100 Word Review: Cyberpunk 2077 (2020)

Anyone who only spent a couple of hours with Cyberpunk would be forgiven for thinking it will be 200 more hours of insubstantial gun-porn. After a few hours the overlong onboarding gives way to the perfect love letter to an oft-misunderstood literary genre. Yes, this is a game where you can use a camera to hack into a man’s mind and make him shoot himself. But under its dense shell of buggy neon and edgy humour, there are well told, heartfelt stories which reward the curious. Others might dislike this dissonance, but for me it’s the best part.

100 Word Review: Kings Quest III: To Heir is Human (1986)

I played a few games in this series as a kid, but KQ3 did something noteworthy in terms of its structure. The player-character is a young lad who needs to escape the abusive service of a horrible old wizard. The wizard leaves for periods, and while he’s away, players get to snoop around the house or scour the local countryside for help before he returns. It’s horribly claustrophobic, but KQ3 started my love for games where you explore a place over and over and keep finding secrets – much like the towns of Harvest Moon and the house in Shenmue.

100 Word Review: Loop Hero (2021)

Loop Hero ticks a lot of my indie game boxes.

It’s aesthetically and thematically interesting, despite still largely being standard fantasy knight-fights-monsters affair. It will remind you that pixel-art is a technique – not a style – and that “another pixel-art indie game” only became a disparaging term because so many people were using the technique with far less style than Loop Hero does.

This game is a chunky, crunchy little bag of systems which do borrow from deckbuilding games… but not enough for “deckbuilder” to adequately describe this arcane, obscure little set-and-forget adventure.

100 Word Review: Diablo III (2012)

I’ve only played through Diablo III a few times, but I can confirm that it does what I want an action RPG to do. Each class feels like a different game mode, and equipment items vary enough in function that there isn’t always an obvious choice. One of the things I find most interesting is how – even after Blizzard have stripped out every superfluous mechanic from its less arcadey ancestors – the third game still retains so much of the same vision you can see in the first game’s initial pitch.

100 Word Review: Disco Elysium (2019)

Videogame skill-trees are usually there to gate off complexity, to prevent player overwhelm while offering an illusion of expressive freedom. Disco Elysium innovates by adding them into what is otherwise a point-and-click adventure. Players construct “builds” based on cop-fiction archetypes; with each skill providing a unique narrative device (they “speak” to you as internal voices; intuitions and biases).

This begs the question; what other profession has enough fictional archetypes associated with it to form the basis of an entire 6×4 grid of skills? The game’s politics are a bit all-over-the-place, but I love inhabiting its strange world and (over/)identifying with its broken protagonist.

100 Word Review: It Came From The Desert (1989)

The Cinemaware games from this period were minigame collections strung together with a narrative, a map and some resource management. It’s a similar formula to Sid Meier’s Pirates!

In the case of It Came From The Desert! none of the mini-games was particularly mind-blowing, but their sparsity and diversity created a special sort of tension. How am I supposed to get good at shooting off an ant’s antenna in faux-3D first person if I only get a chance to practice this shooting minigame every few hours of play?

I’d be interested to see this design model reinvestigated with modern sensibilities.

100 Word Review: Slay the Spire (2017)

I love tabletop deckbuilding games like Dominion where you’re constantly modifying your deck every turn. This isn’t quite the case in Slay the Spire and other games like it, where deckbuilding is there to provide a meta-game to consecutive encounters. But still, STS has me hooked; and unlike twitchy skill-based roguelikes like Spelunky, I can actually finish it. The art direction does nothing for me; it feels like someone took the cute out of Adventure Time, leaving nothing but gross quirkiness. But the builds which emerge as later features are introduced are a joy to discover.

100 Word Review: Hello Neighbor (2017)

Hello Neighbour has the feel of a game you might get out of the Double Fine team if you forced them to make something with no dialogue. I find the art and environment design equally menacing and charming, but after a few hours, I’m still not totally sure what this game is about. The Neighbour is a bit too quick and canny for a standard stealth-game antagonist, and the mish-mash of panicky horror and janky physics puzzles feels like the result of a very art-led project with no real design thought. It’s Tim Burton’s Alien Isolation and ultimately it doesn’t handle movement and physics well enough to be a game all about movement and physics.