PAYDAY 2 is a game that, while not especially near-and-dear to my heart, is something I still have a great fondness for. Back in 2013, myself and a couple of my high school buddies picked up the four-pack on release day and promptly played it into the ground. One thing that we loved doing were hybrid stealth-loud runs; we’d go in, run stealth for as long as we could, inevitably fuck up, and then finish up the heist with guns a-blazing. Overkill quickly patched the way that concealment worked, so that players wearing heavy armor would be spotted by guards within fractions of a second. Dominated guards started having their pagers go off, and clearing all of the security on a map would result in reinforcements showing up for no reason to muck up your routes. Stealth heists became all-or-nothing overnight. You either did a full suit-only, minimal-kill run and restarted when you got caught, or you didn’t bother doing them at all. I didn’t enjoy heisting in stealth after that.
Not too long after that, Overkill added a movie trailer for the then-unknown John Wick to the intro of the game, meaning that you got to watch an advert on every boot. Crimefest 2015 wrapped up with Overkill adding paid lootboxes containing guns with superior stats that you couldn’t get by any other means. I fell out of love with PAYDAY 2; the developers and publishers had jointly fucked enough of it up that I couldn't bring myself to play it any longer. The moment PAYDAY 3 was announced, I told everyone who would listen the exact same thing: “I want to get in on this before they have a chance to fuck it up”. Overkill were going to fuck it up, I knew that much. It was just going to be a matter of when.
I didn’t expect it to be on release day.
We arrive now to PAYDAY 3, a game that's a step down from its predecessor in nearly every way imaginable. Worse progression, worse soundscapes, worse music, bland heists, and always-online servers that are still struggling to function six goddamned days after the scheduled release date.
If Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t exist, this would easily be the most botched launch of the past decade. Back when Diablo 3 released — one of the most notorious always-online titles — Blizzard’s servers choked, serving players across the globe with the infamous Error 37. Memes mocking it were everywhere. You couldn’t escape them. Wherever you looked, people were talking about Error 37 like it was the Super Bowl; everybody was constantly going on and on about how it was a complete failure on Blizzard’s part. And it was, to be clear. But do you remember how long Error 37 lasted for? It was such a big event, and people talked about it for so long, so surely it must have been a while. Two weeks, at least? A month?
One day. Blizzard had it mostly sorted within 24 hours.
How sorry of a state we find the modern gaming industry in where PAYDAY 3 has been literally unplayable for most of its buyers for what’s coming up on a week now and people are still making excuses for it. Only in video games is it still acceptable — worth playing defense for, even! — to sell a broken product at a premium. Many have been pointing fingers around, insisting that it’s the fault of someone else; Overkill/Starbreeze are blaming AccelByte (their server provider) for not being able to handle the influx of players, the gamethinkers are blaming Deep Silver for presumably forcing some hands to make the game always-online, and people who have had to deal with Overkill’s bullshit before are saying that the fault lies squarely at the feet of the developers.
Here’s the thing: I don’t really give a fuck whose fault it is. What I care about is the fact that the game doesn’t work.
Even in the brief flickers where it does manage to suck down a gasp for life, though, PAYDAY 3 feels remarkably unfinished. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that everything that’s here was cobbled together in about a year and promptly rushed out the door; it’s got some of the worst UX I’ve seen in a game in recent memory, and getting anything to work feels like an active battle with the program. No longer can you pick a heist, set up a lobby, advertise that you’re going loud or stealthy, and let other players trickle in; everything is now relegated to matchmaking that’s split up by difficulty tiers, meaning that there are effectively 32 (eight heists by four difficulties) blind queues going at any given time. If you want to do, say, Dirty Ice on Very Hard stealth, you need to queue it up, hope you get dropped into a lobby with people in it, hope that other people show up before the five-minute auto-start goes off, and hope that every other person there is also trying to do stealth, since there’s no longer any pre-game chat or lobby tags to coordinate these things before the heist starts. Shop weapons (and masks, and suits) are no longer split up into categories and are instead dumped haphazardly into a single big list, making it difficult to tell what goes in which slot. Securing bags and loose cash no longer alerts you to their value, making it look like they’ve just disappeared into thin air; the first time I tossed a bag off a bridge and into a helicopter, it vanished without any fanfare and made me think that I'd thrown it out of bounds. For some ungodly reason, typing anything in text chat requires you to hit the enter key twice before you can start writing. Sometimes, while in menus, hitting backspace will send you back to where you were; other times, you'll need to hit escape.
The UI is similarly atrocious, and reeks of being made up of placeholder assets — ignoring, of course, when they are literally just placeholder assets. The iconic, flashing POLICE ASSAULT warning in the top corner of the screen has now been replaced with plain, white, 24pt Arial; every menu option is a generic white-text-on-black-box that inverts when you hover over it; the ability to close the game is buried at the bottom of the "More" tab in the main menu. It's hard to describe, but I can assure you that it's not the kind of thing you want to experience for yourself. Buttons and menus just feel vaguely squishy, like whatever you're trying to select wants you to give it a couple of tries before it'll take. It just feels like it was made in a hustle; a minimally-viable product.
We've got eight heists on launch, and heist number nine isn't scheduled to come out until sometime this winter; aware readers should begin hearing the sound of alarm bells ringing at this point, considering how PAYDAY 2 launched with eleven heists and had five more added in the time it'll take PAYDAY 3 to add one. Also gone are multi-day heists, shrinking the diversity and length of available missions down even further. Everything on offer here feels like little more than a retread of already-existing heists: Road Rage is Green Bridge without an explosion, Dirty Ice is a slightly larger Diamond Store, Gold & Sharke is a scaled-down Big Bank, Touch The Sky is a near-perfect copy of Framing Frame Day 3 but during the daytime. Easily the worst part, however, is how nearly every heist just amounts to "go to a place and steal a thing". It's so dreadfully boring. There's nothing here that even grazes the unique setpieces found in the earlier games, like the meth-cooking in Rats, or the deal-gone-bad in Undercover, or the property destruction in Mallcrasher. It's just break in, bag up some loot, throw it in a van or a helicopter, and then leave. Nothing we haven't seen a dozen times before already. Where's the creativity?
And speaking of, the new skill system is just as lifeless. Just about every option is some variation of "gain X% to [stat]", with almost nothing else on offer. Stuns you dish out last 20% longer, marked enemies are marked for 20% longer, getting ammo from an ammo bag gives you +20% damage for ten seconds, you can perform takedowns 20% faster. It's all just numbers buffs. While anyone who's played PAYDAY 2 on the higher difficulties knows about the importance of damage breakpoints, these are fucking boring boosts that do nothing besides make your numbers a bit bigger. Where are my Jokers? Where's Inspire? Where's Bulletstorm, or Graze, or Hostage Taker, or even just the ICTV? If you don't want to bring these skills back, at least come up with something new that can substitute as a meaningful upgrade. High-tier skills in PAYDAY 2 often drastically changed the way that you would interact with the game, adding new mechanics and playstyles to use in taking down the cops; here, they do little more than provide some damage and resistance buffs.
