Petria, the fictional country at the center of Road 96, is in rough shape. Throughout 1996, the country is gripped by political turmoil–now, a moderate-leaning candidate is threatening the long-standing regime of a totalitarian dictator while a growing resistance threatens to send the country’s youth boiling over and into a full-on revolution. Add to that a growing number of teenagers seeking life outside of the country’s walled borders and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster on election day. This is what each of Road 96’s procedural journeys delicately build towards with some strong character writing and entertaining gameplay vignettes, even if the central conflict is too reductive with its overall messaging.
Each episode of Road 96 puts you in control of a faceless and nameless teenager–one of many looking to escape Petria by making the dangerous journey to its border and attempting to get over its oppressive wall. You’re given the choice between three teens before a run, each with different starting attributes that dictate how much cash you initially have on hand, your overall energy, and your distance from the border. The first two are the most important to consider as cash can open numerous interactions throughout the run–such as purchasing food, bribing cops, or paying off smugglers–while energy governs whether you’re able to continue a run at all or not. If your energy reaches zero, you pass out on the side of the road and await arrest, sending your teen to a labor camp and ending your run immediately. You replenish energy by resting or buying food, while completing small odd jobs or just scavenging for money, so finding a balance between the two is crucial to a successful run.
Each run is segmented into short vignettes which take place in numerous locations, such as trailer parks, truck stops, or within a car you’ve decided to hitchhike in. The point-and-click nature of the gameplay makes each one relatively breezy to get through, letting you focus on the conversations with characters. You select responses in conversations using the game’s first-person view, which isn’t always the most elegant way to choose the option you want when a character you’re replying to is moving a little erratically. Choosing the tone of your response–whether it’s in support of the violent actions of the resistance or aligned more with the need for people to vote for the opposition, for example–has a direct influence on how long these vignettes can last depending on which characters are present, and, in some extreme cases, can end a run prematurely when you clash with someone dangerous. It means that choosing your words needs to be more measured than just picking whatever aligns with the role you’re choosing to play in the overall story, so each interaction has a suitable sense of tension.
Since Back 4 Blood debuted in October 2021, it’s been players’ best-looking and perhaps most extravagant Left 4 Dead successor since the original sequel in 2009, but it’s also been a frustratingly inconsistent game to play. In one level, you may excitedly limp to the saferoom as a swarm scratches at your heels, the way any horde shooter should often feel, only for the next level to be a mess of enemy spam and poor objective design. Six months later, pacing and design issues still hinder the experience in the game’s first expansion, Tunnels of Terror, but the moments of frustration are finally showing signs of waning alongside some fun additions to the game’s core campaign.
The Tunnels of Terror expansion adds two characters, a slew of weapons, and seven new levels to Back 4 Blood in the form of Ridden Hives. Rather than offer up another underplayed side attraction to the main campaign, these Ridden Hives are smartly built right into the game’s original, already lengthy story mode. Spawning at random, hives act as high-risk, high-reward optional dungeons into which a full team must agree to descend together.
Tauntingly, they often appear near safe rooms, giving squads of Cleaners a decision to make: head for the security of the bright orange door, or sink into the hellish hives for the game’s best loot? For any high-level players, the decision should be an easy one. Legendary weapons can only be found in these hives, not to mention the game’s new free currency, Skull Totems, which can unlock exclusive new cosmetics. Those factors should mean that the toughest roguelite runs demand at least one pit stop in a hive for better weapons. However, the game’s legacy issues, like poorly balanced enemy swarms, continue to get in the way.
The Steam page for open-world first-person shooter Postal 4: No Regerts markets it as, “The long-awaited true sequel to what’s been fondly dubbed as ‘The Worst Game Ever,’ Postal 2!” If developer Running With Scissors’ goal was to live up to this legacy and maybe even outdo itself, then it succeeded with aplomb. Postal 4 is an abysmal video game. It’s mind-numbingly dull, its combat is unenjoyable and lifeless, its humor is unfunny, and it’s plagued by myriad technical issues, glitches, and crashes. This is a series that gained traction by courting controversy at a time when pearl-clutching over video game violence was world news. Postal 4 can’t even claim to be problematic, as its bloodshed is notably tame by today’s standards, and any jokes that might be considered offensive are too focused on lazy stereotypes to be considered noteworthy.
