will walk through hell for Bo. That's something we can all empathize with on some level. That's what's worth fighting for.