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?
Designed by a team of Parisian Ubisoft vets, Absolver aims to invent something entirely new from a heady mix of influences. The brutal, densely layered combat evokes the work of Platinum Games and PlayStation 2-era Capcom; the tense paths you cut through its gnarled, intestinal ruins evoke the worlds of Bloodborne and Dark Souls; its ambient attitude toward online multiplayer recalls Thatgamecompany’s beloved Journey. The game’s minimalist visual design tries to leave all the information on the screen sans cluttered iconography, but leaves a ton of it unsaid; after a few hours, you’re still piecing together basic mechanics, figuring out the very literal path to the top.
Structurally, too, the small team shot for the moon: The entire single-player campaign is intended as a sort of training gauntlet, after which your character is a fully fledged “Absolver” free to continue wandering the ruins, teaching new players the ropes and absolving others right in their masked faces. But it’s unclear if it’ll find that sort of long-playing fan base. Its passive online interactions cut a weird middle ground, constantly telling you the names of the players near you but not giving you much to do with them. You can form schools and mentorships, but not clans; you’re encouraged to fight randomly, but it lacks the bottle-necked tension of a Dark Souls invasion. And, while the combat, crucially, feels good, there’s a lack of connectivity between its obtuse “deck-building” combat mechanics and what you actually do on the screen. It’s like a Mario Kart game that also keeps encouraging you to tweak the minutiae of your rig’s transmission. It’s a decidedly narrow group of players that want to do both.
There’s an interesting trend in low-investment online games like this finding their audience—recall the smash success of Rocket League, or the game-playing world’s brief, intense flirtation with Grasshopper Manufacture’s Let It Die. For its mechanical ambition and sumptuously designed world, full of audaciously cantilevered platforms and low-poly Witness-like foliage, Absolver deserves the world of battle-hardened Absolvers it sets out to create. Whether or not it gets there, though, depends on how much people are willing to slog through. [Clayton Purdom]
One of the best things about the modern era of games is that you can put a title away for a few years, then come back to it only to find it’s absolutely brimming with new content courtesy of industrious developers treating their work as an evolving service. Hence my delight at getting re-addicted to Awesomenauts, Ronimo Games’ cartoonishly brilliant attempt to distill the popular MOBA genre (exemplified by top-down strategy games like League Of Legends and DOTA 2) into a brightly colored 2-D action game. It just celebrated its five-year anniversary, a half-decade during which it’s quadrupled its original eight-character roster, adding fitness-themed minotaurs, murderous little girls, and heroic, anchor-swinging squid-men to a list already full of playable Saturday morning cartoon fighters. But the best thing about dipping back into the game is that the core multiplayer action—jumping, shooting, and coordinating with a team of two other fighters to push the tide of battle back against your opponents—is as rock solid as the first time I picked it up years ago. [William Hughes]
This unheralded arcade classic has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity since the guys at Giant Bomb started showing off its brilliant, fast-paced spin on Pong. The hype is well earned. It’s a multiplayer masterpiece—simple, frantic, tense—and I’m so glad to see it finally hit a modern system after someone, somehow untangled its terrifying web of copyright holders.
This re-release was handled by DotEmu, which also developed the excellent Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap remake that launched earlier this year. They’ve taken a strict “if it ain’t broke” approach, and left Windjammers mostly untouched. Beyond a few nice menus that stick delightfully to the game’s ’90s-as-hell beach aesthetic, the game is pretty much the exact same version that Data East released on Neo Geo systems back in ’94. The one huge addition is online multiplayer, and the team’s efforts to nail its netcode seem to have payed off. In the handful of matches I’ve played, I only noticed a few minor hitches, which seems like a miracle given the game’s speed and precision. Of course, online play still can’t compare to jamming with a friend, and that’s exactly what I plan to do this weekend. [Matt Gerardi]