Postal 4’s basic setup sees the Postal Dude return along with his loyal canine companion, Champ. After taking a pitstop and forgetting to lock their car, the pair’s vehicle, trailer home, and all of their earthly possessions are stolen, leaving them stranded at the side of the road with nowhere to call home. Fortunately, the fictional town of Edensin, Arizona is located just over the horizon, so the unlikely duo head there in search of employment and their stolen items.
Much like previous games in the series, you’re given a different set of errands to complete each day, from Monday through Friday. These are mostly menial tasks like changing lightbulbs in the sewer, convincing people to sign a petition, and taking on the mantle of a prison guard for the day. Others are slightly more unusual, including one errand that tasks you with launching disillusioned Americans over the Mexican border using a makeshift catapult. The one thing all of these objectives share in common–and I can’t stress this is enough–is that they aren’t fun to engage with in any way, shape, or form. This is probably intentional in some cases, but to what end? Postal 4 doesn’t offer a satirical critique of capitalism or anything like that; the game is just designed around dull busywork that proves more effective than any sleeping pills. Eventually, these odd jobs add more and more firefights, whether you’re getting involved in shootouts with border patrol agents or an anti-bidet cult.
Few games are as informative in name as Cat Cafe Manager. Just reading it, you likely have a good idea as to whether or not it’s something you’d enjoy. The combination of a cat adoption game and a restaurant sim is enough to make coziness-seeking gamers jump in without inspecting any further. And while Cat Cafe Manager is definitely a cozy experience, it also has its faults, and the hands-off direction of it all can lend itself to both fun and frustration at different times.
The setup is a familiar one. You’re new to town and have been given a plot of land. Naturally, you do what any sensible landowner would do: begin to build a small business that combines two of humanity’s greatest idols: brunch and cats. Immediately upon setting off to build the cafe of your dreams, the bubbly music and adorable 2D art direction provide the lax vibes you might expect from a game like this.
But just as soon, Cat Cafe inundates you with messy, text-only tutorials. It’s a heap of information dumped at your lap, which may be a rough opening for any player, but especially the younger or less-experienced crowd such a game may attract. Still, once the busy UI has been deciphered, the game’s economy is actually well-designed, demanding you cater your cafe to different clientele to serve different needs.
I had never heard of the eponymous town of Norco until playing the debut point-and-click adventure game from indie developer Geography of Robot. Now I feel like I know it intimately, owing much to the game’s evocative and honest portrayal of a community intertwined with the petrochemical industry. Norco confronts societal issues other games only want to distract us from, weaving them into an utterly compelling tale that had me eager to reach the next scene, line of dialogue, or delightful piece of prose.
The real-life Norco is a small town in Louisiana that sits on the banks of the Mississippi River. Its unusual name is derived from the New Orleans Refining Company (NORCO,) which was established in the area after the land was purchased by Shell Oil in 1911. For over a century, the town has lived in the shadow of a major Shell petroleum refinery that dominates the skyline, coating the air in plumes of smoke that bellow from the plant’s monolithic flare stacks.
It provides a fascinating backdrop for a story that centers around Kay, a young woman returning to her childhood home after the passing of her mother–a curious former professor–due to cancer. Kay has been gone for five years, preferring to drift around the United States rather than stay in Norco, despite the outside world being ravaged by localized wars. Kay arrives with some baggage, then, and it doesn’t take long before she’s saddled with her late mother’s mysterious affairs, which revolve around her sought-after research and strange activity in the days leading up to her death. There’s also the matter of Kay’s missing brother, who is nowhere to be found, spurring her into action as she embarks on a thrilling adventure across this small industrial slice of Louisiana.