For a while now, 2023 has been talked about as the year when strategy games make a comeback. February was the first big test of that thesis, as two major games came out of the gates. I covered both The Settlers: New Allies and Company of Heroes 3 for Entertainium, with decidedly mixed results. It’s fair to say that Ubisoft’s fortunes are unlikely to be revived by the first Settlers game in over a decade; but Relic’s Company of Heroes sequel is a fantastic return to the front, albeit one with some real rough edges.
Also in February, I reviewed the Japanese action game Wanted: Dead, a project which seemed to consist almost entirely of rough edges. It’s very crudely made indeed, and spoils a potentially interesting premise with some horribly executed combat mechanics. This is as good a time as any to remind you of how great Evil West is, and how it delivers expertly on its bid to recapture the glory of mid-2000s action games.
As a counterpoint to all the warfare, I spent a good chunk of February playing the zen-like railroad puzzle game Train Valley 2 (2019) - a fact which surprises even me. The other older game I played during the month was a true classic: the genre-bending cult favourite fronted by Vin Diesel, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (2004).
This entry in “what I played” straddles, Janus-like, both 2022 and 2023. I kick off with the main game I played in December, which was the surprisingly excellent racer Need for Speed Unbound, which has hopefully injected new life into EA’s long-running series.
Next, it’s time to cover what I played in January. As ever, the first month of the year has been very light on new releases but I did play three older games which are all brilliant in their own way. Metro Exodus (2019) impressed me with its expansive settings and stellar ray-traced visuals, Company of Heroes 2 (2013) proves to be just as brilliant as I hoped, having finally got around to it ten years late. And finally, A Plague Tale: Innocence (2019) is also visually stunning and a major breakthrough for its journeymen French developers.
November was a month mostly dominated by retro games, as I played a mix of old favourites and titles from yesteryear that I missed at the time. I caught up with the classic stealth game Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005), revisited forgotten strategy Rise of Legends (2006), and the flawed tactics of Star Trek: Away Team (2001). On the more recent side, I also continued my exploration of a long-running series, filling in a gap with Sniper Elite 4 (2017).
Despite this retro focus, I also covered some new games - including the excellent third-person action game Evil West, another product of the busy team at Flying Wild Hog. And following on from my review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, I also braved the battle royale battlefield of its free-to-play spinoff Warzone 2.0.
October has been a huge month in the world of games, with a bevy of significant releases. The record five games I reviewed for Entertainium encompass all possible levels of budget and scale. At the indie end of the spectrum, I covered Dome Keeper and the superb retro-style shooter Cultic, which recaptures the grisly glory of Blood (1997).
At the mega-budget, tentpole release side of things, I reviewed the troubled open-world superheroism of Gotham Knights and the solid-as-ever gunplay of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. In between these two extremes, I also played action-RPG Asterigos: Curse of the Stars, which is what some would term a “AA” game. For some reason, almost every big outlet declined to evaluate this intriguing Taiwanese Soulslike, so I was glad to give it some degree of exposure.
Finally, I found time for just a couple of older games during October. I jumped on the bandwagon of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which is almost ten years old but became very high-profile in 2022 because of memes - or what the game itself calls “the DNA of the soul”. I also had a great time with the single player campaign of Titanfall 2, which has also won itself cult status due to the quality of its innovative level design.
It’s a brief update this time around - while I played quite a bit in August, I won’t be done with some of those games until well into September. What is on the docket is a set of four very different games, in a very wide range of styles.
First up, I played the very meta French adventure There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension (2020). While it definitely hasn’t converted me to point-and-click adventure games, it’s easily the best one I’ve played. Next up is a pair of games I’ve reviewed for Entertainium. The first is Cursed to Golf (2022), which failed to impress me with its eccentric take on the sport. I much preferred the turn-based tactics of Hard West II (2022), even though I have some misgivings about its difficulty. Finally, the best gaming experience I had in August was Metro: Last Light (2013), the superbly atmospheric shooter sequel made in Ukraine and Malta by 4A Games.