The progression system is terrible, top to bottom. It's one thing to make it move at a snail's pace — I only unlocked two guns in two hours of playtime, when launch PAYDAY 2 would have given me ten in the same amount of time — but it's another completely to make it purely challenge-based, too. Following in the much-maligned steps of Halo Infinite, heists themselves no longer offer any form of experience; the only means of leveling up is by completing challenges, all of which are some variation on "kill X amount of enemies with Y weapon" or "complete X heist Y amount of times". While challenges early on are plentiful and easy to complete, they swiftly devolve into mindless grinding once you get the initial handful out of the way. One challenge asks you to finish the first heist in the game one hundred and fifty times before it pays out the experience points. I cannot even begin to imagine how they decided that this was preferable to just giving a flat amount of experience points at the end of a heist; it's possible (and becoming increasingly common as more players get higher in level) to finish a heist where you steal every single piece of loot on the map and get ultimately rewarded with zero experience. With cash being as plentiful as it is, experience points are the gate to you accessing the rest of the content. Without experience, you can't actually unlock anything to spend your mountains of money on, unless you really feel like buying dozens of CAR-4s with differing paint jobs. Even then, half of the fucking paint colors are locked behind level gates.
It's not a drip feed. It's more like water torture.
There's more to complain about, but this is already getting a little excessive. There's more to be said about the loss of Simon Viklund and the subsequent downgrade in both music and gun sounds, there's more to be said about the fact that you have to wait in a queue even for single-player games, there's more to be said about how navigating the menus feels like fumbling around in a dark room for the light switch, there's more to be said about how they went back to obfuscating weapon stats instead of just giving you the numbers, there's more to be said about how the too-snappy reload animations look like they're sloppily aping Call of Duty: Warzone's, there's more to be said about how the inevitable microtransactions are going to fuck this game up even further. There's more to be said, but I'm exhausted. I don't want to think about this game anymore.
This is the kind of abject flop that I'm not entirely certain Starbreeze will be able to bounce back from. The company is already standing on Bambi legs after brushes with bankruptcy caused by Overkill's The Walking Dead and a full-on INTERPOL raid as part of an insider trading investigation, and another failure on this scale might not be something they can afford to suffer. PAYDAY 3 ads were plastered all over the front page of Steam the day that this dropped, and the game completely vanished from the list of top sellers within the first few days. At the time of writing, there are about 5,000 more players online in PAYDAY 2 than there are in PAYDAY 3, and those are really not the kinds of numbers you would hope to see not even a week after release. Starbreeze's stock prices have plummeted to their lowest point in four years, and the last time it dropped this far down was when Bo Andersson was getting walked out of the studio in handcuffs.
It's sad. I like PAYDAY well enough as a series. I wanted this to succeed. It didn't, and I doubt it will.
There is no reason to play PAYDAY 3 in a world where PAYDAY 2 still exists.

The student becomes the master overnight.
Lies of P is a game that came completely out of nowhere, left no impression on me beyond "why would someone make a dark, moody game about Pinocchio", and then managed to completely eclipse every expectation I had. I got back on Game Pass for Starfield and PAYDAY 3, and decided to give this a crack solely as a might-as-well-try-it; not only is this the better of those, it's one of the finest games I've ever played. I mean this honestly and heretically: it is better than all three mainline entries of the Dark Souls series.
Yes, Lies of P is derivative. No, this does not detract from its quality. The obsession with "newness", both as an inherent virtue and as something all creators ought to strive for, is an ideal forced to take root almost exclusively at the behest of European bourgeois Romantics all looking to (ironically enough) copy what Rousseau was telling them to do in the 1700s. Art as a whole has spent centuries upon centuries cribbing from other pieces to put itself together, and it's a fairly recent development that doing shit that someone else did but in your own way is seen as a failure of the artist. I, personally, do not care about this in the slightest. If you do, I would ask only that you examine why you believe this to be so; do you have a legitimate grievance against derivative works for any reason other than because others have told you that they're some synonym for "bad"?
Round8 Studio has come almost completely out of nowhere to deliver something that's immensely fun to play, narratively engaging, and utterly gorgeous in just about every area you can find yourself in. Any developer that can come out swinging this hard and connect with just about every blow deserves to be celebrated. There's a lot to talk about, and certainly a lot of it is in regards to the way that people are talking about it. I'll get my core thesis out of the way, first:
If you like Dark Souls, you'll probably like this game.
If you've made liking Dark Souls into a defining personality trait of yours, you're going to fucking hate this game.
Lies of P rides a fine line of being distinct, but not different. The overlap between FromSoft's PS3-and-onward output is broad, borrowing bits and pieces and rearranging them around; something similar to Sekiro parries, something similar to a Bloodborne dodge, something similar to the Dark Souls 3 enemy ambushes. But Lies of P is distinct enough in its execution of these elements that long-time Souls players will unilaterally be chin-checked when they try bringing over their muscle memory from these other titles.
Perfect guards are a guard, not a parry, and tapping the block button Sekiro-style will make you eat a hit. The dodge offers fast, generous invincibility, but it's never as safe as the one in Bloodborne is; enemies using their big red attacks will cut through your i-frames by design, encouraging you to either parry or move well out of the way. Enemies will usually come in ones and be very obvious, but many will hide just out of sight in the hopes of clipping players who haven't yet been trained to look around before charging past a blind corner. The game is uncompromising in demanding the player to meet it on its terms, rather than copying wholesale from the games that obviously inspired it and allowing the skills you learned there to completely carry over.
If you try playing this exactly like every other FromSoft Souls game you've played up to this point, you will lose, and hard. If you can not (or will not) adapt, you will probably get filtered out by the Archbishop and start publicly wondering why anyone likes this game.
There's a very strange — and frankly, it feels borderline dishonest — set of complaints I've seen where people are just outright wrong about the way the game functions, and they then use their incorrect assumptions as a base from which to knock on the game. I've seen complaints that large weapons aren't viable because you don't get poise/super armor on heavy attacks; this is blatantly untrue, and charge attacks with heavy weapons will regularly blow straight through an enemy hit. People say the dodge is unreliable, but it really isn't; if you're getting caught, you're either messing up a (fairly generous) timing or you're getting hit by red fury attacks, which the game clearly tells you cannot be rolled through. People say it's an aesthetic rip-off of Bloodborne, and this really only applies to a couple of the eldritch enemies; Parisian streets, circus theming, and fantastical automatons lend to a pretty distinct visual identity from any of the other heavy-hitters in the genre.
People say the voice acting is bad, but most of the cast is made up of established, talented stage and screen actors returning from other games like Elden Ring and Xenoblade Chronicles 3, where their performances were lauded; they sound borderline identical to what they've done since just last year, so what makes it acceptable there, and laughable here? People say the translation is bad, but I only noticed a single grammar mistake and typo in my entire playthrough, and they were both buried in the flavor text of a gesture; the rest of the writing offered some evocative lines that managed to bounce between introspective, beautiful, and the coolest fucking thing I've ever read in my life. Where are these complaints coming from? Did we play the same game? It makes no sense. I'm losing my mind trying to figure out how anyone even came to most of these conclusions. It really feels like the most vocal naysayers only played enough of Lies of P to come up with a few surface observations and then made up the rest wholesale.
None of this is to imply that the game is without fault, because it isn't. Boss runs are still present in all of their vestigial glory, consistently adding a mandatory and boring twenty seconds before you can retry a failed boss attempt. Elite enemies — especially in the late game — are often such massive damage sponges that it's a complete waste of time and resources to actually bother fighting the ones that respawn. The breakpoint at which an enemy gets staggered is a hidden value, so you're always just hoping that the next perfect guard will be enough to trip it; we've already got visible enemy health bars here, so I can't see why we don't get enemy stamina bars, too. (Stranger of Paradise continues to be the most mechanically-complete game in this sub-genre.)
