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: PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, PC, iOS, Mac
Because of school, I wasn’t in the right mind frame to engross myself in a story the way you need to with a Sam Barlow game by the time Telling Lies came out. Now that I have some breathing room, I’m excited to finally play it. I’ve just started, so I don’t have much to say for this edition of what we’re playing this week, but I can tell things might hit a little different considering we’re all under quarantine. The new normal is to see your medical providers, professors, and friends through screen sharing, whether it’s zoom or Discord, so I wonder how the game’s themes of voyeurism, privacy invasion, and whatnot will be affected by that. It feels like it hasn’t been talked about as much as Her Story, but it seems far more complex in terms of both the technology and writing. I adored Her Story and was thrilled with every award it rightfully won, so I’m really excited to finally play Teling Lies.—Games Contributor Natalie Flores
Streets of Rage 4
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
This loving tribute to Sega’s early ‘90s beat-’em-up doesn’t just channel an overlooked classic. It’s one of two recent games, alongside March’s smarter Treachery in Beatdown City, to revive a genre that was once a cornerstone of the whole medium. The primal thrill and eternal allure of pulverizing waves of bozos with your fists, feet and special moves might have ebbed since their quarter-swallowing heyday in the early ‘90s, but Streets of Rage 4 shows that, when done with love and attention, this kind of violence can be as invigorating as ever.
Platform: It’s a board game
Ironically, the board game Pandemic has become hard to come by in the last few months, with copies sold out via online game shops and Amazon as ironists scamper to snatch up something particularly apropos to our current quarantine situation. As fate would have it, though, my wife and I received a copy of Pandemic as a wedding gift only weeks before the country began shutting down in the face of the novel coronavirus, and thus inadvertently beat the rush before the arrival of the actual pandemic. And now that we’ve had a few weeks to explore the game through a few test runs, I can say that it’s a thrilling combination of strategic planning and “race against time” thrills. The game is wisely structured around several different factors that limit how long any one game can last, which creates a “ticking clock” mechanic that helps make every player’s turn feel critical to your success. It truly demands a collaboratory mindset, as simply taking turns without planning as a team is an almost inevitable recipe for failure—at the very least, you need a coherent, overarching goal. Unique abilities inherent to different player classes offer significantly different ways to tackle the problems inherent in treating and curing diseases as more outbreaks crop up, and the overall pace of the game has a feeling of constant acceleration that builds toward a frenzied conclusion. Best of all, it can be satisfyingly played with only two people, although we’re certainly looking forward to when social distancing has eased and we can play Pandemic with a full, four person crew, as is probably intended. Leave it to an actual, viral pandemic to limit our ability to play Pandemic the board game.—Staff Writer Jim Vorel
The New York Times Crossword
Platform: A newspaper. I guess probably on phones now too, maybe?
At this point in the great sequestering, attempting the New York Times Crossword Puzzle is just part of my daily routine. Part brain workout, part zen distraction from everything else, trying to get that gold star at the end of the day has become an essential task. With its sliding scale of difficulty from Monday’s breezy puzzle to Saturday’s epic challenge, and the creativity of Sunday’s larger crossword, it also offers a great demarcation of days so they don’t all just bleed together (not that I still don’t lose track). The clever puns and sneaky riddles make this the gold standard of crosswords, and the well-organized app lets you track your streaks and stats. Plus the digital subscription helps fund valuable journalism (if you can stomach that some portion also goes to columnists like Bret Stephens).—Editor-in-Chief Josh Jackson
Super Monkey Ball 2
The characters of Super Monkey Ball probably haven’t been around long enough to join Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Zelda or Bomberman in the hall of fame of beloved, recurring videogame protagonists. But after nearly two decades, this game’s concept still holds up. I have the GameCube version of Super Monkey Ball 2, originally released in 2002, and it’s actually the first in the series to incorporate a storyline behind its main gameplay mode. Maddening precision is required as you guide one of four monkey characters encased in a ball, like a hamster, through a series of oddly shaped, booby-trapped courses until you break the seal at each finish line. Perhaps a needless addition, each victory brings you closer to defeating a primate evil scientist named Dr. Bad-Boon, who wants to hoard the entire island’s bananas for himself. After about 30 courses, it gets exceedingly difficult, making each victory feel like a World Cup goal since it usually takes several dozen tries and very deliberate strategizing. According to Polygon, actual doctors played this game before surgeries to “suppress errors,” and a study found that those who played at least three hours of videogames like Super Monkey Ball 2 made 37 percent fewer errors. This game may sound anxiety-inducing, but there are also a bunch of single and multiplayer party games to choose from, like Monkey Golf and Monkey Target, the latter of which is probably the best part of this game.—Assistant Music Editor Lizzie Manno
Final Fantasy 7 Remake
Platform: PlayStation 4
I decided to finish Final Fantasy 7: Remake this week.
I haven’t yet.
Uninteresting bosses, mediocre reorchestrations of beloved themes, and a narrative-focused party splitting that feels endless and aimless. I set the combat to Easy, because I was just bored. None of the fights made the repetitive mechanics of the combat system worth it. It still looks and feels cool on Easy, and that’s what it’s here for—to look cool.
It’s cooler to just go ripshit and not worry about micromanaging Curaga.
For most of the beginning and middle of the game, and even at times during this ending section, I was wildly onboard. Now it’s burned through all the good will it gained. I’ve stopped caring.
I paused in the middle of an “Epic Cutscene” and walked away to listen to Abnormal Mapping talk about Halo: Combat Evolved, a game I have no interest in ever playing. It’s way better.—Games Contributor Dia Lacina
A Fold Apart
I love indie game developers who use the vast possibilities of the medium to explore genres that are usually left behind by AAA titles. Arcade, RPG, and racing have plenty of examples, but how about a heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking romance built upon a unique and thematically potent puzzle?
Long distance relationships are hard to maintain, no matter how much the people involved care for one another. The loneliness and the distance can get to a point where some hard decisions eventually have to be made. Lightning Rod Games’ A Fold Apart centers on such a couple—kudos to the designers for offering the choice of straight or gay couples at the beginning of the game—who are separated when one of them jumps at the opportunity of doing his dream job as an architect.
The problem is that the job is in another city, and seems to be extending longer and longer than what was initially planned. We are privy to this underlying conflict via the text messages between the couple, as they walk in front of beautifully rendered and colorful backgrounds. When a reference or an insinuation triggers the distance issue, they get stuck inside a postcard that outlines their inner monologues.
That’s where the puzzle comes in. By folding the postcards in various ways, we can get the character through to the other side, where they come up with diplomatic ways to handle the situation and keep the relationship chugging along. The story is told entirely through texts and facial expressions, and does a bang up job of pulling us through the complex arcs that these characters are experiencing. Extra points to the developers for adding a hint button during the puzzles, for players who just want to experience the story.—Movies Contributor Oktay Ege Kozak
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
This is the first time I’ve been excited for a game’s cutscenes. The dialogue between characters is very natural, and their banter scores legitimate laughs. Admittedly, I needed a few sessions to get a sense of the game’s playstyle. Smooth, singular taps on the circle button is all I need to move sneakily between cover, and then it’s time for some sharp-shooting. I forgot how fun it is to play as a character who uses parkour as their primary mode of transportation. I can only imagine how impressive this must have felt when it first came out in 2009.—Games Intern Jarrod Johnson II