January came and went as a fairly light month for video game releases, anchored by the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III and a remake of Resident Evil 2, but the industry’s pace has quickened in a February full of games. Below, we review the biggest titles of the last month to help you sort out which should be added to the backlog, and which may not be worth the effort.
Anthem, BioWare’s foray into the squad-based “shooter looter” genre, is the skeleton of an excellent game held together by an exquisitely animated suit of rocket armor. A word likely to appear frequently in generous reviews of Anthem is “potential.” When everything is working as intended, flying and fighting in the game’s four classes of heavily armed Javelins is fast-paced, fluid and fun. These moments of perfect synchronicity, however, are not as frequent as they need to be, often obscured by excessive menus, load screens, technical glitches, vague tutorials for important mechanics, and other generally baffling design decisions.
Flaws aside, Anthem consistently displays gleams of promise beneath the detritus of repetitive missions and nondescript enemies. Like most BioWare titles, the story is a fairly straightforward “bad guy wants to do bad stuff” premise propped up by intriguing and well-acted characters. The problem with this formula in Anthem is that it feels massively condensed to make room for the game’s MMO structure. At a certain point in the story, a character who loves the Freelancer protagonist suddenly hates her and a character who hates her suddenly loves her, and neither turn feels entirely earned. With the quality of the voice acting and motion capture, it’s difficult not to imagine the game Anthem could have been as a 30+ hour single player experience instead of a 12-hour half-Destiny half-Mass-Effect mash-up.
In a few months, Anthem will probably be a much more streamlined and enjoyable experience. BioWare has already made strides to alleviate some of the game’s most conspicuous pain points (load times aren’t as nightmarish anymore). Endgame content that feels like busywork more than meaningful progression may likewise be vastly improved once BioWare has implemented its full 90-day rollout plan. But in its current state, what could have been this season’s game to beat feels more like an open beta than a finished product. Grade: B- —Evan Lewis
It would be premature to call Apex Legends a Fortnite killer, but the numbers speak for themselves. Respawn’s wildly successful venture into a crowded battle royale genre had reined in a record-shattering 25 million players just one week after its launch on Feb. 4 and shows no signs of slowing down.
Both technically and mechanically, the game is incredibly clean. Since its surprise launch, there have been no notable bugs or glitches. Set in the Titanfall universe, Apex Legends inherited the shooting physics and feel that have already been widely praised, while altering the movement and climbing systems. Respawn has also added extremely intuitive inventory and communication interfaces, including a pinging feature that deserves its own article full of praise for its simplicity and usefulness.
The game puts a very intentional focus on team play, since as of now, players can only queue up for groups of three. As a result, players are required to be mindful of team composition when choosing which of the highly specialized playable Legends to bring to a particular match. The classes and personalities of the Legends take a page out of Overwatch’s book to great success. Other BR games like Call of Duty’s Blackout mode have classes, but Apex Legends one-ups its competition by emphasizing its Legends’ differing personalities and abilities, not just their loadouts.
Apex Legends is not just a new type of BR game, it’s blazing the trail that other games in the genre will follow. Grade: A- —Henrique DaMour
Far Cry New Dawn
In a rare move from the Far Cry franchise, the latest title arrived as a direct sequel to the fifth installment, offering gamers a look at what exactly happened after cult leader Joseph Seed’s premonition of a nuclear apocalypse came true. Short answer, years after the explosion, life returned to rural Hope County, Montana, bringing with it a lush, vibrant new landscape filled with mossed-over mutant bison and pink-antlered deer. Now here’s the long answer.
At its best, Far Cry New Dawn offers more of what was so wild from Far Cry 5, a fun playground in which to reclaim outposts from the Highwaymen (the new “Peggies”), go on missions with familiar characters, and enjoy some of the new upgrades: you’re now able to slap together B-A-N-A-N-A-S weaponry like the sawblade crossbow, and embark on Expeditions, which chopper you to different parts of America to extract packages for side missions.
At its worst, it feels more like a fancy DLC, perhaps something to capitalize on the record-breaking sales of Far Cry 5 instead of offering something more substantive. A lot of the perks – as well as the official “Perks” skills – you start off with in Far Cry 5 aren’t available to you until you progress further. So you’re already starting off with the handicaps of no binoculars and few weapon options.