For these faults, though, there are at least as many quality-of-life changes that I'm astounded haven't been adopted elsewhere already. Emptying your pulse cells (your refillable healing item) allows you the opportunity to get one back for free if you can dish out enough damage. Theoretically, as long as you can keep up both your offense and defense, you have access to unlimited healing. It's such a natural extension of the Rally system, where you can heal chip damage by hitting foes; Bloodborne's implementation of blood vials looks completely misguided next to this. If you have enough Ergo to level up, the number in the top right corner of the screen will turn blue, no longer requiring you to manually check if you've got enough at a save point. When a side quest updates, the warp screen will let you know that something has happened, and where to start looking for the NPC that it happened to.
It's a challenging game, but it really isn't that hard. I do agree with the general consensus that it would be nice if the perfect guards could be granted a few extra frames of leniency. I managed to start hitting them fairly consistently around halfway through the game, but it's going to be a large hurdle that'll shoo off a lot of players who don't like such tight timings. Tuning it just a little bit would help to make it feel a bit more fair without completely compromising on the difficulty. Everything else, I feel, is pretty strongly balanced in the player's favor; I got through just about every boss in the game without summoning specters and without spending consumables, but they were all there for me if I really needed them. I'd like to go back and play through it again, knowing what I know now, and really lean into the item usage. It's not like you won't wind up with a surplus, considering how easy everything is to farm.
I understand that Bloodborne is something of a sacred cow, especially on this website — it's currently two of the top five highest-ranked games — so anything that seems like it's trying to encroach on its territory is going to be met with hostility before all else. I understand. It's a special game for a lot of people. That said, I'd suggest going into Lies of P with an open mind and a willingness to engage with the game on its own terms; you might manage to find it as impressive of a work as I do.
Quartz is stored in the P-Organ.

Like a cool glass of water on a summer afternoon.
I’ve tried getting into Ghost Trick a few times, but I never managed to stick with it for very long. I don’t really know why this is; Shu Takumi’s earlier Ace Attorney trilogy gripped me at a fairly young age and never let go, so I can’t really fathom why I kept dropping Ghost Trick not long after finishing the tutorial. I think it’s just because I hate timing puzzles. That’s a petty reason, but it’s the best I’ve got. After some consistent prodding from my good friend Chef033, however, I decided that I was gonna get all the way through Ghost Trick once and for all.
I did, and it ruled.
It’s the kind of game that’s hard to talk about without getting too deep into spoilers — it’s a murder-mystery, after all — and it benefits heavily from unearthing its secrets as you play. While some of the twists and turns are incredibly obvious (perhaps intentionally so), others will only become apparent about ten seconds before they happen. These latter moments are obscenely hype, and I wouldn’t dare dampen anyone’s experience by giving them away. If you know, you know; if you don’t, you should experience them for yourself.
The cast is full of colorful, larger-than-life characters, and you’d be hard-pressed to forget a single one of them by the time the credits roll. Each of them are given so much personality purely through these lavish, indulgent animations; Cabenela’s little Michael Jackson-inspired dance that he does when he enters a room reportedly took a month to animate, and it shows. Ghost Trick loves to keep crossing a line from “that’s impressive” to “how the fuck did they even manage to do this” pretty frequently, and it’s nothing short of a visual treat. The incredibly crunchy, pixellated models sell a strong visual identity, and it’s a style I vastly prefer over the remaster’s smooth, high-LOD variants.
And goddamn, the music is good. "GHOST TRICK" — the theme that likes to play at the end of chapters — is one of the best “you did it” songs of triumph I’ve heard in a game. From what I’ve read, a lot of the music was composed without Masakazu Sugimori nor assistant Yasumasa Kitagawa having context for what was actually going to be happening in the game, which is shocking. Everything fits together so neatly, and finding out that it was mostly just the product of “I’ve got a vibe in mind and I’m going to just make things that fit it” almost seems unbelievable. It’s like accidentally creating the final missing piece to a puzzle you’ve never seen before.
It’s an immensely, immensely impressive game, and the only foibles I can find are that having to loop through a lot of the same, slow events when you make a mistake can be frustrating. My emulator let me fast-forward through a lot of the repeated downtime, and I imagine I would have been a lot more annoyed if I needed to sit through it all in real time, every time. Even so, what’s here is still wonderful, and it deserves your attention. It took me far too long to get around to actually finishing it, but I’m very glad I ended up seeing it through to the end.
It’s “Missile”!

Oh, he's just like me!
Content warning for discussions of substance abuse and suicidal ideation.
I've been putting off writing this review for a while, because I think this is one of the most beautiful pieces of art ever created. More than any film, more than any song, and certainly more than any other video game. We all have some piece of media that feels wholly personal to us — if you haven't found yours yet, you will eventually — and Disco Elysium is mine. Nothing else has made me feel so seen, so understood; it's a very, very powerful feeling when you discover that you're not as alone as you thought you were. This is review #100, so fuck it. Let's do this.
My closest personal friends know about my struggles with alcoholism. Some of them are on Backloggd, but most of them aren’t, so this is going to be the first time a lot of you who only know me from here are going to hear about this. Some of the roughest years of my life kicked off in 2016. I’d grown up in an abusive household (surely a story for another time), and 2016 was the year that I turned 18. I worked as much as I could, neglected school as much as I was able to, moved out, and never looked back. It fucking sucked. It sucked slightly less than staying at home and having to deal with my father getting shitfaced and threatening to kill me every night, but it sucked.
In Canada, the legal drinking age is 19. We’ve got access to the stuff two years earlier than you Americans do. What that meant for me, with my big beard and sunken eyes and deep voice, was that nobody at the local liquor stores had been carding me since the eleventh grade. The laws have changed since then, and everyone now has to present ID regardless of how old they look — I had a fake in case they asked, anyway — but no cashier ever looked twice at me. So I had easy, consistent access to alcohol, and I gradually gained a dependence on the stuff. Well, I say “gradually”, but it was pretty fast. No pipeline for me, of having a drink before dinner turning into a couple, then a couple more; I drank as much as I could because it made me feel stupid, and then it made me fall asleep, and that was a pattern that felt better than dealing with my shriveling bank account and my constant desire to curl up and quietly die.
One day, probably about a year or two later — I know a lot of people mark the exact day they decided to start being sober, but I was going through my life in a complete fucking blur — I realized that I needed to either stop drinking, or it would kill me. I don’t know what triggered that thought, but I didn’t really care. I’d die, so what? Yeah, the thought was scary, but my life was shit. It’d be like getting upset over losing a quarter in the couch cushions. Oh, well.
Then, another thought hit me: you’re turning into your father.
That one got me.
Spite is a powerful motivator.
Disco Elysium came to me at a time where I was starting to settle into a sober groove. No more drinking, even though I still wanted it. If you’ve never dealt with substance abuse like that, imagine a big plate of your favorite food, constantly in front of you, and you’re not allowed to take a bite. Everyone else is always talking about how delicious it is, and how much they love it, and then they get weird when you try explaining that you can’t have any. People start talking about you behind your back, about how you’re “the guy who says he can’t have any”. Other people will actively bait you into trying some. They’ll tease you, call you a pussy, mock you for your boundaries. It’s shit. It’s fucking shit and it never goes away. I digress.
