Another month, and another step in the world seemingly disintegrating in front of our eyes. February was another tough four weeks of 2022, as our stupid, cruel and cowardly leaders continued to throw ordinary people under the bus. At least, as ever, there were games to play. In recent weeks I tackled two huge older games which I hadn’t previously played. One was the $6 billion juggernaut of Grand Theft Auto V (2013), and one was the triumphant return of the Slayer, Doom Eternal (2020).
Excitingly, I also got the chance to play two brand new games in the form of martial arts brawler Sifu and the shooter sequel Shadow Warrior 3. These two Asian-themed action games were both on my list of the games I’ve been most looking forward to this year, and they both lived up to my expectations - albeit in somewhat surprising ways. A quick overview of all of these games will follow, but for my in-depth thoughts on the newcomers check out my full-length reviews published on Entertainium.
Developed and published by Sloclap
The first entry on my list of most anticipated games of 2022, Sifu came out on February 8 and has proven to be something of a dark horse. Sloclap’s brilliant kung fu brawler has received numerous glowing reviews, including my own for Entertainium. Interestingly, the game has proved very popular with critics in China. Better yet for the team, it has apparently racked up over half a million sales. The game has stirred up the old conversation about high difficulty, which is something I may be talking about in the near future. There’s no doubt that Sifu is a stern challenge, but frankly that’s a large part of its appeal and it’s thrilling and satisfying from start to finish.
The combat is wonderful, and the very definition of “easy to learn, hard to master”, which fits the game’s emphasis on constant improvement and mastery. There’s so much more to Sifu than that, though, which I think some takes on the game have overlooked. The highly stylised visuals and art direction are stunning, and the game is steeped in a real knowledge of and love for Hong Kong martial arts movies. The soundtrack by Beijing-based first-time game composer Howie Lee is also a real jewel and adds tremendously to the unique atmosphere. The game could do a better job of teaching its own mechanics, particularly around blocking and evading attacks, but in general it’s exceptionally well made.
While it received some buzz towards the end of last year, I think few people expected Sifu to be as good as it has proved to be. Time will tell whether other action games can come close in 2022, but we could see this on more than a few end of year lists - I know it’s a lock for mine.
Doom Eternal (2020)
Developed by id Software, published by Bethesda Softworks
There’s no doubt that Doom Eternal is the most important shooter of the decade so far, and while it took me a long time to get around to it, I’m very glad that I’ve now taken id Software’s second trip into hell. A few things in particular really struck me about this sequel. One is just how bizarrely overwritten and poorly delivered the story is - it comes across like a teenager’s attempt to build narrative bridges between the cover art of a hundred unrelated ‘80s metal albums. On some level this is appropriate, but the concentration of most of the story into a boatload of overly long codex entries is such a poor fit for a Doom game. Somehow, id Software managed to make Doom as inscrutable as the Halo series within just two games, and that’s really going some.
I was also surprised by how maximalist the game is. Not just in the sense that you can “shoot a hole in the surface of Mars” at one point, but because of all the bloat that the game comes with. There’s a seemingly endless tide of modes, skins, skills, menus, experience levels, and so on. Doom Eternal is a kind of “live service game”, constantly delivering new cosmetic trinkets to try to keep players engaged but if the core gameplay wasn’t so brilliant a lot of this stuff would be almost intolerably annoying. The gameplay is brilliant though and for that reason my qualms fade into insignificance, not to mention a red mist of annihilated demons. I wrote some scattershot notes on my experience with Doom Eternal a couple of weeks back, and I plan to get around to playing the rather divisive The Ancient Gods DLCs in the near future.
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Developed by Rockstar North, published by Rockstar Games
In total, it’s made over $6 billion in revenue and that makes Grand Theft Auto V the highest-earning entertainment product of all time. It’s no wonder that Rockstar continues to support and tweak the game almost a decade on, or at least its multiplayer component Grand Theft Auto Online. The only surprise is that another entry in the series still hasn’t been released, although Grand Theft Auto VI was informally announced earlier this year and has apparently been in development for some time. In any case, GTA V is an absolute behemoth in more ways than one and I finally got around to playing it in February.
The most striking thing about the game to a latecomer like me is what a difference it makes having three protagonists instead of just one. Street hustler Franklin, burned-out pro Michael and erudite psychopath Trevor each offer a radically different way of viewing the city of Los Santos and its environs. Of the three I find Franklin to be the least developed - he has little in the way of supporting characters, and feels too much like a retread of CJ from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004). What I also notice is that the fifth game is so much more interesting than its drab, lacklustre predecessor GTA IV. The writing is far superior in the newer game, and while there are some crassly stupid moments like the controversial torture mission, there is also a lot of genuinely smart and funny satire. Immigration, social media, celebrity culture, and self-improvement are all skewered by the story and side activities and while some of the references are quite dated, a lot still works well.
Crucially, Los Santos is an interesting place to explore by just driving around and that gives the game much of its longevity. Grand Theft Auto Online is fascinating in another way, a kind of Tower of Babel of systems and features that Rockstar have added over the years which are fun in isolation but struggle to cohere into anything solid.
Shadow Warrior 3 (2022)
Developed by Flying Wild Hog, published by Devolver Digital
What would you get if you crossed Sifu with Doom Eternal? The answer is probably Shadow Warrior 3. The long-awaited third entry in Flying Wild Hog’s revived series releases on March 1. It was the second game on my most anticipated list, and luckily I had the chance to play it ahead of time. As I discuss at length in my Entertainiumreview, the Polish developers have decided to radically streamline their formula. All that remains is a brief but very focused single-player campaign. It took me less than seven hours to finish it, which makes even the “AA” pricing difficult to justify, but I did love almost every minute of the time I spent with Shadow Warrior 3.
Rendered with Unreal Engine 4, the game’s Asian-inspired fantastical environments look amazing. Like Doom Eternal, the game alternates between short platforming sections and meatier combat arenas. Both of these are hugely slick and entertaining - the combat in particular is exceptionally fun and probably the best thing in the hyperkinetic shooter style since, yes, Doom Eternal. This time around, protagonist Lo Wang is more mobile than ever and can slide, double-jump, dash, wall-run, and grapple. He’s been given a new voice actor in Mike Moh, who played Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), and now he even has hair.
The radical streamlining of Shadow Warrior 3 is likely to generate some strong and mixed opinions but I had a great time with its single-player campaign and brilliantly splattery weapons, enemies, and combat. I’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on how this game is received more widely. Surprisingly, Flying Wild Hog has no less than three other games slated to come out this year: Trek to Yomi, Space Punks, and Evil West. In the meantime, you can read my brief thoughts on the first revived Shadow Warrior and on Shadow Warrior 2, both of which I played recently.
Thanks for joining me on another monthly roundup - the next instalment will be at the end of March, when I will be talking about post-apocalyptic tactics game Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden (2018), hopefully another new game for 2022, and more besides.
I write about books, film, videogames, boardgames and music. I'm a contributor to Entertainium.