This latest instalment of my monthly series on the games I’ve played has four entries. It kicks off with Strange Brigade and Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, two very different games which are united by their unmistakable Britishness, sense of humour, and love of alliteration. Next up I have a few words about the fairly obscure action RPG Of Orcs and Men, made across the Channel in France. If you’ve enjoyed the fantasy stealth games in the Styx series, then you may enjoy the game that first introduced that gregarious goblin.
Finally for July, I revisited an indie masterpiece which has just been given a free and impressive overhaul. Tactics classic Into the Breach has been picked up by Netflix, who are making it available to their subscribers. To celebrate, Subset Games have upgraded all versions of the game to the even more excellent Advanced Edition. This gratis update adds a ton of new features, and makes one of the best indie games ever somehow even more perfect.
Today, developers Bungie are known for the blockbuster Halo series and more recently, for the Destiny games. And while the studio changed first-person shooters forever, first on the Mac and then on consoles, none of their later successes would have been possible without their earlier work in a different genre altogether. It was the success of pioneering real-time tactics game Myth: The Fallen Lords which, in part, prompted Microsoft to purchase Bungie and to help propel Halo to industry-shaking success in 2001.
Myth was ahead of its time. Its 3D environments were some of the first in the genre and Bungie’s work helped to forge a new style of gameplay. They cut away the base building, resource management, and large unit counts that defined Command & Conquer (1995) and Total Annihilation (1997). Myth isn’t a strategy title at all - but part of the first wave of real-time tactics games. It does more than make players think; it makes them feel. Thanks a unique union of writing and gameplay, each of Myth’s missions inspires feelings of desperation, terror, relief and - hopefully - triumph. 25 years later, it’s the emotional impact of Myth which makes it special to this day.
There’s not much need for preamble this month - I had a busy June, but still managed to play quite a few games. They were mostly on the older side; in fact the only 2022 release I played during June was a demo, and I rarely play those.
I revisited two classics from my youth which still stand up remarkably well, in the form of gloomy tactics game Myth: The Fallen Lords (1997) and the forgotten Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb (2003). I continued my increasingly familiar ramble through the Halo series with the fairly tiresome spinoff Halo 3: ODST (2009), and that demo I mentioned was for the upcoming Agent 64: Spies Never Die. The real standout for me, though, was definitely Dragon’s Dogma. Inspired by the long-awaited announcement of a sequel, I finally picked up Hideaki Itsuno’s cult favourite action RPG and have been revelling in its idiosyncratic charms.
May’s instalment of “what I played” is a relatively brief one, simply because - well, I didn’t play that many games during the month. What I did unexpectedly get the chance to do is to review the excellent Sniper Elite 5, which is easily one of my favourite games of 2022 so far. I can admit to a surge of local pride, as developers Rebellion are based just down the road from me in Oxford. My full thoughts on the game are available for your reading pleasure at Entertainium.
I of course also found a bit of time to tackle some older games. Thanks to the generous folks at Epic, I was able to play hyper-fast futuristic racer Redout (2016). I took a bloody trip into the distant past with Raven’s badly dated shooter Soldier of Fortune (2000). Finally, I have a few thoughts on the remaster of the end-of-the-world action-adventure Darksiders (2010).
For me, April was another bumper month of games. In this month’s instalment of “What I played”, I cover seven games including two brand new ones which I’ve reviewed, and even one unreleased one, all of which I covered for Entertainium. In boomer shooter Forgive Me Father I confronted eldritch abominations, cosmic horrors and a sometimes severe lack of ammunition. B.I.O.T.A., meanwhile, is a very entertaining 8-bit style side-scroller set on an asteroid plagued by ravenous mutants. Both of these games have largely flown under the radar, but I do recommend them.
The four older games I tackled in April were the impressive remake Black Mesa (2020), underrated open-world shooter Rage 2 (2019), baffling Japanese adventure Yakuza 0 (2015) and the excellent sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015).
I write about classic science fiction and occasionally fantasy; I sometimes make maps for Doom II; and I'm a contributor to the videogames site Entertainium, where I regularly review new games.