Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Last year’s game-of-the-year-contender Prey ended with a seismic story shock, the kind of premise-sweeping revelation that makes traditional expansion or DLC plans a tricky act to manage. So Arkane Studios smartly didn’t even bother; instead, the game’s new expansion, Mooncrash, gets its shocks in early and by radically screwing with the game’s core gameplay instead.
Like the Typhon—the series’ returning, chimeric beasties—Mooncrash is a tricky animal to describe. Here’s my rough attempt, though: “A permadeath, class-based Prey, but with randomly generated enemies and a steadily advancing clock of doom.” In practice, that means the player takes on the role of a mysterious hacker investigating what went wrong on TranStar’s Pytheas moon base, which has been abandoned in a way very similar to the company’s Talos I space station from the original game. (Shocking nobody, the reasons involve very bad science and a whole lot of dead human beings.) Rather than go in person, the player hacks into a simulation of the base in the middle of its crisis, taking on the role of one of several survivors as they struggle to escape.
The base of Prey—crawling through vents, collecting loot, getting the shit scared out of you by a chair that suddenly turns into a tentacled alien monster—is all here, and as good and tense as ever. But Mooncrash’s best innovations all tie into those new roguelike elements, with play broken into individual runs that get reset every time all of your available survivors die or manage to escape. Each survivor has their own skill tree (largely assembled from bits and pieces of Morgan Yu’s, though there are a few new entries), and upgrades to them thankfully stick between runs, as do unlocked characters, chipsets, and equipment plans, creating an empowering sense of progression.
But Arkane hasn’t lost sight of the steadily escalating danger that made Prey such a singularly unsettling delight last year, and every growth in power on the player’s part (and every new understanding of the four zones in which the game takes place) is met by an escalation in the ferocity of the threat pushing back against them. Early on, the game introduces a steadily rising “corruption” meter for the simulation, which massively increases the danger the Typhon pose every time it bumps up to another tier. (Although this, too, can be managed by careful looting and quick play.) Later, even more variables and hazards are introduced, ensuring that, even for experienced players, the thrill of the danger is never truly gone, and encouraging a risk-reward balance that apes the sort of “Do I dare risk it?” tension that the best roguelikes typically evoke. [William Hughes]
I’ve been fiddling with this oddball puzzle game for a few weeks now, picking up my Switch and playing a stage or two during idle moments. With a goofy anime-ready premise where sushi is a magical food that’s been banned by an evil empire, it definitely has charm, but I just haven’t been able to get behind it. The issue, I think, is the way the game’s color-matching fights have been translated to the Switch. Basically, you watch several rows of sushi whiz by on conveyor belts and attempt to connect as many of the same-colored plates as possible. On the Switch you can do that either by dragging a finger across the touch screen from plate to plate or holding a button and pointing the analog stick in the proper direction to do the same thing. If it sounds strange and imprecise, that’s because it is, regardless of which control method you choose. The game was also released on the 3DS and feels like it was designed to be played there, with the console in one hand and a stylus in the other. The Switch being as heavy as it is makes it much harder to do the same thing for any lengthy period of time, and fingers just aren’t good replacements for styluses; they’re bigger, clumsier, and tend to block the rest of the screen.
Luckily, the game doesn’t require much in the way of precision, at least not in the early going. It’s more about waiting for a ton of plates of the same color to show up, slapping them together into big chains, and then using those sushi-plate towers as powerful projectiles to launch at your foes. There’s a frantic edge to it—what with all the character interjections when they activate special sushi abilities—but the low-stakes simplicity of it all at least makes up for the fact that the game is a nightmare to maneuver. At the same time, though, it also erases a lot of the satisfaction that comes from digging into a game’s hidden depths and laying down elaborate strategies. The flavor is there, but it all just feels sort of hollow. [Matt Gerardi]