Speaking as someone who found joy in Far Cry 5 despite its nutty political themes, the steam from that release quickly died down. The Annihilation-esque sci-fi color palette couldn’t prevent this from eventually feeling mundane. Grade: C+ —Nick Romano
As a survival shooter, Metro Exodus is a gripping experience held back somewhat by technical issues, punishing load times and the odd inscrutable objective. As a character-driven narrative, on the other hand, it’s a jumble of questionable to downright cringey writing that leans heavily on post-apocalyptic tropes (Cults: check. Cannibals: check. Resource hoarding barons: check) and an uncomfortable frequency of damsel-in-distress missions.
Exodus is the first in its franchise set mostly above ground, and it does an admirable job balancing its claustrophobic roots with the addition of larger explorable environments. After an exposition dump and tutorials that serve to get new players caught up on the subterranean exploits of protagonist Artyom and his crew of “Spartans,” the game unfolds into a winter wonderland of mutants and mayhem.
Landscapes, from snowy cities to lush forest valleys, are strikingly rendered, when the framerate holds and the screen isn’t tearing, that is. Despite that natural beauty, there are moments when the pacing of the game’s storytelling trips over the open world, and travel can feel like a roadblock to progression rather than a path toward it.
Some of that discomfort is no doubt by design. In the harsh, radioactive Russia of Exodus, getting around environmental hazards and intimidating mutant beasts rightly necessitates strategic management of ammo and crafting materials, even with the difficulty set to normal. But getting from A to B in Exodus crosses the line between tension and frustration slightly more than it should. Grade: B- —EL
Crackdown 3 is all about lunacy, from the Terry Crews lookalike known as Commander Jaxon hurling the bodies of fallen enemies as his throwable Raggedy Ann dolls to the virtual citizens of New Providence sarcastically shouting “Oh wow! Impressive!” as he then propels into a double jump. That seems to be all it has going for it, which isn’t the worst thing.
The latest in the Crackdown franchise takes you to the epicenter of a mysterious blackout. Terra Nova, an evil corporation, seems to be behind it and so the superhuman mechanized Agents are back in action, this time working to take down all the various bosses before hitting the head honcho, Elizabeth Niemand, the CEO of the organization and founder of New Providence.
Multiplayer works better than single in a few ways, mainly in that it isn’t beholden to the hollow and repetitive storyline that feels monotonous after a while. (Take back a subway station, dismantle enemy operations, face the boss, repeat.) You can lean into the insanity of punching through solid walls and calling up massive tanks to blow things up. But some of this doesn’t translate to single player. There’s no demolishing buildings, for one, so instead you’re running through a cluttered open-world map in a gossamer city to defeat enemies a pull off some Grand Theft Auto car jacking. But Crackdown 3 is gonna do what Crackdown 3’s gonna do. It’s not for everyone. Grade: B- —NR
Wargroove establishes itself as the charming, unpretentious successor to Advance Wars that Switch owners deserve. A throwback to the handheld tactical games of yore, it’s an experience that knows exactly what it is and who it’s for, and it succeeds by layering personality and a fully featured map editor on top of a tried and true strategic foundation.
Like Advance Wars, Wargroove’s action is turn-based grid combat, and battles involve capturing settlements, purchasing reinforcements, and achieving map dominance. A unit’s damage is proportional to its health, so damaged units are less effective in combat until healed or repaired. In addition to a roster of standard units, there are 12 commanders — one of whom is a very good doggo — who each have a special “Groove” ability that can change the flow of a battle. Less experienced players may appreciate a granular difficulty slider that can be adjusted at any time throughout the campaign, but those players probably aren’t publisher Chucklefish’s target audience.
Visually, the game is also very much inspired by the days of the Game Boy Advance. While the aesthetic evokes a particular moment in game development history and many of the characters are delightfully cute, some models could benefit from a little more detail. In terms of story, the dialogue and plot aren’t exactly intellectually stimulating, but a playful self-awareness runs through the proceedings. Genre fans who have been craving Advance Wars on Switch (or PC) will find comfort in the colorful familiarity of Wargroove. Grade: B+ —EL