With time, it gets a little easier. You recognize the kinds of things that’ll set you off, that’ll make you want it. You learn to avoid them, you learn to cope with them. You make little deals with yourself, like how I swapped from booze to weed; the world’s no fun to take on completely sober, is my rationale. It’s the leaf or the sauce, and one of them is a whole lot fucking worse for me than the other.
The detective is in a very similar boat. He’s a man so subsumed by his addictions that he’s lost every part of him that isn’t defined by the substances he takes. His memory of who he is, what he believes, who he loves; it’s all gone, washed away beneath a tide of liquor and pills and powders and research chemicals. Ostensibly, the goal of the game is to solve a murder, but the real mystery is in uncovering who the detective is — was, perhaps — before he drowned every part of himself in drugs. If there’s nothing that can be remembered, it must be uncovered. If there’s nothing to be uncovered, it must be invented. Harry DuBois, Raphael Ambrosius Costeau, Tequila Sunset, the Icebreaker; who is he, really? Some of these? All of them? None?
As you play, the detective is constantly challenged to give in to his vices. It’s easy to take drugs. Beneficial, even! But everything in Revachol can be the catalyst for change, much as it can all be an excuse to keep things going as they are. The detective can begin the long, slow, arduous road to sobriety, doubtlessly inspired by his partner and friend Kim Kitsuragi.
Kim is one of the best characters ever written. He is everything the detective is not. He can control his urges. He’s got himself in order. What he sees in the detective does not impress him…initially. The detective, for all of his faults, has kept one thing true about himself; he is a damn good detective. Kim sees this. He latches onto it, and doesn’t let go. In the darkest times, in the hardest times, he reminds the detective that he is a damn good detective. The detective needs someone like Kim to ground him, and Kim needs someone like the detective to bring the case to a close. Getting Kim to trust you might be the greatest sense of achievement you will ever feel in a game. To be a constant fuck-up who eventually stops fucking up is a triumph, and Disco Elysium captures the feeling perfectly.
It’s no secret that Robert Kurvitz, the lead writer of the game, has struggled with substance abuse in the past. He once mentioned in an interview that he believed everyone else on the development team had, too. This is the kind of story that can only be written at this level of depth and nuance by people who truly understand what it’s like to find themselves at rock bottom and claw their way back up. It’s masterful. I’ve shed a lot of tears over Disco Elysium, and I know there are going to be a whole lot more to come.
I’m about five years dry, I think. My sense of time is all fucked up. It’s gotten easier to stay away, but not much.
Disco Elysium is still my favorite game.
Pirate it. ZA/UM got stolen from its creators by Estonian businessmen.

Strong bones, weak flesh.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the kind of game where it’s a miracle that it’s as good as it is, and yet it still manages to fall a little short. Anyone attempting to make a follow-up to 1999’s Deus Ex couldn’t possibly realize what they were setting themselves up for — that’s how we got Invisible War, after all — and dominant design trends of the early-2010’s didn’t exactly set a suitable stage for immersive simulators. Contemporary stealth games had sucked ass for years, too; a stealth-y immersive simulator that could come out as anything other than hot garbage was going to be an accomplishment.
Under those expectations, then, Human Revolution is probably the best game it could have been. All media will inevitably become a product of its time, and I think Human Revolution managed to hang on a few years past what should have been a very early expiry date. There’s a weird unskippable walk-and-talk section in the opening moments of the game, most of the social commentary is delivered with the grace of a brick soaring through a windshield, clear budget issues present themselves through the mass (re)use and abuse of hubs; all of these are era-specific foibles. You can’t play Human Revolution today without immediately catching the stink of 2011’s triple-A conventions wafting off of it. That stink might also be left over from the piss filter that they wiped off the screen in the Director’s Cut version of the game. I’m not sure.
But Human Revolution mostly manages to hold up. The characters are strong — Adam Jensen has remained a breakout favorite for many, with his constant, gravelly rasping and catty attitude — the gameplay is largely fine, and the atmosphere is thick. The streets of Detroit and Hengsha can suck you into themselves like quicksand if you aren’t paying attention, filled with little crooks and crevices to explore and loot. Even paths that lead to dead ends still reward you with XP, so the act of exploring never feels like a complete waste. You’ve only got a few flavors of builds; you can go one of stealth or non-stealth, and one of lethal or non-lethal. There’s not much point to mixing and matching, and the game itself is woefully easy to get through regardless of which build path you take. At the very least, no option feels wrong.
While the earliest parts of Human Revolution are strong, the game starts to lose its footing a bit as it goes on. The second visits to Detroit and Hengsha swiftly devolve into little more than running from one end of the map to the other in a continued series of acts that feels like the game is trying to stall for time. The DLC boat chapter from The Missing Link has been forcibly rolled into the main campaign, and it’s shit. There isn’t much more to say about it than that. It’s a hyper-linear slog with twists you can see coming from a mile away, and manages to be the worst combination of "too easy to be challenging" and "too long to wrap up before it gets boring". The Missing Link now acts as a ridiculously tall speed bump in the late-middle of a game that’s already beginning to drag its feet, and whatever momentum Human Revolution had before it put you on the boat evaporates just in time for the final stretch to begin.
It’s certainly not a bad game, by any means, and the opening segments are far stronger than I remember them being. The game ends weakly, though, and that’s always going to feel worse than the inverse. This is the exact kind of project that I wish could have been made with a bit more time, a bit more money, a bit more freedom. As it stands, it’s still a competent follow-up to Deus Ex. It never could have been better than what came before it, given the climate that Human Revolution released in, but it’s an admirable attempt all the same. A few issues spoil it, but there’s nothing here that isn’t salvageable.
You can make Adam Jensen say he “never asked for this” to like four different people before the credits roll. It’s really cute seeing him make up his own catchphrase.

Sorry, baby. I just don't love you the way I used to.
It's not you. It's me. You haven't changed, even though you really should have. You're still as much of a buggy mess as you were on release, with all of your crashes and non-functional mechanics, but those never bothered me. A couple community patches — you always did have a tendency to rely on others to make you work properly — and you're about as stable as you could have been. So why is it that I'm coming back to you over a decade later, with all of my fond memories, and I find that whatever spark we once had is now gone?
It's because you're boring, baby. That's the awful truth.
I really did think I was above such a petty complaint. I mean, your writing is excellent. You've got some incredibly strong characters and storylines, and you allow for a way more freeform approach to your narrative than most of your contemporaries could ever dream of. You've got a tone about you. Nobody could ever look at you and mistake you for anyone other than yourself.
But your moment-to-moment experience is just so boring. So repetitive. All I'm doing is walking. Walking and walking and walking from flat plain of dirt to flat plain of dirt, and then fast traveling between flat plains of dirt, while one of about five licensed songs play on loop. You've got the shortest playlist in the world. You've got spurs that jingle-jangle, you were always a fool for your Johnny, yippee-yay, I know it all. I could always turn off your radio and listen to the ambience of the areas around me, but your environmental sound design just isn't up to par. I don't blame you. You didn't even have a year to get ready. It's not your fault.
