Every Friday Paste’s editors, staffers and games contributors share what they’ve been playing that week. New games and old, TV and tabletop, major hits and wild obscurities, action-first knuckle-busters and slow-and-stately brain-stokers: you can expect it all, every week, in The Games We Play.
Platforms: PC, Mac, Switch
While it’s hard for me to think about anything besides The Last of Us Part II these days, I keep coming back to a much smaller game called Across the Grooves that came out last week. Unlike the satisfying but extremely long journey that is the latest Naughty Dog game, Across the Grooves won’t take you more than a few hours. From the personality-based decisions you make that affect your appearance to the various relationships you can form, it’s a visual novel with plenty of freedom in the tiny details.
In Across the Grooves, you are Alice, who has just gotten access to a vinyl record that can change reality. This record has been sent to her by an ex whose whereabouts—and reasons for possessing this slab of wax— are unknown. As she’s chased by mysterious figures in pursuit of the record with time-altering powers, she embarks on a journey in pursuit of answers regarding the lover who left her life as abruptly as the record has become a part of hers.
I rarely replay games, even choice-based ones, to see the results of other choices — but this game’s story compelled me to spin the record repeatedly. Playing it felt like having a warm afternoon in which I was isolated from the rest of the world, liberated in the ability to listen to a record for the joy of it. I love that the game automatically saves after every line of dialogue. You’re unable to turn the record back; you can only go forward or start all over again. Where normally this would irk me, here it only enhances the game’s themes. I saw Across the Grooves to its end three times, curious to discover all the various beats and notes of what is ultimately a gorgeous visual spectacle that is complemented by an inclusive and thrilling mystery.—Games Contributor Natalie Flores
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Mac, iOS, Vita
Darkest Dungeon is, at its heart, a game about battling the constant decay of entropy. As your party of intrepid adventurers descends deeper and deeper into the ruins of a fallen manor and its surrounding locales, teeming with deadly foes, the strain it places upon both them and the player becomes very real indeed. The heroes of fiction—especially in a medium so often streamlined as videogames—tend to be indomitable towers of strength who are ever eager to rise to the challenges set before them. The characters of Darkest Dungeon, on the other hand, are almost invariably defined by their unique frailties. It’s less a matter of whose strengths will be able to win the day in any given engagement, and more a question of whose severe failings can best be managed to avoid sabotaging the entire party. Do you dare take along the Vestal whose delusions of grandeur might cause them to ignore party members in desperate need of healing? Or the masochistic Crusader who’s just as likely to cut himself as the enemy? Each mission becomes a fraught balancing act of keeping the nerves of the party members from unraveling completely—an apt metaphor, perhaps, for how the games industry treats its own employees during mandatory “crunch.”
At a base level, Darkest Dungeon is calculated to be unforgiving, because to be any other way would be a betrayal of its exceedingly grim, portentous aesthetic. It’s clear from the opening moments that vanquishing this evil will be no walk in the park, but it also manages to cater to a wide variety of play styles and party combinations. Every hero class is useful in their own way; even the ones you might never choose to use. It all builds to a suitably apocalyptic conclusion, and has left us pining through several expansions for the game’s long-awaited proper sequel, announced back in February of 2019. Details have been scant, but hopefully by the time 2020 mercifully draws to a close, we’ll know when we’ll be able to return to a macabre setting that will inevitably seem a bit more tame in comparison with this year’s cavalcade of real horrors. —Staff Writer Jim Vorel
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac
Parkour is just one of those things that is only cool in videogames. Mirror’s Edge really set the bar high for how first-person platforming can be both speedy and elegant, and then Dying Light added zombies and an open world into the mix. As it turns out, that mix is exactly what I need right now.
The open-world of Dying Light seems to be in a mid-apocalypse city in the Middle East. The city is as vast as it is varied, but there are perfect opportunities for parkour traversal at almost every twist and turn. And parkour is necessary because the streets and alleyways are packed with zombies. Fighting them is fun but challenging, as beating zombies with a pipe might not be the best way to go about situations like this. So, run.
Freerunning and parkour just feels so, so good in Dying Light and I am bummed to have not gotten to it sooner, but at least I’m playing it now. A fun open-world game with interesting mechanics and lots of boxes to check off is exactly what I need, currently. Still, as in real life, we have to make sure we don’t go out at night in Dying Light. I had to learn that the hard way.—Games Contributor Cole Henry
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Couch co-op in my household has recently been relegated to watching cutscenes together from JRPGs and making dumb joint decisions in playable movies, so downloading A Way Out opened up a whole new silly world of collaboration. Staging a ridiculous, Three Stooges-esque version of Shawshank Redemption has been fun simply because of the wacky (sometimes buggy) gameplay of this two-person prison escape—gameplay that can leave one inmate shooting the shit with a guard while the other struggles with a hilariously difficult task. It’s constantly amusing, often exciting, and always over-the-top. It’s like playing a bad network procedural, with wooden voice acting and crazy plot points that are all made worth it because you can enjoy its flaws with a partner. I’ve already been a big advocate for team-based gameplay during this isolated summer (I’ve been playing a lot of Warzone), so breaking that down to a smaller-scale RPG has been both satisfying and light-hearted enough to provide some enjoyable hours dicking around in the prison-industrial complex.—TV Contributor Jacob Oller
Platform: PlayStation 4
Maybe you’ve heard of this one?
So we’ve already written about Sony’s new zombie game a few times here at Paste. Natalie Flores reviewed it, I complained about how long it is, and I also wrote the most important piece that will ever be written about this, or any other, videogame. And guess what: we have even more coming soon. One of the points of this “games we play” thing is to highlight games we wouldn’t otherwise have room for, or to take a quick look back at older games that don’t necessarily warrant a full essay right now. So yeah, I’m not especially into the idea of me tossing the biggest game of the moment in here, but there’s really nothing else I could write about. The Last of Us Part II is the only game I’ve played for the last two weeks, and thus the only game I can write about right now. And this is all despite the fact that I’m not really enjoying it at all.
There’s a good bit to respect about The Last of Us Part II, but little to actually enjoy. Is it a technical marvel? Sure. Are the writing and acting on a higher level than most similar “cinematic” games? You bet. Does the tension that I feel when I’m trying to survive a crew of Wolves, SCARS or infected—and then the release that comes when I’m successful—scratch that “risk and reward” itch that lies at the heart of videogames? Absolutely. Is it still a joyless, self-serious “exploration” of pain and misery that drags on for way too long, and that is impossible to play without thinking about the terrible culture of overwork that created it? Oh, yeah, as all my favorite ‘80s pop culture icons would say.
The Last of Us Part II represents the best and worst of this type of videogame. It’s so good at the technical aspects of blockbuster game development, but to get there it had to destroy all notions of work-life balance for the people who made it. Its commitment to getting past the straight white guy perspective of most games is true and laudable, but its self-important prestige TV trappings play directly into that culture. It’s a hard game to play, but it’s also hard to stop playing it. It’s a thorny box of contradictions, and I am so glad that I didn’t have to write our “official” review.
I’m not done with it yet. I don’t know if I ever will actually finish it. I do know I’ll be picking out Je Suis France songs on its in-game guitar for days to come, though.—Senior Editor Garrett Martin