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, Xbox One, PC
I might be old, but that doesn’t make me a historian. It’s entirely possible that Maneater is not the first videogame where you play as a shark terrorizing the entire food chain, up to the narcissistic humans who’ve ruined the whole damn world. Maybe there was a Jaws game for the Magnavox Odyssey. I don’t know. I do know that Maneater is unlike any game I’ve ever played—but also way too much like too many of the open-world games that have come out over the last decade. At first Tripwire’s cartoon shark game reminded me a little of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater; instead of doing tricks, though, I was cutting through the water in search of fish and gators to chomp on, and occasionally doing leaps and flips in the air not because the game wanted me to but because it looks cool. As the map filled out more, and icons started to spread over it, each one pressuring and pleading with me to go hunt another animal, or rip through another school of fish, Maneater started to feel too much like a list of chores. It starts to sink under the weight of this Ubisoft-style onslaught of obligations. Maneater hooks you with the freedom and grim insouciance of a shark, and then suddenly tells you to get to work. That structure doesn’t ruin the simple pleasures of undersea animal fights—although a less-than-optimal targeting system can complicate things a bit too much—and despite the repetition, squaring off against an alligator, barracuda or bounty hunter never entirely loses its primal excitement. An unrelenting, only intermittently funny sense of humor proves to be a double-edged sword, even with Chris Parnell’s rock-solid delivery. Maneater’s core is unique—I’ll give it that—and there’s a surprising, almost inexplicable peacefulness to it when you’re not worried about missions and collectibles and Parnell’s patter, or the clumsy Cajun and hillbilly stereotypes of the human characters and the game’s reality show backdrop. If you’ve ever lost a friend or loved one to a shark attack, do not play this game—10 minutes into the tutorial you’re already devouring humans in two or three bites.—Garrett Martin
At some point, you have to ask yourself not what interested you in a game in the first place, but what it is that keeps you playing that game when you’ve seemingly reached what is more or less the end of new content. That’s where I am with Animal Crossing: New Horizons these days—both myself and my wife have sunk in a truly heroic amount of time into building up the esteem of our fair island, and it’d be safe to say we’ve entered New Horizons’ endgame, if it even has one. We’ve both expanded our houses to their largest size. We’ve achieved the elusive 5-star island rating. We’ve caught every wild beastie currently available, with the exception of that damnable Mahi-mahi. I even made it to the peak of the “Cast Master” achievement mountain the other day, registering 100 flawless casts in a row. It’s fair to ask what there is left to do, exactly, at this point.
And as the days crawl by, I increasingly see the differences in how two different players are answering that question. For me, interest in New Horizons is on the waning side, and I realize that my fondness for it revolves largely around things like fish and bug-catching novelty. That means I’ll likely be logging on more at the start of each new month, to catch that month’s new creatures and add them to our sprawling museum. For my wife, however, the island represents more of a living puzzle project—a continuously shuffling layout of houses, gardens and mini-games related to such subjects as flower breeding, landscaping and themed furniture that most of our clueless residents will never really use. She delights in deciding upon sweeping changes to the island infrastructure, deciding to raise or lower a cliff in order to replant 100 tulips, roses or pansies. It’s a deeper level of participation in the real meat of New Horizons than I will ever have the patience to partake in, but it makes me glad she happened to stumble upon this series (it’s our first time playing Animal Crossing) right as the creeping pandemic decimated our normal social calendar. Truly, for those with an organizational bent, even the endgame of ACNH represents an almost endless array of welcome distractions. —Jim Vorel
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Mac
I’ve devoted an extremely significant portion of my life to role-playing games. I’d go as far as to say that I didn’t truly love videogames until I played my first JRPG, despite spending the entirety of my childhood with them. RPGs just hit differently for me. And—I don’t say this lightly—Divinity: Original Sin 2 is quite possibly the best RPG of all time for me. It is a game that often left me speechless from its beginning, and even now that I’ve finished it, I’m still often in disbelief at how it exists. It’s one of those creations by humanity that is so intricate, so grand, so perfect, that I can watch (and have already watched) several documentaries that provide insight into how it came to be, and I’m still unable to comprehend it. Its writing is witty beyond belief; its characters rich, frustrating, hilarious and endearing in equal measure; its universe visibly expansive and designed with equal amounts of brilliance and love. The number of ways any single battle or interaction can go is ridiculous—let alone the combinations that culminate into a nearly 100 hours-long experience that sincerely has no right to be as good as it is. It’s a challenging game, which would be enough to deter someone like me, who is very bad at games.