You take way too long to get going, and by the time we get there, I've seen everything you've had to offer me a hundred times over. I'm sure some people would say that I'm not treating you the way that I ought to, and I'm just being unfair because I've played too much of you. Maybe. But I've visited old favorites that I've been with a lot longer than you, baby, and none of them bored me the way that you do now. I can't keep feeling like the burden is on me to make you more fun; like I need to be the one going out of my way to get all of these mods and patches for you when keeping me entertained is your job.
I know nobody ever came to you for the gameplay, but you keep insisting on putting it front and center. I can't get away from it. If there was about 50% less "game" in this game, it would still be too much for what it currently is. It's borderline vestigial. I know that you care a lot more about your story, and so do I. I wish that you could have just focused on what you were good at. Your environments aren't pretty enough to get lost in, and they're not enough of a traversal challenge to be engaging; all I'm doing is walking forward and popping the occasional enemy, and it's just not enough.
What more can I say? I've fallen out of love. A classic needs to hold up to be a classic, and the twelve years since your release have left me unsure if you ever even qualified. You were novel once, and now you're not. You could have been more, but neither your publishers nor your developers were keen on that idea. You were rushed, and it'll always show.
I got carded trying to buy this at a Gamestop in 2011 and was refused because I didn't have my ID on me.

Gacha games were a mistake.

You take a corner at 195 in the most lovingly-rendered rectangle of a car you've ever seen in your entire life as your tires scream, a helicopter soars across the setting sun, and the drums to Lucid Racing kick in, and you realize how much cooler this game is than you.

The end of the beginning of the end.
There was a stench that lingered in the air. The first to emerge from the miasma, sick and shambling, was Silent Hill: Origins. Middling at its highest points, Origins was unwell. A gaiden game though it may have been — as was the refrain from fans, all collectively bargaining for this to be a singular misstep and nothing more — it warned of worse yet to come. Silent Hill, no longer in the hands of its rightful creators, had been set loose. As a pig breaks from its enclosure and becomes a feral boar, Silent Hill slipped through the fence posts and morphed into something foul.
The stench got stronger. Eyes watered. The tolling of the final bell marked the way that all would be for the days to come. Blood and shit and rust and slime wept outward from within its confines. What little hope still remained would have been better left abandoned. Silent Hill: Homecoming had at last arrived. Marked not by any ceremony nor celebration, Homecoming was the darkened star that shone over all, calling to consciousness a single truth: everything you hold dear can be taken away.
Its kingly ambition had been betrayed early, having the gall to call itself Silent Hill 5 before release. No longer intended as a simple spin-off, Homecoming was an explicit continuation of the series; the franchise being stripped from Team Silent and sent overseas to be repackaged into something with more mass market appeal. Everyone within Team Silent had been kicked down from higher positions within Konami; underdogs who warred back against the company’s internal bureaucracy to create on their own terms. Silent Hill was the end-product of years of gnashing teeth and desperate cobbling-together, the act of creation as a tool to be wielded against those who had pushed them down.
Now, it was no longer theirs.
Homecoming is a strange and unnerving amalgamation, influenced not by prior games but by movies based on them; the overuse of Pyramid Head, the sound design, the increased and ill-advised focus on “the action” over building atmosphere. The once-universally praised narratives to be found within the series, tackling impressively difficult subjects, have now been swapped out for little more than a hollow video tour, whisking the player from spooky setpiece to spooky setpiece with all the thematic depth and implication of Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. Homecoming has nothing to say, because Homecoming does not exist. Homecoming is a few other games and movies standing on each other’s shoulders in an overcoat.
There is no imagination here, no understanding of dread. Enemies shamble towards you, lit from all angles despite the entire game taking place at night time, loudly shrieking or gurgling or barking as they charge. Too slow to be a threat, but too fast to evoke Romero-esque monsters, every enemy manages to hit a perfect balance of being both bland and generic. Left 4 Dead has more clever monster designs, and those aren’t attempting to evoke a specific character’s fears simply because that’s what Silent Hill 2 did. The meat-dogs in Homecoming stand as the strongest possible condemnation of the game’s artistic decisions; no longer lit in inky shadows, seemingly dripping through the darkness to reveal themselves, the new meat-dogs are bright-red, flayed canines who do little more than sprint shrieking at the player and bite them for very little damage. Americans think horror is when something is loud.
An utterly insipid narrative rounds out the combat-roll, knife fight gameplay, bending itself in knots in the hopes that the attempt will be enough to distract from every other element. Alex is a combat veteran, but not really. His brother is alive, but not really. His dad is a cool guy, but not really. Events seem to happen arbitrarily, perhaps each one marking a spot where the developers thought players would be getting bored; sudden black-out stage transition sequences of drunk-tank escapes and county jail gate puzzles pepper themselves through long sections of walking that were used in prior games to establish a tone, and are used here to disguise loading screens. Homecoming can only be defined by its limitations, because it makes no efforts to overcome them. It coasts on its reputation, like a bad student whose father is alumni.
This is what I despise most about Homecoming. It’s a game that’s wholly content to ride the coattails of work done by better, more talented, more passionate artists, and it’s one that was rewarded wholly for doing nothing by being gifted to a no-name studio by Konami. What did The Collective do as a studio to be handed this franchise without seemingly any publisher oversight? Was Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the Xbox that much of a hit? Did Konami believe that their seminal 2006 movie tie-in game The Da Vinci Code was evidence that they were going to handle this series with respect? Or did Konami simply sell off the rights to the lowest bidder just so they could get a quick buck off of a franchise they didn’t respect, made by employees who they loathed?
It's a despicable creation, and stands as a putrid reminder that concepts like "merit" and "self-expression" are air. Here, there is nothing besides what is most profitable for the parent company.
A foul cloud hangs over Homecoming. May it never thin.

“I’m not like the other girls,” she said, exactly like the other girls.
Bulletstorm is ass, but it’s a certain kind of ass that we don’t really get too often anymore. Slow, plodding, juvenile, desperate to be proven, but just not having the technical nor narrative chops to differentiate itself from its contemporaries. For all of its attempts at grit and bombast, it just comes off as being pathetic.
The successes of Halo as a franchise ruined shooters for years, but its impact left a smoking crater in the libraries of every home console. Regardless of whether or not you actually like the series, it’s impossible to deny that developers for the sixth and seventh gens of consoles were falling over themselves to Xerox their own version in the hopes that they’d get a sliver of Bungie’s billion-dollar pie. Halo standardized systems in console shooters the way that Mario standardized holding the B button to run: two-weapon limits, regenerating health/shields, slow movement. If you played a console shooter between the years 2001 and 2016, they were almost literally all like this. When you’ve got a standard that’s been in place for a decade and a half, people will inevitably start getting antsy. It’ll start small, at first, but they’re gonna want something new.
Bulletstorm promised innovation.
It’s quaint, looking back on the marketing surrounding this game from twelve years ago. Epic Games went on the attack against Call of Duty — of all things — with the release of Duty Calls, a five-minute gag game that mocks the aforementioned series for being sluggish, filling itself with unnecessary cutscenes, giving the player a uselessly short jump, constantly overusing slow-motion, and having paper-thin characterization. It certainly wasn’t the most clever takedown, but it got the broader Internet's attention, and that meant a lot more in 2011 than it does in 2023. If People Can Fly could deliver on their promise of a title that actively refuted all of these factors, it was going to be a shoo-in for shooter of the year.
