The hits just keep on coming, as February dumped another heap of must-play games onto your frighteningly large backlog (better get on that, by the way – 2016 is only just beginning). Besides our Game of the Month picks, you could spend hours perfecting your fighting style in Street Fighter 5, mourning the loss of your best soldiers in XCOM 2 and Fire Emblem Fates, or delighting in the charms of Unravel and Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. It just goes to show that a month doesn’t need to be packed with AAA games to do a number on both your wallet and free time.
Every month, we pick two games from our multitude of reviews that stand above the rest, getting our full recommendation no matter what type of gamer you are. If you’re already looking forward to all the highly anticipated new games of 2016, playing these excellent titles should tide you over until then.
Firewatch seems like a tranquil game at first. You control Henry as he heads into the Wyoming wilderness to make sure no one burns the place down over the summer. He’s had a lot of life stuff going on lately, and this seems to be a good way to empty his mind and just focus on one day at a time for a bit. He spends his days staring out of a watchtower while Delilah, his supervisor and only form of human contact, exists only as a voice that pipes out of his walkie-talkie. Life finally seems like it’s going to be nice and boring for once – but a disquiet simmers within the Wyoming forests like tinders in drybrush, and uncovering the mystery hidden in the woods provides Firewatch’s biggest draw.
That palpable sense of tension is expertly delivered by its two leads. They talk, they banter, they question and doubt, and their friendship builds and grows realistically, even as it strains under the weight of their job and the bizarre events that unfold around them. The choices you make aren’t life-altering in the typical sense – no branching paths or morality gates here – but they do alter the life of Henry, slowly filling in the cracks of his personality with details of your choosing. Firewatch, then, is a gripping tale about how we deal with the consequences of our actions that’s equal parts suspenseful and grounded, and it’ll keep you glued to your screen from its startling intro right up to its somber finale.
You’re not really in any danger in Layers of Fear, the tale of a painter desperately trying to create the perfect portrait, but that doesn’t make it any less creepy. Favoring atmosphere over gore, Layers of Fear is still quite unsettling despite the fact that death at the hands of the mansion’s ghost may actually be a good option to pursue. The layers of the title don’t just refer to the paint being applied to the canvas, but also to the elements of the tragic family tale that unfold as you explore the house from top to bottom. So while your instincts may tell you to get as far from that specter as you possibly can, you may want to face that fear head on. Or, you know, not. She is really freaky.
The voice acting is seriously wanting, but the spookiness of Layers of Fear cannot be denied, and being able to explore the ever-changing layout of the Bitcoin Dice house where so many bad things happened without worrying about having to restart at a checkpoint is a shivery treat. The game knows how to tell a great scary story, so even though it’ll take you more than one playthrough to uncover all three endings, you’ll never lose the tension that comes from knowing something disturbing may be just around the corner.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what having musical synesthesia might be like – where hearing music can make you see colors and experience sensations of movement – Amplitude is your best bet. This crowdfunded revival of Harmonix best pre-Rock Band rhythm game positively shines on PS4, with vibrant colors, hypnotic visual effects, and the feeling of cruising through a tunnel formed from pure, harmonious sound.
The gameplay may look simple, with incoming patterns restricted to only three notes. But trying to maximize your score by switching lanes with your sonic-boom-blasting spaceship gets frantic, fast. Amplitude fosters friendly competition via leaderboards and hectic local multiplayer, and the song selection is full of invigorating jams and remixes of classic tracks. Best of all, the main campaign plays out like a techno-heavy concept album mixed with a campy rock opera.
There’s every reason to suspect Gravity Rush Remastered exists on PS4 to get people up to speed for Gravity Rush 2. But even if the sequel wasn’t coming, you should still get on this right now. Shifting gravity in a third-person, open-world action game sounds like a gimmick, but it basically means you can fly. With spectacular and exciting combat, a story packed full of revelations and a sense of scale that belies the game’s handheld roots, Gravity Rush feels more like a home console game, which is probably why it works so well on PS4.
The HD conversion is exemplary, with a silky-smooth frame-rate. The art style benefits from it too, with the cel-shaded visuals looking cleaner and more cartoony. The production may fall ever-so-slightly short of Platinum’s finest, but there’s more than a hint of Bayonetta in here, thanks to storyboard cut-scenes and expertly-directed choreographed action sequences. Basically this is a class act in every area and you’ve probably never played it. So do. The cat will be sad if you don’t.