Holiday video game season is upon us. How do I know? Because I have a backlog of games sitting on my desk and a severe lack of time to play anything.
Woe is me, right? Nobody ever said being a video game critic is easy. Just remember that not all heroes wear capes.
To help you in this busy time of year, here’s a smattering of game reviews from what I’ve played as of late that, while not receiving full reviews, should be on your radar.
Doki Doki Literature Club (Steam PC, macOS, Linux)
To say even a word of what’s going on behind the curtain in Doki Doki Literature Club does a disservice to this send-up of the visual novel genre. To make a comparison for those familiar with anime, Doki Doki is akin to 2011’s Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a fantastic deconstruction of the “Magical Girl” style of Japanese animation.
Those who will most enjoy this sugary-sweet on the surface story about anime girls and harem tropes are players with a love of the fourth wall being broken. The best moments come from tension created out of distress and uncomfortable moments, with numerous twists along the way that legitimately caught me off guard.
More games could learn a thing or two from Doki Doki Literature Club about how to convey horror and distress without hitting your audience in the face with it like a blunt object. While this free game will only last three hours, it is a delightfully dreadful experience that will leave you thinking about the nature of video games as a storytelling medium.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole (PS4, Xbox, Steam)
South Park proved back in 2014 with The Stick of Truth that licensed games don’t have to be awful. Providing a surprising, simple, and entertaining role-playing game, developer Obsidian and South Park Studios alleviated the fear that fans were about to face yet another awful title based on South Park.
With the trust of fans secured, the team is back together for a sequel, though this time the focus is on super heroes and not Lord of the Rings-inspired high fantasy. While The Fractured But Whole doesn’t shake up the formula much from the last game, it does feel like a tighter experience overall — and one that doesn’t wear out its welcome.
Some of the best RPG boss fights of the year are found in South Park. While you may grow tired of the relentless jokes about Kanye West’s mom or day-laborers, these scripted events are a challenge without feeling insurmountable, all with the right amount of human and strategy.
If you’re a fan of South Park, then this game is a no-brainer. Those who are unfamiliar or out of touch with the almost 20-year-old franchise should still consider visiting this quiet mountain town, as it's one of the best RPGs of the year.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus (PS4, Xbox, PC)
There’s much to be said for the portrayal of Nazis in 2017. Once the go-to video game enemy to blow up en masse, Nazis now find themselves as a part of our daily news cycle with unsettling frequency. Not content on missing an opportunity to tie their narrative to current, real-world events, the team behind Wolfenstein 2 uses its Nazi-killing platform to tell an effective, if haphazard, action tale.
Much of the game play feels like a worse version of 2015’s DOOM, as main character BJ “Terror Billy” Blazkowicz bounds around a room like a sugared-up toddler with a shotgun. To be honest, the shooty sections of Wolfenstein are just forgettable parts between the fantastic and interesting story scenes.
From Grace, the female leader of a Black Panther Party, to Anya, BJ’s pregnant, no-nonsense fiancée, Wolfenstein 2 is full of strong and compelling female characters. The tale of revenge that weaves this tapestry of well-written characters together is worth gritting your teeth through some inoffensive, boilerplate first-person shooting.
That said, the game feels incomplete, as the ending comes close to holding up a sign that says, “Please buy the sequel.” Much of the plot’s bite is lost after the big twist halfway through, and it never gets back that sense of urgency and drama. There are far worse shooters to play this year, if it’s any consolation.
A complementary copy of Wolfenstein 2 was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.
Contact Will Harrison at DoubleUHarrison@gmail.com or on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.
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