Bulletstorm released about three weeks later, and it was sluggish, full of unnecessary cutscenes, lacked a jump button entirely, constantly overused slow-motion, and had paper-thin characterization. It had a hard three-weapon limit (though one of them had to be your starting assault rifle), regenerating health, and slow movement.
Perhaps the greatest crime of Bulletstorm is not that it failed to deliver on virtually any of its promises, but rather the fact that the strongest peaks it can hit are still no better than boring. The skillshot system is genuinely interesting and by rights should have been enough to carry the experience on its back by itself, but it’s a) incredibly restrictive due to the weapon limit and the inability to swap to new ones outside of shops, and; b) nowhere near rewarding enough. The point of the points is that they allow you to purchase upgrades, but most of them are strictly boring number bonuses. Higher ammo caps, additional leash charges, not much else. The bulk of your points are actually just going to wind up being spent on ammunition, because enemies scarcely drop fucking anything.
If Bulletstorm had skipped the upgrade purchasing system entirely and made trickshots provide the player with health and ammo (ala nu-DOOM glory kills or Ultrakill blood showers), there would have been significantly more of an incentive to actually bother. As it stands, setting up these clever kills is both harder to do than just popping the enemies with your default rifle and doesn’t provide enough of a mechanical reward to make up for it. If you’re relying on the act alone being enough to entice players into doing it, you need to be very confident that they won’t start feeling like it’s routine the hundredth time they fling a guy into the air and shoot him with a firework.
You've got a narrative here that's equal measures "ha ha, who cares about video game stories" constantly warring with its other half that won't stop screaming "please take me seriously". Characters won't stop yelling about dicks and balls and farts in a way that I suppose is meant to be ironic, and then it brings the action to a screeching halt to pretend as though there's an emotional core that the player ought to be invested in. There's a lady here whose entire raison d'etre is that she's hot and she swears. Your co-op buddy is pulled back from the brink of becoming a remorseless killing machine with a teary "I love you, man" monologue and then a power door fails to open because it got the Xbox 360 red ring of death. It ultimately doesn't work, and the game ends with him saying "" to show that he's truly become the Joker. Roll credits, we're ending on a cliffhanger. Buy the new version for forty dollars to play as Duke Nukem, just in case you thought this wasn't a contender for Epic's most creatively bankrupt product.
The first of many, many falls from grace for People Can Fly. It's sad to see the creative team behind Painkiller — a game which isn't outstanding, but is certainly still good — lower themselves to this, both mechanically and narratively. I know they're capable of doing better, but they just can't seem to rekindle their very first spark. It's a shame.
Games for Windows Live died and made it so I couldn't play this game on PC anymore. It's the first time I've ever been glad to have someone steal from me.

Has the potential to be one of the greatest fighting games ever made.
There was once a time where I was excited to see the Capcom logo when I started up a game. There was a time after that when seeing that logo filled me with dread. There’s a time right now where it excites me again. Let’s hope this isn’t cyclical.
Street Fighter 6 is easily one of the most beginner-friendly fighting games I’ve ever seen, filled to bursting with dozens upon dozens of quality of life tools to help newbies get both into the genre and into the lab. A lot of scrub quotes have come out in the wake of the addition of modern controls from those horrified at the thought of fighting games having higher skill floors, but a bad player on modern will still get absolutely worked by a mediocre player on classic. Auto combos and Smash Bros. special inputs can only carry you so far; this is still Street Fighter, the game of grounded neutral and footsies, and you will learn your fundamentals or be bodied.
Fortunately, it’s never been easier to start the learning process. Training mode allows you to see inputs, frame data, activate preset CPU behaviors, find out when you’re actionable, tweak values, parameters and game logic to your heart’s content; perhaps this is a bit less impressive in an era where feature-rich labs are more common than they were a generation ago, but this is a stacked selection. You won’t be left wanting for much besides visible hit and hurt boxes — an obvious miss by Capcom, all things considered — and near-seamless character transitions from the pause menu can get you practicing as or against someone new without even backing out from the lab.
World Tour mode has remained a somewhat surprising draw, though perhaps it shouldn’t be too shocking; there are going to be a lot of people who are only interested in playing this with their friends, and the game may as well not exist for them if there’s nothing else to keep their attention when said friends aren’t around. Getting to sprint around Metro City and interacting with all of the masters is fun. Texting Ryu or fumbling Juri is as goofy as it is entertaining, as is the inherent ridiculousness of literally almost every single person who walks down the street being ready and willing to start throwing elbows so long as you ask. You can also sucker punch them to deal extra damage before the fight even begins. This makes you a scumbag, but scumbag tactics work well enough. It’s fairly grindy if you’re aiming to see most of the content and max out your relationship levels with your mentors, but most players probably won’t run into this wall before they wrap up their playthrough.
The experience is marred by a few tiny dents that still need to be banged out. Online ranked matchmaking is complete and utter garbage; if you get lucky and do too well in your placement matches, you’ll get ranked far above where you’re actually meant to be. Normally, this wouldn’t be much a problem, as losing matches will make you lose LP, decreasing your rank. The core issue is that you can’t drop below the division that you were placed in, presumably as an effort to stop smurfs from deranking and stomping noobs. My Manon got placed in the Gold bracket. I am not good enough to be in Gold. All I can do now is lose set after set against players far better than I am with virtually no recourse, as I am outright not allowed to drop down to the bracket I ought to be in unless I play a completely different character. The current implementation of ELO needs to change. I can’t seriously imagine that there are enough intentionally deranking players out there racking up double perfect K.O.s against Modern Ryus to justify not letting anyone fall below their placement division.
Additional minor complaints are that the input system oscillates a little inconsistently between “too tight” and “way too lenient”; some of the example combos will eat your motions if you perform them before you’re fully actionable, while characters like Zangief can reliably throw out a launcher into air grab by churning half-circles instead of 360s. Also, the inclusion of the omitted-from-pre-release-coverage battle pass and time-limited microtransaction cosmetics fucking suck for a game that’s already $70 with at least three DLC seasons to come. They’re inconsequential enough, luckily, but Capcom is going whaling in a game that’s priced at a premium to begin with. I’m hoping that the content that’s going to be locked behind even more paywalls is going to be pretty limited and uninteresting, but I’m not exactly optimistic about it.
The foundation here is rock-solid, and the trajectory it takes from here is going to determine whether Street Fighter 6 can truly cement itself within the canon of the greatest games of all time, or just remain a really good entry in a series that already has a few of those under its belt.
JP is going to win the Capcom Cup.

Donkey Kong’s newest game is a decade old.
I think I need to stop falling for Nintendo hype in a post-Switch world. It seems like every game that comes out on the console (this was on the Wii U, but nobody played it there) gets hyped to the point of over-inflation, always being hailed as the “best [X] ever”. Tropical Freeze is certainly no exception to this, reaching a sort of deified status as the apex of the modern 2D platformer; it isn’t even the best Donkey Kong game. It’s good, certainly. But it’s an experience carried immensely by its vibes, and they’re wrapped around a core that seems to get emptier and emptier the closer you try to examine it.
