Another batch of short opinions on games I've been playing.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (Insomniac/Sony, 2021)
There's no screenshot here because my PS5 broke and Sony won't answer the phone to fix it, so I can't access my screenshots. But I can draw professional-quality art to represent the game, so thankfully I don't think anyone will notice that this isn't a 4K capture of the game with ray tracing and all.
I'm not going to go too in depth on this one because there are already a million reviews out there telling you it's good, but in short: it's fantastic. I hadn't played more than an hour of one of these games before, so I didn't have any expectations going in. It's an action/platformer that manages to feel very modern and very 2000s classic at the same time. Highly recommended if you can get a PS5. And, you know, it doesn't break.
Time to beat: 10-15 hours
Scarlet Nexus (Bandai Namco, 2021)
This is a deeply confusing game to talk about because it has an absolutely phenomenal combat system and a great soundtrack, but it's middling to actively terrible at everything else. I definitely recommend giving the OST a listen and it'd be an easy buy if it were a $15 indie game. It's much harder to say that a $60 game is worthwhile when it's full of repeated areas, overuses enemies, has a story that is somehow both painfully predictable and absolutely incomprehensible nonsense, and feels too long even at 10-12 hours. I ended up not being able to drag myself through to the ending and quit in chapter 9.
What's worse, it gives up the strengths of its combat at the end by repeatedly sending you out against enemies who can't be staggered and hardly react at all to your cool attacks. There's a lot of potential here to make something amazing in the future after more refinement, but it's not there yet.
Platforms: PC, all current consoles but Switch
Time to beat: 10-12 hours for one branch, twice that if you do two for some reason
In Other Waters (Jump Over the Age/Fellow Traveller, 2020)
Fellow Traveller has carved out a niche for themselves as a publisher of narrative-central games with unique mechanics, and that describes IOW to a T. It's Subnautica as a visual novel, essentially. You're the AI that pilots a dive suit worn by a scientist who has deliberately landed in an unexplored alien ocean in search of a friend. Along the way, you'll document new species and explore a handful of different biomes by using an extremely retro interface.
I loved the first 75% of IOW and would've recommended that to anyone with a love of exploration games and a tolerance for lots of reading, but it went downhill hard after that. Despite all the imagination and creativity that went into creating lifeforms for this new world, the plot ends up being almost entirely summarized by "sci-fi involved a mining corporation." It's not interesting unless you've literally never encountered pessimistic sci-fi before, and I imagine it'd still be predictable even then. And worse still, it abandons several far more interesting threads in order to focus on its generic overarching plot. I still enjoyed it, but I can't recommend a game that flubs the ending as hard as this does.
Platforms: PC, Switch
Time to beat: 6 hours
Lightmatter (Tunnel Vision Games/Aspyr, 2020)
Lightmatter is a game that could not possible be more open about its Portal inspirations: You're trying to escape a decaying lab that was used to create mysterious new technology, and that escape naturally involves solving loads of puzzles and listening to voices over the intercom. Cave Johnson and Aperture Science are even referenced by name.
Obviously you've got to be good to survive a comparison you invite so directly, but Lightmatter thankfully delivers. The core gimmick here is that shadows kill, so you need to use a number of different devices to make sure that your path, and potentially some light-activated switches, are always illuminated. Its strength is an emphasis on lateral thinking, which means that the obvious solution is almost always wrong. If a puzzle seems to require unusually precise movements, you're probably just not thinking about it the right way. Finding a graceful fix to a seemingly complicated problem is always satisfying.
Just about everything else is great, too. It's hyper-stylized art direction makes it clear what terrain is and isn't safe, the plot is surprisingly compelling, and while not nearly as funny as Portal, it manages to get a few laughs in. Valve isn't about to give us a new game, so I'd highly recommend checking it out. Confusingly, Lightmatter is also a real company that makes photon-based CPUs. Hopefully they have more success in not destroying the world.
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Molek-Syntez (Zachtronics, 2019)