But it’s a world so charming and exquisite that it sticks with you. It’s been two years since I played it for a week, blasted through it to the last chapter, and forced myself to let it go once I began studying at a university. I knew I no longer had the bandwidth to appreciate this game the way it deserved. Something this perfect demanded as close to perfection as I could give it. And so I patiently waited for the moment when I’d hear its incredible melodies draw me back in, refusing to let me go until I saw this marvel all the way to its end. This week, I finally did, not only satisfying that itch I have for the BioWare games I’ve so deeply loved, but also getting so much more than I could have expected. After finishing what I now know is the best RPG in my book, I cannot be more excited for Baldur’s Gate 3 and anything Larian Studios creates.—Natalie Flores
Platforms: iOS, Android
Did I really need another management sim in my life? Probably not. I have plants. I have a partner. There are professional and personal relationships to maintain. A mother and sister I really need to call. There’s always laundry, and dust never seems to stop settling on surfaces. Let’s not talk about the kitchen sink.
And then there’s myself to take care of.
God. It’s a lot.
But here I am, managing the lives of cells. Helping them along with scheduled activities. Filling their days and making sure they’re satiated, content, and clean. It’s not a complicated game, it obscures a lot of the mechanics and outcomes, but that’s life. That’s being a parent, whether it’s to plants, pets, a tiny person, or…a single cell. I love their little insights, how they communicate their needs beyond the meters.
I don’t remember how I found 3CatGames’ charming mobile sim at first, but I’ve downloaded it to my phone on and off over the past few years. It’s charming and delightful.
It absolutely breaks my heart.
At the end of 49 days of scheduling gunpla and textbooks, baths and dance lessons, your cell grows up, changes, and goes out into the world as something new and different. Your job is done. There are all sorts of things your cells can grow into. I keep making the same kinds of cells, I have a parenting style, most likely borrowed from both internalizing and pushing back against my own parents’ styles. My cells seem happy when they head out on their own.
But everytime one grows up, it makes me want to cry.
I should see if my plants need to be watered.—Dia Lacina
Platform: PlayStation 4
By all accounts, Final Fantasy VII Remake was not made for me. I’d not so much as touched anything with the Final Fantasy VII brand before playing it, and my only experience with the broader Final Fantasy universe was through Final Fantasy XV, which I loved despite its flaws, even though most reviewers seemed to have more mixed feelings on it, at best.
But despite understanding no more than a third of its perplexing ending, I walked away from the game having loved nearly every second of my 50-hour playthrough.
It’s clear just how much love—and money—Square Enix put into each frame, and as a newcomer, I didn’t have any reference for where the story was going next. I was just along for the ride, and this ride saw me fight giant robots, ride motorcycles and fight giant robots while riding motorcycles. I fell in love with the game’s core cast of characters, each one bringing real struggles and motivations that felt genuine and human. And I became engrossed in its combat, which combines real-time action with more traditional RPG elements in a system that felt effortless to learn yet offered real depth and room for experimentation as I continued.
Part of me wants to find more faults with Final Fantasy VII Remake to appear more critical, as the confusing ending, occasionally stifled line deliveries and graphical hiccups are real issues that certainly detract from the game. But the truth is, I’m completely enamored of the world of Midgar and the adventure of Cloud and his ragtag group of friends, and I can’t wait to see their remade adventure to the end… when the final installment launches in 2043.—Editorial Intern Joseph Stanichar
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One
My car was halfway through a muddy, water-pocked bog when the vehicle finally gave into its surroundings. Stalling out, the tires treaded mud in place. In a moment of desperation, I tied my wench to a tree in front of me and tried to pull my car free. The tree broke—I was only about 100 feet from solid ground. That’s SnowRunner.
I’ve never been a big car person or gear head. Yes, I grew up playing Midnight Club and Need for Speed, but realistic racing games have never been my cup of tea. The closest I’ve gotten to that realm of play would probably be the Forza Horizon series, and even then those games are more about exploration and speedy thrills over anything else. Yet, here I am playing a game where you drive a car through mud at six mph into the early hours of the morning. SnowRunner is pure catharsis. It is a no frills experience where all there is are the tribulations between points A and B.