Grudgingly, I respect how heavy Donkey Kong is in this game. He is fucking slow. He’s a big, weighty gorilla, and his standard jump carries him about two feet horizontally. He will not be able to clear gaps that I could probably get across simply because of how bulky he is. You’re likely going to feel that Donkey Kong controls like shit at first while you grapple with the controls, but it won’t be much longer until you figure out the way that momentum works in this game: if Donkey Kong gets a running start and rolls into a jump, he can practically clear the entire horizontal space of the screen in a single leap. You’ll start overshooting jumps rather than coming up too short. The tools are there, they’re just a little tricky to get the hang of. What I really don’t like, however, is that the virtually worthless ground-slaps are bound to the same triggers as the roll; Donkey Kong can only get the roll from a running start, and he does the slaps while standing still. There will be many, many times that you’ll be standing on a teeny, tiny platform that requires you to roll jump to the next one, and the timing to get a running start is ridiculously tight. Most of the time you’ll risk either walking straight off the edge because you didn’t roll soon enough, or slapping the ground and then doing a slow jump down into the abyss because you pressed the roll button too early. Binding ground-slaps and roll to different buttons probably would have cut my deaths completely in half, and forcing them to be contextual on the same triggers made the actual act of platforming feel way clunkier than it needed to be.
The game is tricky, but very easily broken. I don’t know if the Tropical Freeze was balanced with the expectation you would have Dixie Kong or not, but she erases any degree of challenge from the game; playing without her feels like walking on a broken foot without crutches. Dixie Kong allows you to double-jump in the air, swim faster underwater, and she comes with a special ability that converts all enemies on screen into bonus health pickups that overheal you, allowing you to have a potential maximum of ten hits before death if you bring the right equipment compared to the usual two or four you get with anyone else. Compared to the other Kong partners, Dixie is the clear winner: Diddy’s glide doesn’t give any vertical height, which makes recovering from bad jumps nearly impossible, and Cranky needs a flat surface to do his Ducktales cane bounce off of in a game that’s 50% bottomless pits. Speaking of, you’re also allowed to bring up to three green balloons into a level at once, each of them allowing you to float all the way to the top of the screen whenever you fall into a pit. This effectively gives you three extra lives and three extra mid-level checkpoints. It makes things go from a bit too tough to way too easy. Sure, I could play without partners and without power-ups, but why would I? Not only are Dixie and the green balloons extraordinarily powerful, but they’re fun to use. Dixie has plenty of tools to expedite the platforming challenges, and the green balloons prevent the frustration of losing both your progress and your partner to a single bad jump. If you give me a choice between “optimal and fun but I feel like I’m cheating” and “sub-optimal and challenging and I’m going to tear what’s left of my fucking hair out”, I’m picking the former every time. I’d prefer a middle ground, but you’re not going to find that in Tropical Freeze.
David Wise is back to compose the soundtrack, and he does as good of a job as you ought to expect from the guy who made every song in Donkey Kong Country. While mostly solid, the songs do bleed into one another much more than they did in his earlier work on the Super Nintendo titles. It's ironic when you consider how few tracks the first SNES game actually had; differentiating music from between worlds here is easy enough, but you could shuffle the individual level themes around and not really notice much of a change. Also not helping matters is the copying of his own music from three decades ago; the generic “underwater” theme that gets used every time Donkey Kong leaps into the waves recycles Aquatic Ambience. Aquatic Ambience is an outstanding track. Aquatic Ambience becomes significantly less of an outstanding track when it interrupts the level music every single time Donkey Kong goes underwater. Even if it’s just for a few seconds, you’re gonna be listening to the opening notes of Aquatic Ambience for the entirety of those few seconds. It’s an odd choice. I was starting to get sick of it long before I had run out of bodies of water where it was going to play, and that’s not really something you want when you’re so clearly aiming to create fondness through nostalgia.
Tropical Freeze did manage to charm me, and that's laudable. There's a lot here in terms of alternate paths, secret exits, and even an entire extra world you can discover after beating the game once. I don't especially care to explore beyond the critical path, but it's not too hard to dig into if you really do find yourself wanting more. Visually, it's a treat, and mashing the triggers to obliterate end-level barrels and bosses is as satisfying as it was in the 3DS games.
It's far from bad, but it does leave me a little wanting. Tropical Freeze has a lot of potential that could have been built upon further in a later installment, but it doesn't seem as though one is coming any time soon. As it stands, the Donkey Kong franchise is going to stay in stasis for at least as long as it takes for Metroid Prime 4 to get finished or cancelled, as nobody seems interested in picking up where Retro Studios left off.
I did not play the version with the New Funky Mode.

Inspiration comes from strange places.
For many, it's bred from obligation; the need to do something, anything, bringing with it the knowledge that there's work to be done and only one person who can do it. For many, it's spite; hatred and anger, boiling within us, screaming out that it won't be quelled unless action is taken now. For fewer, it's from a desire to grow; a willingness to open yourself and expose your weakness, to be hurt, to be vulnerable, in the name of coming out stronger. Sometimes you just see someone fucking up and being so purposefully ignorant about it that it inspires you to do things properly in their stead.
Celeste is one of the greatest games ever made.
If you asked me what drives me, I'd tell you that it's spite. This is probably not healthy for me, and I don't particularly care. If you asked Madeline what drives her, she’d tell you that she doesn’t know. This is definitely not healthy for her, and the game makes sure that both her and the player understand this. Madeline has a vague, oblique desire to be better. What this entails is climbing a mountain, and it’s left unclear how this is actually meant to help. Sure, the obvious metaphor of literally climbing a mountain is as central to the text of the game as it possibly can be, but lacking any further cause, it’s little more than an act of self-flagellation. It’s hard and punishing and maybe Madeline feels like she deserves that. Celeste is hard and punishing, and maybe you as the player feel like you deserve that. After all, if neither you nor Madeline can get good purely for its own sake, what’s the point? Why bother?
It becomes clearer to both the player and to Madeline as the game progresses that this is far more than just banging your head into a wall until you get it right. It’s the purpose of the literal moment-to-moment gameplay — walk in from the left, do some tough jumps, splat, repeat until you get it right — but the narrative undercurrent gradually erodes through the surface to reveal that this is all in service of an act of self-actualization. Madeline is desperate to prove herself, desperate to understand herself, desperate to not give in to darker desires, desperate to be able to look into a mirror and see her own face instead of a stranger’s. Her desperation carries with it the price of the ascent, and the ascent carries with it the price of her. Madeline suffers in her journey. She’s leveled, brought to all fours beneath the immovable weight of her depression, her panic attacks, her inability to understand who she is. The mountain exposes her, showcasing every part of her that she keeps hidden in every reflective surface, threatening the safety of the people she cares about, reminding her of long-dead relationships with the implication that everything happening is all her fault. It isn’t, of course, but Madeline’s struggles to reach self-actualization reflect how she believes herself to be a failure.
