Every Friday, several 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?
2014’s Monument Valley remains one of the most recommendable games I’ve ever played—pleasantly complex, visually sublime, and musically sophisticated. It’s the type of game I point people toward when they say they don’t like games, a low-investment proof of the quieter, easier-going pleasures of being able to play around with your art. Despite its minimalism—you play a little guy traversing Escher-inspired ruins with each tap on your phone’s screen, and that’s it—it was featured on House Of Cards and went on to sell some 30 million copies. When someone’s reaching for a recent “breakout indie hit,” they probably grab Monument Valley.
This week, the small team of designers at UsTwo surprise-released its sequel. The formula generally remains the same, with a few new wrinkles: You’re now operating a pair of explorers, and there’s a newfound emphasis on storytelling, lore, and broad-brush thematics, all of which feels, at least initially, a little out of place in this world. But as soon as the opening orchestral swoon rises up, you remember why you’re playing in the first place: the Zen-like, dialed-in calm of pattering through these pastel spaces, the machine-like thunk of ancient machinery clicking into place, and the ethereal bloom of its soundtrack, growing serenely in your ears as your bus thuds along to its destination. Mobile games don’t get much more richly designed. Monument Valley 2 is every bit as recommendable as its predecessor, and I can’t think of higher praise than that.
I’m always down for a good repetitive game I can play in frantic five-minute bursts, and that’s exactly what I plan to get out of Tormentor X Punisher this weekend. It’s an ultra-violent endless twin-stick shooter in the style of Geometry Wars that casts you as a demon-hunting lady with two guns and a habit of constantly screaming obscenities at the top of her lungs. I’m not a fan of its attempt at cheeky metal-as-fuck attitude, but it’s built on some solid reconsideration of how this style of game works. Also, you reload your machine gun by shooting your shotgun and that’s just plain hilarious.
It’s not enough to just kill Tormentor X Punisher’s demon hordes; it encourages you to do so in “stylish,” roundabout ways. Every time you kill a monster with a shotgun blast that you’ve bounced off a wall, for example, you build up a special upgrade meter that, once filled, will give you a related ability. There are tons of these special kills to figure out, and coming up with a game plan that’ll net you upgrades as fast as possible is absolutely necessary for hanging in there while the difficulty ramps up. It’s a clever twist on the survival-at-all-costs mentality that these games often revolve around, but it also doesn’t mean you’re stuck going through the same motions every time you play. Boss monsters will appear occasionally, and in random order, to spice things up, but really it’s the frenetic pace of the whole thing that’ll quickly tear down any well-laid plans.
Titanfall 2 improved upon nearly every aspect of the first game, but one thing about the sequel that never really hooked me was the pre-made selection of Titans you could use in multiplayer. I like that they’re a little more inventive than the mechs in the first game, but I never really found one that clicked. The Titans are as crucial to Titanfall 2 multiplayer as the basic weapons you use in any first-person shooter, so I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment whenever I’d hit down on the D-pad to call in my big buddy.
Luckily, that all changed with Titanfall 2’s “Monarch Reigns” DLC pack, which introduced the game’s first brand new Titan since launch. Called the Monarch, it seems fairly straightforward on the surface: It has a big machine gun, it fires a load of missiles, and it can’t fly or teleport like some of the others. What it can do that other Titans can’t is unlock upgrades during a match, so the Monarch actually gets stronger the longer you have it on the field. Assuming you’re competent at the game and can keep the thing alive for a few minutes, you’ll eventually get to the point where you’re firing deadlier bullets, launching homing rockets, and dumping out so much electrified smoke that the other players will be dead before they can even get close to you. It’s very awesome, and though Titanfall 2 still feels a little light on multiplayer content, an addition as cool (and free!) as the Monarch goes a long way.