Beyond the simple, rewarding and relaxingly slow nature of SnowRunner, there is a deep desire for connection that is built through the game’s systems. The missions one often takes in-game usually revolve around rebuilding roads, bridges, and more. It is all about infrastructural repair and resowing the tapestries of small town America. There is no real narrative, but one can’t help but feel that SnowRunner sees these small towns and rural communities as more than just the butt of a joke or the personification of gross political ideologies. They are layered, unique places (some of the most powerful leftist movements emerge in rural communities) and SnowRunner understands that these communities are worth repairing and reconnecting to the everyday.—Cole Henry
Platforms: PlayStation, PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
I love getting lost in the sprawling and boundlessly imaginative narratives of the Final Fantasy franchise. I love it as much as I hate being terrible at turn-based RPG battles. No matter how much I try to improve my character stats, balance my melee and my magic, and try to be aware of which potions to use right before the Galactus-sized boss drains my HP, I eventually get stuck in a battle halfway through the game. This forces me to abandon the story and come up with my own fan fiction—Cloud and Aerith from FFVII got married and lived happily ever after, right?-.
I was excited to see Final Fantasy IX on Xbox One’s “Netflix for games” Game Pass subscription. I never played it before, and was immediately smitten by the lighter tone that separates it from the rest of the series. It doesn’t break new ground in terms of the core FF style from the period, but provides affable characters and an adventurous spirit. What I really appreciated this time around was the Xbox One port’s options for skipping random enemy encounters and delivering 9999 damage with each hit during story-based battles. This essentially allows noobs like me to enjoy the entirety of the tale without having to worry about cutting it short at some point due to having shit reflexes and strategy. Thanks to these “story mode” options, maybe I’ll finally make it to the end of a Final Fantasy. The same setup applies to the Xbox One port of Final Fantasy VII, so I can’t wait to play as Aerith through the entire game.—Oktay Ege Kozak
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
My first Call of Duty was Black Ops, and I was a dedicated fan until Ghosts. Modern Warfare 2 was hacked by the time I got to it and Modern Warfare 3 was so frustrating I vowed to never love an Infinity Ward title again. The new Modern Warfare is inspiring me to have a change of heart.
Before I bought the full game, I played Warzone for a while, but quickly grew dissatisfied. Even when produced by the makers of my favorite pre-teen pass time, I don’t enjoy the battle-royale genre that’s been popularized recently. Well, it’s more accurate to say I don’t enjoy them enough. These games are successful because they feed into the pleasure of looting and finding rare items. Looting is satisfying, but I feel so empty when I loot for fifteen minutes just to get killed in my first engagement. Admittedly, the Gulag is the perfect tool to remedy this, as I can always earn another chance to get back in the game. Still, the time investment is just too much. I paid for the full game, and classic multiplayer has yet to disappoint me.
Infinity Ward revamped matchmaking, and the changes are more than efficient. You can search for matches in rotation instead of one game mode at a time—just select which game modes you want to switch between. New game modes are introduced regularly, and most of them are lighthearted and meant for fun, not high K/D gameplay. There’s a knife-only game mode that’s not exactly the same as All or Nothing in Modern Warfare 3, but it feeds the same beast. There’s an overwhelming amount of contracts and challenges for earning XP, so many I haven’t discovered them all. I’m having a blast, and I’m excited to see platinum camo.—Jarrod Johnson II
Platforms: PC, iOS, Mac
Read our full review.
If Found isn’t a happy story. It’s an honest one. There’s a good chance you will cry, perhaps more than once, but there are also moments of joy, love and triumph. Despite the artistry of its presentation, and despite a recurring sci-fi metaphor that adds a bit of depth to the story but never quite fully connects, this is a low-key, modest, human affair. Its observations about family and relationships are touching, grounded and real, avoiding melodrama or outsized pronouncements about human nature. Much of it is universal, sure, but the focus remains on its lead character Kasio and how her merely being who she is can disrupt her relationships with her family and the world around her. It’s a character study of a specific person in a specific time and place, but whose pains and struggle ring true throughout the ages.—Garrett Martin