The gameplay and story integration here is masterful, far beyond the raw difficulty of the platforming mirroring the narrative struggles faced by our protagonist. One scene where Madeline suffers a panic attack sees Theo supporting her through it, giving her a little pop piece of meditation while she waits for it to pass; all she needs to do is imagine a feather floating up and down in time with her breathing, and you as the player are tasked with keeping the feather in focus. It isn’t too much further into the game when Madeline decides that she’s gotten over all of her fears and doubts and attempts to use the feather trick as a weapon; it fails, miserably, because she hasn’t come anywhere near achieving the self-actualization that she wants to have. She tries to rush things, to force her fears down instead of process them, to conquer herself rather than accept herself as she is. It’s only after she fails and falls that she realizes that she must accept all of the bad that comes when she understands who she is, merging every part of her into the cohesive whole that is Madeline. As a reward for the player, you get a triple jump. As silly as that might sound, given how heavy the narrative has been up to this point, it’s the evolution of gameplay and the swelling of the music that makes Madeline actually feel like she’s living up to her full potential. The climb has been a struggle for you and her, but now you both have all of the tools you need to reach the top of the mountain. Once you have that, you’re unstoppable.
The narrative of the game, for better and for worse, took on something of a new life with the later explanation that both Maddy Thorson (the lead developer and former name-provider of the studio) and Madeline are trans women. For better, Celeste has remained a tentpole of positive representation since the day it released and has provided many historically-excluded people a strong, important figure to relate to; for worse, it’s incited many of the most annoying posters to hem and haw and handwring over what they perceive to be revisionism for the sake of winning brownie points. Maddy herself has written quite openly about the subject and certainly has far more insight into the topic than any schmuck like myself can throw in, but I’ve seen first-hand the impact that this game has had on the people around me. For a lot of my friends, for a lot of people I care about and respect, Celeste is important because Celeste actually gets it. This shit is hard. It’s exhausting. It isn’t climbing a mountain or beating a hard video game, because those things have a defined end. There’s a clear beginning, and a clear conclusion, and that’s that. The struggle to live as oneself and to be open and honest with who we are is a path filled with unnecessary strife and struggle brought down upon our heads by people who don’t get it. People who refuse to get it. People who benefit from not getting it. I shouldn’t need to point at any of the many, many examples of this in the United States alone, simply because there’s gotten to be too many to keep track of. It’s everywhere, as a sickness.
“This memorial dedicated to those who perished on the climb" is one of the most powerful lines I’ve ever read, and it’s the context from outside of the game’s text that defines it. Unlike any mountain, and unlike any video game, the climb doesn’t stop. The climb started before we were born, and the climb will continue after we’ve gone. For how long we’ve all been fighting, been struggling, been warring against every push and backslide, there’s always more of a climb to take on. This shit won't stop. The obvious question, then, is why we should bother to climb at all.
Celeste’s answer is simple.
To be who you are makes it worth the climb.

The Bouncer.
An absolute oddity of the early-PS2 era. Perhaps one of the most obvious tech demos a company has ever released. Completely half-baked on all fronts in service of showcasing Square doing a real-time combat system where the character models no longer have fused fingers and you're meant to be excited by both of those prospects. A beat-'em-up from an alternate universe where combos don't exist. Vertically-stretched Sora from Kingdom Hearts is here to rescue his girlfriend, Robo-Kairi, from the evil clutches of blonde Sephiroth. Marketing boasting seven to eight hours of gameplay to complete, making this the greatest lie Square has ever told.
The Bouncer is fascinating. I don't think anything could be described as a fever dream more than this. It feels like something that dropped out of another reality where games are designed for people who have shit to do later. Barely two-minute combat vignettes with lengthy save prompts bookend barely two-minute cutscenes. You'll be let out of watching a video to beat up three guys who go down in about three hits each and then you get to save your game and level up. Sometimes the levels just start going and never fucking stop, with the sequence where you have to escort Dominique past a bunch of robots who never ragdoll taking an inordinate amount of time relative to every other encounter. It masterfully embodies the feeling of beating a game when you were staying home sick from school and trying to remember what happened after you started feeling better.
Now, sure, the game is shit. The combat mechanics are playing catch-up to 2D games that came out a decade before it, the story is insipid, the music is complete garbage (save for the English credits theme done by Shanice, my god), people on original hardware are going to be spending more time watching loading screens than cutscenes. But it's important to make the distinction that not every shitty game is a bad game, and not every bad game is a shitty game. The Bouncer is shitty, but it's so entertaining in its ridiculousness that it loops back around to being fun. Why is there a man made entirely out of tribal tattoos? Why does Volt have steel demon horns? Why does the science-fiction microwave energy satellite make the love interest robot girl overclock and beat the shit out of five cyborg-men with stretchy arms? Who gives a shit! This is The Bouncer, and The Bouncer just goes. Don't waste your time or its time asking questions. Just go.
I think if this tried going on for like five more minutes than it did, I would have started hating it, but the entire game is over and done with in the span of an hour and a half. Most movies are longer than this, and most of them aren't audacious enough to try soft-launching a new franchise that immediately falls on its face so hard that all of the Nomura designs present need to be harvested for other, more successful projects for the next decade after its release. The Bouncer is ephemera, like a poster, or an internet advert. It's as captivating as it was irrelevant on the day that it released.
Volt should have been the main character.
The Bouncer.

Grind-your-teeth-to-sand frustrating, but satisfying.
For all of the shmup gamer cred I like to talk up about myself (so much so that I've started calling them STGs to really flex my terminology on the genre noobs), I've never actually played a Gradius game. Not a single one! I've seen plenty of media with the Vic Viper in it, but I've never actually gotten into the source material. This is probably a weird entry to dip my toes into the franchise with, but it's what was suggested to me. Sometimes a recommendation helps to keep things fresh. After all, it's not as if I would have ever given this a look if I hadn't been told to play it.
What's most striking about The Interstellar Assault — and Gradius as a whole, I suppose — is how much of a snowball the Vic Viper is. Seriously, this thing is the idea of "win more" made manifest. Your upgrade path includes something like four speed upgrades, three tiers of missiles, lasers, double fire, two Options that float behind you copying your fire pattern, and a front-facing shield that soaks three shots that would insta-kill you at any other time. It's ridiculous how much shit you can put on the screen at once. But far from just allowing you to be carried by spamming the screen with projectiles, the game doesn't hesitate to humble you. Enemies come from behind, teleport in, or require absurd amounts of precision to take down. You have to start relying on weird little tech options that you discover through play, such as orienting yourself in weird flight paths to maximize your Option coverage; since they can float through walls and you can't, you can end up positioning them to exploit the geometry and cover virtually the entire screen so long as you're clever with your maneuvering and resist your primal urge to wiggle the D-Pad.
I don't especially love the idea of giving a game credit solely for the fact that it came out on archaic hardware, but this is a packed cartridge. Considering this was on the OG green-and-gray Game Boy, it's kind of a miracle that there's as much content as there is, and that it flows as nicely as it does. The laser sound can be a little grating, but the sound chip is doing some serious work to crank out these ear-worm tunes to keep pushing you forward. I'm kind of clueless as to how anyone was expected to play this on a two-inch wide screen, though; you've gotta make some really specific movements through tight hallways and between boss lasers, and it was already hard enough to peek through the gunfire and enemy spam on my monitor that's ten times the size of the system this originally released on.
It's as snappy as it is brutal. I had the distinct thought at one point that it felt like a modern indie de-make of an ancient arcade title, and that's probably exactly what the developers were shooting for. The act of getting through some of the hazards was making me experience enough gamer fury that I could have bitten chunks off of myself, but what was here was compelling enough to encourage me to see it through. Blitzing through a stage that not even ten minutes ago completely kicked your ass is the universal serotonin constant.
The final boss has three phases and an escape sequence. My blood pressure was probably high enough to be considered a medical emergency.